Authorship: a quest for relevance

By Abdul Rahim Ibrahim 28 July 2005


This brief, un-researched and (on-the-go) article is designed to critically consider some of the issues which might be entailed in pursuing the “craft of writing”. Also, in connection with the topic and, if only, for the purpose of illustration, a special mention of Saleh AA Younis as author is made.

Whilst, there are many aspects – on its own right, each no less significant – to be conscious of when writing in any genre, my main focus rather generally is on the rationale behind the act of, as it were, putting ink on paper. Stated differently, it is to ask, why, and, motivated on what grounds would an/y individual embark on the writing enterprise. There is a simple reason as to the objective of writing: intent to relay a message. At face value, the statement appears to state the obvious since it readily homes in the point. I opt, instead, to problematise its content in order to open-up a, more or less, sustained discussion. Beyond its directly obtaining relatively non-contentious referencing, “intent to relay a message” is a highly suggestive formulation connoting ‘issues’ about serious writing: overall clarity of text; nature of message/story being disseminated and; the place of authors with respect to what they preach as seen against the backdrop of the wider scheme of things, are among the rationale validating things that spring to mind. A word about each of these postulates is in order, so let me expound.

Clarity ought to be set as the overriding factor informing the whole writing mission. It goes without saying that paramount emphasis be assigned to it. Readership could only be guaranteed upon securing clear and legible standard of writing. True, writing, in essence is an exercise in the abstraction of reality. Complicating and, alternatively, unravelling (human) experience is at the heart of the writing project. Irrespective, to abstract, is something utterly other than a license to obscure. On the contrary, it should be viewed as an enabling procedure. Abstraction is a technique, a means of superseding the entangled web of the personal and the indeterminate.

Meanwhile, the relevance of a message/story is judged upon by its possibility of being capable of arousing interest among its recipients. For a reason or another, it is not easy to capture readership interest. Without taking into account the fact that writing is a joint project engaging in, simultaneously and on an equal basis, those it aims to reach, the effort is likely to even further fail close the gap. When speaking of documenting for pubic purpose, a given writer’s motive has to resonate with the concerns of its ‘addressee’. The latter should be in a position to identify with what is being posited. The reverse is simply untenable. It proves a painful experience having had to be obliged to that which might not even obliquely perhaps touch on one’s reality. To recap, originality, I guess, is the term that galvanises all there is to a (particular) message/story.

To round off, the remaining theme is that of the place of authors as individuals embedded in society. Societal influence and, inversely, the input exerted by writers as agents (of change) into their surroundings, come as intrinsic to textual meaning. Appraisal is promoted whilst invariably bearing that precept in mind. At issue is to ascertain whether the written word reflects positively or not as far as its source goes. Writing as a willed act should authenticate, not subvert, who we are as individual conscious human beings. Introspection facilitates self-recognition, helps in implementing a reflexive self-affirming posture that confers ingenuity on what we write. Authorship, cannot be conceived, let alone be pursued, in dramatic flight away from context. It must be grounded in historical, cultural and socio-economic reality.

The preceding commentary anticipates the second and concluding phase of this article. As hinted, it is my intention within the present framework to also entertain Saleh AA Younis as author. Taking advantage of what I have so far suggested as background remark, next, I will reflect on the authoring/publishing status of Saleh AA Younis. Specifically, I will appraise some of the latter’s pieces with respect to style and consistency. A dictionary entry defines style as a “manner of writing especially as opposed to the matter expressed or thing done”. In applying the term, I tend to imply the same thing. Meanwhile, consistency as index and unlike style, is about the “matter expressed or thing done”. I maintain that consistency, in particular, derives from both factual accuracy and analytical sophistication. Besides, it is a quality with the capacity to singularly stand out as the defining element in so far as the soundness (otherwise cogency) of what is being said matters. The Radical At The White House (RWH), My Other Country Is A Superpower (OCS), Democracy Humbles The Pretenders (DHP) are the Awate/Alnahda columns – by the same author – that upon which I decided to base the following exchange.

Saleh AAYounis apparently is a prolific writer with varied interest. He is ambitious, is passionate and, further, his scope is wide-ranging, breathtaking perhaps. In this sense, he incorporates the rudiments of the profession. Writing extensively does not, in and of itself, necessarily signify to anything in particular however. Accomplishment is not constituted by that criterion alone. At any rate, pending objective examination, it is to be approached as a phenomenon. I reserve, at this stage, a lukewarm stand accordingly. The maturity test, if you will, is to follow-up the prospect of the evolution of the trend. Consummation depends on investing in obligatory requisite effort. Taking serious care attending to one’s homework is the imperative that would eventually proffer a positive image. How does Saleh AA Younis’s mode of writing fare and, where does he, as author, stand vis-à-vis what has been highlighted so far. In reviewing his writing, my attention, as pledged, solely is on style and consistency.


For the most part, Younis’s style is plain. The reader does not experience a great deal of difficulty in getting a handle on what is being communicated. It is the case that, on balance, his text makes a comprehensible read. Critically approached though, one could also point out to the fact that Younis could have done with overhauling certain features of his writing style. In this regard, two aspects, in particular, stand out:


 Younis exhibits this untoward propensity to provoke and be provoked through a kind of confrontational polemic. Dialogue is better conducted away from any attempts at diatribing. Engaging in the reader is not tantamount to the sort of confusion that is likely to ensue when setting one-self along antagonistic course with the rest. Such a style does not take far the very cause of writing. The real task is to progress while maintaining a level head – being neither unduly apologetic nor exceptionally unaccomodating.


