Monday, February 14, 2011

Arrest!

I've never been arrested.

But I can recognize similar accounts of it when I hear them - from two quite different political dissidents, of different genders, in two quite different times and places.

Tonight on the public radio program The Story, Egyptian writer Nawal El Saadawi told of her experience of being suddenly arrested by Egypt's authoritarian regime. It was thirty years ago, but the experience was clearly a seering one - yanking her out of her illusionary comfort zone and thrusting her into the bracing reality of prison.

In prison, she was confined next to prostitutes who lent her the rudimentary writing materials (such as toilet paper) she used to keep writing.

I was struck by the eerie congruence between her description of being arrested and the one given by Aleksandr Solshenitsyn in the very first chapter of his monumental Gulag Archipelago.
"Need it be said," Solzhenitsyn asked, "that it is a breaking point in your life, a bolt of lightning which has scored a direct hit on you?"

Solzhenitsyn's answer to his own rhetorical question would surely resonate with El Saadawi and others who have been arrested unexpectedly. He describes arrest as "an unassimable spiritual earthquake" with consequences so severe that some people go insane.

The natural reaction, then, is to hold on, as long as possible, to the previous reality - as summed up in Solzhenitsyn's patheticly innocent question, "Me? What for?"

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