Monday March 13, 2017

Monia Mazigh on revisiting the turmoil in Tunisia

Human rights advocate Monia Mazigh's new novel is Hope Has Two Daughters.

Human rights advocate Monia Mazigh's new novel is Hope Has Two Daughters. (moniamazigh.com/House of Anansi)

Listen 15:28

Monia Mazigh is a Canadian academic and human rights advocate. Her 2008 memoir, Hope and Despair, chronicles the challenges she faced when her Syrian-Canadian husband was suspected of being a terrorist by the U.S. government in 2002. Instead of being sent back to Canada, he was deported to Syria where he was imprisoned and tortured for nearly a year. During her husband's imprisonment, Mazigh relentlessly campaigned to have him released and clear his name.

Mazigh gravitated towards fiction for her new book, Hope Has Two Daughters. The novel alternates between the tales of Nadia and Lila, a mother and daughter who experience two different revolutions, 25 years apart, in Tunisia, where Mazigh was born and raised. 

Revisiting the past

I was going to the high school. I really didn't understand what was going on. At that time, there was no social media. We had only one channel of TV and that was controlled by the state. So we really didn't see what was happening in the streets. We were not able to read. I didn't see movies. I didn't read books about it. I grew up in kind of a parallel world — and I was not the only one. I think many were like me. So with age, with time, with a different place, with all that's going on with the turmoil happening in the Arab world, I decided to go and revisit this period of my life in a way, but through the eyes of another young woman.

Oppression, resistance and leaving it all behind

In a way, I was doing with Nadia what I couldn't do. I had seen this around me, this oppression by the authority. It affected me. I decided to leave, and I got the opportunity to leave smoothly, not like Nadia. But I left with a bitter taste in my mouth — of the oppression of authority, of just not being able to be who we are. I speak a lot about the mould that they want us to fit in. By "they," I mean what people in Tunisia refer to as "the ruler" or "the authority". It represents the government. It represents police. It represents official institutions. That's also part of the trauma. People are subdued. They just accept it with a fatalism that I was against. But maybe I didn't have the courage, or I didn't have the circumstances. I was not involved at all in politics, so I didn't have the opportunity to stand up against it. I just left.

Monia Mazigh's comments have been edited and condensed.