In Egypt, Abdul Kareem Nabeel Suleiman Goes to Jail
If those trying to throw sticks in the spokes of secularism sometimes have it rough in America, those facing the opposite problem have it rougher in Egypt, and in most of the rest of the Islamic world. Consider the case of a 23-year-old law student, Abdul Kareem Nabeel Suleiman, who blogs under the Internet pseudonym Kareem Amer.
Kareem is a native of Alexandria, Egypt and until recently he was a student at the law school of Al-Azhar University, which is part of the religious school system he had attended all his life. In 2005 the young man grew increasingly concerned about what he viewed as religious extremism at his school, and he began to discuss related issues in an Internet blog. In his blog and in other Internet venues, he wrote articles criticizing the University’s gender segregation policy, opposing the efforts of Al-Azhar’s Grand Sheikh to pressure the Islamic Research Academy into allying itself with President Mubarak, and expressing a number of other viewpoints, generally considered secular, including the promotion of equality between men and women.
When University officials discovered Kareem’s blog in late 2005, he was expelled from school and the case was referred to state prosecutors. In early 2007, he was sentenced to four years in prison, three for “contempt of religion” and one for “defaming the President of Egypt”. An appeals court upheld the sentence and also approved a civil claim filed by the eleven prosecuting attorneys who wish to fine Kareem for “insulting Islam”. A further appeal is pending.
Meanwhile, a few days before Kareem was sentenced, his family disowned him and his father called for the application of Sharia law, saying that his son should be given three days to repent and, failing that, he should be killed.
The case has attracted the attention of human rights organizations as well as several national governments, including that of the United States. It also attracted the attention of a CatholicCulture.org user in Ireland who kindly forwarded the link to the Free Kareem! web site.
Kareem has expressed as his main future goal the establishment of a human rights law firm which would “defend the rights of Muslim and Arabic women against all forms of discrimination” and work “to stop violent crimes committed on a daily basis” in Muslim Arabic countries. I am not attempting to defend all of his opinions, which I have not examined closely. My point is that his case highlights important civilizational differences concerning human dignity and freedom which are at the heart of the growing conflict between Islam and the West. It is exactly the kind of thing George Weigel had in mind when he wrote his Call to Action against Jihadism. It is another reminder of why we must clarify our cultural commitments, and be prepared to act accordingly.
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