A young man from Egypt was sentenced to a three year jail sentence because he admitted he is an atheist and insulted Islam on Facebook.
It is unclear whether Karim al-Banna, who lives in a small city located in the Nile Delta province of Baheira, made any comment that insulted Muslims in Egypt on the social network , or if he was proven guilty by the local court simply because he is atheist. We can, however, take for certain that he was bullied by his community long before he was arrested.
The name, and other credentials, of Karim al-Banna were published by an Islamic newspaper. The article listed known atheists in the surrounding community. Aa a result of the article, the young student was catalogued and banished, arrested and sentenced with prison time and, on top of all this, his own father testified against him.
We have recently witnessed the terrible terrorist attack against members of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Religious fanatics killed dozens of journalists because they felt their beliefs were being threatened. Charlie Hebdo became a symbol of international struggle for freedom of speech. A symbol illustrated by a majority of politicians and freedom fighters accepting Charlie Hebdo’s name as an avatar to honour the tragic deaths and the will to pursue your own ideals.
But who will honour Karim al-Banna?
His country, his fellow citizens, his family? They have all abandoned him and proclaimed him an outcast, a man who has nothing left in life but his own logic. He doesn’t believe or stand for anything, he just said he is a non-believer and that made him a criminal.
Egypt it is not a place for atheists. Egypt isn’t a great place for Christians either. This troubled country is not a good home for Muslims as well. How can a home be a place where every dream of building a democratic and functional society ends with failed promises? Since the Arab Spring, Egypt has been very unstable and fuelled by political tension. The country has many regions stricken by poverty, and many people who are struggling to provide enough food for their families. There are shortages of medicine, water, electricity, hospitals, schools, roads, education, and the list goes on. In Egypt, almost everything is in shortage except religion, and yet they focus their minds on a handful of atheists.
The majority of Egyptians are Muslims, but in this country there thrives a very big and powerful Christian minority, which consists of members of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. There is a smaller, but also powerful, religious minority group under the patriarchy of the Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria, and there are even Catholics, Protestants in small numbers. Their religious rights are guaranteed. The safe general assumption is that in Egypt there is also a small community of atheists, but nobody dares to count them for fear a local religious newspaper will try to make a list of unwanted and unwelcome members of society.
Being Muslim or Christian in Egypt is not easy, but religious rights are a thing the majority of Egyptians have. Yet, Egypt is a country where freedom of speech and other democratic values are forbidden. So, if you are an atheist, you are left with nothing for rights.
Karim al-Banna comes from a small and insignificant city in Egypt. Yet, he had the courage to openly proclaim himself as an atheist in a country where atheism is outlawed. He stood for his own rights when a mob mocked him and harassed him. He remained proud, even after his father betrayed him. There is no law that will protect Karim al-Banna in Egypt, nor any religious group or organization that will embrace him. This young man is not the first atheist to be incarcerated in Egypt, but let’s hope that he will be the last. For that, he will need the help of his atheism, but he will also need the prayers of every Muslim and Christian in this world who doesn’t believe in punishment being carried out in the name of their God.
So that’s why I’ll say,
“My name is Karim al-Banna, Je Suis Karim al-Banna.”
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