Tale til Writers for Peace-konferansen 2003

1984 to Brave, New World to 1984 to…

By Kjell Olaf Jensen, Norwegian PEN

It is a a commonplace stereotype to say that while the civil society in the Communist countries during the Postwar period looked peculiarly like George Orwell’s description in his novel 1984 (no great wonder – Orwell wrote his novel in 1948, under the impression of the recent Communist coups in Central Europe, particularly in Prague, and during the last years of Stalinism, well after the Moscow Trials), the modern Western society seems to approach the sad state of affairs which Aldous Huxley describes in his somewhat earlier novel Brave, New World from the 1930s. There are enough scholars and political analysts who will readily subscribe to the first of these comparisons (and who, as a matter of fact, have already done so for the last fifty years); and the second one has been heavily underlined by professor Neil Postman (We Are Amusing Ourselves to Death) and others.

When Communism finally broke down, all seemed well, and some remarkably shortsighted historians even told us exuberantly that this was the «End Of History». (If this were the case, not only would our historians have signed their own death sentence with a cry of joy, but all the rest of us might as well retire to a far better world for good.)

But luckily (as at least some of us would be prone to see it) such has not been the case. Problems continued, oppression continued, wars continued, genocides continued with breathtaking speed – not to mention trifles of a sort with which the great statesmen of our times cannot be bothered, like hunger, epidemics, and the systematic destruction of our environment. (With all grief and respect for all those killed, has anybody thought how much easier it is to rebuild two Twin Towers than to replace one destroyed environment?)

Then came the terrorist attack of 11th September 2001, directed against the US, executed by people educated in the US, masterminded by fanatics formerly employed by the federal governing bodies of the US. And suddenly, the world was divided in two. Those who are with «US», and those who are against «US». Brilliant sociologists even declared the event and the situation to be a «Clash Of Civilizations» (whether any of the phenomena thus brought to a clash, might be defined as a «civilization», has not yet been proved, but let that pass). The victims – the US – very quickly started their war against Afghanistan, where they until now have obtained that a former consultant to a Californian oil company has got some control over parts of the capital city Kabul, while the US-installed Taliban regime has been forced to more or less withdraw, and most of the new leaders put in place by the US are more or less happily fighting each other. The former CIA agent Osama bin Laden may have been forced to leave the country because of the bombing with surgically precise bombs which have only cost some ten thousand innocent lives – about twice the population of Bled, only.

All the time, both before and after 11th September, the people now in charge of the world’s strongest power have most forcefully campaigned in favour of a war against Iraq. At last, they did it – after having lied to the United Nations’ Security Council (and having been caught in lying), and after having bought, bribed and blackmailed together what is called a coalition (these nice verbs are not mine, but were recently used by the excellent scholar and analyst Tony Judt in an well-reputed American literary magazine commenting the recent actions of the US in Iraq). Now, they are crowning their surgical precision bombing which has only cost some hundreds of thousands of civilian lives (about 20 000 of them children, according to observers), with the instalment of a new head of state who has already a 22 years prison sentence hanging over his head in neighbouring Jordan and who, according to rumours, also has some juicy corruption stories behind him in other countries, among them the US. Among the trifling collateral damages this time, most of the memories of our earliest civilizations have been destroyed, but the important thing was unharmed: the Oil Ministry.

Those who are not with «us», are against «us» … I have to confess that like most people in this world, I may be a little less with «us» than I was before these wars.

In the name of freedom, we kill. In the name of war against terrorism, we freeze out all liberal voices. In the name of fighting religious fanaticism, we force a whole nation to pray to God for manslaughter on a scale which makes all church communities shy back in horror. Is not this what George Orwell called «Newspeak» – a technique which was formerly mostly associated with Fascist or Communist countries?

Not very far from Iraq, in the Caucasus, genocidal war has been going on without interruption for three and a half years now. If there were not several tens of thousands of people killed here as well, some of the features of the Chechnya war would be utterly comic and laughable. For those who really want a good laugh, please give me your e-mail address, and I shall send you the report which was made by the very serious and efficient Russian human rights movement Memorial after the recent «referendum» in Chechnya.

One of the main victims of the war in Chechnya is freedom of expression in Russia, as we all know. And one of the main victims of the war against terrorism made either by «us» or the US, is truth.

After the fall of Communism, we all hoped for a world where the former Communist countries would learn from the best sides of capitalism, namely the ideas of freedom and human rights, without losing some of the ideals of socialism, like solidarity and brotherhood. Now, we seem to have made a world where Russia has taken over the worst sides of unlimited capitalism, while the US becomes more and more like the ancient Soviet Union.

Maybe we need more writers. In any case, we need at least one more. St Paul was a writer. One of the things he wrote, was the phrase: «Those who are not against us, are with us.» The phrase is so very much more beautiful when it is quoted correctly from the writer, than when a president distorts it, from the writer’s message of love to the president’s message of hate.

Maybe we need one Paul more and one Bush less.