Imprisoned Turkish writer Ahmet Altan
Literature is more powerful than tyranny

Unable to travel to Munich to attend the presentation ceremony for his Geschwister-Scholl Prize, writer Ahmet Altan penned a message against hatred and nationalism from his prison cell in Turkey. Read out by his close friend Yasemin Congar, it formed his acceptance speech

In a person's life, there must be something that is more precious than life itself; something that is so precious that it is worth staking your life on. For what seems like an eternity, humanity has drifted along with an immutability that is as dark as a winter's night. The exception are those people who have a goal in life – a goal on which they are willing to stake their very lives. When such people light a candle in this darkness, they themselves become visible and the light illuminates those who are invisible.

The beginning of life, birth, where one living thing emerges from another, is a miracle. Death too – so untouchable, so unavoidable and such a vast unfathomable mystery – is a wondrous thing. Life, on the other hand, in sharp contrast to the miracle of its beginning and the dignity of its end, is one long series of tedious repetitions. Unless a person adds something to his or her life that is more precious than that life, that person's earthly journey will never be anything more than an episode in this commonplace series of eternal repetitions.

With an instinct that is common to all living things, humans believe that there is nothing more important than being alive. Living – in whatever shape or form. The vast majority of people follow this instinct; they consider the preservation of their existence and their interests to be the highest logic, and on their death, they disappear with millions of other living things into the void.

Fear and hostility as the root cause of racism

Caught in eternal darkness and stumbling helplessly through an impenetrable sea of people towards one's demise is fear-inspiring. And fear breeds violence. People who cannot generate any light in their own lives become enemies of the light that is so alien to them. They see this hostility as a kind of salvation; they cling to each other in the darkness and declare their hatred of all those who are not like them to be the foundation of their existence.

I believe that this fear and this hostility are the root cause of racism and militarism, which have seized our entire world. Such people see hatred and killing as a way out of their own obliteration.

People who have been infected by militarism and racism do everything they can to feed themselves at the expense of the humanity to which they themselves belong – as self-cannibalising animals do. They do not understand that when they take the life of another part of humanity, they are killing themselves.

The fact that some people on this isolated planet in one corner of endless space spend the short span of their lives raising themselves up and making other people feel their superiority ultimately brings nothing but harm to us all. The hatred that they feel on their dark journey into nothingness serves merely to intensify the senselessness of that darkness.

"We're all going to die!"

I have to admit that I am sometimes tempted to give in to the desire to scream at the top of my voice like a child throwing a tantrum "We are all going to die!" If children were to stop being born today, this strange planet would be completely devoid of people in 90 years at the latest. So is it not senseless that a species as helpless as this claims to be a more superior living thing to another?

Humankind must have been created in a hurry: the result was a living creature in which all kinds of incompatible feelings exist side by side. In humans, compassion and hate, good and evil, wisdom and stupidity exist simultaneously in the same body.

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