Millions are reading The God Delusion in Arabic, according to Kacem El Ghazzali, above, an atheist writer from Morocco who has been living as a refugee in Switzerland since 2011.
In this article, El Ghazzali – a member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) delegation to the UN Human Rights Council and the co-scientific director of the Raif Badawi Foundation – said that Dawkins was “surprised” when he was told that The God Delusion had been translated into Arabic, and made available online.
He told me that he was not aware of the translation, and nor had he had any official request for it. I explained that it had been the work of an Iraqi friend called Bassam Al-Baghdadi, who lives in Sweden.
To say that Bassam’s work has been well received would be an understatement. The pdf was downloaded ten million times, with 30 per cent going to Saudi Arabia. Bassam said that there were over 1,000 downloads on the very first day after he uploaded it, and the numbers only climbed as the translation was picked up and shared on the blogs, websites and forums of prominent Arab atheists.
The book has prompted unprecedented controversy and debate in the Arab and Islamic worlds. The translator received death threats and accusations of conspiring with the Zionists to corrupt the youth. He was forced to close his social media accounts and stop posting for a while. Futile attempts have been made to resist the waves of reason now reaching Arab shores, through toothless apologetic articles and books. There is even a book called The Atheism Delusion, published by Al-Azhar University in Cairo.
In the Arabic translation of The God Delusion, under the title, Bassam added the words:
This book is banned in Islamic countries.
Said El Ghazzali:
It is fortunate and wonderful that the banning of books in the Arab and Islamic worlds is no longer feasible in our new age of information. I was able to read the book while I was still in Morocco, where I was born. Some atheist friends even managed to get hold of the book in Saudi Arabia. The dark times of censorship, in which knowledge for the people was confined to carefully curated books and resources, are gone and will never return.
He explained that it was by chance that had earlier discovered Dawkins when he stumbled across an official French translation of The Selfish Gene, in the library of his uncle who was very interested in biology.
I knew nothing of the author’s background at the time, nor did I understand very precisely the theme of the book. My uncle wasn’t there to explain it to me, so I took the book with me to my biology class and asked my teacher for clarification on certain aspects. He seized it from me, looking almost afraid, and shouted: ‘Don’t bring this filth here again! It is just bullshit!’
The more I read the more I felt that I had a deep agreement with the author, and even a personal connection, as though the book had been written by somebody I knew closely. I felt as if he was speaking my inner thoughts and doubts.
I also remember how strongly The God Delusion provokes you to think, shattering misconceptions and flawed but long-cherished arguments. It was an important milestone in my intellectual journey to freedom, and as big a milestone in my personal life.
The name Richard Dawkins, along with those of other great thinkers, became synonymous to me with rationality and freedom of thought. I admired the concepts of free thought and expression, concepts that Western writers and their readers take for granted but which are taboos and even crimes in the world I came from. Even today, long after leaving the Arab world behind, the name Richard Dawkins brings the same feeling of compulsive fear, almost like a post-traumatic stress disorder.
Those who have never lived under such circumstances may find it difficult to understand or appreciate that feeling. Try to imagine reading a forbidden book in secret and then going out into the street or sipping tea with your family with a lurking, lingering fear that the criminal things you’ve been reading will somehow bubble out on their own, exposing your viciousness and treachery to everybody. Imagine the guilt of having such thoughts among people who would think you evil or even dangerous if they knew.
Eventually I could not keep my ‘criminal’ thoughts to myself any longer, and I paid the price for my honesty and my love for freedom. That’s why I’m writing these words not from Morocco, but from Switzerland. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Richard Dawkins, and to others who guided my journey from the hells of religious dogma to the oasis of free thought and enlightenment.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn