Why are Ideological Currents Afraid of Books?
By: Mehran Muwahhid
As the anniversary of Muhammad Imara‘s death approaches, he is remembered as a renowned Egyptian Islamist researcher. His works demonstrate his expertise in the history of Islamic ideologies. In an interview with Al Jazeera, which was published after his death, Imara discussed an interesting point. He stated that at one point in his life, he had to decide whether to join the Muslim Brotherhood or the Young Egypt Party. After much consideration, he chose to join the Young Egypt Party. Those familiar with Imara‘s school of thought are aware that he was intellectually very close to the Muslim Brotherhood organization. This raises the question of why he chose to join the Young Egypt Party. In the same interview, Imara answered this question himself. He said that the Muslim Brotherhood did not allow reading books outside of its party program, and as he was very passionate about reading, he could not abide by these administrative regulations. Therefore, he opted to work within the framework of the Young Egypt Party.
It is not necessary to conduct extensive and comprehensive research to conclude that all radical and totalitarian parties and groups, regardless of their political orientation, oppose deep study and do not permit their members to access sources that contradict the slogans and claims of these parties. Such parties and groups tend to indoctrinate their followers and make them willing to make any sacrifice for the sake of the party and organization. If the supporters of these parties and groups are exposed to other schools of thought, there is a high likelihood that they will no longer be willing to make sacrifices for the goals of the party and organization. The leaders of such parties and organizations view their followers as people who are not wise and mature and lack the power to make decisions without the leaders.
Ideological extremists often attempt to create a minimalist atmosphere and portray their opponents in a caricatured and monstrous fashion. This is done in order to convince their followers that the ideas of their opponents are not worth considering and are a waste of time. In the discourse of fundamentalists, the enemy is always present. Fundamentalists understand that by alienating and painting an unflattering image of their opponents or enemies, they can stir the emotions of their followers and increase the distance between themselves and their competitors, thus preventing the ideologies of their competitors from reaching their followers. They believe they are engaged in an “intellectual war“ and must use all means necessary to win. One of these tools is advertising and propaganda.
Radical parties and groups are aware that social media users are often those who can be easily influenced and recruited, and thus use these platforms as a primary means of propagating their ideas and gaining new followers. They avoid engaging in logical debate or coercion, as they know that if they were to do so, they would be unsuccessful. Instead, they simply recommend a few books that they deem to be of value.
Radicals and totalitarians are fond of reducing everything to a binary of black and white. This creates an environment in which bigotry, dogmatism, and exclusivity are encouraged and institutionalized. For example, during the Jihad and the invasion of Afghanistan by the Red Army, it was considered a crime to possess books belonging to the authors of the Islamic movement or to listen to BBC radio. Similarly, those who read “non–Islamic” books were met with violence by the Mujahedeen. Would anyone who lived in the Mujahedeen era have dared to keep books of Marxist–Leninists with them? This demonstrates how creating an atmosphere that encourages bigotry and dogmatism can be used by radicals to promote their own ideas.
Ali Asghar Seyed Abadi, the Iranian author of children‘s books, has stated that the history of terrorists reveals that they had not been avid readers of books, poetry, or stories during their childhood and adolescence. Journalists who have investigated the past of terrorists have discussed many topics, but none have mentioned the terrorists‘ interest in reading books. Seyed Abadi believes that even if a terrorist had been an excellent student in his childhood and adolescence, it is unlikely that he would have been passionate about poetry and novels, yet still commit terrorist acts. He further suggests that if terrorists had been exposed to different views through reading books, they would not have ended up in such a destructive state, but rather be beneficial members of society.
Due to a lack of education, some people may think that reading books is nothing more than a form of entertainment. Some believe that the internet can be a suitable replacement for books, and that the days of books and reading are over. While the digital world does have its advantages and benefits, it can never replace books. A good book allows us to explore an issue in a comprehensive and multifaceted manner, and to consider different perspectives on a topic. It should be noted, however, that the ability to distinguish between useful and ineffective books is a skill that is acquired through practice, trial, and error.
Research has demonstrated that those who read books possess a greater capacity for empathy and are able to listen to others without becoming agitated or relinquishing their own perspectives. Poetry and novels expand readers‘ imaginations, enabling them to internalize the experiences of others and incorporate them into their own life. Furthermore, readers of books have a heightened ability to think critically and can consider any subject from multiple perspectives. These aptitudes are invaluable and assist us in navigating the intricate world we inhabit.
Those who read a variety of books, possess critical thinking skills, and can view their environment from different perspectives are unlikely to be ensnared by ideological dogma. Dogmatists and ideologues of any kind are unable to form a genuine and amicable relationship with such individuals. Holists think that thinking is antithetical to action and struggle, and view those who read books as isolated and estranged from society, thus being hostile towards them and perceiving their presence as a threat. Consequently, they attempt to remove them from the scene by employing various methods, such as advertising or physical force, in a serious effort to silence the voices of those book–reading critics. Extremists have come to understand that in an environment where critical thinking and pluralism are prevalent, ideology will eventually become a worthless commodity.
Throughout the ages, there have been varying levels of opposition to books, with some people even going so far as to burn them for various reasons. What is certain, however, is that the persistent struggle against books reflects their importance in altering the fate of nations. If books were of no consequence, why would there be a need to destroy them? Nowadays, political and ideological regimes are attempting to find subtler and cost–effective ways to eradicate books. For instance, they are increasing the pressure and suffocation on dissidents to the point where they are forced to self–censor. In my opinion, self–censorship is more destructive than the physical destruction of books, as it stifles ideas and thoughts before they can even be expressed. Furthermore, the act of destroying books does not necessarily mean the complete obliteration of all copies, whereas self–censorship does. Additionally, the actions of political regimes or ideological groups to destroy books may have the opposite effect, sparking a passion in readers to acquire and read the book at any cost.