Religion matters

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Nov  2012    Pervez Hoodbhoy: Wenn die Sonne um die Erde kreist, Schweizer Monat, Florian Rittmeyer
22 Sep 11   The Islamic case for a secular state, Hürriyet Daily News, MUSTAFA AKYOL
14 Nov 09   A provocative look at the origins of Jewish identity, FT, Simon Schama
14 Nov 09   Does science need religion?, FT, Harry Eyres
31 Aug 09   Hints of Pluralism in Egyptian Religious Debates, NYT, MICHAEL SLACKMAN
11 Jun 09   Confront the Enemy Within, Khaleej Times (UEA), Aijaz Zaka Syed
29.Dez 07   Der Terror kommt aus dem Herzen des Islam, Die Welt
11 Feb 07   US Congress Joint Resolution (draft)
3 Feb 07   Iraq's shadow widens Sunni-Shiite split in U.S., IHT (NYT 4.2.07), Neil MacFarquhar
21 Dec 06   The Devoted Student, NYT, MARK C. TAYLOR
1 Mar 06   Writers' statement on cartoons, BBC News, Ayaan Hirsi Ali et al.
13 Feb 06   Cartoons: Divisions and inconsistencies, BBC News, Paul Reynolds
7 Feb 06    How can cartoon crisis be resolved?, BBC News, debate
13 Jan 99   *S*L*M* - Outline of a Linguistic, Cultural and Religious Common Denominator, Iconoclast
16 Dec 98   Mohamed Sayed Tantaoui: "Al Azhar welcomes every institute built on the good study"
30 Apr 97   The Dawn of Monotheism Revisited, CORUM Research Group, Anton Keller
30 May 92   VIVANT SEQUENTES - MVC appeal on Religious Matters, /1997

BBC News    February 7, 2006

How can cartoon crisis be resolved?

As protests continue across the world, can the cartoon dispute be resolved or is the row a symptom of an increasing gulf between two cultures?

At least 10 people have been killed and several injured in Libya in clashes during a protest over a T-shirt worn by an Italian minister displaying the cartoons.

On Friday, Denmark temporarily shut its embassy in Islamabad after days of violent protests in Pakistan.

Has the lack of understanding between the Muslim and non-Muslim world fuelled the protests? Or are there reasons speciic to local demonstrations? Are you going to a demonstration?

Published: Tuesday, 7 February, 2006

BBC News    February 13, 2006

Cartoons: Divisions and inconsistencies
By Paul Reynolds, World Affairs correspondent

The "cartoon crisis" has demonstrated the gulf between sections of the West and the Muslim world, revealed divisions within Islam itself and showed inconsistencies by advocates of both sides.
    A look back at the way the issue developed shows the key moments in what was a slow burn towards a crisis. For this did not just spring upon the world, and decisions taken in the course of the build-up materially influenced the eventual outcome. It began, in fact, before 30 September 2005, the day the original 12 cartoons of Muhammad were published in Jyllands-Posten.

    And here came the first inconsistency on one side. More than two years previously, in April 2003, a Danish cartoonist Christoffer Zieler offered some cartoons of Jesus Christ to Jyllands-Posten, Denmark's largest daily paper and generally seen as right-wing. One of the paper's editors told Zieler: "I don't think Jyllands-Posten's readers will enjoy the drawings. As a matter of fact, I think that they will provoke an outcry. Therefore, I will not use them."
    (Update: a reader has pointed out that in 2000 the paper did publish a cartoon in which Joseph, quoting Bill Clinton at the time of Monica Lewinsky, says about Mary: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." The reader queries therefore why J-P should be criticised over the Zieler offerings. I would reply that the inconsistency remains because of the reasons stated for the refusal, that they would offend.)
    No such concern prevailed when Jyllands-Posten decided to solicit drawings of Muhammad after a children's author, Kare Bluitgen, had been unable to find illustrators for his book about the Prophet (written with the intention of widening understanding, though one reader has asked why, if this was so, he had even sought to use such illustrations). The illustrators refused either because they knew that portraits of the Prophet were against Islamic tradition, or were afraid of reprisals.

    Publication led to immediate protests by Muslim leaders in Denmark - and an immediate effort by them to internationalise the issue. Imam Raed Hlayhel gave an interview to the news website of the Arabic channel Al Jazeera and said: "This type of democracy is worthless for Muslims. Muslims will never accept this kind of humiliation."  The paper's editor-in-chief Carsten Juste replied: "We live in a democracy. Satire is accepted in this country, and you can make caricatures. Religion shouldn't set any barriers on that sort of expression."
    At this stage the row was largely confined to Denmark. Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen refused to get involved and declined a meeting with eleven Arab ambassadors mobilised by the Danish imams.
    On 17 October, a curious thing happened. Six of the cartoons were prominently reprinted in an Egyptian newspaper, al-Fagr. The paper said they were racist and would insult Muslims everywhere and predicted an outcry. However, at this stage, nothing happened on the streets. There was no public outcry. It took concerted action by the Danish Muslim leaders to effect a change.

Wider audience
    They decided to take their complaints both about the cartoons and about the position of Muslims in Denmark to other audiences. In December, encouraged by an imam well known in Denmark, Abu Laban, a delegation went to the Middle East where they saw leading Islamic scholars and political leaders. They took along the cartoons as evidence but they also included in a 43-page dossier three other drawings which were even more insulting and which had not been published in Jyllands-Posten.
    The dossier revealed inconsistencies of it own. It contained some placatory statements to the effect that the delegation simply wanted "stable relations, and a flourishing Denmark for all that live here." But it also contained some rude remarks about Denmark including the sentence "If you say that they are all infidels, then you are not wrong".

The 'non-cartoons'
    The three extra drawings were said to have been sent to Muslims in Denmark as insults. However one of them, apparently showing the prophet with the face of a pig, has been traced to a photo of the winner of a pig-squealing contest in the French Pyrenees last summer. It remains unclear as to how this last picture, a grey photocopy, came to such prominence but it does seem to have played a role in the raising of the temperature.

 The crisis has exposed the fragility of relations between the West and Muslim countries
     The delegation spokesman, Ahmed Akkari, said they pointed out the status of the different pictures on their travels but the "pigface" photocopy was later filmed in Gaza at the end of January when gunmen took over EU offices, and so somehow it had been lifted out and given importance.

Mecca meeting
    A key moment came in December at a meeting of the Organisation of The Islamic Conference (OIC) in Mecca, itself such an important and relevant venue for a discussion of Muhammad. This transformed the issue. The OIC expressed its concern at "rising hatred against Islam and Muslims" and condemned "the recent incident of desecration of the image of the Holy Prophet Muhammad". Its statement attacked the "use of freedom of expression as a pretext for defaming religions".
    The row had moved from an argument in Denmark through Islamic circles in the Middle East to become political as well. Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Denmark on 26 January. Demonstrations followed across the Middle East. Western governments strove for calm, with statements to the effect that there was a right to publish but a responsibility not to publish.
    In turn this prompted a counter-move by defenders of free speech and the cartoons appeared in some, though relatively few, Western publications. On 31 January, Jyllands-Posten issued the apology it had refused to give earlier.

