The past few days I have been thinking a lot about two of my as-yet unpublished novels. Though to me these stories are benign, I have begun to feel myself cowed by extremists. By fear of their extremism, to be precise.
Even before I have spoken and released what I have written, I fear three groups: white supremacists, Sikh extremists and Muslim activists. But for the variance in the precise form of their identity politics, these three groups seem to converge ideologically: all of them defending perceived underdogs, rallying against victimisation, actively engaged in the spread of misinformation, using intimidation and threats to silence dissenting voices both within and without.
A part of me says: “You’re nobody, and nobody will read you, only one or two: so rest easy.” But another part of me has started saying: “Those extremists could do you serious harm—you don’t know who you’re messing with—so desist.”
I have of course been toying with publishing under a pseudonym, a pen name, and publishing using a generic and anonymous ISBN, not linked to me in any way, and to file tax records which make no reference to who or what I publish. All of these are necessary considerations.
It is not that I have written anything extreme myself. I just sought to tell two beautiful coming-of-age tales of the search for truth and meaning against the backdrop of internal and external pressures. I don’t claim to be a fine writer, deserving of praise and great acclaim; I know that I’m not. It’s just that these are the stories I decided to tell. Not to represent, just to reflect.
For a while, I was doing quite well preparing these novels for publication, but now my anxiety levels have shot through the roof. Part of me says: “These extremists do not read: you have nothing to worry about.” And perhaps that’s true. Perhaps my novels will only be read by one or two, and will then just fade back into obscurity, to be picked over by historians two hundred years from now, struggling to make sense of a nascent community of eccentrics.
But another part of me says: “Do not publish.” Be content with your peaceful life, with being unknown and obscure: don’t bring trouble on your head. Which would be a convincing argument, if only I hadn’t decided to invest so much of my own time and money in the hope of, this time, finally producing something worthy. Whether I have or haven’t: well that’s another matter altogether, for everyone has an opinion. Whatever I produce will always be a subjective matter of taste; I can only do my best.
As to these new anxieties though: how I hate the polarised times we live in and the uncompromising rise of hate-mongers and extremists intent on dividing us and silencing all opinions but their own. Those are the ones raising their voices all over, demanding to be heard. And the rest of us? We just self-censor, cowed by threats and intimidation, and retreat away into ourselves, preferring security and inner peace, over that momentary urge to share a story that might inspire and delight.
Ironic really, considering that the seed of the idea for the first novel I ever wrote was inspired by the threat of violence. By a young man, not much older than me, who had a message conveyed to me: “If you speak [to that person], I will break your back.” All those years ago, I turned to writing to make sense of those events, counselling myself from that trauma.
How ironic that I’m now toying with obliterating all I have written for fear. Ironic that I began writing as a result of a real threat, and may now desist due to threats imagined. A part of me says: “The time has come to be brave.” But another part says: “Run away, run away and hide!”