MEMRI Generates Debate Between Arab Reformists and Extremist Islamist Sheikhs Over Call to Kill Mickey Mouse
In the latest of his controversial statements and fatwas, well-known Saudi Islamist lecturer and author Sheikh Muhammad Al-Munajid stated, on Al-Majd TV on August 27, 2008, that mice were Satan’s soldiers and that “according to Islamic law, Mickey Mouse should be killed in all cases” (view the clip or read the transcript). Sheikh Al-Munajid, who frequently appears on Saudi TV channels, was a former member of the staff of the Saudi Embassy Islamic Affairs Department in Washington, D.C., but was stripped of his diplomatic credentials.(1)
MEMRI’s translation of Al-Munajid’s statements, which was quickly picked up by the international media, became part of the ongoing dispute between hard-line clerics and reformers in the Arab world. Additionally, the widespread Western attention to his statement forced Al-Munajid to defend and clarify his statements. In a November 6, 2008 interview on Iqra TV, he insisted that he had “never issued a fatwa about the killing of Mickey Mouse,” and complained about MEMRI’s translation and release of clips of his statements on this and other matters (to view the MEMRI TV clip of this interview, visit http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/1912.htm ). Previously, on September 4, 2008, in an interview with Alarabiya.net, he discussed his statements and complained about MEMRI; and on September 29, 2008, he posted his own YouTube video, in response to MEMRI.
In the Arab world, the Saudi daily Al-Madina published a lengthy article citing Saudi Islamic scholars who defended Al-Munajid and claimed that MEMRI had distorted his words, just as the Jews and the Christians had falsified scripture. One of the scholars also proposed establishing an organization to counter MEMRI.
In contrast, Egyptian Mufti ‘Ali Gum’a called for a halt to the issuing of bizarre fatwas, saying that they damaged Islam and Muslims, and also called for the establishment of a body for fatwa oversight.(2) Senior Saudi cleric Sheikh ‘Abd Al-Muhsin Al-‘Obikan also called for the establishment of a fatwa oversight body; while he did not specifically mention Al-Munajid’s Mickey Mouse statements, he said that such a body had become necessary because in the modern world, fatwas quickly find their way into the global media and raise a storm.
Liberal columnists in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat and in the Saudi and Gulf press, as well as liberal Arab websites, accused Al-Munajid of making Islam look ridiculous, and decried the flood of controversial fatwas of the past few years. The Syrian poet Adonis, in an interview with the Algerian Al-Nahar daily, said that Islam today was about “how to issue fatwas about Mickey Mouse and how to make licit the killing of Mickey Mouse,” and added that “Islam is no longer directed to the heart and the soul.”(3) Sami Al-Behiri, a columnist for the Arab liberal e-journal Elaph, said that Al-Munajid had a life-denying mentality that breeds terrorism. Al-Behiri also conducted a mock interview with “Mickey Mouse”; in it, the latter complained that the threats against him had made him into another Salman Rushdie.
Following are excerpts from Sheikh Al-Munajid’s November 6 interview on Iqra TV and September 24 interview on Alarabiya.net, and some of the reactions in the Arab press to his statements about Mickey Mouse:
Al-Munajid to Iqra TV: “I Never Issued a Fatwa About the Killing of Mickey Mouse… None Of This Ever Happened
In a November 6 interview on Saudi Iqra TV, Sheikh Al-Munajid said: “I never issued a fatwa about the killing of Mickey Mouse. Nobody asked me for a ruling with regard to Mickey Mouse, and I did not say that it is permissible or necessary to kill Mickey Mouse. None of this ever happened… I said that some cartoon characters, such as dogs, pigs, and mice – reprehensible animals according to shari’a – are glorified in animated films. I said that it is inappropriate to show such things to people, and that a mouse is a ‘little corrupter,’ which should be killed in all cases. I mentioned Mickey Mouse, or that Jerry, by way of example only.”
