I woke up one morning to a deadly tremor. I opened my eyes and found out I was sucked into some capsule with a group of bewildered passengers who looked at me inquisitively hoping that I, being the last to join, might have at least a faint idea why we were all there. I hated to disappoint them, by my helpless shrug apparently did much more than that. The door closed and the sinister-looking pilot moved the transmission lever to “reverse” mode. I looked at the dashboard and saw digital numbers going down quickly in a meter that obviously measured something other than speed, fuel, or heat. When the number 1184 appeared on the screen, the capsule slowed down then finally stopped in Languedoc, where the first inquisition was set.

I stepped out of the time machine and inhaled the air of repression soon to be mixed with the smell of burning flesh. I saw stakes erected in a place that seemed too familiar to be southern France. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief and started feeling the flames consuming the brain for which all of us will be condemned to death.

Talk about corrupting the students through teaching texts that promote homosexuality started, ironically enough, after the revolution when a group of students staged protests over what they perceived as unfair grades. Led by one of the instructors at the department, the students were alerted to the fact that they can blackmail professors through accusing them of endorsing ideologies that violate social codes and religious teachings. They picked a short story in which two women engage in a symbolic sexual act that denotes a repressed woman’s attempt at reconciliation with her self and decided to crown it the Satanic Verses of 2011. Questionnaires citing the scene, which consists of a few lines in the 23-page long story, were circulated among the students and its results, which we never saw, were wrapped up in a report that condemned the text, its teacher, and the entire department. A journalist at an official newspaper decided to take part in the fight against academic debauchery in two illuminating articles in which he wrote that this text, which according to him is all about homosexuality, should no longer be taught to “our boys and girls” and that whoever is responsible for propagating vice among “our youths” should be persecuted. He, for one, is adamant on filing a complaint with the Prosecutor General. Seeing that nobody bothered to respond to this nonsense, the same journalist gave a TV interview reiterating his threats and vowing to fight till the last breath. When one of our respected colleagues from the department—also a passenger in the capsule of the damned—accused him on air of setting an inquisition for academics, he looked very offended possibly for one of two reasons: he thought it was an insult to compare his “peaceful” efforts to restore decency to the brothels that are Egyptian universities with such a violent practice that goes back to the Dark Ages OR his knowledge of what “inquisition” means is not very different from his ability to grasp one single meaning in the text he was out to slam as heretic.Going into the details of how this happened or who is behind it or what personal scores are being settled in the process or if the department had taught Islamic jurisprudence before deciding to deviate into this path of perdition is beside the point… or let’s say is not as helpful as it might seem to be at the moment. This is no longer about this specific text or the person who teaches it or the department or the university… this is about Egypt and the abyss it is going to nosedive into if this little incident does not turn into a slap on our unjustifiably complacent faces at a time when all what happens is reason for consternation. While some said the entire matter should not be given attention because it is simply motivated by personal grudges that found refuge in a journalist’s desperate quest for fame—I totally agree both man and co. are absolutely worthless—others believe intercepting the enemy before it lands on your shores is the best way of scoring a real victory. Being the confrontational person I have always been, you can easily guess which camp I support. If we let this pass now, we will find ourselves up against a much bigger scale attack on academic freedom and the independence of universities and the fiercer the fight will get, the more unable we will be to face those forces of darkness, not because they are right or even stronger but rather because they are becoming too many.

Since the revolution toppled the regime, two absolutely opposite things happened: A lot of freedom was granted and an equal lot of freedom was taken away. Egypt got rid of a despotic president and a corrupt regime that governed it by force for 30 years, parties have started forming and politics have become no longer exclusive to the ruling elite, and a real electoral process will give Egyptians the right to choose who represents them. Regardless of the numerous obstacles facing the realization of the revolution’s gains, historic changes are taking place and this country will never be the same. Now, a quick look at the empty half of the glass: factions previously persecuted by the regime—mostly religious and/ or fundamentalist—are now back with vengeance and already following the how-to-create-a-dictatorship-democratically manual word for word, many of the repressed—whether by the regime or any other form of authority they perceive as tyrannical—have decided to lash out at anything and anyone they can get hold of not necessarily because they were the source of their misery, but rather because they are eligible revenge objects, and “freedom” got jumbled up with several other words like “chaos,” “slander,” “retaliation,” and “spite.”

I don’t want to repeat myself and say how normal it is not to be able to practice freedom if you were not born into it or if you were never taught what it means in the first place because I have been doing this all the time both here and in several other contexts. In fact, I am not interested in the category of people who really confuse freedom with other things, but rather in those who are consciously abusing the values Egyptian protestors died for in order to further personal gains or secure illegitimate demands and are getting support for their hidden agendas from the rising religious tide that had swept the country since the regime was toppled. When my colleague who called the journalist on air insisted that the “controversial” text and other texts that may contain “sex scenes” is art, he cited the verse from the Quran in which Joseph is seduced by Mrs. Potiphar and which does not “arouse” readers like the text which according to him “describes the sexual act in detail”—this is not true and I wonder if he knows a word of English to begin with—does. “Can you contest the fact that the Quran is the highest form of creativity and is the most genius text on earth?” he asked her simply because he knew very well how he can turn the tables against her if her reply contradicts what the religious majority in Egypt would like to hear. Telling him there is no comparison between holy and human texts did not do much to change his “crouching tiger” attitude.

What this man—as insignificant as he is—is doing by this shameful attempt at slandering not only the department but the whole university and all other universities and by appointing himself judge, jury, and executioner is setting a dangerous precedent as far as the violation of academic freedom, the integrity of university professors, and the autonomy of higher education are concerned. Next thing we’ll find extremist groups calling for banning any text that contains anything they regard as immoral or un-Islamic and launching campaigns to burn the Arabian Nights, stop teaching Shakespeare, and label any writer who tackles “taboos” a heretic.

Could you please read George Orwell’s 1984 and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 to see what kind of a society we will end up with if we remain silent as we see our freedom robbed and our dignity tattered? And do so quickly for the inquisitors are closer to you than you expect and the court can be brought to your own house if there is no time to summon you; maybe you can add Franz Kafka’s The Trial to the list to see for yourself how this is done.