Revolutions, Twitter and Alif the Unseen
So about two years ago, I sat down to write a novel. I was deep into a wonderfully clarifying kind of rage.
The rage had been a long time coming. By this point, I’d spent years being frustrated by two things: one, the fact that I was so often forced to speak to my three primary audiences (comic book geeks, literary NPR types, and Muslims) separately. There were things I could talk about to Muslims that most non-Muslims wouldn’t understand; things I could say to fellow geeks that many of my coreligionists would find shocking; and sociopolitical shop talk in which I take a perverse delight, but which people who don’t consume the Sunday edition of the New York Times on a weekly basis would probably be bored to death by. Yes, I just ended a sentence in a preposition, and I am too lazy to fix it. Anyway.
The second thing was the mainstream media’s insistence that blogging and social media were no big deal and politically would amount to nothing, especially in the developing world. The global Gen Why was made up of texting slackers with no social consciousness, or so the official story went. By 2010, anybody who spent time on the internet knew that this was, if you will pardon me, total bullshit, and that Facebook, WordPress and Blackberry had provided a petri dish for a seething new epidemic of social change, particularly in the Middle East. In Egypt, the Mubarak regime was already wise to this, and had been in the business of arresting hacktivists for several years. But here in the US, I couldn’t get anybody to listen. Anybody. When I tried to explain to one very bright individual in the publishing industry why the internet was such a unique medium for conversation, his response was “I don’t understand why they can’t just pick up the phone and call each other.”
And so was born the rage. Anger is not always bad. Hatred and malice are always bad, but sometimes anger is the pure and determined light that shows you the way forward–not unlike joy. At least, this is what I think I learned from Les Miserables.