Sami Michael is an Iraqi-born, Israeli author. His interview on MedArabNews by Claudia De Martino tells the story of a writer with multiple identities and languages, as well as some strong political opinions..
"I was born in Iraq and immigrated to Israel at 21. Back in Iraq, I was writing in Arabic and it took me 15 years to switch from Arabic to Hebrew writing. In those 15 years, I never published novels in Arabic, but many short and long stories. I also wrote for a newspaper for 5 years; I was on the editorial board of Arabic language newspapers. But the reason why I never published a single novel in Arabic is that authors in exile have to write in the language of the country in which they live, otherwise they do not find readers and most of them became frustrated."
I can identify with that, as well as with his sentiments that "in many Arab countries in the Middle East there is hardly any freedom of speech. If an author writes something “critical” of the regimes in place, he/she may be taking an extreme risk, be jailed or persecuted for it" while in Israel the "persecution" is more subtle - no promotion, no financial assistance. It is the same in any democratic country. Democracy only works if you have access to the media, and main-stream media are seldom democractic anywhere. Thank God for the Internet.
I do write in Arabic, although much less than in English. I have another blog, under a pseudonym, where the Internet has allowed me to talk to people in the language they understand without being jailed or shot for it.
I also liked his comment that "my mother tongue is Arabic and my nationality Israeli, and my identity Jewish. I have always thought of myself as an “Arab Jew” without distinguishing at all which one of my identities was the dominant one. don’t feel I need to define myself for anyone, as an Englishman doesn’t get up in the morning and ask himself: who am I?" Many decades ago I opted for a line from Bernard Shaw's Man and Arms - I am a citizen of the world.
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