By David Anderson
Shivering against the cold in the dank cell – “the draught blows through the only little slit which they call a window” – the huddled, greying old man rocks back and forth, back and forth, on a stone slab that should have more resembled a throne.
Once on a pace to have surely become someone of eminence, a great man; with every chance in life; the best of educations; unmatched in career ladder-climbing zeal; naturally gifted, highly respected; superior to most, inferior to few; a name the “symbol of popularity, when many lived in his favor like insects in a sunbeam,” now, hardly distinguishable in the darkness, he claims as his most prized possessions in reality all that he could physically call his own: his poor ragged coat and his prized dog-eared books – and even these are 600 miles away.
“He is as obscure as if he had never had a name,” forgotten, abandoned, despised, friendless and alone.
Wanting only to be wrapped in a semblance of warmth against the oncoming winter; to be rekindled within by the fire of inspirational words; to keep at bay the even now clutching skeletal harsh fingers of ghost-like chill grasping at his own visible vertebrae; to feel again the warmth of a fierce smile tugging at the wrinkles spider-webbing across his face – evidence of something read that stirs his soul.
Poor, shivering and ragged, but if only he just had his books.
For him a luxury, given he hadn’t any, but now, especially now, a necessity.
“What burning, what flame, what fire,” is fanned by books.
But not just any books.
Certainly not the books Orwell describes: “words falling upon the facts like soft snow, blurring their outlines and covering up all the details.”
Rather books that are “compelling not only today, but which have stood the test of time;” books written “by men and women whose disrespect for authoritarianism has allowed them to alert their readers to vital, hidden truths;” books that “probe or question the hidden agendas and unaccountable, secret power structures at the heart of government.”
“Why,” asks John Pilger – editor of “Tell Me No Lies,” subtitled “Investigative Journalism That Changed the World” – is journalism that “stands outside the mainstream – an insurrection against the ‘rules of the game’ so important?”
Because “without it, our sense of injustice would lose its vocabulary and people would not be armed with the information they need to fight it.”
And inspired to carry on, to forge on, and to write on by the “principled audacity” of those who’ve gone before.
For the sake of the truth.
“‘When truth is replaced by silence,’ the Soviet dissident Yevgeni Yevtushenko said, ‘the silence is a lie.’”
Truth-seekers and truth-tellers, and writers of the same, will be “loathed by secretive power (for the former are those) who do their job; who push back screens, peer behind facades, lift rocks. Opprobrium from on high is their badge of honour.”
These are those who write to produce “free-thinking citizens, not obedient customers; who beg to differ from the established guardians of society; who raise the consciousness of millions by their aggressive and tenacious search for the truth.”
And who can warm the heart, and there forge yet greater courage.