Last Thursday, a group of writers, editors, and academics known as the Writers Against the War on Gaza (WAWOG)—an ad hoc coalition committed to solidarity and the horizon of liberation for the Palestinian people and modeled on American Writers Against the War in Vietnam—published an open letter expressing solidarity with the people of Palestine. Reading through the letter’s signatories that night, I was heartened to see how many of my friends and colleagues had already put their names to the statement. For the first time in weeks, I felt a little hopeful.
It’s significant that the organizers of WAWOG have modeled their movement on American Writers Against the War in Vietnam, an organization created in 1965 by American poets Robert Bly and David Ray to serve as both sword and shield, allowing writers to protest under a collective identity while also protecting them from individual recrimination. In modern American history, anytime there is bipartisan political support for a large-scale military incursion—whether it’s in Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan—civic dissent is stifled, and that stifling permeates every aspect of public and cultural life.
We’re seeing some of that this month in our industry.
Consider the household names who spent the Trump years cataloging every MAGA obscenity on their Twitter feeds, now silent on the subject of Gaza; authors who (rightly, admirably, and regularly) speak out about Florida book bans and the dismantling of Roe vs. Wade and the incursion of artificial intelligence into the literary space and the January 6th insurrection and the actions of Russia in Ukraine, but who, seemingly, have nothing to say about the U.S.-backed killing of over 8,000 Palestinian civilians.
I’m sure many of them are afraid for their livelihoods, and there’s ample evidence to suggest that they are right to be.
In just over three weeks, we’ve seen a top Hollywood agent forced to step down for reposting an instagram story, and Artforum‘s editor-in-chief fired for publishing a letter expressing solidarity with Palestinians. We’ve seen the Frankfurt Book Fair cancel a prize ceremony for Palestinian author Adania Shibli. Several events for A Day in the Life of Abed Salama author Nathan Thrall were called off, and Salvadorian poet and activist Javier Zamora was disinvited from a panel for publicly supporting Palestinian liberation. Then there was eLife editor-in-chief Michael Eisen, who was fired for reposting an article from The Onion, and the 92NY’s cancellation of an event featuring the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen after he signed an open letter critical of Israel.
This creative stifling feels like a throwback to the McCarthy era, and it’s dispiriting to think that there are lessons we, as a society, never properly learned, but I’m heartened by authors like Hala Alyan, Lana Bastašić, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Michael Chabon, Etgar Keret, and Ru Freeman—as well as the numerous essayists writing in the pages of smaller outlets like Jewish Currents, N+1, The Baffler, Dissent, and elsewhere—who have all used their platforms to forcefully, eloquently, and compassionately advocate on behalf of the besieged Gazan people. And I’m heartened by the more than 6,000 writers and creative professionals who have already signed the WAWOG open letter, as well as the thousands more who have been calling for a ceasefire on social media.
We need our writers to keep speaking out. We need more of them to speak up.
We need our community to be united in condemnation of this brutal extinguishing of life, united in demanding a ceasefire, united in our support for the 170,000 members of the Palestinian Diaspora who call America home and the 2.2 million people waiting for violent death in total darkness. We need more prominent authors, authors with clout and power and protection in the industry, to make their voices heard so that others will feel empowered to join the chorus.
Mostly, though, we need to voice our outrage, loudly and explicitly, because what’s being done to the civilians of Gaza is a humanitarian crisis of apocalyptic proportions, and the very least we owe them—we Americans who voted into office the man sponsoring this genocide, a man whose White House just compared anti-war protestors, many of them Jewish, to Neo-Nazis—is our solidarity.
So please sign, please share, please post, please write about what’s happening. Please don’t wait until you’re sure it’s safe to speak.
As the novelist and journalist Omar El Akkad tweeted last week:
One day, when it’s safe, when there’s no personal downside to calling a thing what it is, when it’s too late to hold anyone accountable, everyone will have always been against this. https://t.co/lemZnLb44h
— Omar El Akkad (@omarelakkad) October 25, 2023