    By now, the crisis had exposed the fragility of relations between the West and Muslim countries. The publication might have passed without major international trouble if these relations had been calm. At the moment, they are not and in such fertile soil, the seed of conflict grew rapidly.
    One side felt the insults deeply. The other saw the violence as overreaction. And in process, the battle was joined within Islam. In Britain, this process was seen very clearly. The extremist elements made their voices heard first, with small, but fervent protests and placards ("Behead those who insult Islam" etc) that led to calls for police action.
    But they also led moderate elements within the Muslim community to rally their forces and this they did with a demonstration in Trafalgar Square. This struggle for the hearts and minds of Islam may yet prove to be the most significant battle of all, even more important than a confrontation between Western secularism and Islamic belief.

Story from BBC NEWS:

BBC News    March 1, 2006

Writers' statement on cartoons

A group of 12 writers have put their names to a statement in French weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo warning against Islamic "totalitarianism". Here is the text in full:
    After having overcome fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, the world now faces a new global totalitarian threat: Islamism.
    We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all.
    Recent events, prompted by the publication of drawings of Muhammad in European newspapers, have revealed the necessity of the struggle for these universal values.
    This struggle will not be won by arms, but in the ideological field.
    It is not a clash of civilisations nor an antagonism between West and East that we are witnessing, but a global struggle that confronts democrats and theocrats.
    Like all totalitarian ideologies, Islamism is nurtured by fear and frustration.
    Preachers of hatred play on these feelings to build the forces with which they can impose a world where liberty is crushed and inequality reigns.
    But we say this, loud and clear: nothing, not even despair, justifies choosing darkness, totalitarianism and hatred.
    Islamism is a reactionary ideology that kills equality, freedom and secularism wherever it is present.
    Its victory can only lead to a world of injustice and domination: men over women, fundamentalists over others.
    On the contrary, we must ensure access to universal rights for the oppressed or those discriminated against.
    We reject the "cultural relativism" which implies an acceptance that men and women of Muslim culture are deprived of the right to equality, freedom and secularism in the name of the respect for certain cultures and traditions.
    We refuse to renounce our critical spirit out of fear of being accused of "Islamophobia", a wretched concept that confuses criticism of Islam as a religion and stigmatisation of those who believe in it.
    We defend the universality of the freedom of expression, so that a critical spirit can exist in every continent, towards each and every maltreatment and dogma.
    We appeal to democrats and free spirits in every country that our century may be one of light and not dark.

Signed by:

Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Chahla Chafiq
Caroline Fourest
Bernard-Henri Levy
Irshad Manji
Mehdi Mozaffari
Maryam Namazie
Taslima Nasreen
Salman Rushdie
Antoine Sfeir
Philippe Val
Ibn Warraq

Story from :

Published: 2006/03/01

December 21, 2006

The Devoted Student

MORE college students seem to be practicing traditional forms of religion today than at any time in my 30 years of teaching. At first glance, the flourishing of religion on campuses seems to reverse trends long criticized by conservatives under the rubric of “political correctness.” But, in truth, something else is occurring. Once again, right and left have become mirror images of each other; religious correctness is simply the latest version of political correctness. Indeed, it seems the more religious students become, the less willing they are to engage in critical reflection about faith.

The chilling effect of these attitudes was brought home to me two years ago when an administrator at a university where I was then teaching called me into his office. A student had claimed that I had attacked his faith because I had urged him to consider whether Nietzsche’s analysis of religion undermines belief in absolutes. The administrator insisted that I apologize to the student. (I refused.)

My experience was not unique. Today, professors invite harassment or worse by including “unacceptable” books on their syllabuses or by studying religious ideas and practices in ways deemed improper by religiously correct students.

Distinguished scholars at several major universities in the United States have been condemned, even subjected to death threats, for proposing psychological, sociological or anthropological interpretations of religious texts in their classes and published writings. In the most egregious cases, defenders of the faith insist that only true believers are qualified to teach their religious tradition.

At a time when colleges and universities engage in huge capital campaigns and are obsessed with public relations, faculty members can no longer be confident they will remain free to pose the questions that urgently need to be asked.

For years, I have begun my classes by telling students that if they are not more confused and uncertain at the end of the course than they were at the beginning, I will have failed. A growing number of religiously correct students consider this challenge a direct assault on their faith. Yet the task of thinking and teaching, especially in an age of emergent fundamentalisms, is to cultivate a faith in doubt that calls into question every certainty.

Any responsible curriculum for the study of religion in the 21st century must be guided by two basic principles: first, a clear distinction between the study and the practice of religion, and second, an expansive understanding of what religion is and of the manifold roles it plays in life. The aim of critical analysis is not to pass judgment on religious beliefs and practices — though some secular dogmatists wrongly cross that line — but to examine the conditions necessary for their formation and to consider the many functions they serve.

It is also important to explore the similarities and differences between and among various religions. Religious traditions are not fixed and monolithic; they are networks of symbols, myths and rituals, which evolve over time by adapting to changing circumstances. If we fail to appreciate the complexity and diversity within, and among, religious traditions, we will overlook the fact that people from different traditions often share more with one another than they do with many members of their own tradition.

If chauvinistic believers develop deeper analyses of religion, they might begin to see in themselves what they criticize in others. In an era that thrives on both religious and political polarization, this is an important lesson to learn — one that extends well beyond the academy.

Since religion is often most influential where it is least obvious, it is imperative to examine both its manifest and latent dimensions. As defenders of a faith become more reflective about their own beliefs, they begin to understand that religion can serve not only to provide answers that render life more secure but also to prepare them for life’s unavoidable complexities and uncertainties.

Until recently, many influential analysts argued that religion, a vestige of an earlier stage of human development, would wither away as people became more sophisticated and rational. Obviously, things have not turned out that way. Indeed, the 21st century will be dominated by religion in ways that were inconceivable just a few years ago. Religious conflict will be less a matter of struggles between belief and unbelief than of clashes between believers who make room for doubt and those who do not.

The warning signs are clear: unless we establish a genuine dialogue within and among all kinds of belief, ranging from religious fundamentalism to secular dogmatism, the conflicts of the future will probably be even more deadly.

Mark C. Taylor, a religion and humanities professor at Williams College, is the author of “Mystic Bones.”

    February 3, 2007

Iraq's shadow widens Sunni-Shiite split in U.S.
By Neil MacFarquhar

DEARBORN, Mich.     Twice recently, vandals have shattered windows at three mosques and a dozen businesses popular among Shiite Muslims along Warren Avenue, the spine of the Arab community here. Although the police have arrested no one, most in Dearborn's Iraqi Shiite community blame the Sunni Muslims.

"The Shiites were very happy that they killed Saddam, but the Sunnis were in tears," Aqeel Al-Tamimi, 34, an immigrant Iraqi truck driver and a Shiite, said as he ate roasted chicken and flatbread at Al-Akashi restaurant, one of the establishments damaged over the city line in Detroit. "These people look at us like we sold our country to America."

Escalating tensions between Sunnis and Shiites across the Middle East are rippling through some American Muslim communities, and have been blamed for events including vandalism and student confrontations. Political splits between those for and against the American invasion of Iraq fuel some of the animosity, but it is also a fight among Muslims about who represents Islam.

Long before the vandalism in Dearborn and Detroit, feuds had been simmering on some college campuses. Some Shiite students said they had faced repeated discrimination, like being formally barred by the Sunni-dominated Muslim Student Association from leading prayers. At numerous universities, Shiite students have broken away from the association, which has dozens of chapters nationwide, to form their own groups.

