The Power of an Individual Story: Creative Writing as a Decolonizing Force.

Creative writing and individual story-telling have emerged in this global era as upright ambassadors of nations and especially of peoples living in the peripheries; those of the third world and more specific countries that have experienced a form of colonial or imperial rule of some kind.

The story of such human beings rarely makes it to corporate news unless they are depicted as passive, unenlightened, or inadequately representing a sort of hazard to the rest of the “civil” world. In such unbalanced paradigms of power and representation, individual story-telling through creative writing emerges as a voice that can alter and change world views on specific peoples and cultures which have been both marginalized and vilified for so long.

If we delve into the philosophy and politics of the act of writing, we realize there is one thing the third-world lacks; that is, a defining narrative or a solid counter-narrative to what has been written about it. Besides, to think of it, the person who creates, or more accurately, constructs this narrative is the writer.

Let us consider, for example, the previously colonized nations; they are still represented in the light of what their colonizers had written about them. To make this a bit more relatable, there is a corpus of grand narratives that were produced by the Orientalists about my country, Morocco, when it was a French and Spanish colonial territory. The colonial writer, artist, and photographer thought that since native Moroccans could not speak, write, or represent themselves, it occurred to him to take it upon himself to represent them and write their narrative and stories for them.

The narratives that were produced and reinforced later by the colonial enterprise carried major fallacies as they represented this Moorish country as an overall voiceless, impotent, and inferior other that is exotic on the side. Naturally, the inferiority of this other had to be contrasted with the civility of the enlightened center, so it procured the legitimacy and urgency for its Mission Civilisatrice, which eventually was just a cover-up for colonialism, to begin with. Now that Morocco is undergoing a radical shift of economic growth and educational decolonization, it has become the writers’ job to respond to these fallacies and colonial misrepresentations and correct them via their authentic individual story, which ultimately forms itself to become a solid counter-narrative.

Granted, it might seem outdated to speak of almost century-ago colonialism and its impact on what we currently call third-world countries. However, even though we live in a global age such Manichean paradigms of inferior vs. superior, civilized vs. uncivilized, or democratic vs. oppressive are still operationally established. To demonstrate, ever since the major Arab-Israeli military clashes- mainly those of 1948-49, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, and 2006- and especially after the 9/11 attacks, a corpus of media-based discourses has been mass-produced in a manner that vilifies Muslims and Arabs and depicts them as fanatic suicide-bombers and terrorists. The women, on the other hand, have no agency whatsoever. They are depicted as oppressed beings who are demoted to almost slave-like characters when they are not represented as accomplices in a terrorist operation of some kind.

Meanwhile, after a critical examination of these humanity-robbing depictions, we notice that they are not only similar, but they equally represent a sort of nostalgia to the orientalist paintings and narratives that were produced in the classical period Orientalism. Thus, the aforementioned neo-orientalist depictions are nothing but a modernized construct of the Other’s image that suits the peculiarities of the present political context.

By viewing this Other in this light, the West positions itself as the ultimate democracy builder and advocate. No wonder that the US carried this democratic liberation narrative when it invaded Iraq and Afghanistan for example. Regardless of the failure of their “democratic” missions eventually in both countries, the world was convinced when these invasions were taking place, based on the accumulation of passive imagery on Arabs and Muslims, that in order for these peoples to be democratic and liberal, a Western intervention needed to take place. This “altruistic” human rights and democracy industry, however, is still utilized by world powers to topple governments, invade and plunder third-world countries, and retain control over their riches and economies.

Interestingly enough, as the Palestinian-American literary critic Edward Said points out, there is a chorus of willing intellectuals who are ready to claim that there are altruistic intentions behind such intervention and colonization. Consequently, they start building up an exclusive narrative that serves as a pretext for a modern form of the “civilizing mission” carried out by their empire.

With that being said, the writers in the margins are no longer neutral in this sea of conflicting narratives as they start unconsciously speaking truth to power. Here, it can be stated that their fiction or individual stories set about a correction of the Western narratives which end up becoming history. Their counter-narratives become the ambassador of nations and vindicator of causes and, if not to mention, the only effective way of resistance against all forms of totalitarianism.

Therefore, there is much integrity in local identity and memory, be it oral or inscribed, that is produced. It is then provided to a certain reader without the misrepresentations and passive depictions that were caused before by the previously established narratives; which may never be reliable- even if they were based on a biographical account because they are constructed from the perspective of an outsider.

Concurrently, the writer’s job, however, should not become the rejection of colonialism for the sake of embracing another limiting “ism” of some kind. A case in point, embracing a radical nationalism that rejects or ridicules any form of openness to cultural or linguistic products coming from the West because this precisely was the problem with Orientalist discourses.

However, what makes the new generation of emerging writers special remains its disregard of the colonial languages that are predominant in the country for a global language is English. And the fact that these writers adopt such a global tool for writing, engenders very threatening counter-narratives. For those who belittle this fact, it is enough to highlight that language is power; and in a world of discursive structures, nothing seems beyond language. Assuredly, a narrative is a linguistic and discursive construct; and as it is constructed it could be deconstructed. Moreover, the adequate way to do so is via creative writing because fiction is flexible to an extent that allows a margin for interpretation.

The writers of the phenomenal critical book The Empire Writes Back (1989) have emphasized that one of the prominent features of imperial oppression is control over language. For language is the medium through which a hierarchical structure of power is perpetuated, and the medium through which conceptions of ‘truth’, ‘order’, and ‘reality’ become established. Such power is rejected in the emergence of an effective post-colonial voice. For this reason, the discussion of post-colonial writing, which follows, is largely a discussion of the process by which the language, with its power, and the writing, with its signification of authority, have been wrested from the dominant European culture.

As the language of the colonizer was and is still viewed to be superior to the local language and dialects, as of today, Moroccan and North African elites and mimics who inherited the will of the colonizers still speak in French or Spanish as an indication of their superior class and intellectualism. Furthermore, these Manichean patterns of superior vs. inferior, which are transmitted through colonial discourses, cannot be dismantled unless this paradigm is altered from within.

To relate this to the use of native and global tongues, the center, the West in this context, has always been fearful of the fact that one day the margin and its colonial subjects will be able to comprehend its language and hence speak back. That is why the British hated the fact the Indians were learning English perfectly and they enjoyed them better when they spoke with broken language that is merely intelligible. This happened in the US as well when the slaveholder was punished, by lashing, the slave who spoke back to him with eloquence. If this is the case with just a mere, eloquent speech, let us imagine the reaction when this speaking back is through conscious writing. Thus, hither comes the voice of those engendered in the peripheries to deconstruct this order and rebuild a more inclusive discourse that sets forth an arena where opposites could be negotiated and why not reconciled.

Bearing in mind the fact that such writers are taking on thorough decolonial missions, one might assume they are celebrated as great national assets. Unfortunately, after independence North African writers find themselves alienated when they are confronted with strict censorship and regulations that limit their freedom of expression and ultimately their creativity. This, however, is not related to the nature of their writings per se, but rather a condition that manifests itself in post-colonial communities where the rapture from the practices of the colonizers is not yet established governance-wise.

At the present moment, Moroccan independent digital journalists and bloggers like the names of Omar Radi and Soulaimane Raissouni face serious jail sentences for challenging the system and keeping to the journalistic integrity of speaking truth to power. This very fact highlights the first challenge that counter writers have to endure while speaking back to their double oppression. That is why decolonization is an intricate process to embark on as it is challenged by all power frontiers.

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