He also complained about MEMRI for its ongoing monitoring of his statements, saying: “Along came the MEMRI website – that is, memri.net [sic] – which is a Jewish website run by a Mossad officer, which monitors… Even this show of yours is monitored, and they take excerpts from it… Memri.net. M-E-M-R-I.net… Once I said that a woman must obey her husband, that if he calls her to bed she must consent, or else the angels will curse her, and that she must come to him even if she is cooking by the stove – all in accordance with the Prophet’s hadiths. The [MEMRI] website took my words and wrote: ‘Rape of Wives’…
“They took an excerpt about Mickey Mouse… Then it was aired by four huge global TV networks – ABC, BBC, Fox News, and CNN. In other words, it was viewed by 350 million people…
“My complaint is not directed towards them [i.e. MEMRI]. After all, they are our enemies, and we understand why they do this. Their behavior is understandable. What I don’t understand is how some Muslims, when asked: ‘What’s your view on the Mickey Mouse fatwa?’ can say: ‘This is a distortion of Islam. This fatwa must be revoked.'”
(To view the clip, visit http://www.memritv.org/clip/en/1912.htm;
to read the rest of the transcript, visit http://www.memritv.org/clip_transcript/en/1912.htm).
Al-Munajid To Alarabiya: My Words Were Taken Out of Context
Sheikh Al-Munajid also complained about MEMRI in a September 24, 2008 interview with Alarabiya.net: “The clip under discussion is on the Zionist MEMRI website, which monitors Islamic programs, cuts clips from them, translates them, presents them, and sends some of them to international news wires. That is what happened here.” He also stated that he did not in fact issue a fatwa calling for Mickey Mouse’s killing, saying: “Everyone knows that he is an imaginary, humoristic cartoon character, and that he doesn’t have any blood to be shed.” He added that his program had been about the influence of images on people, and that in that context he had discussed “the effect of some cartoons that make children enamored of impure and harmful animals – like the mouse, with Jerry and Mickey, or the pig, like in the Timon and Pumbaa series, and the dog, like Scooby Doo and others.”
He said: “The problem with cutting [clips] is that it abridges the topics and presents the [viewer] with fragmentary concepts that are then misunderstood.” He said that many of those who criticized him simply didn’t know the context of what he said, and thought that he had actually issued a fatwa calling for the killing of Mickey Mouse.(4)
Sheikh Al-Munajid also posted, on YouTube on September 29, 2008, a video in English. This video was in response to a MEMRI video compilation on the MEMRI TV page on YouTube (to view Al-Munajid’s YouTube video, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZSz2zEMwZE&feature=related).
Saudi Professor: MEMRI Falsified Al-Munajid’s Statements – Just As the Jews Falsified Scripture
While Al-Munajid’s original statements on killing Mickey Mouse were made on the Saudi religious TV channel Al-Majd, it was the coverage in the Western press that brought the issue to the fore. The Saudi Al-Madina daily and the liberal Arab e-journal Elaph, for instance, both reported on interest in the West and listed Western media outlets that had picked up the MEMRI TV clip of Al-Mujanid making the statements: ABC, Fox News, and the Daily Telegraph, among others.(5) Soon after, the clip became a topic of discussion in media outlets throughout the Middle East.
Dr. Mazen Salah Mutabagani, a professor at King Saud University in Riyadh who specializes in the study of Orientalism, accused MEMRI of falsifying Sheikh Al-Munajid’s statements – even thoughhe acknowledged that he had not “read the particulars” of Al-Munajid’s exact statements:
“The attitude of the Western media, and especially the institute called MEMRI, which specializes in transmitting from the Arab media and translating it for the West – including the falsification of Sheikh Al-Munajid’s statements – it isn’t unusual for groups among them to do these kinds of things. The noble Koran said about them [i.e. Jews and Christians] ‘they change words from their context'(6) and ‘they sell Allah’s verses for a trifling.'(7)
“Falsification of scripture did in fact occur among them, as Western research and textual criticism have affirmed. So it is no surprise that Sheikh Al-Munajid’s statements would be falsified into a form that is not becoming of a Muslim scholar.
“I haven’t read the particulars of what he said, but I read that he did not issue a fatwa calling for the killing of Mickey Mouse, who is just a cartoon character. Rather, he was talking about the danger [presented] by cartoons, and this is not a new issue…”
Mutabagani continued: “The truth about MEMRI is that the Jews and the Zionists search for any means to distort Islam and the Muslims and to stoke enmity towards them in the media. MEMRI isn’t the only one, there are many [such] centers, though I can’t recall their names… Regarding MEMRI, I learned that the people behind it are extremist Jews, some from Israel and some from America…”
Al-Madina noted that Mutabagani had called on the Saudi Ministry of Religious Affairs to launch a research institute comparable to MEMRI, in order to deal proactively with the world media.(8)
Saudi Liberal Columnist: “Mickey Mouse and His Friends Have Never Strapped Explosives Belts On Their Waists”
In an interview with the Saudi daily Al-Jazirah, Dr. Yousuf bin ‘Abdallah Al-Ahmad, a professor of Islamic jurisprudence at Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud University, expressed displeasure with Muslim “hypocrites” who had joined the West in what he termed an intentional distortion of the words of Muslim clerics in order to ridicule them.
