Who hasn’t heard of the “Arabian Nights” (aka One Thousand And One Nights)- Sheherazade’s colorful stories about Ali Baba , Aladdin and Sinbad? It’s a classic collection of stories that have been translated into most of the world’s languages, and date back to at least medieval times, when it was first published. Now this classic piece of literature, as beloved as any, is being targeted by a group of Islamist lawyers in Egypt who believe it should be banned, because of what they claim is offensive language and lewd and sexual content. Ironically, the lawyers’ group is called Lawyers Without Borders (or Without Shackles) which, unlike Reporters Without Borders which fiercely advocates for freedom, this group is doing the exact opposite.
These Islamist lawyers also took offense to the fact that a new version was being published by a state-run publishing group GOCP (General Organization of Culture Palaces) and they believe it is “a waste of public money.”
“I was shocked at the offensive phrases it contains,” said Ayman Abdul-Hakim, member of Lawyers without Shackles, the non-governmental group that filed a complaint with Egypt’s Prosecutor General calling for the withdrawal of the new edition from the market and for banning the book altogether.
Thankfully, there are many who are fighting back, including Egyptian intellectuals and members of the writers’ union:
“Those who want to destroy our heritage are taking the same path as the Taliban when they destroyed Buddha’s statutes,” Mohammed Salmawy said, promising to file a counter complaint.
“We will file a complaint, and it is time that we move from a defensive position to attack.”
The GOCP has also criticized the Lawyer’s group and as a result of a sold out first edition even went as far as to print more copies.
The decision marks an extremely powerful blow to all forces of darkness that conspire against freedom of expression and the prosperity of art in Egypt, said Ahmed Megahed, GOCP Chairman.
“The fact that the first edition was sold out shortly after it was issued shows that Egyptians are avid readers and that they will not be influenced by a bunch of people who take advantage of Islam in order to suppress freedom,” he said.
Magahed added that the latest edition is based on an older version that was already revised by al-Azhar, the world’s leading institution of Sunni Islam, and that there is nothing immoral or offensive about it.
There was even a conference that Egyptian writers organized to counter this assault on literary freedom, and to wholeheartedly condemn the lawyers’ actions. They also demanded that the lawsuit be dismissed.
The conference, entitled The Arabian Night and Levels of Reception, featured a group of Egypt’s prominent intellectuals who all agreed that the ban of Arabian Nights is not an issue that only concerns writers, but rather one that concerns the entire nation and its legitimate right to preserve its cultural heritage.
“I am stunned at the conspiracies directed against this book which comes third after the Bible and William Shakespeare’s plays in terms of the number of languages to which it was translated,” said children literature writer Abdul-Tawab Yusuf.
Mohamed Hafez Diab a Professor of Sociology has some interesting insights regarding this Islamist backlash against the Arabian Nights. He calls it the ‘bedouinization” of Egyptian culture
.. which has been taking place over a period of 30 years during which Egyptians of all echelons have been flocking to Gulf nations for work.
“The text has nothing against Islam. We are facing a group of imposters who claim they are defending Islam and are trying to make apostates of others.”
Thankfully, those bans would not affect the rest of the civilized world, and we in the West could still enjoy the stories of Sheherazade, but it’s truly shameful that there are even groups that exist that are trying to do away with literary and cultural heritage because it offends them. If something offends you, then just don’t read it!
sources: Middle East Online, Al Arabiya