The Free Speech of Stephen Schwartz
by Shpëtim Kelmendi
Since the American Stephen Schwartz appeared on Klan TV, during the "Zonë e Lirë" (Free Zone) show moderated by Arian Çani, to give some opinions of his, I happened to hear a wide range of opinions on this (read: scandalous ones), from every kind of person at all cultural levels. This issue, surprisingly, acquired national dimensions and was interpreted as an aggression against the Fatherland, our national identity, against our national conscience, against our national symbols and against many, many other terms and concepts which include the adjective "national."
Some speaking-round-the-table blokes went too far: attacking the journalist Çani, who, in my opinion, is one of the few journalists in Albania with a clear concept on what is called Free Speech. Furthermore, Çani has acted very wisely and has anticipated "bad talk" by baptizing his show with the name "Free Zone". Now, according to some blokes situated in the Ground Zero regarding familiarity with the concept of Freedom, his guests (in Schwartz's case) aim to destroy our national symbols and values. According to my point of view, these funny and pathetic individuals need a little bit of dictatorship, a little bit of Hoxhaism, and some clubs, in other words they need some cudgelings. This because I do not know how to explain the fact that they still do not understand what colossal dimensions free human speech has in the Western world, part of which we are trying to become culturally.
Two days ago I noticed the newspaper Shekulli had a reaction by [Ismail] Kadare against Schwartz. The last was not mentioned by his name, but it was directed against him. I thought it an absolutely normal thing. Schwartz gives his opinions on Kadare, and vice-versa. Nothing could be better. I mean: when the man in question reacts, it's something normal and just. What I do not understand is the rabid and pathological fury of some other individuals, who get enraged 100 times more than the person who was attacked, and who, in the end, has the right to say whatever he likes when he comes under attack. I saw in Shekulli a culture journalist blasting Mr. Schwartz by putting herself at the same level with the American gentleman as if they were classmates! Then, writing nonsense and stupidities which I have no words to describe. First, dear lady, Schwartz has nothing against you, because he doesn't know about your existence, and from here, how can you rush with such fervor on a person who did not attack you? Have you created the idea that you are protecting your Fatherland?! Question: do you know what the Fatherland is? Give us a definition, please.
Then I read an article of Arif Kutleshi (I don't know who this bloke is), and found in it an extraordinary patriotism. In fact, he doesn't speak so much for the Fatherland, but anyway, this is the way some Albanians living in the West express their patriotism. He attacked Mr. Schwartz with such insane rage and dirty terms so that I do not know what to quote first. His article seemed like a filthy expectoration. What are you doing, Kutleshi? Even if somebody has insulted all your family, you have to maintain caution to prevent you from writing such words. Do you know how Kutleshi calls the American?: "A certain Schwartz"! A certain Kutleshi saying "a certain Schwartz"! Here it is a fragment from the composition of Kutleshi: "You clearly insult like a street thug our socialite of letters, of culture, you insult openly in the light of day our institutions, because Kadare is our institution, you insult our state, because Kadare is our state (we can agree, we don't have another state!), you piss ON our culture, because Kadare is our culture, is our Anthology, he is our Emancipation. We don't have anything else, of these dimensions, except Kadare, and you throw mud on him. In our table, in our bread, in our fire."
It seems as if he is speaking about Skanderbeg, our national hero!!! I need to make no comments about Kutleshi, but I'm leaving him alone together with his impressive surname…
Schwartz has spoken against Kadare. It's normal. Whoever has the right to like or dislike certain presidents, politicians, singers, writers, and so on. So what? Where's the problem, because I don't see it? If the Zonë e Lirë doesn't allow Kadare to respond to Schwartz, this would be a cowardly act and denial of the free speech. But, I don't think it's this way.
In the beginning of this article, I called the journalist, scholar and writer Schwartz, simply American. I did this to stress the fact that he comes from a free world. What these rabid Albanians don't understand, is the fact that Mr. Stephen Schwartz comes from America. What these dizzy Albanians don't know, is the fact that America is considered the country that champions Free Speech. In America even the President is attacked, criticized, caricatured and vulgarized! The President of the United States is that powerful guy who makes the sky dark and turns it back clear, but nobody thinks that when you are against the President of the United States you are undermining the integrity, independence, freedom and values of the American nation. Mr. Schwartz, then, comes from America.
So, when he comes in Albania and speaks these words, he shows us that he is not interested in our complexes and prejudices that see the nation identified with one specific individual, because this is the main feature of totalitarian societies. If we Albanians are afraid and are panicked by Free Speech, if we are terrified of the simple idea of giving voice to our opinions, if we are willing at any time to beat up whomever thinks differently and beyond the narrow mental collective scheme, then, Mr. Schwartz and other foreigners do not owe us any thing.
