For Freedom’s Sake

    This week, I find myself constantly checking in on the treatment and recovery of a famous patient at the UPMC Hamot Surgery Center in distant Pennsylvania. My motives are selfish, of course. I simply hope that my favourite writer has many more years, and books, ahead of him. There are still stories to spin, dots to connect, words to invent, myths to debunk, universes to uncover. I don’t want to lose one of the few who do it well.

    I was young when I got caught up in the delightful web of Salman Rushdie’s imagination. Those magical books of his opened doors to faraway worlds that felt like forgotten dreams; in flooded ideas and images so bold and wild that they have been with me ever since.

    I certainly wouldn’t want to see this literary giant reduced to a mere martyr or a symbol. Yet it is inevitable that the attack on him last Friday reminds us just how fragile those constructs really are: freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom to write. And perhaps he wouldn’t mind either. “He never missed an opportunity to speak out on behalf of the principles he’d been embodying all his writing life. Freedom of expression was foremost among these,” writes Margaret Atwood in the Guardian in an opinion piece that reads a bit too much like an obituary.

    He is hardly the only writer under attack, of course. According to data collected by the Freedom to Write Index, at least 277 writers, academics, and public intellectuals in 36 countries were unjustly held in detention or imprisoned in connection with their writing, their work, or related advocacy last year. My fellow journalists are not fairing much better either. The prison census compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reveals some truly scary facts. As of December 2021, 294 journalists were imprisoned. And if you dig down into the morbid statistics, you might find that 45 journalists and media workers were killed in 2021 alone because of their coverage. OK, the circumstances surrounding some of their deaths are too murky to determine whether they were the specific targets. Still, all of 45 brave souls! You can read their names and, when possible, even the texts that killed them.

    “The freedom to write guarantees our collective ability to imagine and to inspire, and it demands our defence,” insists PEN America in their latest report. “In the face of an authoritarian resurgence, writers are at the forefront of the defence of free expression and also have an essential role to play, pushing back against attempts to control the narrative; sustaining cultures and languages under threat; holding governments to account—on issues as varied as corruption, their response to COVID-19, or upholding basic rights; and envisioning new possibilities for the future.”

    And if you are wondering how this issue fits within the all-encompassing sustainability concept, look no further than to the good old sustainable development goals. Many of the 17 SDGs are linked indirectly to the freedom of expression, but the 16th goal, promoting ‘Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions’, is perhaps the most relevant. I get it; this particular SDG is a little elusive from an investor perspective and is unsurprisingly the most undercapitalised of the bunch. Surely, though, it is an excellent opportunity to unleash the imagination and creativity so generously nourished by our favourite writers? Let’s brainstorm, fellow investors!

    Meanwhile, I open my weathered copy of The Satanic Verses[1] again, plunge into the inventions of that beautiful mind and pray for the writer on his hospital bed.

    [1] Glad to report that the book currently sits atop the Contemporary Literature and Fiction and Humor and Satire categories on Amazon. Last time I checked, it was the 26th most popular book on all of Amazon.

    Julia Axelsson, CAIA
    Julia Axelsson, CAIA
    Julia has accumulated experience in asset management for more than 20 years in Stockholm and Beijing, in portfolio management, asset allocation, fund selection and risk management. In December 2020, she completed a program in Sustainability Studies at the University of Linköping. Julia speaks Mandarin, Bulgarian, Hindi, Russian, Swedish, Urdu and English. She holds a Master in Indology from Sofia University and has completed studies in Economics at both Stockholm University and Stockholm School of Economics.

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