Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Terrorist and the Author

On August 30, renowned Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz passed away at the age of 94. Mahfouz had the unique honor of being the only Arab novelist to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1988. Sadly, he also held a far more common status among Middle Eastern authors: victim of Islamist violence as a result of his writings. This article from the Christian Science Monitor explains:

On Oct. 14, 1994, as Mahfouz left his house with a friend to attend his legendary weekly diwan with other writers and thinkers at a Nile-side cafe, a man stabbed him in the neck. At his trial the attacker, later executed, said he was inspired by Rahman's comments.

"He was the number one soft target in Egypt,'' says Raymond Stock, an American translator and writer currently working on a biography of Mahfouz. "To the Islamists, he symbolized unbelief and support for Israel - all the things they hate the government for. They couldn't get to the leaders, so they went after him."

The "Rahman" mentioned above is none other than Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the infamous "Blind Sheikh". One of Egypt's leading clerics and most influential Islamist ideologues, Rahman became the "spiritual leader" of that country's jihadist movement. Both Osama bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, regard Rahman as a mentor.

In 1990, Rahman was allowed to come to the United States, and settled in Jersey City, New Jersey. People in his circle were involved in the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. That same year he was arrested after inciting his followers to attack various New York landmarks. In 1995, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

To this day, the imprisonment of Rahman remains a featured item of al Qaeda when laying out the sins of the infidel West. In his videotaped remarks from Monday, Ayman al-Zawahiri said the following:

"I call on every Muslim to make use of every opportunity afforded him to take revenge on America for its imprisonment of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman".

So why did the Islamist fanatic who tried to murder Naguib Mahfouz think that he was doing Rahman's bidding? In 1989, Rahman was asked by a reporter for his opinion on the Satanic Verses controversy. The Monitor piece summarizes the "Blind Sheikh's" response:

Had Mahfouz been murdered for his allegorical 1959 book "Children of the Alley," in which a poor Cairo father represents God and his sons Jesus, Mohammed, and other prophets, Mr. Rahman said Mr. Rushdie would never have dared to write "The Satanic Verses,'' notwithstanding the fact that Mahfouz's book was banned across the Arab world.

After his conviction in the US, journalist Mary Anne Weaver interviewed the "Blind Sheikh" in prison. Among the topics was Rahman's connection to the attempt on Naguib Mahfouz's life. Even though he denied any involvement, Rahman's response provides a chilling insight into the Islamist attitude towards intellectual freedom:

At first, Rahman said Islamic militants could not be responsible. "Why?" Weaver asked. They knew where the novelist was for decades, he replied. Why stab now? he shrugged. Weaver then asked Rahman if he issued a fatwa declaring Mahfouz an apostate. Rahman said he did not. He elaborated: Before Mahfouz's stabbing, a journalist had interviewed Rahman about another matter entirely, Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. Rahman told Weaver he told the reporter that if "we had punished Naguib Mahfouz for what he wrote in Children of Gebelaawi," Rushdie would "never have dared to write that book."

Weaver asked, "How should Mahfouz have been punished?" Rahman explained that Mahfouz would be brought before a committee of religious scholars who would judge whether his novel had abandoned Islamic beliefs. Mahfouz could have presented a defense. If the scholars judged him guilty, he would be given a chance to repent.

"And if he doesn't?"

"Then he will be executed."

(Emphasis added-DD)

Remember this the next time the same jihadists who admire the "Blind Sheikh" talk about how much they desire freedom.


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