In Kuwait, two writers were given suspended two-month prison sentences in January after one was convicted of blasphemy and the other of indecency, and their books were ordered to be removed from the market.
Laila al-Othman was convicted of using indecent language in her book "The Departure," which reportedly had been approved by government censors in1984. Her attorneys have said their client used words such as "lustful" in describing the relationship of one sea wave with another, but had not intended this to have a sexual connotation. Al-Othman was in Lebanon, at the time of her sentencing, according to the Associated Press,
Alia Shuaib, who teaches in the philosophy department at Kuwait University, was found guilty of "publishing opinions that ridicule religion" and blasphemy in a book she published in 1993, "Spiders Bemoan a Wound." Her attorney said that the only part of her book that mentions God is the phrase "God's secret map." Yehya al-Rubaian, the book's publisher, was also given a suspended two-month sentence and was fined the equivalent of $328 for publishing the book without prior government approval. The writer and publisher have appealed the ruling.
Shuaib vowed not to allow the ruling to "change her path," but she told the Gulf News she had already postponed printing two other books in the wake of the Islamists' focus on her work. One of the books is her 1994 Ph.D. dissertation on women in Islam. The second was a study on prostitutes and lesbians in Kuwait.
The Gulf News reported that the liberal daily Al Qabas denounced the sentencing as a setback for freedom of expression, saying on its front page "Kuwait and culture pay the price once more." However, Kuwait's Islamists welcomed the ruling as a boost to their campaign against "immorality."
A statement handed in to the court by the lawyers, and published by the newspaper Al-Siyassah, said Arabic and Islamic literature is full of such writings. The statement asked, "Do people now have a different definition of decency?" The lawyers are calling for an explanation because the judges did not say what they found offensive in the books.
Abdul-Latief Al Eteigi, one of the four Islamist legislators who won the case, was quoted in the Gulf News as warning that "We are ready to raise similar lawsuits against anyone who tries to go against morals... when we find that the authorities are unable to stop them." Muslim fundamentalists have become "increasingly influential" in Kuwait in recent years, the Gulf News noted, and although their representation has dropped to 20 seats in the 50-seat parliament "they remain highly organized."
This article appeared in Vol. 5, no. 29 (Fall 1999).
Copyright © 1999 by Al Jadid