"A microcosm of what is happening in Iraq happened in New Jersey because people couldn't put aside their differences," said Sami Elmansoury, a Sunni Muslim and former vice president of the Islamic Society at Rutgers University, where there has been a sharp dispute.

Though the war in Iraq is one crucial cause, some students and experts on sectarianism also attribute the fissure to the significant growth in the Muslim American population over the past few decades.

Before, most major cities had only one mosque and everyone was forced to get along. Now, some Muslim communities are so large that the majority Sunnis and minority Shiites maintain their own mosques, schools and social clubs. Many Muslim students first meet someone from the other branch of their faith at college. The Shiites constitute some 15 percent of the world's more than 1.3 billion Muslims, and are believed to be proportionally represented among America's estimated six million Muslims.

Sectarian tensions mushroomed during the current Muslim month of Muharram. The first 10 days ended on Tuesday with Ashura, the day when Shiites commemorate the death of Saddam, who was the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad and who was killed during the bloody seventh-century disputes over who would rule the faithful, a schism that gave birth to the Sunni and Shiite factions.

The Shiites and the Sunnis part company over who has the right to rule and interpret scripture. Shiites hold that only descendants of Mohammad can be infallible and hence should rule. Sunnis allow a broader group, as long as there is consensus among religious scholars.

Many Shiites mark Ashura with mourning processions that include self-flagellation or rhythmic chest beating, echoing the suffering of the seventh-century Saddam. As several thousand Shiites marched up Park Avenue in Manhattan on Jan. 28 to mark Ashura, the march's organizers handed out a flier describing his killing as "the first major terrorist act." Sunnis often decry Ashura marches as a barbaric, infidel practice.

Last year, a Sunni student at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor sent a screed against Ashura to the Muslim Student Association's e-mail message list. The document had been taken off, one of many Web sites of Islamic teachings that Shiite students said regularly spread hate disguised as religious scholarship.

Azmat Khan, a 21-year-old senior and political science major, said that she, like other Shiites on campus, was sometimes asked whether she was a real Muslim. "To some extent, the minute you identify yourself as a Shiite, it outs you," Khan said. "You feel marginalized."

Yet some Shiite students said they were reluctant to speak up because they felt that Islam was under assault in the United States, so internal tension would only undermine much-needed unity among Muslims. At the same time, the students said, the ideas used by some Sunnis to label Shiites as heretics need to be confronted because they underlie jihadi radicalism.

At the Ann Arbor campus, Shiite students set up a forum for all Muslims to discuss their differences, but no Sunnis who had endorsed the e-mail message about Ashura showed up, and the group eventually disbanded.

Trying to ease tensions, the Muslim Student Association this year invited a prominent Shiite cleric to speak. "I don't want Shiite students to feel alienated," said Nura Sediqe, the president of the Ann Arbor student group. "But the dominant group never sees as much of a problem as the minority."

At the University of Michigan's campus in Dearborn, the Muslim association pushed through rules that effectively banned Shiites from leading collective prayers.

Apart from a greater veneration among Shiites for the Prophet's descendants, there are slight variations in practice. Shiites, for example, pray with their hands at their sides, while Sunnis cross them over their chests. "Most Sunni Muslims can't pray behind a Shiite because if you are praying differently from the way the leader is, then it doesn't work, it's not valid," said Ramy Shabana, the president of the association on the Dearborn campus.

Shiite students at various universities said they faced constant prejudice. Some Sunni students have refused to greet Shiites with "Salamu aleikum," or "Peace be upon you," to slight them.

At Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Salmah Rizvi, a junior who stocked a reading room with Islamic texts, said the Muslim Student Association there told her to remove them because too many were by Shiite authors.

Students have also taken note of attacks on their faith from the broader world through the Internet. One YouTube video showed Catholics bleeding by crucifying themselves and then showed Shiites bleeding through self-flagellation, as the Arabic voiceover suggested that Shiites were more Catholic than Muslim.

Not all campuses have been affected. Some, like Georgetown University and Cornell University, were considered oases of tolerance. At Rutgers University, the tension started last year after 15 to 20 conservative Sunni students began openly mocking Shiites, and considered barring women from leading the student association. "They felt it was time to correct individuals within the organization, cleansing the beliefs of the students," said Elmansoury, who opposed the rift.

Several students involved said the group was heavily influenced by teachings from Saudi Arabia. The puritanical Wahhabi sect there holds that Shiite reverence for the Prophet's family smacks of idolatry.

Shiite advocates believe that that thinking has influenced some mainstream American Muslim organizations like the Islamic Society of North America and the Council on American Islamic Relations, which they said were slow to criticize attacks against Shiites abroad until the violence in Iraq escalated. As a consequence, Shiites founded their own national lobbying organizations.

Both organizations denied that they disregarded Shiite issues. Still, some Muslims said that prejudices had continued. After Saddam Hussein's execution Dec. 30, one Sunni cleric near Dearborn reportedly gave a sermon concluding that the Prophet Mohammad forgave his enemies, so why couldn't certain people in Iraq?

Much of the Middle East tension stems from the sense that Shiite power is growing, led by Iran. The grisly video of Saddam's execution, with his Shiite executioners mocking him, fanned the flames. "As a Shiite, I was taking in this event very differently from the Sunnis," said Shenaaz Janmohamed, a graduate student at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. "In a lot of ways Saddam has become this martyr figure who sort of represents Shiite unruliness."

It is not the first time Shiite-Sunni tensions have spilled over into the West. Britain has experienced periodic outbursts for years. Stabbings and other violence between Sunni and Shiite prisoners in New York state jails prompted a long-running lawsuit by Shiite inmates seeking separate prayer facilities.

Some Muslims worry that the friction might erupt in greater violence in the United States. Others, in both camps, think the tension could prove healthy, forcing American Muslims to start a dialogue about Muslim differences.

Hundred-tenth Congress of the United States of America

Joint Resolution
to commend and support the Assyrian people in their efforts
to bring about safety, reconciliation and well-being in their Iraqi homeland for themselves and
for their Yezidi, Jewish, Shia and Sunny Arab, Kurdish and Turkoman brethren in One God

"Du gleichst dem Geist den Du begreifst"
 (you resemble the spirit which you comprehend)
Johann Wolfgang Goethe, Faust
“Traveller, there is no road,
the road is made by the traveller!”
Antonio Machado
     Whereas it is in the interest of the citizen, the state and the common good to promptly overcome the fury and blinding fog of war by truth, wisdom and eternally valid principles found in one's own roots and in those of friends at home and abroad; and

    Whereas even with the best of intentions, as illustrated by the recurringly violent schisms among the Jewish, Christian and, now again, the Muslim communities, simmering conflicts anywhere can unwittingly and suddenly be brought into the open, spin out of control and jump national borders, without much chance of being contained and eventually resolved on worn-out tracks with only traditional means and methods, thus calling for fresh eyes, open minds and principled reflections on such mostly forgotten but still mutually helpful common roots as can be found notably among the Assyrians, their monotheistic traditions and the Holy Scriptures of the other One God religions; and

    Whereas the Holy Quran says of Idris (Isaiah): "surely he was a truthful man, a prophet" (19.65), and the Old Testament mentions his prophecy as follows (19:23-25):
"In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians. In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land: Whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance."; and

