Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006)


Mahfouz did not shrink from controversy outside of his work. As a consequence of his outspoken support for Sadat's Camp David peace treaty with Israel in 1978, his books were banned in many Arab countries until after he won the Nobel prize.

Like many Egyptian writers and intellectuals, Mahfouz was on an Islamic fundamentalist "death list". He defended Salman Rushdie after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini condemned Rushdie to death in 1989, but also criticized his Satanic Verses as "insulting" to Islam. Mahfouz believed in freedom of expression and although he did not personally agree with Rushdie's work, he did not believe that there should be a fatwa condemning him to death for it. He also condemned Khomeini for issuing the fatwa, for he did not believe that the Ayatollah was representing Islam.

In 1989, after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's fatwa calling for Salman Rushdie and his publishers to be killed, Mahfouz called Khomeini a terrorist. Shortly after Mahfouz joined 80 other intellectuals in declaring that "no blasphemy harms Islam and Muslims so much as the call for murdering a writer." The Rushdie incident also provoked fundamentalist Muslims to regret not having made an example of Mahfouz, one telling a journalist:

If only we had behaved in the proper Islamic manner with Naguib Mahfouz, we would not have been assailed by the appearance of Salman Rushdie. Had we killed Naguib Mahfouz, Salman Rushdie would not have appeared.

The appearance of The Satanic Verses brought back up the controversy surrounding Mahfouz's Children of Gebelawi. Death threats against Mahfouz followed, including one from the "blind sheikh," Egyptian theologian Omar Abdul-Rahman. Like Rushdie, Mahfouz was given police protection, but in 1994 Islamic extremists almost succeeded in assassinating the 82-year-old novelist by stabbing him in the neck outside his Cairo home. He survived, permanently affected by damage to nerves in his right hand. After the incident Mahfouz was unable to write for more than a few minutes a day and consequently produced fewer and fewer works. Subsequently, he lived under constant bodyguard protection. Finally, in the beginning of 2006, the novel was published in Egypt. . .

~ from Wikipedia
 

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