The Importance of One’s Voice

In the interview posted on Blackboard with Rafik Schami, Schami speaks about the power and significance of one’s voice. Schami makes the point that one ought to speak out and utilize one’s voice as an integral aspect to a functioning democracy; without speaking out, Schami suggests that democracy would fail. Silence then becomes anathema to democracy. According to Schami, democracies as a form of government would be unable to sustain themselves or function in their most idyllic sense without an electorate and citizenship that is unabashedly unafraid of using their voices and their freedoms to do so. Schami connects this notion of “responsible citizenship” to the importance of telling stories orally; the two are both vital to healthy societies.

Throughout Schami’s Damascus Nights, the notion of Salim’s lost voice and attempts to regain that voice through others employing their voices by way of oral story-telling, a cultural trope, allegorically parallels to the repression of free speech in totalitarian military societies. The impact of Salim’s lost voice reverberates throughout the Middle East as numerous authoritarian regimes monopolize speech in a manner directly inimical to democracy. For example, in addition to my grandfather’s anecdote about Saddam’s silencing of Iraqi’s voices, Schami’s work alludes to Nasser’s radio station, Sawt al-Arab,  which acted as a monolithic voice for the Arab people as it simultaneously silenced the voices of the Arab people. Furthermore, the theme of losing one’s voice occurs throughout the work to underscore its significance. In addition to Salim’s lost voice, the farmer’s Faustian bargain in which he trades his voice reinforces this theme. The farmer is noted to have paid an incredible price for the gold lira at the expense of his voice. Similar to 1001 Nights, the significance of one’s voice is equivalent to life. Within the Nights, oral stories allow the characters to live; the decapitated woman in “The Story of the Three Apples” is reduced to an object because she cannot tell her stories.

The significance of one’s voice, to me at least, is perhaps best expressed, as I said in class, by Dante’s image of Satan at the end of Inferno.  That Satan, the paradigmatic sinner, is punished by the denial of the Word, or in other words, the loss of his ability to utilize his voice, is significant precisely because of the importance of one’s voice. I think this image parallels to both Schami’s Damascus Nights and 1001 Nights well and reveals the importance of story-telling not only in both works, but also in literature and society as a whole.

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