Indeed, a number of Arab columnists, including Saudis, did criticize Sheikh Al-Munajid’s “fatwa” as another example of overreach on the part of fundamentalist clerics. Muhammad Bin ‘Abd Al-Latif Aal Al-Sheikh, a columnist for Al-Jazirah and a frequent critic of Islamist groups, noted that animal allegories were an important genre in classical Arab literature, and that no religious figure had ever condemned them in the past.(9)
‘Abdallah Farraj Al-Sharif made the same point in the Saudi daily Al-Madina. He also contested Al-Munajid’s claims on Islamic grounds, saying that it was disputed whether mice are really ritually impure, and that in any event the reason one may kill them is simply because they can cause harm, and not because they are inherently evil or hated by Allah. He also accused Al-Munajid of making Muslims look ridiculous based on distortions of Islam’s true position.(10)
The well-known Saudi liberal columnist Hussein Shobakshi wrote in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that Al-Munajid “should leave Mickey Mouse and others like him alone, since there are people who are much more dangerous. As far as I know, Mickey Mouse and his friends have never strapped explosives belts on their waists, or declared anyone an apostate for disagreeing with them, or other such disgusting examples.
“Ramadan is almost over, the ‘Eid is almost upon us, and Mickey and other [cartoon characters] have a rendezvous with our children. Let them play and be happy in peace.”(11)
In a sarcastic article on the role clerics play in Arab society, Dr. Khaled Al-Hurub wrote in the UAE daily Al-Ittihad: “What would happen to us if, Allah forbid, these sheikhs were silenced?… Without them, we would continue in our frightful negligence, allowing our children to laugh happily at the conniving Mickey Mouse, thinking, in our great ignorance, that he was just a plain old mouse.
“In fact, the muftis… revealed to us that he is a soldier of the accursed Satan disguised as an innocent mouse, who wants to finish off our children’s minds.
“Even those we thought were innocent mice have been incontrovertibly proven to be lowly creatures that must be killed ‘in all cases’; they are part of a global conspiracy against us…”(12)
Others, though, thought that the controversy was overblown. Muhammad Sadeq Diyab, also writing in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, blamed the West for jumping on the Mickey Mouse fatwa: “I blame the preacher Muhammad Al-Munajid for being inexact in his speech and mistaken in his priorities, but I don’t see in the opinion he presented, as broadcast, any reason for the Western and American media to get angry, or for news websites and web forums to carry this, or for it to be discussed on numerous talk shows and news programs after it was translated into English.
“[They act] as though Al-Munajid had already mounted his horse and taken up his sword to carry out the death sentence on this cartoon character. There is no justification for this outcry, which is another attempt to fish in murky waters.”(13)
Some Saudi commentators complained that Al-Munajid was being described as a Saudi, and stressed that he is actually a Palestinian with a Syrian passport who merely resides and teaches in Saudi Arabia.(14) (In fact, Al-Munajid has long lived in Saudi Arabia, and formerly served in the Saudi Embassy’s Islamic Affairs Department in Washington; additionally, his page on Islamonline’s “Ask the Scholar” feature refers to him as “a well-known Saudi Islamic lecturer and author.”)(15)
Egyptian Liberal: “I Decided to Go to Disneyland to Make Sure Mickey Mouse Was All Right”
Sami Al-Behiri, an Egyptian residing in the U.S. who is a columnist for the liberal Arab e-journal Elaph, headed to Disneyland to interview Mickey Mouse and get his response to Sheikh Al-Munajid’s statements:
“I abhor all the mice in the world, with the exception of four: the computer mouse, Jerry, Mickey Mouse, and the Mexican mouse Speedy Gonzalez.
“Thus, I decided to support Sheikh Muhammad Al-Munajid’s fatwa attacking mice, but I differ with him on his attack against Jerry and Mickey Mouse. You can view Sheikh Al-Munajid’s fatwa here: http://fr.youtube.com/watch?v=BmgFQiaYEdk.
