MideastWeb Middle East Web Log
Once again, the Middle East has been in an uproar over something that someone in the West said about Islam. Last time it was Danish cartoons of Muhamed that caused rioting and a wave of hate. This time it is remarks of Pope Benedict quoting Emperor Manuel II Paleologus.
The most frightening aspect of the new controversy is not the violence itself, but the lessons it holds for the future. Moderate opinion in the Middle East is the hope of all those who wish to see an end to radicalism and intolerance and the construction of liberal societies that can bring the Middle East into the 21st century on its own terms. Instead, moderate opinion has joined the fanatics in condoning wanton hooliganism and pogroms against Christians, and has devised a rather transparent litany to excuse its defection.
We should begin by understanding what the Pope said, and the context in which he said it, and we must also understand the context of the Emperor's words. We bring an extended excerpt of the speech. It was not directly about Islam, but rather about use of reason rather than coercion in discussing matters of faith. Was Benedict really discussing Islam in a roundabout way? Perhaps.
Manuel II Paleologus was in the midst of being besieged by the Muslim Ottoman Sultan Bayezid I when he wrote the quoted words, and this circumstance no doubt colored his opinion of Muhamed. The Pope could have looked for other, more effective and relevant examples regarding compulsion in faith. He did not not have to look so far as the Muslim religion.
Both the Christian and Muslim religions profess that there is no compulsion in religion; both violated this dictum with impunity at different times. The infamous Spanish inquisition and the expulsion of Jews and Muslims who would not convert from Spain is only one example of many on the Christian side, whereas the Almohad dynasty in Spain forced Jews to convert to Islam. Beyond these egregious examples, we may note that wherever Christians or Muslims conquered, whether it was in the land of the Wends east of Germany or in Palestine under the Muslims or the Crusaders, or in Ottoman Yugoslavia, large numbers of people converted to the faith of the conquerors. The members of the conquering religions no doubt attributed this conversion to the workings of reason or divine intervention, but we are allowed to speculate that perhaps there were other reasons.
The Pope, in any case, should have remembered that he is the Pope, and not just a Catholic scholar, and he should have been more careful in what he said. That in no way explains, justifies or excuses the violent reaction of Muslim extremists to his words.
The accusation of Paleologus was that Islam imposes itself by force. Some Muslims apparently missed the irony of their attempts to disprove and protest this accusation by burning churches and murdering nuns. Others were ashamed of this reaction, and some attempted to put the blame on Israel.
However, the reaction of Rami Khouri in the Daily Star was far more typical and most instructive. It is instructive because Khouri is not a religious fanatic, but a moderate who professes his commitment to democracy and secular society. His reaction illustrates the gravity of the problem and the huge gap that exists between Muslim and Western norms of free speech and behavior. Khouri wrote:
It is Khouri who missed the point. Khouri goes on to ask how the Pope would
react if the world's top Muslim religious leaders recommended screening the "Da Vinci Code" movie in all schools?
Indeed, how did the Pope react when the Da Vinci Code was screened in the West? Did he order Catholics to burn movie houses and kill projectionists? How did Jews react when Yasser Arafat and the Mufti of Jerusalem, Ikrema Sabri, insisted that the Jews have no historic claim in Jerusalem? Did they burn mosques and murder Imams?
Khouri has testified against his own religion and blasphemed Islam far more effectively than Manuel Paleologus did, for he tells us that the expression of "religion" in Islam is to murder and riot. The man who attempted to assassinate Pope Paul II has now warned that Pope Benedict should not travel to Turkey, as he may be assassinated. Presumably this would be another expression of "religion."
