Friday, November 03, 2006

Arab Free Thinker Raja Ben Slama

By Abu Khawla (*)

Raja Ben Slama, Literature Professor in the University of Tunisia, rose to pre-eminence thanks to her original writings on issues of religious intolerance, Muslim woman status, and broader political issues of social modernization and progress. This owes much to her original thinking and writing skills, and also to the advent of the Internet, which means freedom in the Arab world, as the so-called independent media remains completely founded and dominated by Islamist petrodollars.


The fact that her focus was on defending woman rights and freedom of conscience, and her role as a leading light in the "League of Arab Rationalists" made her, from the beginning, a target of radical Islamist groups, starting with Tunisian Nahdha, whose leader Rached Ghannouchi called for her "public hanging", along with Tunisia's prominent free thinker, Lafif Lakhdar.

Following this murderous call, Ghannouchi went to action in a pornographic campaign, subjecting the writer to bestialities that would stop only after public calls were made to the British police for inquiry by prominent Arab intellectuals campaigning in support of Lafif Lakhdar, after he was falsely accused on Ghannouchi's Nahdha.net Web site, on 6 May 2005, of writing a blasphemous book about Prophet Muhammad.

Last August, Raja Ben Slam published a critical article of Hezbollah, whose miscalculated adventure brought destruction and bloodshed to Lebanon. The reaction came from remnants of Tunisia's leftist movement. This included articles published in the national labor association's newspaper "Al-Shaab". More serious however was an article published on the 13th of last August on Al-Wasat newspaper ( www.tunisalwasat.com ), signed by "Abu Al-Walid", certainly a pen name for Nahdha leadership, accusing Raja Ben Slama and the League of Arab Rationalists of apostasy, an offense punishable by death, in Islamic jurisprudence.

Nahdha mobilized also four former students of Professor Ben Slama to "testify" against her in writings published in their electronic newspaper Tunisnews.net.

So far, the reaction of Arab free thinkers remains timid. Prominent writer Shaker Nabulsi wrote an article to publicize her case, which was widely disseminated in Arab liberal sites. My own article on her fate was posted on the leading liberal site Elaph.com (more than 300 thousand readers per day) and re-produced in many others.

The orchestrated campaign against the prominent feminist free thinker is but the latest example of a huge propaganda machine that uses petrodollars, mosques and a web of charities and religious schools. However, this new campaign could easily backfire as was the case of many previous attempts, as long as like-minded people are ready to defend the truth, by exposing the ugly side of the Islamist agenda of hate mongering and deceit. While the primary responsibility, in this respect, falls on Arab/Muslim intellectuals, Western support is crucial to help organize what remains a disparate movement, lacking the basic means of communication.
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(*) this article is based on the original version published in Arabic on Elaph.com, on October 21, 2006. Contact: Abuk1010@hotmail.com

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