    Whereas Ayatollah Khomeini embraced Persia's ancient monotheistic and other traditions, with Nawroz, the ancient New Year festivities, taking precedence over more recent traditions; and

    Whereas the study of the roots of monotheism, particularly those preceding Muslim, Christian and Jewish traditions, has been welcomed by Al Azhar's Imam Tantaoui"for the sake of sincere worship of God, to follow the good moralities, to spread the kind virtues among people and to declare the spirit of Brotherhood, Tolerance, Freedom and Peace among all the members of human society. Besides that, Al Azhar thanks those who assist in building such kind of institute and preparing it for the good aims and purposes mentioned above"; and

    Whereas the One God religions of the Egyptian, Persian and Assyrian empires have been built on the eternally and universally valid principle of "good thoughts, good words, and good deeds"; and

    Whereas the Assyrian people, now numbering over 3 million persons worldwide, have had an uninterrupted presence in Mesopothamia for over 4000 years; and with some of those deriving their identity, inspirations and aspirations from this obliging history sent their sons into battles on the side of allied troops in the First World War; and who thus also gained recognition and official pledges for autonomy and, in the run-up to the admission, on 3rd October 1932, of the independent Kingdom of Iraq to the League of Nations, if not for statehood then at least for international guarantees on minority and private property protection; and

    Whereas notably the Arab, Assyrian, Kurdish, Turkoman, Yezidi and other ethnic, language or religious communities residing in the Mosul Vilayet (Northern Iraq) were formally granted international guarantees with Iraq's constitutive Declaration of 30 Mai 1932; and

    Whereas Iraq joined the United Nations in 1945 without any changes to those international guarantees, and without diminishing the "obligations of international concern" which Iraq incurred as a condition of its independence,

    Whereas the United Nations General Assembly resolved that it "will itself examine, or will submit to the appropriate organ of the United Nations, any request from the parties that the United Nations should assume the exercise of functions or powers entrusted to the League of Nations by treaties, international conventions, agreements and other instruments having a political character" (Resolution 24 (I), 12 February 1946); and

    Whereas the International Court of Justice, in an Advisory Opinion of June 1950 concerning the analoguous Namibia case, expressed the opinion:
"These [international guarantees and minority and private property protection] obligations represent the very essence of the sacred trust of civilization. Their raison d'?tre and original object remain. Since their fulfilment did not depend on the existence of the League of Nations, they could not be brought to an end merely because this supervisory organ [i.e. the Council of the League of Nations] ceased to exist. Nor could the right of the population to have the Territory administered in accordance with these rules depend thereon."  ( I.C.J. Reports 1950, p.133); and

    Whereas the Representatives of the Mosul Vilayet's constitutive Arab, Assyrian, Kurdish, Turkoman and Yezidi communities, mayors, universities, political parties and main professional associations, by way of their joint Declarations of 1992, reiterated and amplified notably by their Unity Declaration of 31 May 1994 and in line with the above fully valid international guarantees and obligations, called on the powers to "take such measures and give such directions as [they] may deem proper and effective in the circumstances"; and

    Whereas the Representatives of the Mosul Vilayet's Assyrian, Kurdish and Turkoman communities in particular have taken the lead to provide both for effective dispute-settlement, reconciliation, power-sharing and land-registry measures as well as for practical and mutually helpful initiatives designed to avoid religious and other conflicts and to provide for individual security, recovery and well-being; and

    Whereas the Assyrian communities in Iraq and in the Diaspora in America and elsewhere, for the common good of not only their co-religionists in Iraq but also for that of their brethren in One God here and there, have labored hard, competently and with a commendable clearsightedness, vision and determination; as is evidenced, for example, with their Amsterdam Resolution of 27 April 2003, which has been supported by the representatives of all existing Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac associations worldwide, thus:

Assyrian Universal Alliance
Assyrian National Organization
Assyrian Liberation Party (GFA)
Shuraya Party
Assyrian Democratic Party
Bethnahrin Freedom Party
Patriotic Union of Bethnahrin
Assyrian Liberation Movement
Assyrian Patriotic Party
Assyrian-Chaldean-Syriac Union
Dutch Union of Christians of the Middle East
Syriac Assyrian Federation
Syriac League of Lebanon
Babylon - Institute for Assyrian Kultur – Eu
 Atour Assyrian Association of Armenia
Assyrian Federation of Russia
Assyrian Australian National Federation
Assyrian American National Federation
Dutch Assyrian Society
Assyrian Youth Federation of Middle Europe
Assyrian Youth Ferderation of Sweden
Free Women of Bethnahrin (HNHB)
Svenska Kommitten for Assyrier (SKA)
Assyrian-Syriac Union - Germany (UASD)
International Assyrian Congress of Georgia
CaldoAshor Organization Communist Party of Iraq
Iraq Sustainable Democracy Project (ISDP)

    Whereas the House Committee on International Relations has received for consideration a resolution"Expressing concern for the status of the Assyrian people in post-war Iraq" (H. RES. 272, June 12, 2003), specifying "Assyrians should be entitled to freely practice their religion and customs, speak their language, and celebrate their culture in Iraq"; and

     Whereas the signatories of the Amsterdam Resolution, "noting that for Iraq's Assyrians, too, religion and language are so intertwined that to suppress either one will effectively mean the destruction of the Assyrian identity", also "invite the representatives of the Arab, Kurdish, Turkomen and other constitutive parts of Iraq's multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-language society to jointly explore suitable avenues for contributing to the regional stability as well as to the internal and external security, e.g. by creating a Truth Commission for examining and overcoming the effects of Iraq's recent past"; and

    Whereas the Swiss Federal Pact of 1291 laid the foundations for Switzerland's successful culture of genuine respect, cooperation and power-sharing among its constitutive language, religious and political minority and majority communities, for its steadfast rejection of all foreign judges, and for staying out of disputes among foreign powers; all under the heading "In the name of God, the Almighty, amen", and with universally appreciated achievements, such as the watershed meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Chairman Michael Gorbatchev in Geneva which gave rise to the Joint Declaration of the United States Congress of 8 November 1985 to "commend the people and the sovereign confederation of the neutral nation of Switzerland for their contributions to freedom, international peace, and understanding": Now, therefore, be it

    Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress Assembled, That it is the sense of the Congress:

    To commend the Assyrian people and their leaders for raising the awareness of those concerned for the One God and other important roots shared by all Iraqi and their friends at home and abroad, for their willingness to avail their good offices, particularly in the religious domain, for helping to bring about early, effective and lasting reconciliation, recovery and well-being among all Iraqis, and for providing effective leadership towards these universally cherished goals;

    To support the establishment, in the Mosul Vilayet as the core of the ancient Assyrian Empire, of such homesteads, centers and services which will be secure, which may enlighten all of us on the roots of Monotheism, particularly prior to Muslim, Christian and Jewish traditions, which may help all Christian Assyrians, all Sunny and Shia Arabs, Kurds and Turkomans, all Jews, and all Yezidis to recognize and respect each other, and to regain trust among themselves, not least on the solid basis of their One God brethrenship, and which, by giving meaning to existing treaty rights and obligations, may also firmly set these communities on their own road to genuine successful power-sharing, cooperation and fruit-sharing and, as such, again make them a source of stability and inspiration radiating beyond Iraq's fully preserved borders; and

    To call particularly on the governments signatories of the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 (France, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Japan, Romania, Serb-Croate-Slovene Kingdom and Turkey), as well as on the governments of the observer countries Germany, Russia, Switzerland and the United States, for appropriate, determined and immaginative initiatives which are incumbant on the powers that be, such as a follow-up to that 1923 conference, and an Advisory Opinion by the International Court of Justice on the current status of the above international guarantees and obligations; and to invite all governments concerned to desist from any action which be detrimental to the objectives thus pursued.

