When I read the news that a man in Egypt named Sheikh Yussef al Badri had lodged an official complaint with the prosecutor general against eight renowned Egyptian intellectuals and journalists, I couldn’t quite pinpoint who he was. I wasn’t really sure of his identity until I saw his picture alongside the news. For some reason his image left a more memorable impression on me then his name did.
I remembered the frequent times I had seen this preacher on satellite television channels condemning issues related to ‘hesba’ [the hesba doctrine allows people to file suits against those alleged to have violated religious law]. The approach he adopted when arguing his cases made it clear that he would by no means accept the inclusion of the ‘other’; that is, anyone from a different race or culture who follows a different religion.
His arguments concerning women’s issues display a blatant and incomprehensible rigorousness. In fact, he made an attempt to sue an Egyptian minister for issuing a decree to ban female circumcision.
I could never watch any of his televised appearances in their entirety by virtue of his rigidity and harshness, which always results in repelling me from following the rest of the program to its end.
Traits such as these have deepened my repulsion from a model that is embodied by a large group of ‘celebrity’ preachers who specialize in issuing fatwas [religious rulings] via modern means of communication, such as television and the Internet. Such means enable them to disseminate their thoughts and ideas through a large-scale platform.
Sheikh al Badri has a rich history of prosecuting intellectuals, writers and journalists. He has managed to achieve considerable success in raising a number of issues, such as the famous suit he raised a few years ago against writer and university professor Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid. Abu Zeid was forced to divorce his wife based on a judicial decision. [By applying Hesba, on the grounds that his writings included opinions that render him an apostate].
Furthermore, Sheikh al Badri also won a case against prominent Egyptian poet, Abdel Moeti Hegazi, who refused to pay the 20,000 Egyptian Pounds (the equivalent of approximately US $3,500) fine, preferring instead that his home furniture be sold rather than to voluntarily yield to the court ruling.
The media is divided over issues broached in the cases raised by people like Sheikh al Badri. However, this media constitutes an arena for the views of journalists, intellectuals and a considerable segment of society, including Sheikh al Badri, who may also be deemed a victim of these conflicts. Such conflicts and disruptions are a result of the clash between progressive development, which is represented through the means of communication, and views and ideas that remain ensnared in certain positions that are lethal to humanity and culture.
Nowadays, giving these views a large platform only tends to result in exercising control over thoughts, while reducing communication and imposing bans and prohibitions. It is a matter that affects everyone. It is almost as though the media creates its own murderers. Or rather, to be more precise; some types of media are instrumental to figures such as these.
The controversy that results from the showdown between journalists and the intelligentsia on the one hand, and religious figures on the other, only reinforces the inclination harbored by many to exercise self-censorship as well as censorship on a societal level. Although we are living in the age of media and communication, it is almost as though we are stifled by the weight of censorship more than ever before.
Still, Europe survived the Inquisitions before its renaissance. Perhaps we are living a parallel era. What is alarming to contemplate is surviving the dominance of such an inquisition, which then does not transform or pave way for anything else.