Yoram Kaniuk, one of Israel’s most prolific novelists a senior stateman of Israeli letters, writes in his Ynet column that artists, intellectuals and poets seem to be glaringly absent from the Arab democracy protests.
This week an Egyptian writer was interviewed about the uprising. He was reserved, but he spoke. Up until Monday, throughout the 18 days during which a revolution unfolded live on television, shaking the very foundations of Egyptian society, not a single voice of poet, author or any other cultural figure ( ish ruach )was heard. It was a revolution of rage and courage, and they didn’t appear. As someone who knows something about the media, I’m sure that at least some of the Arabic-speaking foreign journalists know a few authors and poets—and if they had been there, they would have been interviewed. Others were interviewed. We heard from young people who started the revolution. We heard from the state television journalist who courageously left her job and joined the protesters. But not one single man or woman of letters.
There has never been a revolution that wasn’t inspired or led by cultural leaders, Kaniuk writes.
The French and Russian revolutions were inspired by the words and struggles of cultural figures. The American struggles for civil rights and against the Vietnam war, the Israeli struggle against the occupation, often featuring Palestinians and Israelis struggling side-by-side, all of them have prominently featured the voices of intellectuals and cultural figures. Perhaps not sufficiently, but they were there.
Why? Kaniuk doesn’t offer an answer. He just takes note and wonders.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).