“In truth, Sheikh Al-Munajid represents a group of sheikhs who attack all that is good, and fear the very feeling of happiness. Feeling happiness, or the happiness of others, makes them miserable. This is why you see them attacking all that is good in our lives and our children’s lives, like Mickey Mouse or Tom and Jerry.
“These sheikhs are free to believe what they want, but they are not free to turn our lives into a swamp of misery.
“Sheikh Al-Munajid did not take the trouble to ask himself: If mice are evil and must be destroyed (including imaginary cartoon mice), then why did Allah create them?… Also, [even] if Sheikh Al-Munajid hates living mice, what have imaginary cartoon mice ever done?
“In my analysis, the flood of fatwas that has attacked us in these last years is nothing but a storm against life and against all that is good or gladdening in our lives. The necessary conclusion of this hatred for our lives is to strap on an explosive belt in order to be delivered from our melancholy lives…
“I was quite alarmed at Sheikh Al-Munajid’s fatwa, and I decided to go to Disneyland to make sure Mickey Mouse was all right…”
“I Don’t Think We Can Let a Muslim From the Middle East Interview Mickey Mouse Under These Circumstances”
“When I got to Mickey Mouse’s house in Disneyland, I found that it was tightly guarded by Marines, U.S. National Guard, and no small number of FBI agents, with their dark glasses, earpieces, dark suits, and black ties. It appeared that they were observing all of the visitors, including the children.
“I approached Mickey’s house, and a Marine appeared. We had the following conversation:
“Marine: Are you here by yourself?
“Marine: Where are your children?
“Me: My children are no longer kids, they are college and high school students.
“Marine: I can’t let you enter without a child with you.
“Me: Why, what happened?
“Marine: There’s a death threat against Mickey Mouse, from some extremists and terrorists.
“Me: I’m a journalist – I came to interview Mickey Mouse about these threats that people are talking about on the web.
“Marine: Let me see your ID.
“(I take it out, and he looks a few times at me and then at my picture, then says:) Your name is Sami Al-Behiri!
“Marine: What kind of name is that? Where are you from?
“Me: I live here in the U.S., in California.
“Marine: What I mean is, what is your country of origin, where did you immigrate from?
“Me: I’m originally from Egypt.
“Marine: Ah, so you’re from the Middle East.
“Marine: Are you a Muslim?
“Me: I think that’s my business, and has nothing to do with interviewing Mickey Mouse.
“Marine: Answer the question. Are you a Muslim?
“Marine: Mr. Al-Behiri, I don’t think we can let a Muslim from the Middle East interview Mickey Mouse under these circumstances.
“I asked to see his superior, and in the end they allowed me to interview Mickey Mouse, after undergoing a body search, and they insisted that a Marine be present during the interview.”
Mickey Mouse: “I’ve Become Like Salman Rushdie”
“I entered to meet Mickey Mouse and found him in a miserable state, trembling with fear.
“Me: Good morning, Mickey.
“Mickey: What’s good about it?
“Inshallah khayr (All will be well, Allah willing).
“Mickey: You say ‘Allah’ – are you one of them?
“Me: Don’t be afraid, I just came to interview you. Naturally you’ve heard of the fatwa by Sheikh Al-Munajid in the Middle East, which demanded all the mice in the world be killed?
“Mickey: Yes, and from that time on my life has become unbearable. I’ve become like the British author Salman Rushdie – I can’t go out and meet the children and play with them, like I used to before this fatwa. You wouldn’t have a bit of Kashkaval cheese with you, would you?
“I had brought with me as a gift a quarter loaf of Swiss cheese, but the FBI agents took it from me during the search, since they were afraid it might be poisoned.
“Mickey: What do people in the Middle East think about this fatwa?
“Me: The truth is that they are very alarmed – especially the children, who love you very much.
“Mickey: Give them my best…
“Me: What security precautions has the federal government taken to protect you?
“Mickey: In addition to the Marines and other forces you saw outside, scientists from Harvard University prepared a special mouse hole [protected] against nuclear bombs.
“Me: Is it that bad?
“Mickey: Yeah, they’re afraid Iran will get a nuclear bomb and the ‘mouse hole’ will be one of the strategic targets.