They can burn books, destroy libraries, forbid languages, ban beliefs, delete past times,
draw new present times, order future actions, torture and execute people...
But they still don´t know how to kill the intangible and bright
bodies of ideas, dreams and hopes.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

A plurality of opinions: between doubt and contradiction

A plurality of opinions: between doubt and contradiction

By Sara Plaza

I must confess that I have read a lot of journals lately, newspapers from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean (I should admit, however, that nostalgia tied me up alongside the pages of an old quay [1] most of the times), and pieces of news from all the shores of the world. I have put my foot on the five continents at the hands (though I should say the fountain pen) of journalists who showed me the hazardous paths through which they have trodden before. I have seen peoples of different class and conditions with similar problems, here, there and in all the "corners" of our spherical planet. I have found diverse opinions about the same topic and they raised a huge number of doubts about the matter that was being dealt. I have discovered a great deal of controversial lines under the same headline, which would have also added new unknown quantities to the confusion state that I just mentioned above, which was increasing as days kept on going... When I got fond of reading newspapers –during my years at the Faculty–, I told myself that I read for knowing more; a few years later, I can say that I know almost nothing about what I first believed to know.

Which, I think it is not that bad, since my ignorance increases my curiosity and makes me keep on reading... Nevertheless, I do not believe that reading the daily news leads me to understand what is written by those who affirm to know what is happening. The same as Fernando Savater said in an interview, I "understand those who do not understand" [2]. The Spanish philosopher stated in those lines that "I am closer to those who are ignorant because of my own ignorance." And he added: "most of the manuals are very boring because those who write them believe that there is an obligation to read them." I do not know if this will be the case of the newspapers that, in some way, make us feel under any obligation to read them in order to be informed. And when I write "to be informed" I want to say exactly that: to be informed; since I would not want my words to suggest to the readers that it is the same as knowing about something, not even as feeling certain about the truth of the matter; I simply wish to point out that by reading what is written in the journals one can be, more or less, aware of what is said to be happening.

However, it is necessary to be able to understand certain linguistic register. Here I would not be only talking about a more formal or less formal style –even vulgar sometimes–, inside the standard way of writing, but also about the double–edged comments and what anyone can –and should– read between the lines to discover a meaning that is not openly stated... Regarding the differences in the writing style (that in many occasions become almost idiomatic differences), the writer Juan Goytisolo exposed a number of very interesting considerations in the article called "La fractura lingüística del Magreb" [3] (The linguistic break in Magreb). The author made a comparison between the current uses of the classical Arab (which is used in religious contexts, parliamentary assemblies, official ceremonies, almost the majority of the written literature, etc.) and the popular language that shares the people from Morocco and Algeria, the darixa, "named condescendingly, by the doctors and the 'living forces', dialectal or colloquial Arab, not to say 'vulgar'". For Goytisolo, that popular language, far from being "coarse", had surprised him by its "constant creativity" since, without forgetting its origin, the classical Arab, it has continually included voices from other languages. However, the author indicated that "the disparity between the formal and the spoken languages affects all the social, political and cultural life orders". Despite this statement, he permitted himself to be optimistic and concluded that "given the fact that the Maghrebian identity is multiple and mutant –as it happens with all the identities, no matter what constitutions and official texts say–, the darixa and the Berber common to the Atlas and the Cabilia will grow roots, sooner than later, in the field of knowledge and culture, however strong the resistance offered by the learned and the factitious powers might be".

The writer did not focused his article upon the desirable use –on the part of the media– of the language spoken by over the 99 % of the Maghrebian population, but he did mention them when reminded us of the prosecution against Ahmed Benschemi, the editor of the journals Nichan and Tel Que. Benschemi had published in the former an open letter to the king Mohamed VI in the language darixa instead of doing so in classical Arab. There is no doubt at all that languages and their different uses (and abuses) are a worry for many media. Another example that I have found surfing the newspapers during the last few weeks will illustrate this. In a sketch entitled "Lenguas contra personas" [4] (Languages against people) it was stated that: "the language white–collar workers' passion for regulating so strictly what people speak makes a complete nonsense of it". Those words were written about the Cristina Peri Rossi dismissal from Catalunya Ràdio (Catalonia Radio) program. She is a Uruguayan writer settled in Barcelona more than three decades ago, and this was her second period participating in the program. Peri Rossi was dismissed from her job for speaking in Spanish. "(...) Vocational censors might have thought that it would damage the rights of the Catalan language, and have decided to damage the labor rights of the writer instead". A number of pages ahead this note (that shows the linguistic fervor of some people) is amplified under the headline "La CCRTV [5] endurece el uso del catalán en los medios públicos" [6] (CCRTV hardens the use of Catalan in the public media). In my opinion, this official position, as it was assessed in the sketch mentioned, "contradicts the argument that in the social reality there is no problem, since there is an spontaneous linguistic co–occurrence, which allows all the civilians to participate in the public life whatever their communication language might be".

