Monday, May 08, 2006

The Press, The Press, The Press.

Naguib Mahfouz's column again. The wisdom and understanding of this man outweighs that of the entire sorry "intelligencia" combined. Why is this so, besides reasons of his own genius? Because he is the last living icon of the older generation.

In the words of Ahmed Fouad Nigm, the "revolution" of 1952 did not give birth to an artistic generation (how can a fascist regime give birth to creativity?). The great artists who lived during this era were the products of the revolution of 1919.

For this reason I scoff at the reasoning of people who look back at this era of Nasser as "the good old times", in comparison to the degeneration that continued through the seventies to reach where we are today. In other words, what you saw of these symbols therein were the last breaths they took before the final strangulation of their legacy at the hands of the regime, as they were the ready-made products of the liberal era that preceded the dictatorship. How else can you explain that there was no successive generation that enherited their mantle?

Ahmed Fouad Nigm gets it...why can't you?

Back to Naguib Mahfouz...

Unity and freedom:

Salmawy: 03 May is World Press Freedom Day. How do you see that day?

Mahfouz: Sadly, this day comes amid turbulent times this year. Journalists have fair demands that have not been met. This turns them into a disgruntled group, something that may reflect badly on the status of the press as such. Conversely, I am not sure that what we see today is press freedom. Freedom comes with a sense of responsibility, and what we see in some papers is closer to libel than freedom. The slander, the sheer volume of insults, one sees in some newspapers worries me, for it is a sign that society as a whole is disturbed. A society in which debate stoops low is a society in crisis. We must do something about that crisis.

Salmawy: What are its symptoms?

Mahfouz: I hear of odd things these days, of unprecedented incidents. I hear of a man going into a church and attacking worshippers. I hear of security forces attacking a judge. These are things which people of my age find quite disturbing.

Salmawy: Perhaps there are reasons for these two incidents you've just mentioned. The man who attacked the church was said to be deranged, and is therefore unaccountable for his acts. As for the assault on the judge, the security services claim he was carrying a weapon and seemed ready to use it.

Mahfouz (interrupting): Deranged people always existed, but we've never seen any of them attack worshippers in churches before. As for the judge, it is unacceptable for anyone to attack a member of the judiciary. A judge is someone who tells us where we stand relative to law. When we attack judges, we're attacking law. We have to ask ourselves, how did we let matters go so far? How did we let problems escalate to the point of violent confrontation in churches, with judges, and in the press? The press is alarmingly violent too.

Salmawy: What in your opinion is the solution?

Mahfouz: The solution is beyond what the government can do. The government cannot resolve that situation alone, for it has become part of the problem. What we need is intervention by society as a whole. The role of the government right now is to facilitate such intervention.

Salmawy: How?

Mahfouz: The government can for example call for a general conference on national unity. It can arrange gathering for thinkers, writers, intellectuals and politicians to address such matters. National unity is the essence of our survival as a nation. A threat to national unity is a fatal blow to society as a whole.

We all have to confront this massive threat. We cannot afford to ignore the perils involved. Governments come and go, but society is here to stay, and it has to address its problems if it wishes to go on living; we are the ones who have a problem.

Successive governments have let the problem get out of hand. Perhaps the press is also to blame. But for the press to play its part and overcome its own shortcomings, it would need moral and material support. The press needs freedom. We must support it in this regard. The press also needs to act with a sense of responsibility.

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