Friday, February 23, 2007

Egyptian Blogger jailed -- digging a little deeper

In the midst of the dissection of Anna Nicole's estate, speculation about Britney's new Yul Brenner do, and the salacious details of the Markus Feisel murder case, a little story came out of Egypt. It was buried in the news roundup of NPR, clustered in the little column of News Around the world that runs near the back of the front page of most US dailies. This little story had it's brief moment on the front page of Yahoo's current news -- the story of Abdel Kareem Suleiman, an Egyptian blogger who was sentenced to four years in prison -- three for defaming Islam, and one for insulting Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. From the Reuters news article:

The 22-year-old blogger, also known by his pen name Karim Amer, was arrested after posting an entry on his blog lashing out at Cairo's Al-Azhar University -- the highest seat of learning in Sunni Islam.

"I say to Al-Azhar and its university and its professors and preachers who stand against anyone who thinks differently to them: 'You are destined for the rubbish bin of history, where you will find no one to cry for you, and your regime will end like others have," he wrote.

Despite worldwide appeals for his release, the court ruled that the young Muslim blogger should be jailed for posting a string of writings insulting Islam. "The Moharram Beik criminal court has sentenced the blogger after he created a website through which he attacked Islam," Judge Ayman Okkaz said. "On his site, he claimed that Islam incited terrorism, hatred and murder."

Ordinarily that would be it. I might have offered a prayer of gratitude that I live in a reasonably free society in which I can criticize the government without fear of recrimination -- in which I can engage in religious conversation, sometimes quite heated, and not wonder when the stormtroopers will make me disappear.

But for some reason, I wanted to know more. A quick web search led me to the Free Kareem website, run by his fellow Muslims. Among the very interesting things on this site is an impassioned apologetic for why Muslims should care -- apparently there are many within the Muslim world who believe that Kareem got what he deserved, and indeed probably should have gotten much worse. Against that mentality, this group says that religious tolerance is demanded by Islam.

On this site, I also found this self-description that Kareem wrote on his weblog "I am down to earth Law student; I look forward to help humanity against all form of discriminations… I am looking forward to open up my own human rights activists Law firm, which will include other lawyers who share the same views. Our main goal is to defend the rights of Muslim and Arabic women against all form of discrimination and to stop violent crimes committed on a daily basis in these countries." The muslim authors of the Free Kareem website also add this comment: "He has written about political repression, religious extremism, and discrimination against women. Kareem often expressed ‘secular’ views and called for equality for women in all aspects of Egyptian society. He also denounced violent attacks on Christians in Alexandria."

So here we have more of the picture of the man. Not just a blogger -- a civil rights crusader. A man who spoke up for Christians in a country where it is dangerous to do so; a man who defended women in a society where they are devalued. And for this courage of speaking up for the basic God-given dignity that each human being bears as a carrier of the imago dei, Kareem is jailed, and he loses the love of his family, as also reported on the Free Kareem site:

The family of Al-Azhar student Abdul Kareem Nabeel Suleiman, accused of "contempt of religion”, has disowned him before his court verdict session on the upcoming Thursday. His father, a retired mathematics teacher, has demanded applying the Sharia [Islamic law] ruling on him by giving him three days to repent, followed by having him killed if he does not announce his repentance.

The father of the Al-Azhar student, who is accused of contempt of the Islamic religion, harming the reputation of Egypt, and inciting to disrupt the peace and to overthrow the regime, has decided to rescind from boycotting his trial hearing sessions. [He has decided] to attend the court verdict session with his four brothers, who completely memorized the Holy Quran, to announce disowning the accused Abdul Kareem inside the court room, in order to reduce the embarrassment and pressure that civil rights organizations are applying on the court panel.

The father of the accused also described the organizations that are working on having his son acquitted as “monkey rights” organizations, in his own words. He also described his son as the “monkey” who has imitated the atheists of the West in their intellectual thinking.

The Free Kareem site also contains many links to statements from human rights organizations and information about protests, writing your political leaders, and even a link to Kareem's blog (though it is all in arabic). A rich source of information here, giving us a more complete picture of the man who as the center of this maelstrom. A quick trip to the Wikipedia site tells us that he has written for Copts United, an internet resource advocating for rights of Egypt's indigenous Christian population (tracing their heritage back to the evangelism of St. Mark).

I pray that God protects and has mercy on this courageous young man. Let us all be thankful for our freedom of speech, and as we are led, may we use that freedom to tell Kareem's story!