When at the beginning of these lines I wrote that I had found a lot of contradictions through my readings, the following one might turn to be another good example of it. Esteban Beltrán [7] affirmed in his article "Voltios sin control" [8] (Out–of–control voltage): "in the USA, the Taser–like guns are used with too much frequency in situations that the use of lethal force is not justified (...) the recent images of the student who was tased by security agents on the seventeenth of September, in the middle of Senator John Kerry conference, at the University of Florida, are an example of it. He was neither a dangerous delinquent, nor wanted to attempt against the Senator. A current of 50.000 volts passed through him because he was very insistent on making a question." Curiously, when I turned the page I discovered by chance a letter to the editor entitled "La verdadera libertad de expression" (The true freedom of expression), where the author explains, in relation with the recent celebration of the UN General Assembly in New York, that: "it has been an incomparable spectacle to see how the media and the students [in the States] have interrogated the Iranian President in a number of occasions, while in his country this is simply impossible".

I guess that things can always be worse... And it is to this fear that Fernando Savater referred when, under the title "Del dicho al hecho" [9] (Actions speak louder than words), he talked about the big political parties: "they know that the majority of the population have to choose between a party that they do not like and another that they hate, and each provost is awaiting for his party to be the one that they only do not like." I have been reading this philosopher for years and cannot stop wondering at the clarity in his explanations. With respect to the new and polemical subject in the Spanish school curriculum, "Educación para la ciudadanía" ("Education for Citizenship", which has already been adopted by 22 countries in the European Community and it is called "Civic Education" in Argentina), the author stated in the same text that "it has been proven that there are still citizens who consider an inadmissible abuse the explicit and reasoned establishment of a series of common civic values, which do not depend on the moral of each one, but on the ethics of living together in equality. Laicism consists precisely in this, and it is as indispensable in democracy as it is the universal suffrage." Among those citizens that Savater mentioned, might be the spokesman of the Spanish bishops, Juan Antonio Martínez Camino. He declared, in the article entitled "Los obispos reprenden a los colegios católicos por la asignatura de Ciudadanía" [10] (Bishops reprimand Catholic schools for the subject of Citizenship), that neither the Government, nor the Court, although they are democratic, have the right to meddle in "the education of the consciousnesses".

I definitely consider that reading the newspaper, if you do it with a bit of humor, may offer you a good number of surprises, in addition to many doubts and numerous contradictions as the examples shown in this page. I am not going to deny that I use to laugh less than I would like to when I have a journal in my hands; however, I make an effort to allow news to provoke in me such a healthy effect that is laugh, if we have to believe the words of Juan Goytisolo when he affirms that "(laugh) has always signaled the direction that all the peoples wishing to gain their freedom and their progress try to follow, whatever obstacles they have to overcome in their way." [11]

[1] Through these lines I will mention a number of different articles published in the international edition of EL PAÍS at the end of September 2007.

[2] From the article "Entiendo a los que no entienden" (I understand to those who do not understand), in the international edition of EL PAÍS, Friday 21st, 2007, in the "Cultura" (Culture) section.

[3] In the international edition of EL PAÍS, Monday 24th, 2007, in the "Opinión" (Opinion) section.

[4] In the international edition of EL PAÍS, Friday 28th, 2007, in the "Opinión" (Opinion) section.

[5] Corporación Catalana de Radio y Televisión (Radio and Television Corporation of Catalonia).

[6] In the international edition of EL PAÍS, Friday 28th, 2007, in the "Sociedad" (Society) section.

[7] Director of Amnesty Internacional Spain.

[8] In the international edition of EL PAÍS, Friday 28th, 2007, in the "Opinión" (Opinion) section.

[9] In the international edition of EL PAÍS, Friday 28th, 2007, in the "Opinión" (Opinion) section.

[10] In the international edition of EL PAÍS, Friday 28th, 2007, in the "Sociedad" (Society) section.

[11] From the article "La fractura lingüística del Magreb" (The linguistic break in the Magreb), In the international edition of EL PAÍS, Friday 28th, 2007, in the "Opinión" (Opinion) section.