Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Egyptian law gives fanatics free rein

An attempt to ban One Thousand and One Nights for being 'obscene' shows the hesba principle is increasingly misused

Brian Whitaker, Wednesday 28 April 2010

"One Thousand and One Nights is a classic collection of Arab folk tales. First compiled in written form in 10th-century Iraq, it derived some of its stories from an earlier Persian collection, which in turn made use of even older tales from India. Though some of the content is a bit earthy, it's part of the world's literary heritage. Or so you might think.

But now a group, Lawyers Without Restrictions, is trying to ban it by launching an obscenity case against officials in the general culture authority, which publishes the work in Egypt.....

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......

How far the One Thousand and One Nights case will get in the courts remains to be seen. There are clearly many in Egypt who regard this type of legal vigilantism as ludicrous, and the reaction of Egyptian culture minister Farouk Hosni was to ask: "Does this mean we should destroy all ancient Egyptian statues because of their nudity?"

Hosni was speaking rhetorically, but it's probably unwise to talk of such things, even in jest. There is no doubt some would answer his question in the affirmative. We should not forget what happened to the Buddha statues when the Taliban took a disliking to them in Afghanistan....."

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