Before attending his session at Ubud Writers and Readers Festival I didn’t know much more about Behrouz Boochani than he was ‘the author of a prize-winning book that was completely written from out of captivity using Whatsapp’.
After hearing him (through Skype) and his translator Omid Tofighian speak for over an hour in a packed room with a large Australian audience, I not only learned about the harsh Australian immigration policy, I also got hugely inspired by Boochani’s opinion on journalism.
Fairly at the beginning of his contribution to the panel, which didn’t go very easy as the connection failed a few times, he stated how for his book he moved from journalism language towards a more cinematographic language: ‘I don’t trust the language of journalism, even though I’m still working as a journalist’. He explained how mainstream media is part of the power structure in this world and how its superficial content is nothing else than ‘dangerous’ to our societies. He calls ‘journalists a big thread to the world’ and chooses literature as a ‘strong and free language’ to write about his situation.
Working in mainstream media himself and experiencing the role of journalism in his own situation, gives him the authority to express such claims. When he and his colleague refugees were transported from one place to the other, he’d noticed photographers in the airport ‘using their camera as a weapon, dehumanizing us’. It’s maybe the core of his work, the subject of how we can keep our identity as humans. His situation as a refugee locked up in a prison on a desert island without any hope of getting out soon and literally becoming a number to his guards was from cruelty, not many innocent people will experience in their life.
The operation system of the jail on Manus Island got its own name in Behrouz’ book: the Kyriarchal System. Omid Tofighian explained how they thought of making the system one of the characters in the publication: ‘The system created a space of hate and caused competition amongst people even over the simplest things’. With so many rules to control people, the system in itself tortured the refugees. At the end of the session, someone asked Behrouz how he took care of his mental health during all the years in captivity. ‘Nobody asked me this question before’, he answered. It was sad to hear how he had damaged his body to keep his mind strong. Keeping his privacy by staying silent in an environment where there are always people around and everyone is either sad, upset or angry, was another thing to stay sane. ‘If you lose your space, you can’t create, you can’t write’.
Tofighian summarized accurately what Behrouz teaches us with sharing his story:
‘He is telling us something about our modernized global world we would otherwise not understand. His book creates a rupture. We need to break it open and occupy it.’