By Aiman Reyaz, New Age Islam
23 March, 2014
“What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Now they are content with burning my books”. Sigmund Freud
“One idea can only be opposed by another idea”. Naguib Mahfouz
In the age of internet, almost any information is just a click away. Nothing can be hidden, there is always a way to uncover it. And since we are not living in a uni-polar environment i.e., from the global level to the local level, there are opposite forces at work to challenge the status quo. There just cannot be one piece of ‘knowledge’.
A few days ago, the social networking site ‘Twitter’ was blocked from working in Turkey. It was alleged that ‘Twitter’ was highlighting the corruption of the State. However the state-run news agency stated, on the contrary, that Twitter had some links which deemed illegal. 1
How can Saudi Arabia be far behind? In these matters it always takes the lead. The Saudi Authorities have stated that to prevent chaos in the Kingdom, the State will have full power. 2
Only a few months ago Pakistan had banned ‘New Age Islam’ because it was systematically and point by point refuting the ideas of the Jihadists and the Talibanis. And since they could not one-up New Age Islam intellectually or ideologically, the safest way for them was to block the website.
There are very broadly two reasons for banning or blocking any work: first, you can’t defeat it ideologically. That is to say, you are afraid of it. The other reason is that you are afraid that people may get upset or worse still, they may use violence. So to prevent such course of actions, it is better to ban.
The second reason seems to be quite satisfactory. But this reason raises a few more questions. Are people really that sensitive? Do they have the time to indulge in such nefarious activities? Don’t they have some other productive work to do?
I believe that people, especially the youths, hardly care. All of us want to live peacefully. It is the politicians and the self-proclaimed religious leaders with the help of the ever-ready media spark such kinds of controversy and which also leads to violence.
The best example in the recent past of banning is of Salman Rushdie’s ‘The Satanic Verses’. Now it is freely available on the internet and anyone can download it and read it (just like many other banned books).
Although Rushdie’s Satanic Verses is the most notorious international case of book censorship in the 20th century, it is not unique. Authors in Muslim countries face increasing threats to their freedom of expression and their safety by governments that censor or prosecute those whose writing offends Islamic religious authorities and by unofficial militant Islamic groups. Since the Islamic revolution of 1979 in Iran, thousands of writers, journalists, and other intellectuals have been jailed and unknown numbers executed or assassinated.
Egyptian writer Farag Fouda and Algerian novelist and journalist Tahar Djaout, among many others, were murdered during the 1990s by fundamentalist terrorists. In 1994, the Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz was stabbed and seriously wounded. Other writers, such as Taslima Nasrin of Bangladesh, have been driven into exile by death threats or, like Egyptian novelist Alaa Hamed, sentenced to prison for blasphemy. The writing of feminists such as Nasrin, Nawal El Saadawi of Egypt, and Fatima Mernissi of Morocco, who challenge interpretations of Islamic dogma that restrict women, has particularly angered both governments and Islamists.3
Had it not been for the death sentence given by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni, Salman Rushdie would not have been a common name, except in select literary circles. And so is the case with Taslima Nasrin.
The more one tries to grip the sands inside the fist, the more it will slip away. Similarly the more any piece of art is banned or blocked; the more people will come to know about it. This is basic psychology. We generally desire to do what we are told not to do.
“To prohibit the reading of certain books is to declare the inhabitants to be either fools or slaves”. Claude- Aldrien Helvetius
3. Margaret Bald, Literature Suppressed on Religious Grounds, Revised Edition.