A recent hesba case against Yousef Ziedan’s “Arabic Booker”-winning Azazeel apparently has brought together book banners from both Christian and Muslim camps. According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) , “Christian lawyers have joined the neo actio popularis team in Egypt and demanded a five year imprisonment for Youssef Zeidan.”
Hesba is a long-established (and originally honourable) principle in Islamic jurisprudence. In the words of the Egyptian scholar, Gamal al-Banna, it was “used to promote the good and criticise the bad. Every individual in an Islamic society is responsible for the actions of the society”.
More recently, though, it has begun to have the opposite effect, stifling critical thought and debate rather than encouraging it.
In this case, lawyers are demanding Ziedan serve five years (!) in prison, claiming he has defamed the Christian religion according to article # 98 of the Egyptian penal code.
Gamal Eid, executive director of ANHRI, said in a prepared statement:
Pope Shenouda III, has got to take a clear position from those fawning to him ,claiming they have filed those communiqués as lawyers of the Egyptian church. We would really wish that the church would rise above pursuing a creative writer due to such allegations promoted by extremists seeking publicity at the expense of freedom of creation.
Attorney Naguib Gobrail clarified, for Al Khaleej, why he’s part of the case against Ziedan:
I am not against literature, I am not against images that may be used by the writer to make his creative [works], but I submitted the complaint because of his [Ziedan’s] interview with the newspaper Al-Youm Al-Saba’a, which was offensive to Christ and Christianity.
Ziedan’s comments in the interview are perhaps a little strong on the topic of the ancient church, but are nowhere near the “let’s kill all old people” commentary you’d get out of British author Martin Amis. And, if it’s really about comments in Al-Youm Al-Saba’a, shouldn’t we also ban Al-Youm Al-Saba’a? Oh, and since Al Khaleej re-printed Ziedan’s comments, why not ban Al Khaleej?
After that, we could have a blog-burning party.
Meanwhile, I just saw that Reuters has a piece that takes these book-banners more seriously than the usual hesba lot. Again, I wonder how this will play out in the West when Azazil finally makes it into English translation (summer 2011, Atlantic Books). Maybe some American book-banners+would-be-author-jailers can come and hold hands, too!
Note: You can also read a conversation with Youssef Zeidan from the March 2010 Emirates Literature Festival, posted on the blog “Writings on the Wall.” He talks about self-censorship, censorship, and the reaction to his novel.