With each new book selection, Amnesty’s campaigners help to craft a background for our readers. This discussion explores our guest readers’ book picks through the lens of taking action and supporting real-word campaigns. Read the novel, learn more about it’s themes backgrounds, and then help change the world. It’s a different kind of book club!
Art as Advocacy: a ‘take action’ background
There are moments of true beauty in Station Eleven, despite the devastation and violence of a society unravelled. For the Travelling Symphony, survival is insufficient – there must be more to life. Through their performances, they bring humanity and collaboration. Emily St. John Mandel weaves a story about a collection of people who have found a common cause, who are inspired and motived by one another, and who choose to continue their travelling performances despite the risk of life on the road.
The performers in Station Eleven are prepared to take this risk. They have made a choice. And in their wake, they leave a small piece of the world changed.
The Travelling Symphony dares to remind people of their humanity. They accept the dangers. Station Eleven may be a work of fiction, but in reality many courageous musicians, writers, artists and creators face these risks every day, and still continue with their work.
Meet several individuals who use their creativity to champion human rights. From Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque (better known as Zunar) whose cartoons have been deemed ‘detrimental to public order’, David Bowie’s performance near the Berlin Wall, to Atena Farghadani whose drawing of politicians as animals has resulted in her imprisonment by the Iranian government.
My pen has a stand
Meet Malaysian Cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, better known by his pen name Zunar. Malaysian police and authorities have claimed on several occasions that Zunar’s cartoons are “detrimental to public order” and run afoul of the country’s draconian sedition law. He is now facing nine charges under Malaysia’s Sedition Act – a colonial-era law the government is using to harass and silence critics. Zunar considers laughter an important form of public protest. He is noted for saying,“How can I be neutral? Even my pen has a stand.” Amnesty International has long expressed concerns about the sedition law in Malyasia, which criminalizes a wide array of acts. The law does not comply with international human rights law, and in particular violates the right to freedom of expression.
We can be heroes
Music has been a compelling source of inspiration for political and social movements. Musicians around the world face censorship, exile, disappearances and torture for their music and lyrics, which can become anthems for social movements. David Bowie reminded us of the role of art when it comes to breaking down walls, challenging stereotypes and building community. His song “Heroes” was recorded in West Berlin in 1977, a few months after East German border guards shot and killed an 18-year-old trying to cross into West Berlin. The song is remembered as an anthem of optimism and defiance, capturing the hopelessness and desperation of a city divided. Ten years later, in 1987, Bowie performed in a three day Concert for Berlin, held on the western side of the Berlin Wall but loud enough that people in East Germany could hear.
Athena the artist
In June 2015, satirical cartoonist Atena Farghdani was sentenced to 12 years and nine months in prison for multiple offences, including insulting Iran’s MPs and its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, after publishing a series of satirical cartoons depicting legislators as monkeys, cows and other animals. The cartoon was in protest of a bill that seeks to criminalize voluntary sterilization and restrict access to contraception and family planning services.
Atena’s trial lasted just half an hour. The “evidence” against her relied on Atena’s answers under long stretches of interrogation, while she was held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer or her family.
In August 2015, Atena reported that she was forced to undergo a “virginity and pregnancy test,” prior to her trial on the charge of “illegitimate sexual relations” for shaking hands with her male lawyer. Coerced “virginity testing” is internationally recognized as a form of violence and discrimination against women and girls.
Take action now. Call on the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Head of Judiciary to Release Atena, quash her conviction and sentence, and not punish citizen for expressing their right to free speech.
*These actions can expire. For the current book club action, visit AmnestyBookClub.ca/takeaction