13 January 2007

Brutal Censorship

In order to protest against censorship in our part of the world I found it useful to list all the violations of freedom of thought that have been recorded in the Greater Middle East from 1925 to date. This list, in chronological order; it includes numerous examples of ‘censorship’ which makes one wonder. From philosophy to cinema, literature, and art – no field has been spared, and no act of violence has been avoided. From the mere banning of the work to a death sentence - every kind of obscurantist horror has taken place in our part of the world. Given that we are one of the Civilizations of a great book the “Koran” this is a complete absurdity.

The list may seem exhaustive, but it is in no way complete. Therefore if you know of other incidents that occurred in our part of the world please do not hesitate to add a comment and I will include it in the list. I hope, however, that it will some day come to an end, inshallah! For this to happen, our societies and governments must show greater respect for freedom of thought, and must pass laws that will protect this freedom.

- 1925, [Egypt]: Sheikh Ali Abdel-Raziq is expelled from Al-Azhar University and his writings are banned [because] he advocates the separation of religion and state. His book "Islam and Principles of Government" is declared heretical, and banned.

- 1926, [Egypt]: [The book] On Pre-Islamic Poetry by Taha Hussein is banned. In 1931, the Education Ministry had him expelled from the university, for his rationalist interpretation of pre-Islamic literature and the Koran.

- 1946, Iran: The terrorist group Fedayyan-i Eslam accuses historian, jurist,and linguist Ahmad Kasravi of unbelief. In March, he is murdered for heresy, based on a fatwa [issued against him].

- 1973, Algeria: The poet Jean Sénac is assassinated by fundamentalists.

- December 18, 1975, Morocco: Omar Benjelloun, leader of the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USPF) and director of the paper Al-Mouharrir, is stabbed to death by fundamentalists.

- February 1977, [Syria]: The president of Damascus University is murdered on
campus by fundamentalists.

- 1981, Egypt: The book History of the Arabic Language by Fikri Al-Aqad is

- 1982, [Iran]: Writer Ata Nourian, a member of the Iranian Writers Union, is
killed by fundamentalists for his ‘anti-Islamist ideas.’

- 1984, Iran: 83-year-old Ali Dashti, the author of a book critical of Islam, dies in prison after mistreatment.

- January 1985, Sudan: The writer Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, over 80 years old, is sentenced to death and hanged in Khartoum. [His crime:] writing a book on the history of Islam which advocated separation of the political and the religious domains. In the book…, he stated that the spiritual message of the Prophet as revealed in Mecca is universal, but that the judicial framework which [later] developed [in Medina emerged] in a particular historical context and is [therefore] not adapted to the life of Muslims

- In the same year 1985, the Ethical Court in Cairo sentences the publisher of One Thousand and One Nights to jail for corrupting the morals of the younger [generation]. The Court [also] orders the destruction of 3000 copies of this popular masterpiece.

- 1987, Iran: 80,000 books, labeled as ‘attacking Islam,’ are burned at Isfahan University.

- 1988: A book published in Saudi Arabia accuses more than 100 Arab writers - some dead and some living - of apostasy and hostility towards Islam. [They include] Salama Moussa, Shibli Shmmayyil, Nagib Mahfuz, Lofti As-Sayyid, Muhammad Al-Jabiri, Shakir Shakir, Said Aql, Adonis, and others. These authors’ [books] are still banned by the Wahhabis in Saudi.

- February 14, 1989, [Iran]: Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, [rules that] that The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie is blasphemous and calls to murder its author and publishers. A reward of $3 million is offered to anyone who kills Rushdie (but only $1 million if the murderer is not Iranian). For years, the Iranian author
[Rushdie] lives like a hunted animal in Britain, though he receives
protection from British police. The Italian and Japanese translators [of his
book] are less fortunate: [both] are killed in 1991, in Milan and Tokyo

- In February 1989, Iranian writers Amir Nikaiin, Manouchehr Behzadi, Djavid Misani and Abutorab Bagherazdeh, and two Iranian poets, Said Soltanpour and Rahman Hatefi, are killed for their liberal ideas.

- 1990, Egypt: Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid, a university teacher who wished ‘to consider Islam from within and propose a profoundly reformist approach’receives death threats from fundamentalists…

- 1991, Sudan: Ajjabna Muhammad is accused of apostasy and is expelled from
the university. Rejected by his own family, he tries to flee [the country,
but is caught] and tortured in prison.

- January 1992, [Egypt]: A delegation of Al-Azhar scholars demands the
banning of eight books on Islam.

- June 8, [1992], writer Farag Foda is shot dead by fundamentalists along with his son Ahmad and a friend of his son’s. A few days earlier, the secular intellectual was
declared an ‘apostate’. Islamist fundamentalists group Al-Gamma’ah Al-Islamiya took responsibility for the murder…

- September 3, [1991], Saudi Arabia: The poet Sadiq Melallah was beheaded in
the main square of the city of Qatif for denying [the faith], on [the orders
of] the state authorities.

- 1993, Algeria: This was a very bloody year for writers, journalists, academics, and artists [in Algeria]. The victims, most of them murdered by fundamentalists, include Ruptures magazine writer and editor Taher Djaout; sociologist Djilali Liabès; Beaux-Arts [College] head Ahmed Asselah; sociologist M’hamed Boukhobza; Bab-Ezzouar University head Salah Djebaïli; poet and writer Youssef Sebti; playwright and stage director Abdelkader Alloula; psychiatrist Mahfoudh Boucebci, national education superintendent
Salah Chouaki; playwright Izzedine Medjoubi; pediatrician Dilalli Belkhanchir; economist Abderahmane Faredeheb; and journalists Ferhat Cherkit, Youssef Fathallah, Lamine Lagoui, Ziane Farrah, Abdelhamid Benmenni, Rabah Zenati, Saad Bakhtaoui, and Abderrahmane Chergou…, and the list is far from complete…

- In Iran, cartoonist Manouchehr Karimzadeh is sentenced to 10 years in prison for sketching a soccer player who slightly resembles [Ayatollah]Khomeini. The cartoonist and the editor of the newspaper [that published the cartoon] are flogged. Their [prison] sentences are later reduced.

