Al-Ahram Weekly Online   22 - 28 June 2006
Issue No. 800
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Salama A Salama

Lethal code

By Salama A Salama

As things stand, it's perhaps too much to expect the People's Assembly to defend liberal freedoms. The parliament is divided between the conservative majority and the vocal minority that poses as the country's mainstay of morality and faith. The competition between the two is lethal, for it generates a mindset of McCarthyism. In one recent debate, the assembly reached the conclusion that The Da Vinci Code should be banned in book and film forms. Even the minister of culture played along, preferring to be seen as a dutiful official rather than the man of arts we know him to be. Extremism won the day at the expense of art and free expression. Egypt has thus proudly joining the ranks of those who want to veil everything, mind and soul included.

Ironically, this went beyond the call of duty as defined by the church. In a recent meeting, the heads of the Orthodox, Catholic and Episcopal churches denounced the film and warned their congregations that its content is inaccurate. Remarkably, the heads of church stopped short of calling for a ban. So here we are, with a church that expresses displeasure and a parliament that bans and confiscates. That's what our venerable assembly members do these days. They try their best to appear more regal than the king, even if that means active participation in bigotry. As if the whole episode with the offensive cartoons was not damaging enough, now we have another battle to fight. By the way, The Da Vinci Code has been available in translation in Arabic for over two years now. In its various translations, the book has sold over 40 million copies worldwide.

Two weeks ago, I was having dinner with several European intellectuals, journalists, and diplomats at the table of our ambassador to Vienna, Ramzi Ezzeddin Ramzi. The discussion veered towards The Da Vinci Code and most of those present shared the impression that the film was quite mediocre, but involved no slander to religious beliefs. No one in that crowd saw reason for the film to be banned or the book confiscated. When I was asked for my opinion about what may happen in Egypt, I said that some movie theatres might voluntarily refrain from screening the film. Little did I know that when it comes down to religious sensibilities, our venerable parliamentarians are more zealous than the Vatican or the Egyptian church.

It is sad to see people in high places leading the assault on creativity with such abandon. It is sad, for our parliamentarians should have known better than to confuse the temporal with the clerical. Those who foment extremism in our country may yet unleash a type of McCarthyism that, once loose, would be hard to counter. Unfortunately, we have members of the press that play along with the bigotry. We have people who want to pose as protectors of society and the regime, of values and entrenched ideals. Ironically, these same people say nothing when the worst transgressions are happening against the freedom, dignity and soul of the nation. These same people say nothing when laws are tabled that would deprive people of the right to think aloud. These same people have no objection to the creation of a thought police, complete with its own apparatus, on the pretext of fighting rumours. Our problems are not with rumours, but with this climate of media and cultural blackout. We cannot pass a law preventing journalists from being thrown in jail for things they write. But when it comes to banning, just watch us in action.

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