The Arabian Nights and Free Speech

I have never held a dispute with anyone except for the purpose of revealing the truth and I don't care whether God reveals it by my tongue or by that of my opponent.

Digressions are baked into the structure of The Arabian Nights. The book trusts its readers, as Shahrazad trusts King Shahriyar, to follow the narrative, despite stories-within-stories or extended theological lectures delivered by one of the characters.

That said, during my most recent recap, I didn’t want to derail the discussion with a diversion into free speech theory. As such, I did not include this quote from Night 79. It is part of a speech spoken by one of Dhat al-Dawahi’s erudite slave girls, to King ‘Umar ibn al-Nu’man, which is in turn (keep up!) retold to Dau’ al-Malkan by the vizier Dandan:

Know that your enemy is an opponent with whom you can argue, whom you can convince with proofs and against whom you can guard yourself, while between you and your friend the only judge who can adjudicate is good character. Test your friend before choosing him. If he is one of those who lives for the next world, let him follow faithfully the externals of the law, while knowing its secret meaning, as far as this is possible. If he is an adherent of this world, he should be liberal and truthful, and neither ignorant nor wicked. His own parents should flee from the ignorant man, while the liar cannot be a friend, as the word “friend” derives from “truth”. This comes from the depth of the heart, so how can it apply to one Whose tongue speaks falsehood?

(In Arabic the word for ‘friend’ is sadiq and the word for ‘truth’ is sidq.) Continue reading “The Arabian Nights and Free Speech”