Khouri tells us:
If people do not like living in police states, what do they gain by trying to institute police-state censorship in other states? There are many poor Christians all over the world, in Africa and in South America. Some live in police states and gangster states, and some of the human catastrophe in Africa must be a legacy of the Muslim slave trade, as well as of western imperialism. Yet these unfortunates do not take out their anger at their lot on Muslims. The Qur'an (Sura 3, Verse 59) states the Muslim belief that Jesus was not divine,
This denial of a central tenet of Christianity has not caused poor Christians to burn down mosques, to murder Muslims, or to riot in the streets.
If assassinations and murder are the way that "religion" is expressed in Muslim society, and if that is the "central organizing principle," then indeed it cannot be taken lightly. However, it is not a basis for dialogue. It is compulsion in religion. There is no dialogue to be had with people who murder nuns and burn churches, and there is no respect for the opinions of others in Khouri's notions or the violent preachings of the fanatics or the even more violent actions of their followers.
For the west, there are important and ominous lessons to be learned from the previous cartoon crackup and the violent reaction to Benedict's scholarly address. Apparently, radical Muslims are attempting, and succeeding, in imposing a kind of remote one-way censorship on the west. Imams can preach about Jewish sons of dogs and Christian sons of pigs, this is covered by "freedom of censorship" and "legitimate self-expression." But no non-Muslim is allowed to say anything that might be construed as bad about Islam. Any such utterance or public expression will generate a violent reaction and self-righeous demands for apology, not only by fanatics who want to provoke a "war of civilizations" but by moderates who profess to uphold liberal values.
The radical Muslims are attempting to muzzle free debate and free expression in the west, and apparently they are succeeding. Pope Benedict XVI apologized several times for his innocent remarks, in terms that were never used before by any Pope, according to a Washington Post Op Ed. The inquisition and the crusades were not the subject of such an explicit apology.
Two incidents do not in themselves make a trend, but we should be on guard. If the "religion" of Muslim countries today demands the death of nuns for an utterance of the Pope, tomorrow it may require the death of western university professors for teaching the 'heresy' of evolution. And what if someone dares to question the Muslim historical narrative? Is it permitted to discuss the historical veracity, for example of Muhamed's visit to Jerusalem on a flying horse, or is that heresy punishable by death? Can we question the merits of the hadith which insists that at the end of days the Muslim will slaughter all the Jews, the hadith that is included in the Hamas charter, or would too be an insult to Islam?
If we are all going to live together, then surely dialogue is absolutely vital. This dialogue, however, must be based a free and honest intellectual discourse, not on fawning appeasement of rabid fanatics, who find this or that excuse to try to impose their ideas on the world.
Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000514.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.
Replies: 11 comments
The scholarly and insightful article by Ami Iasseroff concludes with the single prescription: "If we are a ever going to live together, then surely dialogue is absolutely vital. This dialogue, however, must be based on free and honest intellectual discourse, not on fawning appeasement of rabid fanatics, who find this or that excuse to try to impose their ideas on the world."
One further prescription can be added as a prerequisite for dialogue dealing with violence and terrorism and for promoting brotherhood between people of all faiths. That is, for each person according to their own religious persuasion to learn how to use their Holy Word -- God's name -- in such a way as to first enter a common ground of "Grand Silence" before engaging in dialogue.
CONVERGENCE OF SILENCES - WORLD'S RELIGIONS CAN FIND COMMON GROUND
Rationale for reaching this common and higher ground of being can be found at the web site cited above, and is based on the premise that peace is an inside job, and that the Source of Peace lies inside each of us but in a domain of consciousness beyond the faculties of the mind. Transcending on a sacred name is an appropriate way to take the mind to that most sacred space of human conscioussness and divine presence.
Posted by Pentagon Meditation Club @ 09/21/2006 06:33 PM CST
This is an extraordinarily interesting, full and closely-argued analysis of the intellectual aspect of the conflict between parts of Islam and the West, even though it is marred in its later paragraphs by a welling-up of bitter irony. It is worth reading carefully and stopping to investigate one's own reactions to each stage of the discussion.
