Sharjah: John McCarthy a former hostage, held for over five years by Lebanese militants, talked about building a better world at the Sharjah International Book Fair 2015 (SIBF) Wednesday at the Expo Centre.

McCarthy took part in a panel discussion called, “Bets: Writing and Facing the Current Situation” with Habib Al Sayegh, the UAE writer and poet, and Moni Mohsin, a Pakistani author based in London.

The session looked at how writing and creativity helps communities overcome the negative impact of conflict and acts of aggression because creative writing and literature shape our view of the world.

The panel agreed that creative writing and literature were very important in raising awareness and tolerance of others and agreed that literature and non-fiction help in furthering our understanding of some of the most destructive and hostile concepts and regimes.

McCarthy, a journalist and broadcaster whose life was dramatically changed in 1986 when he was kidnapped on his first foreign assignment in Lebanon and held hostage for 1,943 days, spoke about how, even in the darkest times as a captive, he found humanity in himself as well as in his captors. He said that writing fictional stories about real-life difficulties is not only cathartic, but helps other people understand the situation better.

He said, “When we capture an individual’s story, we humanise what can seem a separate experience and in terms of what is happening with Syrian refugees or in another Middle Eastern region, Palestine, it gives people in the West a better understanding of the issues and it becomes more real and this is terribly important.”

Al Sayegh, a leading UAE media personality, journalist and poet, said that literature and the media were very influential in how people think and behave, but that the writing itself could be either negative or positive. He called for more translation of Arabic works so that the voice of tolerance could drown out that of intolerance or aggressiveness.

“All writing can have an impact,” he said, “but extremist writing is harmful for society. Now in the digital age when much journalism is done online, people’s comments become part of the collective dialogue and this increases intolerance, violence and extremism.”

Also on the panel was Moni Mohsin, a satirical writer and journalist who has written two novels: “The End of Innocence” and “Duty Free”. Her best-selling books, “The Diary of a Social Butterfly” and “The Return of the Butterfly” are based on her long running column in the Pakistani weekly newspaper, The Friday Times.

Mohsin said she uses satire in order to address serious issues in the world. She said, “Satirical writing is about using humour to hold up a mirror to society. For example my character in the ‘the Butterfly” stories is very self-absorbed and self-serving. She lives in a world behind high walls and chooses to ignore what is happening around her or is unable to see it, but the hope is that the reader does see it and is engaging with the issues.”