Mazen Darwish, winner of the PEN/ Pinter International Writer of Courage Award 2014

Mazen Darwish1

On 9 October 2014, acclaimed author Salman Rushdie has decided to share the 2014 PEN Pinter International Writer of Courage Award with the Syrian journalist and human rights defender Mazen Darwish.

On 8 October, Mazen Darwish wrote this text from Adra prison where he is currently detained. His message was read in Arabic to the audience.

” Ladies and Gentlemen, esteemed members of the audience:

For a long time I’ve wished that one day I might set foot in London, so that I’d perhaps be able to touch the soul of that great city, and discover the traces left by John Locke, Shakespeare, and the men who drafted the Magna Carta. Maybe I’d be able to learn, from them, how to progress towards civilization and modernity with utter constancy and rationality. So I cannot express strongly enough how proud I am that my name is present among you in London this evening, even if I am not there myself, and especially given that this has been made possible by PEN. PEN is an organisation that has earned my respect and appreciation by proving, in a short period of time, the great credibility of its commitment to its civilised goals and values. So, I am sincerely grateful for the huge honour of being given this year’s International Writer of Courage Award.

Allow me to take advantage of controversial writer Salman Rushdie’s presence among you this evening to tell him this: although we may have deeply disagreed with your views, we committed an unforgivable sin in the Arab world when we responded with indifference to the fatwas and calls for your death. So indifferent were we that we colluded – even if just by our silent complicity – in excluding and eliminating difference, while acting as if the whole thing had nothing to do with us. And so here we are today, paying the high, bloodsoaked price of that collusion, and finding ourselves the main victims of the obscurantist ideology now infiltrating our homes and our cities. What a great shame that it has taken us all of this bloodshed to arrive at the belief that we are the ones who will pay the price for preventing those with whom we disagree from expressing their views – and that we will pay with our lives and our futures. What a shame this much blood has had to be spilled for us to realise, finally, that we are digging our own graves when we allow thought to be crushed by accusations of unbelief, calling people infidels, and when we allow opinion to be countered with violence. The disastrous consequences of this are clearly evident today across the Arab world, and especially in Syria, my country, where the ugliest forms of fascism and the dirtiest kinds of barbarism are practised in the name of both patriotism and Islam in equal measure.

But when did patriotism come to mean erasing citizenship and ripping apart the motherland?!

And when did Islam come to mean killing the human spirit and destroying moral values?!

Ladies and gentlemen, despite the ugly and tragic situation in my country, and despite the scale of the bloodshed and destruction committed daily by megalomaniacs and the architects of the ISIS Caliphate, I honestly feel reassured about the future. Syria gave humanity its first alphabet, and her soil is blended with thousands of years of civilization, and she has always accommodated all religions, sects and schools of thought, so Syria will never be a slave to tyranny, nor a vehicle for terrorism. The Syrian people are children of life, capable of constructing a state built on dignity, freedom and justice, and they deserve to understand and put into practice the spirit and the essence of their religions, including Islam. Islam is a religion of moderation, and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) identified Islam’s main goal when he said: {I was sent to ensure the morals}. And the Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab (may God bless him) emphasized Islam’s structural relationship with freedom, when he let out his seismic cry: {Since when have you taken people as slaves who were born free?!} And the Caliph ‘Ali bin Abi Talib announced his full and final rejection of anything that went against this principle when he said: {Whoever does not accept others’ opinions will perish}.

Morality, freedom and justice form the true essence and purpose of Islam, as they do for all other religions and human value systems. And so it is on this basis that we must reassess our heritage and redesign our culture, to ensure that religion is compatible with human rights, and that they work in partnership. In this way, a system of moral sanctuary can be established, one capable of protecting the Syrian people, keeping them stable and secure, ensuring their unity and diversity, and guaranteeing justice and equality among them.

Ladies and gentlemen: Allow me to remember my friends with you today, friends whose qualities – as I’ve always said – are beyond the descriptive power of words, and who are too numerous to all be named in this moment. There is not a single prison in Syria today without one of my friends inside it, nor is there a cemetery in Syria today that doesn’t contain the remains of one of them. The fear of complicating things for them and their loved ones has etched their names onto my soul. Some people in Syria still believe that firing weapons will save them; for others, the fear of democracy is greater than the hatred of dictatorship. To those fools I say stop: You can’t kill an idea by killing people.

My dear friends, sects and dictatorship have divided our people for a long time now, but faith unites them. And so to all those who believe in a better tomorrow for Syria and for the whole world, I say that this is not the end of history, but rather the beginning of an era in which humanity is rid of the scourge of tyranny and terrorism.

Dear friends, do not lose faith: victory will be an ally to those who believe in it. Allow me to also address my brothers and sisters, the children of my motherland Syria: these days everyone curses tyranny and terrorism as if their onset had been sudden, and a complete surprise. And everyone acts as if they had not been practising and supporting tyranny and terrorism, keeping them alive all along, whether passively – through their silence – or actively.

Oh children of Syria, my motherland:

Is your appetite for the feast of children’s bodies, grilled by chemical weapons in al-Ghouta, not yet sated?

Have you not yet drunk your fill of innocent children’s blood in the Akrima School?

Have you not yet delighted enough in those dear Kobani children’s howls and screams?

Or do we need even more?!

Isn’t the life of a single child worth sacrificing all gains, spoils and illusions of eternal power? And can our victory only be achieved by occupying and dividing our country?

Is it not yet time to stop this nihilistic war?

Is it not yet time to establish a new social contract that frees Syria from tyranny and cleanses her soil of terrorism, and saves our children from the perils of sectarianism?

Is it not yet time?! “