I don’t usually get much literary news from Foreign Policy, but this week has provided a couple of welcome exceptions to that rule. The first is Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian’s excellent piece on “China’s Salman Rushdie,” the Uighur writer Perhat Tursun.
It’s been more than 15 years since Perhat wrote a novel called The Art of Suicide. Perhat’s novel prompted “years of threats, a de facto ban on Perhat’s works, and at least one book burning,” Allen-Ebrahimian writes, and “belied the officially atheist ideology of the Chinese Communist Party, which tightly controls the region.” A conservative intellectual, Yalqun Rozi, emerged in opposition to Perhat’s novel. That opposition was largely based on what Perhat insists was a misreading of a passage from the book. Preheat wasn’t a new target for Yalqun Rozi; his 1991 novel ran afoul of the scholar as well. The Art of Suicide, “portrayed the prophet, and Islam in general, as bad for humanity.” Perhat was left with no recourse to explain his side of the matter:
Since The Art of Suicide, Xinjiang’s publishing houses — largely state-run and all under government purview — have refused to publish anything by Perhat, not even a rebuttal to the outpouring of criticism that fractured his life and put him in danger. “I can’t publish anything to explain myself,” said Perhat. “I didn’t humiliate the prophet, but any one word I can’t publish in Xinjiang, in any media. They refuse.”
The story doesn’t have an altogether happy ending, but Perhat has a new wife and children, after his previous wife leaving him during the Art of Suicide debacle. Some of his recent work is due to be published in English soon. The full text of Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian’s piece is here (subscription not required, I think):
A little more on Perhat Tursun is here, but for now he’s a low profile figure, in terms of English language coverage:
The currency of comparing plight of writers like Perhat Tursun to Rushdie shouldn’t be doubted. Salman Rushdie is due to give a speech at the Frankfurt Book Fair on October 13, and the Iranian government has threatened to boycott the fair if he’s allowed to do so.
The other bit of coverage worth noting requires a subscription, I’m afraid. It’s about PEN Pinter award winner Raif Badawi, a Saudi blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes in January for apostasy and insulting Islam. He’s also on the hook for a 10 year prison sentence and a $270,000 fine. He’s received 50 lashes thus far, but the balance of the thousand is on hold due to international pressure on the Saudi authorities.
Badawi shares the award with the English poet James Fenton, who notes that, “What moved me was the contrast between the simplicity of Badawi’s liberal aims — their modesty, almost — and the ferocity of the punishments they have brought down on him.” The blog seems to have done nothing that would merit punishment at all: “Saudi Liberal Network…challenged government policies, advocated secularism, and warned of the dangers of discrimination. The site also published an article about Valentine’s Day, which is forbidden in Saudi Arabia, quietly mocked the country’s religious police, and published a writer who insinuated that the al-Imam Mohamed ibn Saud University was a ‘den for terrorists.’” A link to the full FP article is below. If you’re prompted to subscribe, I’d recommend considering it.