 (url: ¦ draft 7)

Die Welt  29. Dezember 2007

Koran und Gewalt: Gehört beides zusammen?
Der Terror kommt aus dem Herzen des Islam

Dem wahren Gesicht des Islam begegnet man nicht auf der deutschen Islamkonferenz. Man begegnet ihm in Ländern wie Pakistan. Dieser Islam richtet sich gegen  alle, die nicht nach den Regeln des Koran leben - gegen Demokraten, gegen Atheisten und vor allem gegen Frauen. Und die Welt schaut wie paralysiert zu.

Auch wenn die meisten Muslime es nicht wahrhaben wollen, der Terror kommt aus dem Herzen des Islam, er kommt direkt aus dem Koran. Er richtet sich gegen  alle, die nicht nach den Regeln des Koran leben und handeln, also gegen Demokraten, abendländisch inspirierte Denker und Wissenschaftler, gegen Agnostiker  und Atheisten. Und er richtet sich vor allem gegen Frauen. Er ist Handwerk des männerbündischen Islam, der mit aller Macht verhindern möchte, dass Frauen  gleichberechtigt werden und ihre Jahrhunderte lange Unterjochung ein Ende findet.

Dem wahren Gesicht des Islam begegnet man nicht auf der deutschen Islamkonferenz. Man begegnet ihm in Ländern wie Pakistan. Dieser Islam hat einen Weltkrieg  angefangen. Doch die Welt tut so, als wüsste sie immer noch nichts davon. Für viele Zeitgenossen schlagen weit hinten in der Türkei, die Völker aufeinander  ein. Es gibt in unserer vernetzten Welt aber kein „weit hinten“ mehr. Sondern nur noch ein „draußen vor der Tür“. Der Totalitarismus der Taliban und der  muslimischen Terrorzellen ist wahrscheinlich schlimmer als der Faschismus, denn er ist nicht das Ergebnis eines Zivilisationsprozesses. Er entsteht in einem  Raum, in dem nichts mehr an zivilisatorischen Fortschritt erinnert.

Es wäre die Aufgabe jener Muslime, die in ihrer Religion mehr sehen als einen Entwurf für Barbarei. Sie müssen gegen die Barbaren aus den eigenen Reihen  entschlossen und mit entschiedener Härte vorgehen. Doch sie tun es, wenn überhaupt, dann nur halbherzig. Der Islam habe mit Terror nichts zu tun, meint der  türkische Ministerpräsident Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Andere politische Machthaber überbieten sich nach jedem Terrorakt im Verfassen von Beileidstelegrammen.  Geradezu grotesk ist die Situation in Saudi-Arabien. Das Königreich zittert vor den Terroristen, die es selber in die Welt gesetzt hat.

Die Muslime auf der ganzen Welt stehen heute auf dem Prüfstand. Sie bezahlen für die Versäumnisse vorangegangener Generationen. Der  geistige Verfall und die Unfähigkeit mit der Moderne zu kommunizieren haben zum erbärmlichen Jetztzustand geführt. Die Stunde erfordert ein aufeinander  abgestimmtes Handeln aller vernünftigen Kräfte. Der Terror hat sich global vernetzt. Die Gegenkräfte aber sind träge oder blockieren sich gegenseitig. Der  gesunde Menschenverstand in der islamischen Welt müsste sich gegen den verblendeten Hass der Fanatiker auflehnen. Doch der Hass greift immer mehr auf die  Massen über. Schlimmer noch: mancher illegitime Herrscher verbündet sich mit dem Hass, um seinen Thron zu sichern. Dabei üben sich die meisten Muslime  weiterhin nur in Rhetorik. Der entscheidenden Frage, ob aus ihrer Religion eine Zivilisation erwachsen kann, weichen sie aus.

Die freie Welt ist paralysiert
Dieses Verhalten hat sicherlich psychologische Ursachen. Man fühlt sich dem Westen gegenüber unterlegen, gedemütigt und verraten. Doch die politischen  Konsequenzen dieser Psychose sind verheerend. Sie spielen jenen Kräften in die Hände, die den Terror anfachen, um das Chaos in der islamischen Welt zu  vergrößern. Die Gewaltspirale spielt jenen Kräften in die Hände, die den Terror anfachen und verhindert vor allem eines: die Etablierung demokratischer,  rechtstaatlicher Systeme. Armut und Korruption dagegen finden optimale Bedingungen um zu Gedeihen. Ein Teufelskreis. Dieser Teufelskreis müsste gebrochen  werden, durch das Engagement der freien Welt und durch militärisches Engagement, weil es anders nicht geht. Wer in Afghanistan die Taliban bekämpft, kann  nicht so tun, als ginge ihn Pakistan nichts an. Die Ermordung von Benazir Bhutto hatte sich angekündigt. Der Fall des palästinensischen Gazastreifens in die Hände der Hamasterroristen war ebenfalls vorhersehbar.

Die freie Welt aber schaut wie paralysiert zu. Viel Häme gab und gibt es in Europa, was die amerikanische Irak-Politik anbelangt. Wenn es um Kritik geht, können die Europäer von niemandem übertroffen werden. An eigenen Ideen und Politikkonzepten aber fehlt es.  Europäische Politik gegenüber dem muslimischen Terror erschöpft sich in der Demontage jeglichen effektiven Handelns. Verhandeln wollen einige, mit Hamas, mit  Taliban. Atomreaktoren an Gaddafi, dem saudischen König wird der rote Teppich ausgerollt. Schließlich geht es um Petrodollars. Der Westen merkt gar nicht,  wie sehr er sich selbst auflöst. Die Islamterroristen erringen einen Sieg nach der anderen. Benazir Bhutto war nicht das letzte Opfer einer verfehlten  Appeasement -Politik gegenüber dem radikalen Islam. Der Berliner Autor Zafer Senocak, 1961 in der Türkei geboren, lebt seit 1970 in Deutschland. Zuletzt  erschien von ihm: „Das Land hinter den Buchstaben. Deutschland und der Islam im Umbruch“, Babel-Verlag, München 2006.

Kommt der Terror wirklich aus dem Herzen des Islam?
  Ja, der Autor hat völlig recht
  Nein, die These ist Unsinn
  Man sollte das differenzierter sehen

  abstimmen    Ergebnis
 85%  Ja, der Autor hat völlig recht
 8%  Nein, die These ist Unsinn
 7%  Man sollte das differenzierter sehen
Aktuell: 459 Stimmen

Weiterführende links
Auf Selbstmordattentäter warten keine Jungfrauen
 "Jeder Mensch muss jederzeit mit dem Tod rechnen"
 So lässt die Bundesregierung Terroristen laufen
 Die ultimative Smart Bomb der Terroristen
 Auf der Suche nach dem wahren Feind
 Was treibt Osama bin Laden an?
 Wie die Hisbollah Propaganda macht
 Warum Abitur nicht vor Terrorismus schützt
 Das verlorene Paradies von al-Qaida
 Töten im Auftrag der "Partei Gottes"
 Wie wird ein Mensch zum Heiligen Krieger?
 Wenn Gefängnisse zu Terrorcamps werden
 Muslimbrüder zerstören Deutschland von innen
 Plötzlicher Zuwachs bei den deutschen Islamisten

Khaleej Times (UEA)    11 June 2009

Confront the Enemy Within
Aijaz Zaka Syed (View from Dubai)

A strange thing happened this week. Hundreds of villagers in Pakistan’s Northwest turned on Taleban fighters after a suicide attack on a mosque killed more than 40 worshippers during the Friday prayers.

As Pakistani army cracks down on the militants in an offensive that has also killed hundreds of innocent people and displaced nearly two million, ordinary people have launched their own war on the forces that have brought so much misery and destruction to their ?beautiful land.
After the mosque attack in Upper Dir district, tribesmen attacked the battle-hardened Taleban in their own strongholds, forcing them to run for their lives.  The villagers have also formed a militia to deal with the menace that has destroyed the region often compared to Switzerland.   The tribesmen are helping the military and civilian authorities take control of the area, as they rally around the slogan, Pakistan jaag gaya hai! (Pakistan has woken up!).

What’s going on? Clearly, Taleban chickens have come home to roost.  Tide is finally turning against the militants in their own backyard. Ordinary people are not willing to suffer and die in silence anymore, as the Taleban and security forces fight for Pakistan’s soul.   This is perhaps the most critical turning point in this most unfortunate war.  Too much blood has been shed. Far too many innocent people have been killed with impunity on both sides.

While we in the Muslim world, including yours truly, have often and justifiably taken the US and its allies to task for their crimes against innocent civilians, we haven’t been as brutally honest when it comes to the fanatics who claim to speak on our behalf. Maybe because we saw them as the creation of the decades of injustice and exploitation by big powers.    Our failure to condemn the terrorists in stronger terms and distance ourselves from their indefensible actions has sent a wrong message to both the extremists as well as the rest of the world.

Of course, we have from time to time insisted that extremist forces like Al Qaeda do not represent Muslims and their actions have nothing to do with Islam. I did some rather strong pieces after the 2005 terror attacks on London and the despicable strikes on Mumbai’s landmarks in November last year.

Of late many others, far wiser and more learned, have been trying their best to drive home the message that violence targeting innocents violates the spirit of tolerance and fundamental teachings of Islam.

From Shaikh Syed Mohammd al Tantawi, the venerated grand mufti and rector of Cairo’s al Azhar University to Shaikh Sudais, Imam of Grand Mosque in Makkah, some of the top religious authorities have condemned extremist violence, especially suicide bombing, as un-Islamic and inhuman.

This year’s Haj sermon repeatedly underscored this message, with three million pilgrims praying for world peace and reconciliation. Unfortunately, these voices of sanity and reason have seldom reached the world at large, perhaps because they were mostly delivered in Arabic.

Dr Tariq Ramadan, grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan al Banna and one of the most respected Islamic scholars of our time, has repeatedly written and spoken on the issue in the Western media.  But the massive challenges we face on this front can hardly be confronted by individual voices and solitary efforts here and there.

What we need is a global movement to present the true face of Islam before the world.  This would be possible only when Muslims, wherever they are and whoever they be, speak out against this nihilistic celebration of death and violence and despicable targeting of innocent people in their name.

We have to tell the world in strongest possible terms that this is not what Islam is all about. We have to demonstrate through our actions that this is not us. This is not what our faith teaches us. We are taught to respect and cherish life, not reject and annihilate it.

What Pakistani tribesmen did to take on the Taleban menace is perhaps the most cheerful news to come out of that country in many years.  The South Asian nation was supposed to have been a model Muslim society and state.  And, look, what a total, mindboggling mess they have made of Quaid-e-Azam’s dream!  It has emerged as a symbol of all that is wrong with the Muslim societies today: Corruption, abuse of power, violence and extremist chaos of all sorts.

Of course, much of this could be blamed on the mess next door and constant interference and manipulation by big powers.  But who gives them an opportunity to fish in troubled waters?  In the end, every one of us is responsible for what happens in our part of the world.  Besides, how long will the Muslims continue to blame the rest of the world for their woes?

True, Bush’s war visited a catastrophe on the Muslim world, adding to its myriad problems.  More than a million innocents have been killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and more are dying as you read this. But what the so-called champions of the believers have unleashed on the Muslim world is not in any way less damaging. In fact, the extremists in their midst are greater enemies of Muslims, because they have sought to hit at the very soul of a faith that came as a blessing for all mankind.  With friends like these, do we need any more enemies?

By targeting innocent bystanders, unsuspecting women and children and people quietly praying in mosques or going about their business and by blowing up schools and hospitals and banning girls’ education, the extremists are distorting the liberating teachings of an infinitely compassionate and humane faith. As US President Obama quoted in his Cairo speech, the Quran warns that taking one innocent life is like killing all mankind and saving one life is akin to saving all humankind.  There cannot be a greater calumny against such a faith than killing innocents in its name.

The extremist actions are as lethal to Islam and Muslims as the Western coalition’s bombing of innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The sooner this reality dawns on the believers the better for everyone. Before 9/11, Islam was the fastest growing religion in the world including the US.  Today, if we are perhaps the most hated and reviled community on earth, you know whom to blame!

All of us should be happy that those poor, semi-literate tribesmen in Swat have stood up to fight back the terrorists.  They have shown that ordinary Muslims are sick and tired of this endless bloodshed by the Western forces as well as by their own.  This is what we badly need. We need more and more people across the Islamic world to follow in the footsteps of Swat tribesmen.

In the end, if the Muslims want to clear this mess, they will have to help themselves. No angels will descend from the heavens to rescue and set things right for them.  No amount of verbal entreaties and sanctimonious lectures insisting this is not what Islam is all about will do.  We need ?action now.

The Pakistanis, Afghans and Muslims everywhere will have to do more to prove that what a tiny, lunatic fringe is doing in the name of Islam is nothing but a grave injustice to the great faith.  It’s time to confront the enemy within.

Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of ?Khaleej Times and can be reached at Views expressed here are his own

August 31, 2009

Hints of Pluralism in Egyptian Religious Debates

CAIRO — Writing in his weekly newspaper column, Gamal al-Banna said recently that God had created humans as fallible and therefore destined to sin. So even a scantily clad belly dancer, or for that matter a nude dancer, should not automatically be condemned as immoral, but should be judged by weighing that person’s sins against her good deeds.

Gamal al-Banna, 88, is a religious writer in Cairo. He has found a broader audience on the Internet for his liberal Islamic views. Thomas Hartwell for The New York Times

This view is provocative in Egypt’s conservative society, where many argue that such thinking goes against the hard and fast rules of divine law. Within two hours of the article’s posting last week on the Web site of Al Masry al Youm, readers had left more than 30 comments — none supporting his position.

“So a woman can dance at night and pray in the morning; this is duplicity and ignorance,” wrote a reader who identified himself as Hany. “Fear God and do not preach impiety.”

