A voice that won't be heard in Beijing

Ruby Rohrlich (rohrlich@GWIS2.CIRC.GWU.EDU)
Sun, 3 Sep 1995 23:34:52 -0400

I am posting excerpts from a column by Judy Mann in the Washington Post, 9/1:
"Aicha Lemsine is one of the most famous female writers in the French-
and Arab-speaking worlds, having writen four books that have been
censored, acclaimed and ranslaed into five languages, as well as a
newspaper column for Le Soir d'Algerie that has been banned by the
Algerian government since l989.
"In l984 she was elected Arab Woman of the Year by the
Associationfor Franco-Arab Friendship, based in Paris. That year, the
Association of Mediterranean-African Literature gaveher the Prize of
Mediterranean-African Literature for her book 'Ordalie des Voix.'
Lemsine was the fourth woman to receive the prize since it was created in
l901. This year Lemsine was one of 48 writers from 23 countries who
received the grants from the estates of Lillian Hellman and Dashiell
Hammett given each year to writers who have been targets of political
persecution. Now living with her daughter in Washington - a temporary
haven from the complicated and brutal world of Algerian politics -- she
is at work on her 5th book.
"Lemsine is az Muslim, but a feminist one who has always refused
to wear a veil. In citing her for the award, Human Rights Watch said she
had been 'branded a fundamentalist sympathizer by the military
dictatorship because she stood up for civil liberties and advocated
dialogue with Islamists. . . . Meanwhile, as a result of her advocacy of
women's rights, the Islamists have called her 'the most dangerous woman
in Algeria.' Talk about a no-win position.
"Lemsine has been working with a small nongovernmental
organization for the last year in an effort to draw the world's attention
to thekillings of Algerian women - among them writers and journalists -
dring the last 3 years. She was sjpposed to be on a panel on censorship
at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, but
funding for the trip ran out at the last minute. Here is part of what
she wants the world to start paying attention to:
"Algeria", she says, "is the only country in the Middle East and
Noth America where women are killed (more than 200 since l993) because
they work, and because they are writers, journalistsand resolutely and
unabashedly modern." Women have been killed when they wear a veil and
when they don't, she says. Female studentshave been shot down in the
streets, had their throats slit, been kidnapped, raped and murdered.
Women have been killed for wearing jeans or skirts. More than 30,000 men
also have been cut down by terrorists, she says.
"Because they are standard-bearers, she says, female writers are
taken as particularly serious threats to fundamentalist, totalitarian
regimes that run both political and religious sectors of oppressed Muslim
nations. A sample of her description of what is going on in Algeria show
the power of her words: 'Algeria today is not Egypt, Palestine or
Afghanistan, where the conflicts and stakes are played out in the open,
where Islamists and their adversaries face off in a straightforward war,
where loathsome barbarity against women and children is more or less
avoided. Algeria is simultaneously Bosnia and Rwanda, with the same
ingredients of civil war.'
"For l9 years Lemsine worked in an atmosphere of state censorship
and physical threats fromMuslim extremists, which she would have
described in /Beijing as "the living hell of Algerian women writeres in
Algeria. We write under the twin threats of r eligious fundamentalism
and quasi-fascist military regimes. For us, women's issues are issues of
survival, our financial resources are nil, and our psychological balance
is weakened by fear and anxiety. The alternative is death or exile.'
"She would urge the Beijing conference to put the plight of
persecuted female writers on the agenda of theU.N. Human Rights
Commission and to call on governmental organizations to eliminate all
forms of censorship, to abolish blasphemy laws and to condemn terrorist
acts against women, girls and female intellectuals.
"As the world moves in fits and starts toward more democratic
forms of government -- and toward making women full partners in society--
Aicha Lemsine is a courageous voice remindingus that there can be no
freedom without freedom of the press. It's a message that should be
heard loudly and clearly in Beijing." Posted by Ruby Rohrlich