A Hierarchy of Human Life?

Nawal El Saadawi, The Essential Reader

In his poem “Cosmopolitan Greetings,” Allen Ginsberg urged: Stand up against governments, against God.  This expresses the life and work of Nawal El-Saadawi.

I am African from Egypt, not from the Middle East. The Middle East is a term used relative to London so that India becomes the Far East. 331

I am a humanist and socialist and I am against classism, racism, all kinds of discrimination and if God is unjust, I am against him too. I cannot abide injustice. I might have been a minister or a dean of a medical college, if I could accommodate injustice. 331

She is intent in her writing in breaking “the cultural chains that imprison the mind” [48].  One fundamental chain is expressed tersely: “God above, husband below,” which means to women and girls: do as you are told.


I believe in peace. I hate war, hate to see people killed, to see women and children die under bombs whether in Egypt, or in Japan or in the United States. I was surprised when journalists asked me whether I had felt pain for the thousands of civilians who had been killed in the 11 September terrorist attack. To me it was a strange question, for how can one not feel pain at knowing that 1000s of innocent people were killed like that? But what was even stranger to me was the fact that no journalist had ever asked me whether I had felt pain when hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were being killed, or when half a million Iraqi children had died of malnutrition and disease because of the economic embargo.  Or when young Palestinians were being massacred every day by Israeli soldiers because they need a land on which to live. Could it be that there is a hierarchy of human life, that human life is valued according to its position in the hierarchy of money and nuclear power?  147

Obama did not say that this homeland should have been in Germany, the country that burned them, or in Europe or in the USA, or in some other place where there is no people to be killed and robbed of their homes and land by military force. He did not ask Israel to stop its military violence against Palestinian children. He only asked the Palestinians to stop their violence against Israeli children. He did not mention the number of Palestinians killed and tortured by Israel in the last sixty years. He did not ask Israel to respect previous UN resolutions; he rather asked Israel to stop building new settlements. What about the old settlements that expelled thousands of Palestinians from their homes? What about settlements to be built under so-called ‘natural growth’? He asked Palestinians to forget the past and look forward. Likewise, some days ago in his country he asked people to forget the crimes of torture, to forget the past and look forward. 160

I would like to clear up a number of misconceptions about me. First, I do not hate men. In our association, 40 percent of the members are men who are opposed to the patriarchal capitalist system. The objection to the patriarchal capitalist system rests with its creation of a permanent underclass and inequality.

I am not against God. God (male or female) is a symbol of justice and not a printed book.

I do not write for the West. I write for people everywhere who believe in justice, freedom, love, equality, peace and creativity. But I do write in Arabic; therefore I write mainly for people in our countries. 335

I am a feminist writer. This is complicated because I do not support women like Condoleezza Rice, who are biologically female but adopt the patriarchal capitalist mindset. I am a humanist writer. 335  [October 2007]


Writing is essential to my life, like breathing. I can live without a husband but I cannot live without writing. By writing I become one with the world and with myself

You should seek small publishers looking for genuine, truthful, creative works. They pay very small advances and their publicity is limited, but sooner or later you will reach your audience. It is a long hard struggle against the market, but we have to do it or we will lose our integrity, and hence our creativity. 123

But simple, clear and direct writing remains the most dangerous, since it conveys its message directly to thousands or millions who may be incapable of deciphering the more intricate literary discourse. 138



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *