People with power often seek to suppress ideas, but it rarely works.
Just ask Zedekiah.
He ruled over Jerusalem when it was surrounded by the armies of Babylon (ancient Iraq!). The year was 586 B.C.
The prophet Jeremiah warned the people and their leaders that God would not save the city; defeat, destruction and deportation lay in their immediate future.
Such negativity offended King Zedekiah who thought it treason; Jeremiah was arrested and thrown in jail.
Prison bars rarely silence the powerful ideas that politicians deem politically incorrect. Today Zedekiah is forgotten, but Jeremiah is revered by millions of believers as a true prophet of God.
Jesus himself was incarcerated then killed because his preaching was (so they said) unacceptable and a threat to the social order. Paul, Peter and a host of others suffered similar fates, but took prison as an opportunity to put their thoughts on paper. Today their words rule much of the world.
Martin Luther spent part of his life on the run, fleeing the arrest warrants of both pope and emperor who feared his ideas.
John Bunyan wrote his famous and influential allegory The Pilgrims Progress during a 12-year jailhouse stint where he was placed for disturbing the peace with his unauthorized preaching.
In our century: Gandhi of India, Bonhoeffer of Germany and Mandella of South Africa either lived or died behind bars, put there by powerful leaders who sought to suppress their ideas. One of Bonhoeffer’s books is entitled simply, Letters and Papers from Prison.
The most influential political and social thinker of our time was a minister of the Gospel whose convictions were memorably expressed in a piece known simply as “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” I speak, of course, of Martin Luther King Jr.
Now add another name to this litany of prison authors; not one, however, whose written words nurtured life and truth, but one whose pen has brought forth anger and death.
Sayyid Qutb, who lived from 1906-1966.
His advocacy of violence (growing out of his radical critique of Western culture) got him thrown in jail in Egypt in 1954.
While there, under inhumane conditions, he wrote most of his massive commentary on the holy book of Islam. He entitled it, In the Shade of the Koran.
Even Muslims thought his ideas dangerous. He died by hanging at the hands of the authorities in 1966.
His ideas, however, did not die. They found life in the expanding circles of disillusioned Muslims, those who despaired of the long-lost glory of Islamic culture and the seemingly irrepressible waves of communism and secularism sweeping the world.
Out of this mixture of ideas and emotions emerged the now infamous form of international terror: Al Qaeda. The ideas of Qutb live, bringing death to many.
As with Jeremiah, Jesus and John (and a host of others), the suppression of dissent is itself a dangerous strategy—as the world today is learning in a fresh and fearsome way, from Cairo to Kabul, from Jerusalem to Baghdad, from Washington to Moscow.
For good and for ill, prison bars are no match for the power of ideas.
Dwight Moody is dean of the chapel at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky.