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Writing in a Time of Siege*


Amena Hussein


Right now, with the way the world is, I feel that most writers everywhere must feel as if they are writing in a time of siege. Even if we are not living in a country that is experiencing conflict, it seems like somewhere, someone has something to be frightened of because of what they write and how they write. And perhaps historians will tell us that it has always been like this. Then at all times in history there have been writers who have been grappling with difficult issues during difficult times. Perhaps this is nothing new, but it is not exactly the vision I had when I began writing.   Initially I would not have described myself as a writer who is living and writing during times of siege. On the surface I thought it is a description that would better fit Sri Lankan writers in Jaffna or the East Coast more. Or perhaps Sri Lankan journalists who are critical of the government. But a little reflection has made me realize that the word ‘siege’ has many interpretations and to me one of them is self-censorship.   There are times when the Sri Lankan Muslims feel that I am too critical about the community and the Muslim religion. I am aware of their opinion and doubly aware of the growing militant face of Islam in Sri Lanka and so began the process of self-censorship. This is more of a private siege. It is the predicament of being a writer who belongs to a community that feels it is globally suspect. A community that is becoming more and more closed-in and defensive as a reaction to world events.   Today it is difficult to be a Muslim writer. Perhaps slightly more difficult to be a Muslim woman writer. We seem to be losing the space to criticize from within because of all the criticism from outside. I wonder if I had been writing decades earlier, if I may have been able to critique the community with less inhibition. But the fact is today I write under a cloud of self-censorship.   It is true that I do not have to write about the Muslim community, I could quite safely write about general life in Sri Lanka, about the middle-class predicament, about conflict, about the village. But what would be an even bigger censorship is to be unable to tell the stories that I know ...


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