- In Saudi Arabia, the publication of a comic [strip] leads to the arrest of
two Indian employees of the Arab News [paper]. According to theologians, the
comic [strip] questioned the existence of God. The two men are sentenced to
a harsh flogging. Following international pressure, they are pardoned by the
[Saudi] king.

- In May, in Saudi Arabia, reformist professor M. Al-Awajj is sentenced to
four years’ imprisonment. He is dismissed [from his job] and his passport is

- On September 24, a group of Bangladeshi fundamentalists issues a fatwa against [Bangladeshi author and doctor] Taslima Nasreen, accusing her of blasphemy… The fundamentalists destroy bookshops that sell her books. The government confiscates her passport and orders her to stop writing if she wants to continue working in a state hospital. She leaves the country…

- In May, in Iran, university lecturer and human rights activist E. Sahabi is arrested for participating in a conference in Germany, and is accused of ‘anti-revolutionary behavior.’

On October 14 in Egypt, literature Nobel prize laureate Nagib Mahfuz, aged 83, is stabbed in the throat by a young extremist in Cairo. Al-Gamma’ah Al-Islamiya takes responsibility for the assassination attempt…

- In Iran, author Ali Akbar Saidi Sirjani is murdered in prison for publishing his
works outside the country after they are banned in Iran.

- April 1995, [India]: Mufti Shabbir Siddiqi of Ahamdabad issues a fatwa of
excommunication against the poet Muhammad Alvi. [The poet was excommunicated] because of a [single] line in a poem written 17 years earlier: ‘O God, if you are too busy to visit us, send us a good angel to guide us.’

- In the same year, the Egyptian Supreme Court declares Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid
an apostate and orders him divorced from his wife - since a Muslim cannot be
married to an apostate. The couple… escapes to the Netherlands.

- In Iran, Ahmad Miralai, a translator of foreign literature, is murdered.

- 1996, Iran: Four ’subversive’ writers and editors are murdered: Ghafar Hosseini, Reza Mazlooman, Ebrahim Zalzadeh, and Ahmad Tafazoli…

- 1997, [Egypt]: Al-Azhar University compiles a list of 196 books to be banned on moral and religious grounds…

- 1998, Pakistan: Ayub Masih, [a young Pakistani] sentenced to prison and released six years later on 15 August 2002 for blasphemy

- In Egypt, author Alaa Hamed stands trial for [writing] a novel that ‘insults Islam.’

- In Iran, [several] writers, journalists and academics - Pirouz Davani, Hamid Pour, Hajizadeh, Majid Sharif, Daryoush and Parvaneh Furouhar, Muhammad Jafar Pouyandeh, and Muhammad Mokhtari - are murdered by fundamentalists because of their writings.

- In Turkey, journalist Nuredin Sirin is sentenced to 20 months in prison for writing that ‘we must support the oppressed even if they are atheists.’

- 1999, Iran: The religious reformist Hadi Khamenei is beaten by fundamentalists students…

- 2000, Kuwait: Two female authors, Leila Othman and Alia Shaib, are each sentenced to one month in prison for moral and religion offenses…

- In Egypt, writer Haydar Haydar is declared an apostate and sentenced to
death by fundamentalists for writing [his book] A Banquet for Seaweed.

- 2001, Egypt: Writer Salaheddin Mohsen and female preacher Manal Manea are each sentenced to three years in prison for atheism and blasphemy…

- 27 May 2003, Saudi Arabia: Jamal Khashoggi, editor of [the daily] Al-Watan, is fired for approving the publication of articles criticizing the religious establishment, and in particular the mutawa (religious police)…

- Saudi teacher Muhammad Al-Harbi is sentenced to 750 lashes and three years and four months in prison for ‘harming the integrity of Islam.’

- Saudi teacher Muhammad Al-Souheimi is accused of apostasy, sentenced to 300 lashes and three years’ imprisonment, and banned from teaching.

- In Iran, the Canadian-Iranian journalist Zahra Kazemi is brutally tortured by the Iranian police and then murdered in detention - [all] for writing her articles.

- 2004, Iran: The musician and poet Ahmad Bayat Mokhtari is abducted and run down by a car in Chiraz because of his artistic activities.

- On October 30, in Damascus, researcher and writer Nabil El-Fayadh, author of many books banned in Syria and other Arab countries, is arrested by the intelligence service…

- 23 January 2006, [Iran]: Journalist Elham Afrotan, head of the weekly Tamadone Hormozgan, is imprisoned with six others… [for writing] an article comparing Ayatollah Khomeini’s [rise to power] with the AIDS [epidemic]. The journalists are arrested in Bandar-Abbas…”

It must be pointed out that such acts did not happen during the first three centuries of Islam, which was the golden age of Islam. No one saw books burned, and freedom of thought was at its peak. No controversial topic was avoided in philosophical or theological debate. From the authenticity of the prophecies to the very nature of divinity - each doctrine had its proponents, its platforms, and its leading thinkers…

Considering the delightful freedom that pervaded Arab literature in those days. One could say anything, write anything, sing about anything… the love of women, sex, and wine … [Even] the sacred could be laughed at, and [religious] devotion as well… This golden age was also the age of that eclectic and refined aestheticism of which Abu
Hayane Attaouhidi wrote so beautifully.

Zyed Krichen “Ban… Bange “ (Réalités)
List: The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI)

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