Open Letter Organizer Discusses Chengdu Worldcon Bid

[Introduction: Anna Smith Spark organized the Open Letter To The World Science Fiction Society about the Saudi Arabia Worldcon bid. File 770 asked if she had plans to address other bids, such as the Worldcon bid for Chengdu, China in 2023 (which now has only Memphis TN as competition, the Nice, France bid having folded last week). She has written this guest post in response.]

By Anna Smith Spark: I am very happy to do this again next year for Chengdu if it falls to me. What is taking place in Xinjiang is genocide. The oppression in Hong Kong is shocking.

I say this great sadness. Chinese history, literature, art, science and technology is and has been truly world-changing; Chinese SFF is superb in its scope and quality; Chinese cities are some of the most dynamic places in the world. On a personal note, I am myself quarter-Chinese. My first response to the Chengdu was breathless excitement and a desire to attend right now.

It’s also important also to stress that the immediate safety concerns for fandom attendees at a Chinese con are not in any way the same as those I raised about the Saudi bid. LGTBQ+ identity is not illegal in China (although I do recognise that discrimination does take place); women are not discriminated against in law; Israeli passport holders would be legally able to enter the country. Acceptance of the Saudi bid sent a signal to fandom that was entirely unacceptable, namely that a celebration of our genre could conceivably take place that by default excluded many of us from attending. This would not be the case for Chinese event – although it would be for any future Russian or Hungarian bid. The idea that a Chinese venue would not be ‘safe’ for western fans indeed links straight into a racist discourse about the far east which I find deeply troubling.

However the human rights abuses in China being perpetrated against the Uyghurs, members of Falun Gong, and political dissidents are appalling. The idea of a con taking place against a backdrop of the forced sterilization of women from an ethnic minority is … unspeakable. As a woman and as a human being, I would find such a juxtaposition abhorrent. Unless there is a significant change in Chinese policy in the next year, I oppose the Chengdu bid.

BUT:

I wanted to make the letter about the Saudi Arabian bid specifically. The issue was urgent given the vote is taking place now. I am ashamed to say I knew nothing about it until Saturday morning my time, and had two days at most to get this done. My experience of political campaigning has also taught me that a single-item specific campaign targeted on what is happening now is more effective and hard hitting. Either the nuances of the particular issues raised by the Saudi bid would have been obscured in a general, woolly statement about WorldCons in general, or the letter would have got far too long to have any effect. Campaigns are also more effective if they are close to the voting dates – by next year a campaign about the Chinese bid raised now would probably be forgotten.

There is obviously an issue around western fandom (I may be quarter-Chinese but to all practical purposes I’m classically white privileged) making a blanket condemnation of the only two non-western countries’ bids. By only looking at the Saudi bid I was able to ask Muslim friends to help me review the letter, and had the space to make very clear that we were not at all opposed to an Arabic or Islamic Worldcon and could see many positives about the Saudi bid. Islam and Arabic culture are two of the great pillars of science and world literature, a Worldcon in a Muslim country to celebrate this would be a glorious thing to see. 

It is hugely depressing that both of the only two current non-western bids do raise problems. I agonised over writing the letter, I feel very conflicted because I would love to see us celebrating a truly world-wide fandom. Simply not at the cost of litwashing a staggering abuse of human rights.

Some people have of course raised the issue of the US itself as a venue if certain things occur … although as Worldcon is a US con that gets mentally torturous …

The intersection of fandom and human rights awareness will only get more complex in the future. There are so many issues we need to address properly now, not on an ad hoc basis as we go along. Like the best SFF books, it’s complicated and we need to step up. A row every few years really isn’t the answer (also I’d collapse from exhaustion). Serious thought about how we as a diverse, world-wide community go forward together is. If you’ll forgive the ghastly grammar of that last sentence.

I would also add, to those who point out that I ‘don’t understand the process’ – no, I don’t. I don’t understand anything about it. I looked at the Worldcon and WSFS websites and found nothing I could make sense of. If the process isn’t transparent to an outsider, isn’t open to challenge –  it’s not fit for purpose and it’s blatantly discriminatory. If the process is that there is no process … uh …. And to those who say ‘it would have lost the vote anyway’ – I’ve heard that before, I think?

Writers Circulate Letter of Concern About Saudi Worldcon Bid

Anna Smith Spark, a grimdark author from London, has organized an open “letter of concern” with several dozen co-signers, including Charles Stross, about the bid to bring the Worldcon to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 2022, which will be voted on this week. The competition is a bid for Chicago in 2022.  

Anna Smith Spark sent File 770 the letter, and “Also (and I will be dead in the eyes of the WSFS for this) the email they sent me washing their hands of this and having a quick pop at those involved in the anti-Puppies work as well for good measure,” which is a reply received from WSFS webmaster Kevin Standlee.   


An open letter to the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) and to Norman Cates as the Chair of the 2020 WorldCon

Dear WSFS, and dear Norman,

As writers, publishers and readers of science fiction and fantasy, we are writing to express our concern that Saudi Arabia has been accepted as a potential host site for the 2022 World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon).

