I recently travelled to Zanzibar, the ‘Andalusia’ of our ancestors, for much needed rest and relaxation; and was greatly astonished by the amount of messages sent to me regarding Badria Al – Ismaili’s collection of short stories ’Salt’. The messages mostly inquired about whether I was a member of the Cultural Club’s Book Issuing Committee. Some assumed prematurely that I was a member of this committee, and therefore, blamed me for the issuing of the “Salt” short story collection. Others asked me if I had read the collection, and moreover, if I was aware of the subsequent commentary, and social uproar that followed the publication of the short stories, on various social networking sites?
I considered all these questions to be logical, particularly due to my role at the Research Council. In addition, the Research Council’s “Publication Support Program “funds the Cultural Club’s publications. Furthermore, it is only natural for these questions to be directed towards me since I am closely involved within the arts and culture circles.
Above all, I welcome any queries people may have about literature because it is both, my specialty and interest.
However, I decided not to answer any of these questions until my return to my homeland.
Firstly, I would like to clarify that I am not a member of the Cultural Club’s Book Issuing Committee. I am also not involved with the “ Publication Support Program “ . The latter fund has an active and dynamic role; this is apparent by the books that the Cultural Club issues periodically. I am also unaware of the committee’s mechanisms, in terms of whether it is merely an advisory or intermediate committee – which refers the writing projects to other specialists for reviewing. Or, if it is an effective committee whose members read and evaluate the projects for publishing. However, I have a great understanding of the nature of the material since copies of the books are sent to the Research Council after being issued. I have therefore read most of the books – which, to date , exceed 69 issues.
For example, if I was a member of the previous committee or was tasked with reviewing the ‘Salt’ collection of books – or any other writing projects; I would categorically not block any creativity or thoughts. The latter, regardless of whether I agree or otherwise disagree with the author. This is due to my educational and cultural background, along with my intellectual horizons that do not allow me to support the suppression of ideas and thoughts.
In this case, I will just note down my objective points, which stem from my academic specialisation in literary criticism.
The writer can choose to accept or to reject them – they are free to do so since they are particularly conscious and aware of the content of their texts, and the probable consequences. Moreover, I believe in the importance of civilized dialogue that respects others’ opinions, irrespective of how big or small the differences are between us.
As for the question, Have I read the short stories’ collection ” Salt ” ? The answer is, yes. I read them during the last Muscat International Book Fair ( 27th February – 8th March 2014) and if they were at hand, I would have presented a critical review on them . Sadly, I am not able to do so since borrowing books without returning them has unfortunately become standard behavior – and in my opinion regarded as legitimate theft. I have therefore been unable to reclaim my copy of the controversial book following the fuss that was created.
I would also like to clarify that any academic critique requires more than a single reading of the text, and observation of the text’s context. Any literary critic knows the importance of these procedures. In addition, such criticism requires eliciting evidence (quotations) from the text in order to underline ideas, or to reveal the text’s integral contents and messages. In literature this is termed ” The Hidden Meaning or Untold Story” which does not appear from the surface, but rather inwardly.
As for the question of whether I have read the comments, and was aware of the social uproar that followed the publishing of “ Salt” – I have read some of them. Since I am not an avid social network user, and hardly have the time to peruse the sites, the number of comments that I have managed to read has been limited. Despite this, I observed that many of the opinions noted were contrived and exaggerated. Moreover, I noticed that some of the commentary misquoted extracts of the sexual theme. These were supposedly direct quotations from the collection; however, they did not exist in the original text. This I find a grave issue and should seriously be taken into consideration.
Furthermore, most of those who commented on “Salt” did not read it, but were merely influenced by the storm. A clear indication of this, was their referring to “Salt” as a novel instead of short stories. The word “novel” has not appeared either on the book’s cover, or within it. In literature, there is significant difference between the two genres – although both are classified in literary terms under the genre of prose. Had commentators actually read “Salt “, it would have been impossible to mistake its basic classification.
I would also like to illustrate that in literary texts such as “Salt, one cannot extract words, lines and phrases randomly and form moral judgment. Since the artistic significance of any literary text does not appear through isolating and dividing the text’s vocabulary, but rather from the dynamic relationship between all its words – sentences – phrases and paragraphs. Therefore, ideas or themes that may be rejected from a social perspective may not necessarily have the same significance in a literary text. On the contrary, they may have extremely different meanings and symbolism.
From this aspect, a proper review of any literary work can only be achieved through depth of reading. A literary text is likely to have more than a single interpretation and explanation.
I could not grasp the real motives behind the hype surrounding “Salt”, and the reasons of magnifying the whole situation. The hype suggesting rather impressively that reading is widely practiced in our society !! Although in reality, it is unfortunately otherwise. I could not understand where all this fuss was when books from the Arabic Heritage, were sold at the Muscat International Book Fair. Books that contained bolder themes, for example, depicting details of sexual relationships between women and animals, pedophilia… etc.
Due to my expectations that these books above, whose themes of a taboo nature, might have a social impact – I purchased one and handed it over to H.E. the Undersecretary of Ministry of Heritage for Cultural Affairs . H.E. appreciated my act and did not consider it an interference with the ministry’s affairs.
So whoever thought that the theme of short stories in “ Salt” is socially unacceptable, should have presented a memo to the Ministry of Heritage, Cultural Club or to the Research Council, explaining their point instead of fabricating a fuss. As individuals and as a society, we do not need it. Especially since, we are all aware and cannot deny the vital role played by these governmental organisations within cultural, intellectual and scientific spheres. From my point of view, I believe purchase of books is a free choice. The reader has the free will to choose the books they deem suitable, and avoid those not favoured.
In addition, Badria Al Ismaili is neither the only, nor the first author to include one of the triangle taboo subjects of the third world (sex – politics – religion) – in her collection. There are other literary works (short stories and novels) written by Omani authors, however there is no space to explain in detail. There are also other works of literature written by authors across the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Finally, I was very disappointed to witness the defamation of the author’s character and the grotesque interference in her personal life. Although I do not know her personally, I am obliged to remind people that this attitude does not belong to superior human behaviour. It neither belongs to the moral guidance of all religions in general, and to the ethics, values and teachings of our Islamic religion in particular.
Translated by: Dr. Asyah Al – Bualy .
Edited by: Najat Salem Rashid