Still, Mr. Banna was pleased because at least his ideas were being circulated. Mr. Banna, who is 88 years old and is the brother of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been preaching liberal Islamic views for decades.

But only now, he said, does he have the chance to be heard widely. It is not that a majority agrees with him; it is not that the tide is shifting to a more moderate interpretative view of religion; it is just that the rise of relatively independent media — like privately owned newspapers, satellite television channels and the Internet — has given him access to a broader audience.

And there is another reason: The most radical and least flexible thinkers no longer intimidate everyone with differing views into silence.

“Everything has its time,” Mr. Banna said, seated in his dusty office crammed with bookshelves that stretch from floor to ceiling.

It is a testament to how little public debate there has been over the value of pluralism, or more specifically of the role of religion in society, that so many see the mere chance to provoke as progress. But now, more than any time in many years, there are people willing to risk challenging conventional thinking, said writers, academics and religious thinkers like Mr. Banna.

“There is a relative development, enough to at least be able to present a different opinion that confronts the oppressive religious current which prevails in politics and on the street, and which has made the state try to outbid the religious groups,” said Gamal Asaad, a former member of Parliament and a Coptic intellectual.

It is difficult to say exactly why this is happening. Some of those who have begun to speak up say they are acting in spite of — and not with the encouragement of — the Egyptian government. Political analysts said that the government still tried to compete with the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned but tolerated Islamic movement, to present itself as the guardian of conservative Muslim values.

Several factors have changed the public debate and erased some of the fear associated with challenging conventional orthodoxy, political analysts, academics and social activists said. These include a disillusionment and growing rejection of the more radical Islamic ideology associated with Al Qaeda, they said. At the same time, President Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world has quieted the accusation that the United States is at war with Islam, making it easier for liberal Muslims to promote more Western secular ideas, Egyptian political analysts said.

“It is not a strategic or transformational change, but it is a relative change,” said Mr. Asaad, who emphasized that the dynamic was for Christians as well as Muslims in Egypt. “And the civil forces can unite to capitalize on this atmosphere and invest in it to raise it to become a more general atmosphere.”

Two events this summer highlighted the new willingness of a minority to confront the majority — and the overwhelming response by a still conservative community.

In June, a writers’ committee affiliated with the Ministry of Culture gave a prestigious award to Sayyid al-Qimni, a sharp critic of Islamic fundamentalism who in 2005 stopped writing, disavowed his own work and moved after receiving death threats for his writing.

Muhammad Salmawy, a committee member and president of the Egyptian Writers’ Union, said he thought Mr. Qimni had been honored in part because “he represents the secular direction and discusses religion on an objective basis and is against the religious current.”

What happened next followed a predictable path, but then veered. Islamic fundamentalists like Sheik Youssef al-Badri asked the government to revoke the award and moved to file a lawsuit against Mr. Qimni and the government.

“Salman Rushdie was less of a disaster than Sayyid al-Qimni,” said Mr. Badri in a television appearance on O TV, an independent Egyptian satellite channel. “Salman Rushdie, everyone attacked him because he destroyed Islam overtly. But Sayyid al-Qimni is attacking Islam and destroying it tactfully, tastefully and politely.”

But this time Mr. Qimni did not go into hiding. He appeared on the television show, sitting beside Sheik Badri as he defended himself.

A second development involved a religious minority, Bahais, who face discrimination in Egypt, where the only legally recognized faiths are Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Nine years ago the state stopped issuing identification records to Bahais unless they agreed to characterize themselves as members of one of the three recognized faiths. The documents are essential for access to all government services.

An independent group, The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, won a court order on behalf of the Bahais that forced the government to issue records leaving the religious identification blank. The first cards were issued this month. While the decision was aimed specifically at solving the problem faced by the Bahai community, the case tapped into the evolving debate, said the group’s executive director, Hossam Bahgat.

“It is an unprecedented move to recognize that one can be Egyptian and not adhere to one of these three religions,” Mr. Bahgat said. Still, he remains less than optimistic; most of the public reaction to the Bahais’ legal victory was negative, Mr. Bahgat said.

“It is known that you are apostates,” read one of many comments posted on Al Youm Al Sabei, an online newspaper.

But there has been at least a hint of diversity and debate in response to Mr. Banna’s remarks on belly dancers. Hours after they were posted, some readers began, however tentatively, to come to his defense. “Take it easy on the man,” an anonymous post said. “He did not issue a religious edict saying belly dancing is condoned. But he is saying that a person’s deeds will be weighed out because God is just. Is anything wrong with that?”

Mona el-Naggar contributed reporting.

Financial Times    November 14, 2009

Does science need religion?
By Harry Eyres (emphasis added)

Galileo Galilei appeared before the Roman Inquisition in 1632

Humility, genuine humility, is always a good place to start from. But it is not the disposition that most of us probably associate with the world’s major organised religions. Individual religious persons may be humble but the churches, orders, mosques and so on tend to project pomp and certainty (otherwise they are accused of faithlessness). I was brought up within a peculiar strain of English Roman Catholicism which, in those days, combined stupendous social snobbery with scientific ignorance and dismissiveness of all who questioned its authoritarian precepts.

You could forgive some of this on the grounds of the centuries of persecution, but I have always struggled to forgive all of it. I was so alarmed at the likely fate of my ungodly, notionally Protestant but generally hard-drinking, rugby-playing grandfather that when he died I spent hours on All Souls’ Day in the school chapel saying prayers (so-called “indulgences”) to get him off years of punishment in purgatory.

We little Catholic boys were encouraged to believe that Catholics were better – that is holier – than Protestants, not to mention agnostics, atheists, Muslims or Methodists (socially beyond the pale). Did this mean that my Catholic mother was better than my Protestant/atheist father? Reproductively, it seemed that Catholics were trumps; if we had children, they would automatically become Catholics, whatever religion or lack of religion their mother professed.

You can imagine then that I came to the New Orleans Symposium on religion, science and the environment armed with a good deal of scepticism. Would the splendidly dressed religious eminences acknowledge the role that the dogmatism and intellectual blinkeredness of their religious traditions had played in creating the ecological crisis, or in generally messing up the world?

Hearteningly, there were signs that they might. Metropolitan John of Pergamon (of the Orthodox church) and one of the world’s most distinguished theologians, set the tone in his background paper. He fingered parts of the Christian tradition, notably neo-Platonism and Gnosticism, for their disdain of the body and nature, and the Calvinist ethos of capitalism, which views the world simply as raw material for exploitation. Heavy and apparently abstruse stuff, but not so abstruse when you looked out of the window and saw the polluted Mississippi flow by, carrying its load of pesticide and fertiliser effluent into the Gulf of Mexico to create the world’s largest marine “dead zone”.

Environmentalists have long berated Christians for following the Biblical injunction to dominate and populate the world with scant regard for the intrinsic value, balance and order of nature. But here on the banks of Old Man River we heard a message from the Pope stressing that “nature is prior to us” and contains its own “grammar which sets forth ends and criteria for its wise use, not its reckless exploitation”. Even more amazingly, we were addressed by the wise and sensible Rev Jim Ball of the Environmental Evangelical Network, proving that not all north American Evangelicals believe in hastening the end of the world.

