Malik’s debut book discusses the issues of gender and racial politics faced by a woman growing up in a conservative Muslim country
Nesrine Malik’s debut publication, We Need New Stories: Challenging The Toxic Myths Behind Our Age Of Discontent, cohesively re-bonds the word ‘we’ in a collective discourse while emphatically discussing among others the issues of gender, racial politics, and challenges faced by a woman growing up in a conservative Muslim country.
Malik keeps her promise to challenge the myths that she undertakes to decrypt, including the repudiation of certain theories that have, if anything, created more confusion than offer clarity for everyday discourse. She minces no words. Her opinions are strong and are based on the factual reportage and misreports of the media; an industry she is herself a part of; as well as personal experience of an early life in Sudan and Saudi Arabia, and an adulthood in the United Kingdom.
The book starts off with Malik giving a picture of her early childhood in Sudan, where an unauthentic story about her origin or ‘asl’ made her realise later, that we all need new stories. The book concludes with similar advice, with additional responsibility, to tell those stories, ‘ourselves’. Malik’s way of stating facts, the way they are recorded and presented, is both academic and conversational, much like her columns. When she provides empirical data, she sounds scientific and where she argues with respect to ethos and logos, she becomes a seasoned commentator, whose pffts are audible and eye-rolls visible to the reader.
She gives warnings, citing evidence of the damage that has already been done, and the recurrence of which shall dip narrative building further into the cesspool of bigotry and bias. Malik discusses six issues of contemporary discourse, all of which have been muddled up in controversies either detrimental or completely useless to the cause of narrative-building.
She writes of Gender Equality, as a myth wherein the argument is, gender equality has been achieved largely and the loopholes are blamed upon the biological limitations of a woman’s body such as menstruation, childbearing, and rearing. Among a plethora of arguments, Malik coins her own wordplay to counter the wordplay some social commentators have tricked the society with. Malik debates, vehemently, how smokescreens of both textual and verbal nature, turn unequal into complementary, subjugated into ungrateful, excluded into entitled and so on.
She goes on to discuss the Myth of Political Correctness, which has lately become something of a bondage for supremacists and they badly wish to break away from the moral choice of limiting bigotry, making racial, religious and economically marginalized communities become nothing more than collateral damage in everyday discourse, which in turn, reflects on social constructs, as well as behavioural patterns.
While discussing the Myth of Free Press, she writes, “Trolling has become an industry,” which is a hard hit, for anyone who uses social media to interact or express an opinion, which again is especially tilted to disfavour one gender more than the other. Malik’s text reaffirms connectivity between her readers and their everyday experiences, which is jarringly relative and gratifying at the same time.
When Malik suggests, the freedom of speech nowadays is more about the freedom of speaking without having to worry about the consequences, many Pakistani readers can nod their head in agreement. The subsequent disparage of entering the social media is abuse, something Malik has been a victim of.
Further in the chapter titled, The Myth of Damaging Identity Politics, Malik discusses the relationship between identity and economic positioning on a hierarchal chart, and how having a different identity reflects on being assigned certain roles that limit and restructure one’s persona. She cites an example of a girl, who wants to write sci-fi but because of her identity, is always assigned stories that narrate the person-of-colour experience.
This, among several others, is a chunk out of several realities, at once. The most common reference Malik makes is to those studying in universities, where they start experiencing the elements of bigotry, isolation, othering and as she puts it, no-platforming’ or of silencing dissent. She quotes, from mainstream and alternative media, showcasing how universities themselves are becoming a playground for busting the myth of a Reliable Narrator. Malik goes ahead to call out the politics of the media, the backhand card-playing, and the insensitivity as a result of the “mediarchy” that has little space for dissent, an argument that again, sounds closer to home.
The narration of the text is robust and the tone of the narrator is very matter-of-fact. The most outstanding element of the book is, how well rounded it is. Malik has spread out the premise and rationale of her book in six categories but they all complement one another in so many ways, that the intersectionality of gender equality, identity politics, freedom of speech and its absolutism, political correctness et al, all seem to fall under a singular proposition of arguments.
Malik generously offers solutions, in the Afterword of the book. Her pattern of weaving the answers to her questions, within the text, is deliberate, yet subtle. The thesis of relativity is furthered when Malik suggests, that curses are like chickens, and they always come home to roost.
The circular structure of the text spins another complimentary rotation when she argues that, unequal gender rights deny normalcy to men as much as to women; disposing of a politically correct behaviour continues to marginalise various components of the society one after the other since there is never a dearth of labels or tags. So, to paraphrase Malik, the symbiosis goes on, like the ‘chicken and egg dynamic’.
We need new stories, she concludes, and we need to write them ourselves. Apart from giving the best advice, We Need New Stories by Nesrine Malik is a book that offers clarity, to everyone who has an opinion to hold, express, benefit from and bear consequence of.
We Need New Stories: Challenging The Toxic Myths Behind Our Age Of Discontent
Author: Nesrine Malik
Publisher: Weidenfeld &