Hope Is Not the Opposite Of Despair

Hope is not the opposite of despair. It is a talent. Suffering is not a talent but a test of it. And indifference is one aspect of hope. Jasmine is a message of longing, from nobody to nobody.

This is by Mahmoud Darwish in his book A River Dies of Thirst, a Diary — introduction by Ruth Padel. I read alongside Ruth Padel, and Lydia Cacho as part of the Amnesty International Imprisoned Writers Series. The Scottish PEN event took place at EIBF.

As a young man, Darwish faced house arrest and imprisonment for his political activism and for publicly reading his poetry. He published thirty poetry and prose collection in his lifetime and was an editor for a Palestine Liberation Organization monthly journal. He won the Lenin Peace Prize, the Lannan Prize for Cultural Freedom, the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres from France and the Prince Claus Award from the Netherlands.

They fettered his mouth with chains,
And tied his hands to the rock of the dead.
They said: You’re a murderer.
They took his food, his clothes and his banners,
And threw him into the well of the dead.
They said: You’re a thief.
They threw him out of every port,
And took away his young beloved.
And then they said: You’re a refugee.

When Darwish was awarded the Prince Claus Fund of principal prize in Amsterdam in 2004 his acceptance speech explained how he felt about exile, and identity.

A person can only be born in one place. However, he may die several times elsewhere: in the exiles and prisons, and in a homeland transformed by the occupation and oppression into a nightmare. Poetry is perhaps what teaches us to nurture the charming illusion: how to be reborn out of ourselves over and over again, and use words to construct a better world, a fictitious world that enables us to sign a pact for a permanent and comprehensive peace … with life.

Ruth Padel wrote the introduction to A River Dies of Thirst, a Diary, by Mahmoud Darwish. She read his poetry at the PEN event and beautifully articulated the spirit of what Darwish has created in his legacy as a poet.

It was a great honour to read with Lydia Cacho, a Mexican journalist who has just arrived in the UK after being faced with a death threat in her own country. She was introduced on the evening as the ‘bravest woman in the world’. I read a quote recently that said ‘to speak truth in a time of censorship is a political act’ — it is also a hugely courageous, and humane act. As a retaliation for her work — Cacho has been kidnapped, tortured, threatened with murder, raped and left for dead — all without backing down from her position as a journalist exposing criminality in Mexico.

Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to work as a journalist – since 2006 at least 67 journalists have been killed and a further 14 have just disappeared. In 2005, Cacho published Los demonios del Eden: El poder que protege a la pornografía infantil (‘The demons of Eden: the power that protects child pornography’). In 2010, Cacho published Esclavas del poder, in which she revealed names of people in Mexico involved in the trafficking of women and girls. The English translation,Slavery Inc. The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking, will be published at the beginning of September by Portobello Books.

Talking to the IFEX Global Forum on Freedom of Expression in June 2009 in Oslo, Norway, Cacho said: “When I was tortured and imprisoned for publishing a story about a network of politicians, organised crime, child pornography and sex tourism, I was confronted with the dilemma: ‘Should I keep going? Should I continue to practice journalism in a country controlled by only 300 powerful men, corrupted and rich? Was there any point in demanding justice or freedom in a country where nine out of 10 crimes are never investigated? Was it worth risking my life and my freedom?’ Of course the answer was ‘Yes!’ “
Cacho’s work exposes the very real threat free speech represents to those in positions of power — and the amazing potential of an individual to fight for human rights and freedom. I chatted to Lydia afterwards and was extraordinarily impressed by everything she has achieved and continues to fight for. Some people make you want to always remember why words have power, Lydia Cacho is one of those people.

Lydia Cacho will be in conversation with Helen Bamber OBE, who works with victims of trafficking, in London on 29 August

You can also send messages of support c/o: Fundación Lydia Cacho. Email: info@fundacionlydiacacho.org

To sign a petition for Cacho and all the other writers under threat in Mexico — click here: http://chn.ge/usUDUa