Thursday 9 October 2008 (09 Shawwal 1429)
Death to Mickey Mouse!
Abeer Mishkhas | [EMAIL PROTECTED]
A sheikh was recently on Al-Majd TV and spoke in great detail about rats.
He went on and on about how bad rats and mice are, listing all the benefits
gained by eliminating them. I don't know how informative that section of the
sheikh's talk was but I am sure most people who were watching the program were
either not listening or shaking their heads in disbelief. But the talk did not
end with any obvious statements of harm caused by rats and mice; the sheikh
continued by denouncing the fact that children these days are not getting the
message about mice and rats because they have been influenced by Western
cartoons that represent mice as funny and clever. Think Tom and Jerry and
Mickey Mouse. To conclude and drive his point home he said, "They like Mickey
Mouse whereas in reality Mickey Mouse should be killed." Thus ended the talk,
and although it was as absurd as can be, it seems that such talks have become a
normal thing on TV these days. As satellite channels proliferate, they pack
their broadcasts with as much as they can of what they feel will attract
viewers and religious programs are sure winners, especially in Ramadan.
The problem lies not only with the channels. Many of the programs often
depend on people's calls and questions. Those questions can vary from asking
for advice about a religious duty to asking the sheikh's opinion on any subject
under the sun - hence the mouse question. On a panel of women scholars on an
Egyptian channel last week, one of the interesting things the three women
agreed upon was that some people ask for scholars' opinions on almost anything,
whether it is a worthy matter or just a mundane everyday triviality. I have to
say that those women's opinions were refreshing. They wanted people to stick to
major, sensible and important issues. Which brings us back to the death
sentence against Mickey Mouse.
This was not the first - and will not be the last - of verdicts that will
make us question the person who issues it, or the stream of religious verdicts
that almost everyone comes up with everyday and which have to be countered with
questions, debates and discussions. We cannot just sit and listen and accept
anything. When people hear these opinions, they rightly ask and question and
criticize if need be. That is what reason dictates and it in no way contradicts
faith. But this is not what a prominent Saudi scholar said last week. He
actually demanded that journalists and writers who criticize or object to
prominent Saudi scholars' pronouncements and fatwas be punished, and eventually
sacked from their jobs. The punishment he asks for ranges from lashes to long
imprisonment to firing them from their jobs.
I certainly understand that if a writer has insulted or lied about a
sheikh or any other person, he must face the legal consequences of his actions.
The offended party has the right to sue the offender and this is how it should
be. But what the sheikh has asked for is simple punishment for even criticizing
and questioning the opinions of religious scholars. With all due respect to the
sheikh, I beg to differ. Criticism and debate does not mean that writers are
crossing any lines; writers and journalists are citizens and are affected -
like everyone else - by religious discourse, and if they choose to discuss a
religious issue, or differ with a scholar that does not warrant that they be
lashed, imprisoned or lose their jobs.
This kind of hasty judgment reminds us that what we really miss in Saudi
Arabia is the ability to discuss matters, and to have the right to disagree if
we think differently on issues being discussed. And as a reminder we mention a
small incident from Islamic history. When the second caliph, Omar, said in one
of his sermons that women should not ask for high dowries, a woman who was
present raised her voice and disagreed with him and provided proof from the
Qur'an in support of women's rights for dowries. What did Omar do? He
acknowledged his mistake in front of everyone. Just a reminder!