What it fails to analyze (though hinting at it) is something that came vividly to light during the Salman Rushdie ('The Satanic Verses') affair. It is something to do with psychology and, no doubt, with the history of different societies.
For thoughtful Christian and Jewish believers, faith is a matter of truth versus falsehood. Thus if someone insults God or Christ, the Judeo-Christian believer regards that person as being wrong (in the epistemological, not the ethical, sense) and therefore to be pitied and â€” if possible â€” convinced of the falsity of her/his views and be persuaded to change them. (Not always, it must be admitted. Whenever it is suggested that Jesus might have been homosexual, atavistic rage seems to take over, just as it did in medieval and even post-medieval Christianity when confronted by heresy, e.g. under the Inquisition.)
If someone insults Mohammed or Islam as a whole, the Muslim believer seems unable to say 'the God and the Prophet that I believe in are unassailable; their dignity is not touched by the insult; it is the insulter who is wrong, who is thus an inferior person'. S/he has to leap to the defence of Allah and Mohammed, as if they, and the believer's own faith in their dignity and truth, are not strong enough to withstand the insult and have to be won back from the insulter by threats or perpretations of violence.
Psychologically, it seems that the former attitude is one of self-confident security â€” closely related to the liberalism of 'I disagree with your views, but I shall defend to the death your right to hold them' â€” whereas the latter is one of self-doubting fragility. Culturally and historically it is doubtless, as Khouri tells us, because '[t]he sad fact of modern history is that the post-colonial European retreat from many Islamic societies left behind nations that did not truly reflect existing ethnic and demographic realities. For reasons that historians will long debate, many Islamic countries have also suffered economic stress and political autocracy, leading to the sort of extremism and militancy that we witness today in many parts of the Middle East and Asia.
The harsh reality is that in many Islamic societies, ordinary people find themselves living in police states, gangster states, failed states, or occupied or sanctioned states. In such abnormal conditions of chronic distress, tension, deprivation and vulnerability, religion emerges as the central instrument of protection in personal and public life. Religion provides identity, a system of justice, hope, and communal solidarity, and the sense of security that accompanies faith.'
The way, though, to help people, nations and cultures to overcome their self-doubting fragility is not to rub their noses in it. What is the right way? I don't know, but it seems of the greatest and most urgent importance to try to find out, perhaps with the help of psychologists as well as of politicians. And it isn't going to happen overnight.
I have to add that in my opinion faith and reason cannot be reconciled, whether in Islam, in Judaism, in Christianity or in black magic. Kant, the high priest of Enlightenment rationality, held that vast areas of possible intellectual enquiry were inaccessible to reason. Faith enters where one does not and cannot know or argue, and it cannot be argued with.
Michael Graubart, London, UK.
Posted by Michael Graubart @ 09/21/2006 07:02 PM CST
I have only read through Ami Isseroff's piece rather quickly, but I got the impression that Rami Khouri was taken to be a Muslim. The name Khouri leads me to think that he is more likely to be a Christian or a secularist. Would this change the conclusions Ami Isseroff would draw?
Posted by Marilyn Sutton Loos @ 09/22/2006 05:56 AM CST
Indeed Rami Khoury is a Christian as far as I know, but the same reasoning, or quite similar is presented by Muslims. Look around the Web. I only point out the targets out there, but I cannot lead you to each and every one.
Thank providence for all the helpful people who show their knowledge. One pointed out that the Rhineland belonged to Germany. In his view, (without benefit of a dictionary) that meant I was wrong, and the Germans had not invaded the Rhineland.
For Michael Graubart. Since you adopt the same line as Khoury, about failed states, you are further proof that you don't have to be a Jihadist to love apologizing for violent intolerance. As I pointed out, lots of Africans and Latin Americans live in failed states, but they don't go around blaming other religions and burning things down. Face it, Africans have a very long account with the West, as well as with Arab slave traders.
The way to fix it is not to repeat the same lie, but to see the problem for no less (and no more!) than what it is.
