Many jurists, public speakers, intellectuals and writers have experienced the sadness of Sayyad Al-Qemni, the Egyptian intellectual who was compelled to stop writing out of fear for his life and the safety of his children, after he was threatened by extremist groups. Others have lived through the same fears and gone down the same road of coercively abandoning their line of thinking. The only difference between them is that they never issued a statement declaring their fear.
The most obvious developments of this kind of threat is that no longer is it limited to intellectuals and writers, but rather it is expanding its interest to preachers and religious scholars. Many muftis, imams and jurisprudents were subjected to public threats and public humiliation. Many religious scholars admitted that they have been secretively threatened whereas others said that threats reached them through text messaging services on their mobile phones. The result is most regrettable, because after the threats, only a small number of writers maintained the same standpoint, whereas the rest were sure not to tackle sensitive issues that may incite trouble.
Others have taken on a different attitude by accepting the demands made by those who threaten them and completely changing their writings and ideologies. They now have two languages, one with which to address the public that meets the demands of extremists, and another that is secretly declared within the safety of their houses. Many come under attack in the form of e-mails, but the most severe threat is denouncing the concerned intellectual as an infidel. Other forms of threats force these intellectuals into many social and personal embarrassing situations condemning their ideologies and isolating them from their colleagues and furthermore instigating public opinion against him.
Sayyad Al-Qemni has resorted to what other writers have done which is to hide in the dark and change his stance. Such an action is understandable in the light of the threats that he had received. However, Al-Qemni can be blamed for his mistake of allowing extremists to use him as a means for spreading fear and frustration. Al-Qemni caused media controversy surrounding his abandonment of writing. The Islamists lawyer referred to the threat as "adolescent". Nobody can determine whether the threat was serious, however, one can simply withdraw silently or even declare his abandonment of writing without publicizing the crime.
In the Arab world, we live in a suffocating atmosphere that does not allow for free writing. This atmosphere began in the 1980”s when extremists began to appear on the surface, after the success of the Iranian revolution. Ever since, it has been the duty of Arab extremists to track down intellectuals, writers, film stars and more recently moderate Islamic scholars and preachers and to implicitly and explicitly terrorize them using the very same methods.
The most crucial point remains however, and that is the importance of solidarity within society against the phenomena of terrorism, which denounces who it deems as infidels and explicitly threatens their wellbeing. If such solidarity does not hold, Sayyad Al-Qemni”s case will be the situation of many writers. Even if some were happy with the departure of Al-Qemni from the writing arena, they would just be underestimating the fire that will spread. They must consider that threats are no longer confined to one category, but have extended to prominent Islamic thinkers and religious scholars as well.
For every extremist looking in one direction, there is another looking in the opposite direction.