It happened to me to hear all kinds of theories about Skenderbeg, our national hero. There are some saying he did not fight the Ottomans. There are some saying that our national hero was not interested in Albania but in Christendom, yet there are some saying he was castrated and was not able to generate offspring! (sic), and some others say he is the main cause of historic failure of Albania. And in all cases I have seen a laughing audience. Well, Albanians! A part ridicules the national hero, another part laughs. And yet, when it comes to Kadare, they are ready to cut your head off! Because, they are patriots! Like Kutleshi, by the way. I say that we must cease to identify the nation with specific individuals, whoever they might be, even Skenderbeg. This doesn't mean I agree with those thugs who invent untrue allegations for the national hero, but that Skenderbeg was not the only one of his time. It was an era of great men, and Skenderbeg was one of those called upon in the great stage of history. And ultimately: never attack the dead because they can't fight back.
The aim of my article is not to be an attorney to Mr. Schwartz, because those who know me realize this is not my nature, but simply to express some my opinions believing them to be righteous and indispensable to illuminate some folks who attack him without knowing him. I have had personally the chance to meet Mr. Schwartz and I was impressed with his wide-ranging culture in many fields. He is highly literate in world literature and I'm not raising the stake too high when I say that very few Albanians can cope with him. The houses of the majority of those attacking him do not have as much bricks as he has books inside his head. I am sure Schwartz loves this country of ours more sincerely than those who prepare speeches and flaunt media flags of patriotism. He had a very good knowledge on Albanian history and have heard him say that Albanians have a great history, much greater than that which is written. In fact, he insisted that our real history is unwritten. I was impressed when he said with passion: Albania is the most beautiful country in the world. Then he added that soon he would come to live here. That he loves Albanians and Albania, it is no wonder (it's not the first nor the last instance), as well as we must not be surprised his special preference to Shkodra. Rightfully, because he thinks that our cultural history is to be found there. Ultimately, we agree on this, willing or not.
In the articles against him it is alleged that he is Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, etc. These individuals speak in a very superficial way, they are superficial believers, and as a result, have superficial perceptions. In the cultural field, Mr. Schwartz has an extraordinary theological and religious bibliographical culture. He has an astonishing knowledge of the main monotheist religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam; but also religions and spiritual practices of the Far East. I have had the chance to meet many literate men in this field, and Mr. Schwartz no doubt is amongst the best of them. As for religion, this gentleman wanders in heights far from the possibilities of perceptions of those that speak against him. It is true he is Muslim, but the perimeter of his faith is so wide that it takes comprehensive dimensions, because he believes each religion exists on God's will and they have their own ways of discovering the spiritual truth. From the level this gentleman sees things, it results that all these monotheist religions are divine, because they generate from the same source. Mr. Schwartz is a Sufi, a true mystic, because he sees all religions and realities as products of the Sublime Truth.
Heaving learned from great mystique persons such as Saint Augustine, Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi, Meister Eckhart, Ibn Arabi, Angelus Silesius, and many others, this gentleman is a fully-fledged Sufi.
I think Mr. Schwartz is one of the true mirrors of what a Muslim should be, far from being fanatic, fundamentalist, and rejecting of other religions. He is totally opposed to "9/11" "Muslims", to those who see faith as a weapon instead of a God's gift.
I have no doubt that if those who attack him would know him, they would have less aggressive opinions against him. The meeting with Mr. Schwartz no doubt can be considered an event.
But, we Albanians, are used to not love those who love us instead of those who flatter us or love according to our interests and our sick pride. If Mr. Schwartz has no good opinion on Kadare, after all, this is his right. He's not the first and certainly not the last. Why should we jump on him for this? I know some tiny individuals do not mind at all when Gjergj Fishta, Ernest Koliqi, Martin Camaj, Anton Pashku, Lasgush Poradeci, Azem Shkreli, Frederik Rreshpja, and others, are attacked. Why do they cry out and freak out when they learn that somebody doesn't like Kadare as a writer? Where is the problem? The nation? The fatherland? Our national values? And all of these are represented by an individual!!!
I notice in sadness that Albanians continue to be terrified by Free Speech. Panic, real panic! The virus of totalitarianism is turned into a gangrene day by day. I think we must not panic, but respect and adore it, as a wonderful attribute of God, without which a real human society would be meaningless.
Note: The content of external articles does not necessarily reflect the views of Center for Islamic Pluralism.