Posted by Ami Isseroff @ 09/22/2006 03:34 PM CST
What Pope Benedict said in his homily during the opening of the conclave in which he was later elected as the successor of Peter is becoming more evident in the recent hurried reactions which seems to be unguided and which might be caused irresponsible reporting. What he said could be a right diagnosis of the world today:
â€śHow many winds of doctrine we have known in these last decades, how many ideological currents, how many fashions of thought? . . . . from Marxism to liberalism, to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, etc.â€ť
â€ť . . .Relativism, that is, allowing oneself to be carried about with every wind of â€śdoctrine,â€ť seems to be the only attitude that is fashionable. A dictatorship of relativism is being constituted that recognizes nothing as absolute and which only leaves the â€śIâ€ť and its whims as the ultimate measure.â€ť
Certainly there was â€śbrusquenessâ€ť in what the byzantine emperor said, and this could even be evident in historical blunders of the crusades.
Yet, it seems to me that the Holy Father wants is to topple down this â€śdictatorship of relativismâ€ť which all ideologies and doctrines are prone, in order establish some fundamental principles and standards for a fruitful dialogue with other cultures. He is faithful to the conviction when already in the opening of the conclave, of what he told the cardinals. His first encyclical is about Charity. But as he said, â€ścharity without truth is blind. . . and truth without charity would be a clanging cymbal.â€ť Here the Pope, because he loves humanity and each one of us, wants to present some fundamental truths of faith which is not an exclusion of reason and reason should not limit itself but is invited to open itself to the absolute. The great divide faith and reason could be catastrophic, like to use violence in name of God be it state sponsored or ideologically sponsored.
Without the right understanding of faith and reason, without a great awareness that rationality is not incompatible with faith, but on the contrary, in fact rationality is part of faith, whether be it Islam, Christianity or Judaism, this â€śdictatorâ€ť in the world would continue to dominate our mentalities. There should be an objective standard in the human world: reason. Call in common sense, rationality, good sense, human understanding, whatever, what is needed in the world, in whatever camp: politics, law, jurisprudence, economics, technology, communication, education, etc. there must be a moral standard, outside of us, of our intellects but also intelligible and reasonable in order to allow the world go ahead. Take away God and religion from reason and â€śreasonâ€ť will lead us to great disrespect to man to the point of eliminating man himself. Take away reason from God and religion would also be catastrophic.
Positively, it was good that the Popeâ€™s words struck a controversy and you could find an array of positive and negative comments in the web and blogosphere. This would mean that a greater interest would arise from this. Our muslim brothers who are sensible, do not agree to the quotation: this means that they have the common sense to voice out that Islam is not violent. Otherwise, the more they take violent protests, the more the words of the Pope becomes true.
The clarification of Cardinal Bertone on Islamic Reaction to Popeâ€™s Address still maintains primarily the deep respect and esteem of the Pope to our Muslim brothers. Though the quote itself as I have said is unfortunate, I am sure that the world sensible opinion will make more evident to the truth of what he is saying and be vindicated in order to give light to this already dark world.
Posted by Am Mijares @ 09/24/2006 01:26 PM CST
The violence about the pope's message just adds more proof to what I have been saying all along on this website, and that is 99.9% of religious people are STUPID, AND INTELLECTUALY LAZY. That said, now turn on to CNN and watch them make fools of themselves. lol.
Posted by john @ 09/25/2006 02:59 PM CST
It occurs to me that the element that we are tending to forget is the degree of disparity of self-perception, power and relationship with religion. It has always struck me that the Islamic world perceives itself as male, epitomised by the noble warrior. The continually repeated imagery reinforces this and it is integral in Islamic self-perception. The problem with this has beent hat the Islamic world for the last 200 years has found itself defeated repeatedly by non-Muslims.
