Breaking the Silence On Writing, Exile, and the Freedom to Speak Once Again

By Amir Ahmad Nasr

Image by lahabz @ Deviant Art.

April 14th, 2015

The news headlines aren’t much cause for celebration these days it seems. So much so that I sometimes think to myself “who cares? Why even write anymore?”

It was hard to imagine during the initial optimistic euphoria of what came to be known as the Arab Spring just how clusterfucked the region would become only four years later.

Herein, I speak for myself. Although, I suspect I speak for many of my colleagues – activists, advocates, writers, journalists, and creative dissidents – now either burned out or in pursuit of quieter lives with apolitical priorities in mind.

Years before the pandemonium, in the digital prelude to the uprisings of 2011, we knew that blogging and the emerging social media beast we fed, and that in turn fed us, was going to be a cultural, social, and political game-changer.

There was a tingling excitement in the air. The winds of change blew generously and the moral arc of the universe seemed to bend in our favor. Not that of the vicious tyrants or their prostituted bearded guardians of The Order.

And I dare say we were right. In fact, we were beyond right.

This is a sweet caption.
A statue of Lady Justice.

The Arab Uprisings of 2011 surpassed our wildest expectations of what we thought possible.

Tyrants fled, dictators were toppled, and Muslims and Christians united hand-in-hand singing songs of freedom. Not necessarily of the secular liberal kind the West professes, but of a kind the Arab youths and masses backing a civil state were just starting to articulate and name beyond the slogans of “bread, freedom, dignity, and social justice.”

It was a historic window of opportunity, but now, at least politically, I’m afraid it’s gone. Firmly closed for the foreseeable future.

Which brings me to today.

9 Years Ago, Today

Exactly 9 years ago, on April 14th, 2006, a small seemingly inconsequential blog was born. I named it The Sudanese Thinker, and I was its chief anonymous author, known only to a few of its readers, and mysterious to the rest.

Little did I know how that blog – and the process of blogging and writing in particular – were going to profoundly change my life forever. (I’ve come to learn I am not alone in this regard, and that many of my fellow bloggers have experienced similar transformations as well).

Five years later, at the height of the Arab Uprisings, I revealed my identity at the Oslo Freedom Forum, and eventually brought The Sudanese Thinker to a close, to focus on becoming a writer and literary artist.

Two years afterwards, in June 2013, at the age of 26, I made my debut as an author with my memoir My Isl@m: How Fundamentalism Stole My Mind – And Doubt Freed My Soul.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Thanks to US Visa delays, I missed my own book launch in New York, and my US tour fell apart. (Yay, I know). Better yet, the book got banned in certain countries, and a year later in mid 2014, I found myself in the middle of anguishing political asylum proceedings in Canada, stressfully awaiting my hearing. (Go figure). In this regard too, I am not alone.

This is a sweet caption.
Tahrir Square after Mubarak stepped down.

For nearly two years, since 2013, I hardly wrote anything.

Partially due to forced censorship, and partially also due to the discouraging atmosphere of oppression and disillusionment that took over.

Tyrants returned.

Dictators regained their strength.

The prostituted and self-proclaimed bearded guardians of The Order flexed their superior organizational muscles and seized democratic gains only to fall behind bars, while their other more extreme and armed brethren rose to prominence.

Muslims and Christians, previously united hand-in-hand, were now horrified at spectacles of butchery involving their own.

How much things have changed.

And thus the question persisted.

“Why even write anymore?”

Simply because there’s much more to the story than what may seem evident. Progress within the political maybe stunted. But if anything, thanks to demographic trends and exponential technology, the cultural and societal is hastening.

The proliferation of mobile connectivity continues unabated. The explosion of online content targeting emerging markets has never been more ferocious. Digital commerce is now a matter of destiny, and driven by Moore’s Law, a matter of near divine providence.

Even though exile was at first a bitter experience, it ultimately became a lesson in resilience and in renewed purpose.

I am now 28, happily married, soon-to-be 29 and eventually 30. Time is of the essence. We never know when we’ll fall asleep forever. Just ask those who knew Bassem Sabry.

As a newly minted resident of North America, and one who is now extremely grateful to call Canada his home and Global HQ, the opportunity and freedom to speak, to create, to disrupt, to grow, to innovate, feels limitless.

Whereas the mantle of activism was previously befitting, the mantle of scalable global entrepreneurship now stands out, more suitable and powerful.

Free speech doesn’t have to be expressed merely in the form of thoughts and words in a blog post. It can also be in the form of a graphic novel, a movie, or a major media brand.

“Why even write anymore?”

Because writing is the realm of language, and language is what makes creative inventive thought possible. And hence I can’t help but continue writing, only this time with more freedom, more maturity, and more focus than when I first started.

Who knows what the next decade will bring. Truth is, I’m both nervous and excited. Time will tell.

As for today, well…

Today is the day I break my silence, and officially begin wielding my keyboard once again.

Happy 9th year anniversary to The Sudanese Thinker, welcome to my new blog, thank you for being a reader of my work, and here’s to a new beginning.