From Religion News Service, with thanks to Sheik Canuck:
The letter arrived just a week after Aziz Chouaki spoke about his writing on a French Jewish radio show.
“Aren’t you ashamed of speaking to Jewish people?” asked the chilling missive, which threatened to unleash an “Islamic revolution” against Chouaki, a 53-year-old playwright. “Are you with the Jews?”
Sent to his Paris-area office a few years ago, the warning counts among a handful of death threats – along with mountains of praise – that Chouaki has received for writings that explore depravity, despair and Muslim radicalism coursing through gritty French housing projects and through his native Algeria.
Chouaki, who grew up listening to the music of Jimi Hendrix and to the call to prayer in a sun-washed, increasingly intolerant Algiers, is no stranger to the clash between religion and art. But the horrific killing of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh has stirred a fresh debate among Muslim writers like Chouaki over the limits to free expression in Europe as well….
“I don’t hate Islam, I’m just not interested in religion,” said Chouaki, one of a half-dozen ethnic Muslim writers interviewed for this story. “But I have a very sincere respect for the Islamic civilization. It’s given so many things to the world – in sciences, philosophy, poetry.”
A compact man with a shock of gray hair, Chouaki spoke at a theater in the Paris suburb of Nanterre, where his latest play, Une Viree – or An Excursion – recently opened to critical acclaim.
An atheist, Chouaki argues that his play could be as easily based in the South Bronx as in downtown Algiers.
Speaking as one who for years lived in the South Bronx, I take exception to that.
Yet the starkly written tale of three wine-sodden drifters, who speak a rough mix of street Arabic and French, teems with references to faith and fanaticism. “If I was president,” one of Chouaki’s characters says, “I would destroy all the mosques, and replace them with bordellos.”
Chuckles ripple through the audience packing the theater one recent week night. It is the reaction Chouaki hopes for, and usually gets.
Chouaki’s own story is less amusing. He fled Algeria in 1991, just before Islamist fundamentalists launched a bloody insurgency against the military government that killed more than 100,000 people. Government critics denounce him for betraying his country. But that is not his main concern.
“I’m afraid of self-censorship,” he said. “Even if I don’t see physical threats, I imagine them. Many writers do.”
Few people outside the Netherlands have seen Submission, but the documentary has nonetheless generated strong feelings among European Muslims.
“Of course it’s inadmissible to know that in the 21st century there are women beaten for adultery,” said Loubna Melian, a French-Moroccan writer and anti-discrimination activist.
Last year Meliane, 26, published her first book. Her autobiography, Living Free, is about breaking away from the strictures of France’s immigrant North African community. She eats pork, drinks wine and considers herself a French citizen first, and a Muslim second. Still, she has reservations about Submission, and about Ayaan Hirshi Ali, whom she read about in a magazine.
Others, like Bangladeshi novelist Taslima Nasrin, believe there are few barriers when it comes to criticizing Islam.
Like Iranian writer Salman Rushdie, Nasrin lives in exile, with a fatwa on her head for once stating – she claims she was misquoted – that the Koran “should be revised thoroughly.”
“The Koran was written 1,400 years ago, we don’t need to reform it,” said Nasrin, a staunch atheist, who lives in Stockholm. “Why do we need to follow a book that was written 1,400 years ago? It’s out of place, out of time.”