Monday, September 17, 2012


"Chris Stevens, US ambassador to Libya, and three colleagues were killed on Tuesday as they fled armed protesters attacking the consulate in Benghazi. The deaths are a stark reminder that, despite the civil and democratic awakening that has swept the region, America’s relationship with the Muslim world remains fragile. The attacks came just hours after protesters in Cairo stormed the US embassy to tear down and burn the US flag. Both assaults were sparked by an amateur film reportedly backed by controversial anti-Muslim pastor Terry Jones, which protesters say insults the Prophet Mohammed. No matter how serious the offence to religious sensibilities, there is no justification for these brutal murders. Libya’s authorities must do all in their power to bring the killers to justice. The film is, nonetheless, a deliberate provocation. It depicts the prophet as a megalomaniac, a child molester and serial womaniser. When posted on YouTube, where it has now attracted more viewers than it ever would have done in the cinema, it was translated into Arabic and is being promoted by a notoriously anti-Muslim Egyptian Copt. This was bound to inflame tensions in Egypt, where relations between Christians and Muslims are on permanent simmer. Free speech is an inalienable right in a democracy. But there should also be a duty to exercise that right responsibly. Those involved in the film must have known their actions would be offensive and potentially explosive. They share some blame for the tragedy. Yet so too does Libya’s government. The transition to democracy is fraught with danger, especially when armed bands still roam the country. But this can only succeed if there is a will to force all parties to abide by a clear framework of laws. Not enough is being done to rein in the extremists who encourage such violence. This is a lesson that should be closely heeded by Egypt’s new Islamist government. These are serious and delicate questions that should not become political footballs in the US presidential campaign. They require a response. Free speech does not include the right to cry “fire!” in a crowded cinema. Nor does political freedom entitle fundamentalists to murder citizens of countries that helped to liberate them from dictators. It is always hard to judge where freedom’s limits should be drawn, but they are surely this side of gratuitous bloodshed".
Leader, "Death in Benghazi." The Financial Times. 12 September 2012. in
"I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on - perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara - by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both.[1] It was presumably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than those of his Persian interlocutor.[2] The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur'an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship between - as they were called - three "Laws" or "rules of life": the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur'an. It is not my intention to discuss this question in the present lecture; here I would like to discuss only one point - itself rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole - which, in the context of the issue of "faith and reason", I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue. In the seventh conversation (διάλεξις - controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to some of the experts, this is probably one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness that we find unacceptable, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”[3] The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably (σὺν λόγω) is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...' "
The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. "Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections." 12 September 2006, in
The most recent violence in the Near and Middle East puts paid to any illusions that anyone might still carry about the so-called 'Arab Spring', being a simple and seamless transition to a peaceful, Democratic future for the peoples of the region. The inability of the new regimes in Libya, Yemen, Tunisia and Egypt to peacefully harness the energies thrown-up by the crisis of the last twenty months, seems to indicate that the challenge offered up by the 'extremist' wing of Islamist political groupings in these societies has not yet been determined. The mere fact that a film, albeit perhaps a stupid and indeed a 'provocative' film at that, has caused so many deaths and injuries seems to indicate to the unprejudiced mind that we are dealing with a regional body politic, as indeed with a religious tradition (not necessarily mind you the same thing as the 'religion' itself), which seems profoundly violent, profoundly backward, profoundly filled with hatred for any concept of societal pluralism. To put a fine point on the matter, one is hard put to remember such religiously based, popular violence in either Central or Western Europe since the mid-18th century. Au fond really the days of Chevalier de la Barre. One is in fact hard put to offer up any better analysis of the crooked nature of Islam than that offered up by the Holy Father in his Regensburg lecture of a few years back 1. Which is not to say that the peoples of the region are imprisoned by history to repeat the torments and the errors of the past or indeed the recent present. For all their own flaws, the peoples of Indonesia, Malaysia and indeed Turkey itself are all examples of nations where there is a degree, in certain areas a good degree, of societal pluralism allied with political pluralism. Perhaps it is naive to expect that the peoples of the Near and Middle East, to make the same transition as these countries. Still that is indeed the only hope that one can see for the future. Since none of the other alternatives: another cycle of authoritarian, military rule or some type of Western 'colonial' involvement, however attractive on the surface, are non-solutions in any real sense. Indeed both would only, indeed, inevitable lead to the same developmental cul de sac, that the area has suffered from low these many year, if not centuries now.
1. For a more historically based argument about the nature of Muslim intolerance of societal 'difference' and pluralism, and that au fond, 'tolerance' is fundamentally a Christian rather than a Islamic or indeed a Jewish tradition, see: Bernard Lewis: What went wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response. (2001), pp. 96-116 and passim, where Lewis notes: "Secularism in the modern political meaning--the idea that religion and political authority, church and state are different, and can or should be separated--is, in a profound sense, Christian. It origins may be traced in the teachings of Christ, confirmed by the experience of the first Christians; its later development was shaped and in a sense imposed by the subsequent history of the Christendom." See also his: From Babel to Dragomans: interpreting the Middle East. (2004), pp. 319-330 and passim.


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