Naguib Mahfouz and the 21st Century
After the Nobel laureate survived the attempted assassination on him in November 14th, 1994, Mahfouz couldn’t write for about 3 months and even after rehab he couldn’t write for more than 30 minutes a day, all because of the assassin stabbing him in the neck which damaged the nerves of his right hand, his writing hand, which had an important role in delivering all of his great novels, short stories and articles, specially his weekly column in al-Ahram newspaper. But as a great writer, to be forced to work for only half an hour each day is just torture, and as a result he had to rearrange his priorities, so he kept it for his literary writings, and turned his weekly column into an interview with Mohamed Salmawy in which Salmawy would bring up a subject and see what Mahfouz had in mind about. And the result was a gate to Mahfouz’s mind and soul. Reading some of them I encountered some of his opinions that concerned our modern day and his vision of our technological future.
In an interview called “Space and Beyond” he talked about our need to explore space, he said, and I quote: “Until the twentieth century, human being regarded outer space as fish do dry land: as the great beyond, the boundary beyond which life was impossible. Perhaps the conquest of space, then, is the true tuning point at which it became possible to contemplate extending our natural habitat beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. Satellites now revolve quite quietly in space; human beings can travel beyond limits that were virtually unimaginable before 1900. This conquest is as yet incomplete, of course; what we are experiencing now is only the beginning, and I believe that, in this new century, the other planets of our galaxy will become so many new worlds for humanity to explore.”
In another called “Not Just Cellular” taking about medical achievements and scientific experiments, he said, and I quote: “Cloning is neither good nor bad: it is a new scientific experiment, and one must not stand in the way of scientific research. History bears testimony to this imperative: every time mankind attempted to block scientific progress it proved a mistake, from Galileo to the present. Fear of progress is a moral not a scientific consideration. The annihilation of the population of Nagasaki and Hiroshima was a moral issue, unrelated to the scientific nature of the atom. The atom is invaluable in science, in medicine, and in agriculture; progress must not be hindered just because humans are morally deviant, it is up to us to instruct mankind. It is said that tampering with genetics is against the divine laws ordained by God. Taking an artery from a man’s leg and inserting it into his heart is also against divine injunctions, as is the implantation of an animal’s liver into a human body. So, too, is exploring the depths of the oceans. God gave man a brain and empowered him to achieve all these things as a service to humanity and progress, so we must not refuse the challenge.”
In another called “Weapons of Reason” talking about media and means of communication, he said, and I quote: “How can Third World governments that censor the media stop something from appearing in the press if the public can download it through the internet?”
And many and many more interviews show that Mahfouz wasn’t just a man of literature and philosophy but also, like any other literature prodigy, of science and technology. A good writer is one of many resources and has the passion and access to many domains in his world, and in some cases other worlds’ as well. After that he can construct a story that makes a difference in the reader’s life. In my humble opinion, the true worth of an author is the breadth of his influence on people; mind and soul, and for that reason, I consider Mahfouz to be one of the best authors that walked on this Earth.
[Naguib Mahfouz at Sidigaber: Reflections of a Noble Laureate 1994-2001. From conversation with Mohamed Salmawy]