The Guardian recently reported that, according to a landmark report by independent watchdog Freedom House, our democracy is at greater risk than it has been at any time in the past 25 years. People in nearly every part of the world are in danger of significant threats to their freedom, and the level of brutality under authoritarian regimes is at an all-time high.
Terror has no borders—geographical or moral—and it is not exclusive to any religion, not Islam or any other religion in the world. Terror reaches into our neighborhoods, offices, streets, even our houses.
The Internet, together with the globalization process, has united the people of the world and blurred our geographical borders. We still live in countries, but we create different definitions for our borders and communities. We may live in Europe, for example, but still be part of a global community of organized terror.
This is how terror becomes a virtual country—with supporters spread all over the world. One of the methods of terror is to instill fear and horror. It forces us to feel unprotected. It makes clever use of marketing and social networks to communicate with its supporters, and rains terror upon the world through strategic terror attacks or through YouTube, as recently seen in ISIS’s release of horrific videos depicting the beheadings of its victims.
Last reports from France suggest that Amedie Coulibaly used a GoPro camera to document the terror attack at the Jewish Kosher supermarket in Paris. The next goal, experts warn, is to broadcast live from the terror arena.
The civilians of this “virtual terror country” are diverse. They can be the girl from school or the rapper down your street. They can be dragged to terror through social networks, where they were looking for adventure, or revenge, or even a romantic cause. Terror invades places where hope has ceased to exist, and influences people who have become invisible to the rest of society—those people we have failed to treat as equals, holding equal rights, in our communities. Terror promises that they will be heard, together with the erosion in morality—they will cross all red lines and take innocent lives in order to restore dignity to their names, families, or even religion.
These people are often recruited for a single strategic suicide terror attack, or for larger attacks operating in small groups. These attacks are usually never stopped.
The virtual terror country sends a message of horror to those who believe in freedom of speech and narrow the global boundaries of the conversation. watchdog Freedom House report is just one example.
Pamela Geller, co-founder of AFDI “dedicated to freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and individual rights under the law”, knew many battles, while most of her battles kept between the courts borders, the organization recently become a target for terror attack. The attack, by two gunmen who were shot dead by police, was the first violence targeting Geller’s New York-based organization.
What must worry us more is the self-censorship the media and writers accept on their self. Unfortunately, lately we have too many evidence for it, (Probably as a result of the arisen of the “virtual terror country”) With the refusal of book stores around the world to sale the Charlie Hebdo Magazine after the terror attack in France or the media to publish some its caricatures.
In America, 145 writers PEN members listed as signatories on a letter protesting PEN American Center’s decision to award its “freedom of expression courage” award to the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, because the award seems to endorse drawings of the prophet Muhammad and other images that “must be seen as being intended to cause further humiliation and suffering” among France’s embattled Muslims.
The Nigerian-American author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, criticized it at the closing PEN festival. Adichie explained about the “codes of silence” that govern American life.“To choose to write is to reject silence, ” she said. Breaking silences is not always easy. “I have often been told that I cannot speak on certain issues because I am young, and female, or, to use the disparaging Nigerian speak, because I am a ‘small girl’ … I have also been told that I should not speak because I am a fiction writer … But I am as much a citizen as I am a writer.”
In his book ‘What is literature?’ Jean-Paul Sartre argued on the moral duty of intellectuals, as well as the ordinary citizen, to take a stand in face of political conflicts, and especially those in their region. Literature according to Sartre is a tool which provides a dual action: first as a mirror to the oppressor, and second, as a guide and inspiration to the oppressed. Through literature, oppressed minorities could gain recognition and an action taken by the elite.
While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent international covenants defined Freedom of Thought and Expression as fundamental human rights, constant and frequent attacks on these freedoms takes place under dictatorships and repressive regimes, as well as democracies, in attempt to silence any protest or dissent. Censorship is exercised on each and every publication while are often writers and journalists are persecuted, imprisoned and executed.
Despite of this, and because of this, authors often in history lead a very important non-violence resistance and protected freedom of speech. For that matter authors silence or self-censorship is the terror greatest victory and the world riskiest stage.
Saad Salloum, author and editor from Iraq declared himself as “Yazidi” despite life threat that will probably follow this statement explained his act: : “Here I return once again to emphasize that our silence and indifference represent a clear alliance with ISIS in the extermination of the Yazidis”.
The only way to overpower the terror virtual country is to create an “anti-terror virtual country.” A strong global movement will be strong to overcome the terror attacks and will use its powers to spread hope instead of horror; our weapon will not be guns or explosions, but the power of words, of literature. Our army will be authors and literature supporters, and we will spread its values through social media and the Internet.
We will work in solidarity and accept all men and women as equal, no matter their race, gender or religion.
We will adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as our “constitution” and turn back the winds of terror.
Vered Cohen Barzilay is the founder of Novel Rights, a global movement, utilizing the power of literature to drive change. Vered, Israeli born human rights advocate, (former art for amnesty board member) lectured in Universities such Oxford and LSE and international book fairs (Turin, Milan etc’). Her publications about literature and human rights, translated and distributed in many countries, include her personal experience as a war reporter in Israel covering dozens of suicide terror attacks.