SFF is the great genre of possibilities and pluralities. As readers, writers and publishers of SFF our task is to inspire wonder: we look up at the stars to seek out other ways of being, we look down at the earth around us to find enchantment, beauty, romance, horror, hope. We create new worlds because we believe that in doing so we can make this world a better and intellectually richer place. A Jeddah WorldCon would allow fandom a chance to visit a breathtakingly beautiful city, Jeddah. It would break new ground for SFF Fandom, open up a new world to fans who may otherwise never have an opportunity to travel there, and show solidarity with creative communities within Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. It’s therefore with great sadness that we must face reality for what it is, that the Saudi regime is antithetical to everything SFF stands for.

The most recent Amnesty International report on Saudi Arabia states that in 2019 the Saudi government ‘escalated repression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. They harassed, arbitrarily detained and prosecuted dozens of government critics, human rights defenders, including women’s rights activists, members of the Shi’a minority and family members of activists.  […] Some people, most of them members of the country’s Shi’a minority, were executed following grossly unfair trials.’[1] Saudi women face systematic legal discrimination, while identifying as LGBQT+  is illegal and can be punishable with corporal punishment and even execution. Saudi Arabia is a key player in the war in Yemen that has left 80% of the Yemeni population in need of humanitarian aid, and has been accused of war crimes in the region[2]. The UN concluded last year that it was ‘credible’ that the Saudi Crown Prince personally ordered the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi for the crime of writing words[3]. It cannot and must not be acceptable to stage an international event against this backdrop. Indeed, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi alone should be enough to render the concept of a literary convention in the country an absurdity.

On a personal level, we note that many of us would ourselves not be able to write or to live freely under Saudi law. We refuse to attend an event if those staffing it cannot have the same basic freedoms. We express deep concern that many members of the SFF community would be excluded from attending an event because of their sexuality, nationality or religious beliefs.

We stand in solidarity with those who seek change in the country. And we write in protest but also in hope – that by raising awareness of the political situation in Saudi Arabia a WorldCon SA will one day be possible.

Yours sincerely,

Anna Smith Spark (organiser), Justin Lee Anderson, Andrew Angel, Helen Armfield, Allen Ashley, Graham Austin-King, Ali Baker Brooks, Andrew Bannister, RJ Barker, Alan Baxter, Donna Bond, James Brogden, Mike Brooks, Angela Cleland, Tom Clews, Adrian Collins, Lee Conley, Emily Cornell, Sarah Doyle, Margaret Eve, Mike Everest Evans, The Fantasy Hive, Fantasy Faction, Nick Ferguson, Karen Fishwick, Carol Goodwin, T. L. Greylock, Joanne Hall, Patricia Hawkes-Reed, Bethan May Hindmarsh, Stewart Hotson, Shellie Horst, Steve D. Howarth, Humber SFF, Barbara James, Cameron Johnston, Daniel Kelly, Simon Kewin, Alex Khlopenko, Shona Kinsella, Alex Knight, David Lascelles, Ulff Lehmann, Dale Lucas, Eloise Mac, Steve McHugh, Juliette McKenna, Peter McLean, Kevin McVeigh, Kareem Mahfouz, Masimba Musodza, Andy Marsden, GR Matthews, Simon Morden, Alistair Morley, T. O. Munro, Stan Nicholls, Chris Nuttall, Scott Oden, Graeme Penman, Peter Philpott, Steven Poore, Gareth L Powell, Robert V.S Redick, Ian Richardson, Courtney Schaffer, S. Naomi Scott, Ian Segal, Mike Shackle, Steve J Shaw, Sheffield Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, , Rita Sloan, Sammy HK Smith, Vaughan Stanger, Mark Stay, Charlie Stross, Allen Stroud, Amanda M Suver Justice, Clayton Synder, Sue Tingey, Three Crows Magazine, Tej Turner, Catriona Ward, Matthew Ward, David Watkins, RB Watkinson, Adam Weller, Graeme Williams, Phil Williams,  Deborah A Wolf.

Copied to the Board of the SFWA, Locus Magazine, Tor.com, Starburst, the UK Guardian newspaper


WSFS Web Site Team Reply

Anna:

There is no such entity as the “Board of the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS).” WSFS is an unincorporated literary society that has no Board of Directors, no ongoing chief executive, and no “Head Office.” I am copying the co-chairs of ConZealand on this reply.

The rules of WSFS, which are made by the members of WSFS (the attendees of the Worldcon), set very minimal technical requirements for any group to bid for a Worldcon. The selection is not made by a Board of Directors or Executive Committee, but by the entire membership of WSFS, who vote on the choice, just as they vote on the Hugo Awards. Indeed, the process is very similar in both cases, in that Worldcons are not supposed to make subjective value judgments about nominees for the Hugo Awards. This decision is reserved to the entire membership, exercising their right to vote.

If you are interested in more information about how WSFS works and how you can propose changes in its rules, I can explain things in further detail.

This is not intended as being dismissive, but to try and explain that Worldcons and WSFS as a whole does not give anyone the right to make subjective judgements about either Hugo Award nominees/finalists or prospective Worldcon sites other than the entire membership.

Kevin Standlee, WSFS Web Site Team


[1] https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/middle-east-and-north-africa/saudi-arabia/report-saudi-arabia/

[2] https://www.unicef.org/emergencies/yemen-crisis

[3] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24713