By Bissme S
Author Faisal Tehrani (below) bravely tackles the issue of timber company workers raping Penan women in Sarawak in Bagaimana Anyss Naik Ke Langit?, his latest novel.
“I’m always interested in giving voice to the voiceless in my work,” says the 40-year-old.
“My novels have always dealt with human rights issues.”
He adds that he has always been moved by the marginalised and their struggles to be recognised and be heard.
“I have been researching on this issue for more than five years,” Faisal says.
“Logging companies want to chase the indigenous Penans from the forest as they want to log the trees.
“These companies resort to harsh tactics to achieve this aim, which includes the rape of the Penan women. Initially, the authorities denied such rapes took place. But now, they have acknowledged it.”
In Bagaimana Anyss Naik Ke Langit?, his 23rd novel, a female Malay professor exposes the rape of the Penan women and this indirectly puts her life in danger. Faisal finds that there are very few Malays like lawyer Siti Kassim who dare speak up for the indigenous people in the country.
“I find Malays here eager to help the Palestinians who are
oppressed by the Israeli government,” says Faisal.
“They believe that helping fellow Muslims is noble.But the rape of Penan women is happening in our backyard and we should not shut our eyes to this injustice.
"The Penans may not be Muslims but they are still human. Everyone deserves our attention.
“Look at the late (human rights activist) Irene Fernandez.
She helped the Bangladeshi foreign workers who are Muslims when they were treated unfairly. She put their humanity first before their race or religion. We should emulate her spirit of fair play.”
In his novel, Faisal has one of the characters asked: “Why do we feel it’s more ‘heavenly’ to help victims in Palestine rather than the Penans over here?”
Some have complained that the rape incidents in the book were too graphic and difficult to digest.
“My intention was not to sensationalise rape,” Faisal says.
“I want to show how truly disgusting and terrifying rape can be.”
Others said that the ‘book was too thin’ and that he had written it in a hurry and that the ending was too abrupt as well.
“I do not mind if they do not like my book,” Faisal says.
“I am open to criticism. For instance, if I am an actor, I cannot be producing an Oscar-winning performance all the time.
“However, they should know that I did not finish the book in a hurry. I wanted the story to end abruptly. I wanted it to be just this length, too. I am using a different writing style to tell the story here.”
Faisal’s next book will deal with another controversial subject:the lead character is a Malay Muslim lesbian in her 60s.
“It will be the female version of Brokeback Mountain,” he says with a laugh.
As a registered human rights defender with Front Line Defenders (FLD), an NGO linked with the United Nations, Faisal says: “Like Penans, gays and lesbians are also marginalised people. They
have to face cultural and religious challenges to be accepted.”
Faisal is also a research fellow at the Institute of Malay World and Civilisation (Atma) in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).
Last year, the authorities had banned his novel Perempuan Nan Bercinta as it is seen to be promoting Shia Islam that is not practice here. However some publishers in Indonesia are keen to translate this book into Bahasa Indonesia. But Faisal has not given his consent yet.
“I do not want people to read the book just because it is controversial or it got banned here,” he says.
“I want them to treat my book as a work of art.”
Some people have accused him of purposely selecting controversial topics for his books so he could be in limelight and win awards. Laughingly he answers: “I have won awards before. My only aim to choose such topics is because I want to stimulate the mind of my readers. I like writing about oppressed people who have been sidelined by the mainstream. Like I said earlier, I want to
be an author who is not afraid to talk human rights."
|Faisal Tehrani with his latest novel|