On Freedom of Thought and Opinion
Iqbal Baraka's case
By: Hamdy Al-Asiouty
Since change and evolution is the nature of life, man always seeks and will forever seek development and evolution, trying to gain new and various adaptations.
In the past, prophets, scientists, and philosophers faced great troubles, accusations of disbelief and atheism, and even martyrdom in the defense of their opinions and beliefs.
Socrates drank hemlock with remarkable grace in his final defense of his opinions, philosophy and beliefs. He gloriously defended freedom before the 500 judges prosecuting him. Before he died, he stated, "No man on Earth has the right to tell others what to believe in or to deprive them from the right to think. As long as man is internally satisfied, and in harmony with one's conscience, man can do without the friends' satisfaction, without money, family and home. But as it is not possible for any man to reach right deductions without fully examining the matter, people should be let free, have the absolute freedom, to discuss all matters."
This was Socrates' rebuke to the judges when they offered him his freedom in exchange for the promise that he not teach his disciples. He stated, "I shall obey the calm little voice in my heart, 'my conscience,' that orders me to teach people and tell them what in my mind. I shall teach and practice philosophy and not pay any consideration to the consequences"
They sentenced him to death, so he drank the poison among his students and died. His last statement was "if you think that by killing men you can avoid people censuring your villainies, you are mistaken. The easiest and noblest path is to be found in not crushing others, but in improving yourselves and being just."
There is no freedom of thought until thought is revealed as speech. As long as thought resides only in one's mind without exposure to others, thought is not truly free. The majority of those who made their thoughts, or what they thought to be philosophical, religious or scientific facts, public were persecuted, tortured, imprisoned or killed.
The first major restraint of the freedom of thought are old fashioned habits and traditions, which came over the course of history to become taboos. Usually, the ruling authority restrains the freedom of thought to protect its interests. If the authority lifts the penalty of imprisonment for some crime in some law, it will only use in its place other law, under other names.
Penalties are not contained only in the penal code as general laws. There are several penalties mentioned in private laws that limit the general one.
When the French Revolution started, the slogan of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity was not enough. There was a belief that social calamities, the harsh living conditions and the governmental corruption are because of one leading cause: the ignorance and neglect of Human Rights. So the French Revolution drew up the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen in August 1789 deciding the sacred and inalienable rights of man:
1. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be based only on common utility.
In his book "On Liberty" (1859) John Stuart Mill1 says that "no legislative or executive authority has the right to prescribe opinions to the people or determine what doctrines they shall be allowed to hear. The constitutional government implements the people's will and cannot be against their desire." In accordance with the logic of liberty, if all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.
2. The principle of all sovereignty rests essentially in the nation. No body and no individual may exercise authority which does not emanate expressly from the nation.
3. The law is the expression of the general will. All citizens have the right to take part, in person or by their representatives, in its formation.
4. No man may be indicted, arrested, or detained except in cases determined by the law and according to the forms which it has prescribed. Those who seek, expedite, execute, or cause to be executed arbitrary orders should be punished
5. The free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of man. Every citizen may therefore speak, write, and print freely, if he accepts his own responsibility for any abuse of this liberty in the cases set by the law.
Thomas Paine said, "every inherited government is a tyrannical government in its nature" When the students of Al-Azhar university mobilized, by the orders of their Sheikhs, to attack Taha Hussain's book "On pre-Islamic Poetry," Saad Zaghlol, the leader of the 1919 Revolution gave a speech to them, in which he stated, "suppose he is an insane talking at random".
The real problem that remains is the problematic state/ individual relation. In Egypt, we still suffer from a lack of freedom of thought and opinion. An attorney surprised us with a new suit of darkness, that has no aim but terrifying men of thought, standing against every free opinion, and defaming. The attorney filed a lawsuit against the writer "Iqbal Baraka" concerning her book, "The Veil, a Modern Vision." He also accuses, besides Iqbal:
In the conclusion of his petitions, he demands that the government pass an order canceling the publisher's license to print, distribute, and issue the book. He also called for the recall of all copies distributed in markets and public libraries, arguing that the book contains false allegations and calumnies regarding Islam. The attorney demanded that the book be banned, the author be prevented from writing in Egypt, the distributed copies be seized, and the author's name stricken from the Press Syndicate records.
- The chairman and the editor-in-chief of Roza Al-Youssef Magazine
- The Minister of Culture
- The Head of the Television and Radio Union
- The Minister of Education
- The Minister of Civil Aviation
- The Minister of Waqfs
- The Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar
- The head of the Islamic Researches Society
Furthermore, the lawyer demanded that all decisions opposing the veil, particularly those preventing women wearing the veil from practicing any type of work, be lifted. His argument is that the veil does not hamper any kind of work. The question we now face is whether we have opened to a new black page in the book of blind bigotry which stands against every idea or opinion and opposes the Freedom of Opinion? Will we in Egypt now face the return of hard times? Shall we remember the assassination of Farag Foda? The attack on Naguib Mahfouz? The separation of Dr. Nasr Abou Zaid from Dr. Ibthal Younis, and the case filed to separate Dr. Nawal El-Sadawy from her husband Dr. Sherif Hatata?
We are calling upon all the enlightened powers in Egypt to stand and face the campaign that would return us to the dark ages, to hold up our right to the freedom of opinion and thought, to affirm the freedom of expression, the freedom of thought and the freedom of belief, and to realize that that those who take Islam as the pretext to encourage the onset of another dark ages take Islam are the people most likely to misuse and maltreat it.