Blogging went mainstream in the late ’90’s and started a tsunami of self-expression. Many writers, felt that they could have their voices heard instantly, without having to weave through a bureaucracy of gatekeepers. Some turned blogging into a subtle form of marketing and self-promotion. And now, for some, it appears to be a magnet for attracting their killers.
When I read about Saudi Raif Badawi’s fall from blogging into flogging with a potential death sentence at the end of it, when I heard of the brutal machete attack on American blogger Avijit Roy and his wife Rafida in Bangladesh, it became clear to me that it is not only salaried journalists in trouble spots who are prey to hostility but also brave bloggers who dare to expose injustice and whose only compensation is the salving of their conscience and the expression of hope for a better world.
Why do we write to expose the ills of the world, and take such contentious positions? It is an innate human need that overrides other desires, at least for some of us of a certain ilk. I recognized that when I arrived in Canada as an immigrant nearly 30 years ago, after having lived under two repressive regimes that had been unkind to writers. I wrote to my friends back in the home country, saying that I could “smell the freedom in the air” – in the way people dressed (it was summer in Toronto) and moved about freely, and by what was discussed in the media. This freedom was aphrodisiacal. It became preferable to earning all the money in the world, for too much money places you into another kind of a prison, and “poor immigrant” was a moniker I could handle if it came along with “liberated writer.” In my new homeland, I did not have to blindly follow instructions contained in religious books when it came to my beliefs; the only rules I had to follow were civic and business rules, the non-observance of which would very tangibly and quickly land me in trouble. In the countries I had come from, the observance of the rules was in reverse. Where I had come from, there had been no room for self-discovery of God and the universe; we just had to follow all that had been ostensibly revealed to select individuals many centuries before and contained in books, the authenticity of which was a deeply guarded secret. Where I had come from, we were not recognized as thinking, feeling beings, and the traffic was forever in chaos, business bribes were de-rigueur, and few paid their taxes. Thus my sense of freedom in my new home. And when blogging was made possible via technology several years later, that freedom was complete. And I felt that freedom was worth fighting for.
But now bloggers are being persecuted in their home countries or while visiting their former homelands. What should the blogging community do? Hunker in the bunker and park our keyboards until the dust settles and regimes change? Or continue to expose injustice and face retaliation? Blogging, in my view, is justified and worthwhile if the ideas contained within these short essays explore the human condition from all angles and attempt to elevate it to a higher level, adding to the collective consciousness that brings about progressive change; but the more incisive the writing, the greater the threat of rancour from those resisting change. The choice is clear for the conscientious blogger: we have to continue to write and find deeper and stronger ways of making our points, striking chords in the hearts of many, including in those who shut their minds and prefer to wield a machete instead of a pen.
A tall task? But what else is freedom but the opportunity to lose it if we do not grasp on to it firmly, and with gratitude?