 Younis overwhelms his reader with a sense of superfluity. His mode appears to be overworked. He overdoes his style in that he (excessively) gets carried away in a contrived exchange with the reader. I am perplexed by the scale of his musings that seem to run the entire of his text. His, is a style animated by prompts that purely belong to the realm of the private, to mere individual psychology. An author, indeed any author, can not afford to be detracted in this way or else they have not as yet mastered their craft. Seasoned authors, those worth their salt supposedly remain field-independent under all circumstances. Failure to provide in his writing for this notation attenuates Younis as author. To sum up, quoted below are Younis’s own words that underscore the two points that I have just raised in my discussion of his style.


            I will now take a pause…(p.1)

           Hear me out…(p.2)

           I will now pause while you smirk…(p.2)

   Now let me pause for a minute…Pause O.K…(p.3)

          Hold on I am going to say something…Pause O.K…

          Hold on to your punching bag…(p.5)



            Look I know how it feels…(p.2)

           Some of you – admit it – …(p.2)

          Nothing against the Chinese, some of my best friends…

          Oh, who am I kidding: I don’t know a single Chinese person.(P.2)




As I have recounted, consistency not only is about getting one’s facts right but, more importantly, it is also about ensuring a correct line of analysis. Here, it might be worth drawing a distinction between, on the one hand, ideologically driven political point scoring, and intellectual discourse steeped in a scholarly tradition, on the other. This is not to imply that ideology has no place at all. Nevertheless, espousing odd outlandish ideology impairs independent reasoning.  Mediated knowledge embroils the ideologue in unsound politics that fall short of bearing satisfactory outcome. Younis’s ideological leanings that run a collision course to his historical, cultural and, especially, socio-economic background upset the balance of his thought. To substantiate my claim, once more I refer to Younis’s same sources. Alas, time forbids commenting on all three columns. I will confine my discussion to Democracy Humbles The Pretenders (DHP), treating it as representative sample.


 In passing, I would like to make this remark. In the column, I presume Younis is deliberating on representative/parliamentary democracy. Practically speaking, representative democracy caters for the prerogatives of those with vested interests in the status-quo. It is designed to perpetuate existing structures (political and economic) of society. This democracy is commonly associated with Western European experiences at governance. I argue that real participatory political democracy would best be suited to the realities of the ‘developing’ world. Under a populist order (Venezuela, should instantiating help, being presently the topical example), people at the grass-roots level and not the elite determine the trajectory of the nation. They exercise their will actively in relation to important public decision making. My point is an interpretative aside intended to stress a relevant disjunction. My main interest in the column, however, is on the sections dealing with the Sandinista/Weyane and, Zenawi and other African leaders.

Younis depicts an affinity between the Sandinista and Weyane struggles. He poses the two as in parallel and proceeds to compare them. I do not understand through what warped logic he juxtaposes these otherwise radically contrasting experiments. Younis, I am afraid, conveniently glosses over at the expense of nuance and thorough investigation. Comparison does not help explain the two, but rather explains them away. Given their actual unfolding dynamics, a comparative relationship is out of the question. The Sandinistas and Weyane represent diametrically opposed socio-political forces and so too is the nature of their struggles. Whereas, no one can miss out the Sandinistas’ supra-national project expressed in socialist transformation, the Weyane, rhetoric and transitory guise notwithstanding, admittedly remain a largely ethno-nationalist force. The incomparability is exhaustive, so much so that the Marxist Sandinistas uprooted the right wing Somoza and the parochial centralist Weyane replaced internationalist Mengistu. To further put records right, it is also important to remind the reader that the Sandinistas method of “bribing” the Nicaraguan people involved the establishment of rural health clinics and schools and other social welfare programs that the Contras have set about systematically destroying. Finally, the Sandinistas lost due mainly to the enormous funds channeled into the opposition’s election campaign by the US government and not because, as alleged, the masses rejected them.

In the same vein, I find myself troubled by the unsavory manner in which Younis deals with the issue of African leaders versus Western heads of state. Younis has this to say, and I quote:

                 He (Meles) has that same delusion that many

                 African leaders have: just because they wear

                 A suit, have a chauffer and are shown deference

                 By the people, they actually think that they are

                 On the same par as the leaders of the developed world.(p.3)

My objection has nothing to do with denial/approval of the way public administering is done in the two sets of circumstances, but rather I am truly astounded by the essentialising qualities inherent in the very words making up the above quotation. It is a sloppily presented piece of writing, indiscriminately put together. The reality is, there are good (very rare) and bad (in abundance) African leaders. I don’t see why the same can’t hold where the Europeans/Westerners are concerned. Whether Younis is aware of what is implicit in his expression or not is another matter, but as insinuated, innate characteristics such as skin colour are simply irrelevant to social reality. The problem is, Younis chose to use a very allusive language. While I would not necessarily go as far as pronouncing an indictment of self-jilting, connotation of this nature is simply unwelcome. It is a short step, a fine line from that to crossing into the realm of inferiority complex and self-hatred. Writer onus applies while exercising discretion about language. Even so, I give Younis the benefit of doubt that is not how he intended to portray the issue originally.

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