There are blogs where all the comments read “you are so right”, “totally agree!” and “you are beautiful”. Those are boring blogs.
I am not unhappy about compliments, especially about my writing, but if there were no dissenting voices, I would worry. Ideally, the exchange with you will broaden my knowledge, make me see different perspectives and new ideas, and rethink my positions.
So, when someone wrote that “degrading countries with offensive articles is not ethical”, it made me think for a while.
However, on this point, I don’t think I need to change my mind, nor my writing.
First of all, countries don’t have feelings. So there are fewer ethical restrictions on writing about countries than about human beings.
But I don’t want to use this clever reply to get out of the debate easily. Because, although I would prefer if fewer people identified themselves with a randomly assigned country, we have to admit that when people speak about countries, they often (also) mean the people living there. This can be a fine line, but if someone says that country X is “a shithole country”, that’s on a different level than stating that country Y “doesn’t have proper mountains”.
When someone says I am degrading countries, I wonder what the alternative would be. Maybe to ennoble countries? Or to dignify them? Would that be ethical? Oddly enough, whenever someone writes something positive about a country, they hardly receive any pushback, even if it’s not true.
The truth is, as shocking as this sounds to people who get their news from Instagraph, that not everything is fine and happy and glamorous and just in this world. And when I write about this, the writing is not unethical, but the underlying injustice is. I could even argue that not writing about injustice would be unethical, at least more so than writing.
Next point: Are my articles offensive?
I have been trying to avoid making this about a specific country because it’s a general question, but you need to read some of my articles to determine whether they are offensive.
I din’t ask the gentleman which article disturbed him, but based on his country of origin, I have a suspicion that it was this one. Since he wrote me, I have actually published another article which happens to take place in his country. I recommend that you take the time to read them because they are insightful and funny, I think, and without doing so, you won’t be able to pass judgment on my level of offensiveness.
So, what did you think?
I, for one, am ready to admit that my humor can be offensive at times. I would think that this is alleviated by the fact that I am humorous about almost anything and anybody, including myself.
But, and I think this is the most important point, everything I wrote in these articles was observed by myself. Everything is true. (For the personality cult around Heydar Aliyev, you even have all the photos as proof.)
Another point in my defense: I did not go to Azerbaijan to write funny articles. I did not go to Azerbaijan with any mission. Heck, I would have been super happy if the taxi driver had not lied to me! I went to the park in Ganja because I like parks and because it was my birthday. I was hoping to meet interesting people and maybe someone playing a song for me, as happened on a previous birthday.
Now, someone could say: “Well, you had one negative experience. You can’t pass judgment on the whole country.” First of all, nobody ever says that to someone writing about a country based on one positive experience. That shows how phony that argument is. Second, I am not passing judgment, I am reporting. And that means that a lot is determined by coincidence. If I had gone to the same country a month later, maybe I would have had the best experience. Then I would have written about that. But I am sure the megalomaniac parks and statues will still be there on my next visit.
Actually, speaking of that next visit, it probably won’t happen. Azerbaijan is not so keen on reporters. It is the country with most journalists in prison in Europe and Central Asia. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, censorship in Azerbaijan is stricter than in Iran or in China. Bloggers are regularly intimidated. Oh, that reminds me of something that happened in Ganja. Of the more than 60 countries where I have been, this was the only time that police stopped me in the middle of the city demanding to see the photos on my camera, insisting that I delete some, and then telling me to get lost. (Since then, this has happened once more. But the second time was in Montenegro where I sneaked into a Navy base, taking photos of warships. There, I really deserved it.)
Maybe it’s because of all that censorship that people aren’t used to read anything critical about their country? And Azerbaijan is also known to bribe its way to positive reports.
But returning to the question of ethics, I would want to doubt the notion that I am in any position to degrade a country. This is a small blog with no influence. Whatever I have written about a country has never put a dent into tourism or other shady revenues of that country. There are thousands of everything-is-super-nice-and-the-sun-is-shining bloggers (practicing their own form of censorship) to counter my little critical voice.
Also, as my articles usually make clear, they are very personal. I am not trying to present them as some objective view of the world. I would think that the manner and tone of my writing convey that.
Lastly, I feel that I did nothing unethical because I violated nobody’s trust. When I went to the park, nobody gave me a tour, of whom I later made fun. The taxi driver wasn’t even trying to be nice and, in a way, he got paid to be portrayed as a pirate. For me, the most serious ethical dilemma poses itself when I want to write about situations in which someone is confiding in me or helping me. I have a warning label on my blog, but people whom I randomly meet or who give me a lift in their car haven’t read that, of course. I am not sure I can ethically justify writing about them. Which means that I have to rely on artistic justification alone, which means that those stories are all standing on shaky ground. You better read them quickly, before they collapse!
But I really want to thank Abbas for his comment. Nothing worse can happen than to think of oneself as the best, believing that one is always right. I am thankful when someone makes me reflect my own thoughts and actions. And even more thankful if it leads to a change in opinion, because without that happening from time to time, I would feel intellectually frozen.