Posted by Rod Davies @ 09/26/2006 10:49 PM CST
Its odd that you call on Muslims to stop restricting free debate. I remember the article where you ask people to sign a treaty that called for no more revisioning because it is supposedly Anti-Sematic. Now you are worried that Muslims are trying to perform similar censorship. Muslims should not use violence to acheive their goals, but neither David Irving should be put in jail for denying the Holocost. I didn't sign the agreement you ask people to sign because it infringe the rights of people to find the truth. Now you are demanding that Muslims do what you haven't done.
The Pope's problem wasn't the message he was trying to send but the choice of words. People react moment by moment. An effective communicator must not use language that will make people lose sight of the message being communicated.
Posted by Butros Dahu @ 09/27/2006 09:15 PM CST
To Michael Graubart
Your comments were very insightful and explain exactly what needs to be done.
Calling Michael "an apologist" is saying that you simply cannot argue with his reason. I too have problems with your article:
1. You claimed Khoury is a Muslim:
"Khouri has testified against his own religion and blasphemed Islam far more effectively than Manuel Paleologus did, for he tells us that the expression of "religion" in Islam is to murder and riot."
Khoury however is a Christian and therefore did not blasphemed his religion.
2. You missed Khoury's point. Khoury is not talking about justifying violence as a means of expression or the elimination of free debate. He is saying that to create dialogue between religions one must avoid issues that create anger and resentment making dialogue impossible. Like Michael said when states fail to do their duties people turn to religion for an answer. Khoury and Michael are on the right page unlike you who falsely accused Khoury of supporting violence or saying that Muslims express their religion in violence.
3. Violent acts such as burning churches and killing nuns are wrong but not unprecedented:
A. A Christian lawyer name Jack Thompson received death threats for his veiws on violent video games.
B. Americans have killed each other over racial comments made by the victim.
C. In some European countries Anti-Semitic speech or expression is a crime.
Posted by Butros Dahu @ 09/28/2006 05:33 PM CST
Ami: "lots of Africans and Latin Americans live in failed states, but they don't go around blaming other religions and burning things down."
Of course one significant difference is that in those cases their religion is the same as that of their supposed oppressors. I think a more instructive example might be northern India, which was under Muslim domination for some centuries and then under Christian domination. Hindu fundamentalists like Shiv Sena can and do react violently when Hindu religious symbols are disparaged by members of other faiths, and have indeed attacked mosques and killed Muslims.
Ami's article does look to me like an attempt to tar moderate Muslims with the extremist brush. How is a Muslim who calls for the Danish cartoons to be banned any different from the Christians who successfully kept "Life of Brian" out of Midwestern cinemas? Would Ami say that all Christians opposed to abortion are terrorist sympathisers because some extremists in America murder abortion doctors? If I have misunderstood a sophisticated argument I'm sure I will be set right....
It seems to me that the great divide within Islam occurs over the issue of whether Islam is under attack. This is undoubtably what the Jihadis believe, and it's based on a sort of conspiracy theory which holds that Chechnya, Kashmir, Iraq, Palestine, Bosnia and the Danish Cartoons are all facets of the same thing. You can probably be a "moderate" in that you don't support burning down churches or blowing up trains and yet still buy into the "war on Islam" mindset, and that makes you part of the problem in my view.
Khoury's argument seems to me something different, that religion requires special consideration from secularists in the Muslim world because it has taken the place of certain roles we associate with the state. The parallel to that might be a certain softness on militant catholicism in Poland because it had become identified with the liberation struggle agaisnt Stalinism.
Posted by Spike @ 11/14/2006 03:52 PM CST
For further discussion of the idea of a "Convergence of World Religions . . ." please see http://peacemakersinstitute.org links to "Common Ground" and also "New Paradigm." This new post is in response to the following Mid-East comments.
"Posted by Pentagon Meditation Club @ 09/21/2006 06:33 PM CST
Posted by Edward Winchester @ 10/06/2007 01:28 PM CST
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