In the past, and in my own past, religions got a bad name among the open-minded by fearing and opposing science and scholarship. This fear and opposition ranged from the heavy-duty persecutions of the Inquisition, burning Giordano Bruno and forbidding Galileo to disseminate his world-changing observations of planetary movements, to the silliness of those who taught me that the first five books of the Old Testament were dictated directly by God to Moses.

In New Orleans I saw religious scholars and leaders reaching out in genuine humility to other intellectual traditions; not being afraid of science, but actively embracing and using it. Of course you can see that religion needs science; it is no longer possible to deny certain kinds of geophysical and biological evidence without cutting yourself off from the community of the intellectually curious. But the more interesting question is whether science needs religion.

“Science”, according to the French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “manipulates things and gives up living in them.” Or you could say that science illuminates many things but cannot tell us what they mean to us, in human terms.

What religion can bring to science, and the pressing task of planet-healing, is not the arrogant certitude that brooks no argument but passion and community.

Abused and dangerous words these may be. Passions can be whipped up by obscurantists and community too easily becomes a meaningless token. But the Latin origins of the word “passion” take us to suffering and to the cognate word “compassion”.

Science gives us repeated and intensifying warnings that the earth, our home, is in bad shape, and that we are causing potentially disastrous disruption to the great planetary systems of weather and cleansing and renewal. But it leaves us in the lurch, with the bad news. Religion and religious art, at their best, can offer communal means both of mourning our inescapable losses (think of the Bach Passions) and of celebration. Intellectual proofs on their own have never been enough to change human behaviour; we need emotional reconnection.    More columns at

Financial Times    November 14, 2009

Twists of history
A provocative look at the origins of Jewish identity
Shlomo Sand "The Invention of the Jewish People", Reviewed by Simon Schama

Ethiopian and Orthodox Jews at the western wall

From its splashy title on, Shlomo Sand means his book to be provocative, which it certainly is, though possibly not in the way he intends. Its real challenge to the reader is separating the presentation of truisms as though they were revolutionary illuminations and the relentless beating on doors that have long been open, from passages of intellectual sharpness and learning.

Sand’s self-dramatising attack in The Invention of the Jewish People is directed against those who assume, uncritically, that all Jews are descended lineally from the single racial stock of ancient Hebrews – a position no one who has thought for a minute about the history of the Jews would dream of taking.

Sand’s sense of grievance against the myths on which the exclusively Jewish right to full Israeli immigration is grounded is one that many who want to see a more liberal and secular Israel wholeheartedly share. But his book prosecutes these aims through a sensationalist assertion that somehow, the truth about Jewish culture and history, especially the “exile which never happened”, has been suppressed in the interests of racially pure demands of Zionist orthodoxy. This, to put it mildly, is a stretch.

To take just one instance: the history of the Khazars, the central Asian kingdom which, around the 10th century, converted to Judaism and which Sand thinks has been excised from the master narrative because of the embarrassing implication that present day Jews might be descended from Turkic converts. But the Khazars were known by every Jewish girl and boy in my neck of Golders Greenery and further flung parts of the diaspora, and celebrated rather than evaded.

For Sand, a professor of history at Tel Aviv University, the antidote to a national identity based on what he argues are fables, is to shed the fancy that there is any such thing as a shared Jewish identity independent of religious practice.

By this narrow reckoning you are either devoutly orthodox or not Jewish at all if you imagine yourself to have any connection to Israel past or present. Sand confuses ethnicity – which, in the case of the Jews, is indeed impure, heterogeneous and much travelled – with an identity that evolves as the product of common historical experience. Rabbinical arguments may rest on an imaginary definition of ethnicity, but the legitimacy of a Jewish homeland does not. Ultimately, Israel’s case is the remedy for atrocity, about which Sand has nothing to say.

His book is a trip (and I use the word advisedly) through a landscape of illusions which Sand aims to explode, leaving the scenery freer for a Middle East built, as he supposes, from the hard bricks of truth. This turns out to require not just the abandonment of simplicities about race, but any shared sense of historical identity at all on the part of the Jews that might be taken as the basis of common allegiance, which is an another matter entirely. En route, he marches the reader through a mind-numbingly laborious examination of the construction of national identities from imagined rather than actual histories. A whole literature has been devoted to the assumption that nations are invariably built from such stories, in which, nonetheless, grains of historical truth are usually embedded. The important issue, however, is whether the meta-narrative that arises from those stories is inclusive enough to accommodate the tales of those whose experience is something other than racially and culturally homogeneous.

Sand’s point is that a version of Jewish national identity was written in the 19th and early 20th centuries – by historians such as Heinrich Graetz and Simon Dubnow – which took as its central premise a forced dispersion of the Jews from Israel. But, he argues, there actually was no mass forced “exile” so there can be no legitimate “return”. This is the take-away headline that makes this book so contentious. It is undoubtedly right to say that a popular version of this idea of the exile survives in most fundamentalist accounts of Jewish history. It may well be the image that many Jewish children still have. But it is a long time since any serious historian argued that following the destruction of the Second Temple, the Romans emptied Judea. But what the Romans did do, following the Jewish revolt of AD66-70 and even more exhaustively after a second rebellion in AD135, was every bit as traumatic: an act of cultural and social annihilation – mass slaughter and widespread enslavement. But there was also the mass extirpation of everything that constituted Jewish religion and culture; the renaming of Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina, the obliteration of the Temple, the prohibition on rituals and prayers. Sand asserts, correctly, that an unknowable number of Jews remained in what the Romans called Palestina. The multitudes of Jews in Rome had already gone there, not as a response to disaster but because they wanted to and were busy proselytising.

All this is true and has been acknowledged. But Sand appears not to notice that it undercuts his argument about the non-connection of Jews with the land of Palestine rather than supporting it. Put together, the possibility of leading a Jewish religious life outside Palestine, with the continued endurance of Jews in the country itself and you have the makings of that group yearning – the Israel-fixation, which Sand dismisses as imaginary. What the Romans did to the defeated Jews was dispossession, the severity of which was enough to account for the homeland-longing by both the population still there and those abroad. That yearning first appears, not in Zionist history, but in the writings of medieval Jewish teachers, and never goes away.

There are many such twists of historical logic and strategic evasions of modern research in this book. To list them all would try your patience. Scholarly consensus now places the creation of the earliest books of the Old Testament not in the 6th or 5th centuries BC, but in the 9th century BC, home-grown in a Judah which had been transformed, as Israel Finkelstein has written “into a developed nation state”. The post-David kingdom of the 10th century BC may have been a pastoral warrior citadel, but the most recent excavations by Amihai Mazar have revealed it capable of building monumental structures. And the Judah in which the bible was first forged, its population swollen with refugees from the hard-pressed northern kingdom of Israel, was a culture that needed a text to bring together territory, polity and religion. It was a moment of profound cultural genesis. And don’t get me started again on the Khazars. No one doubts the significance of their conversion, but to argue that the entirety of Ashkenazi Jewry must necessarily descend from them is to make precisely the uncritical claim of uninterrupted genealogy Sand is eager to dispute in the wider context of Jewish history.

His assumption that the Jewish state is an oxymoron built on illusions of homogeneity is belied by the country’s striking heterogeneity. How else to explain the acceptance of the Beta Israel Ethiopian Jews or the Bene Israel Indians as Israeli Jews? Certainly that acceptance has never been without obstacles, and egregious discrimination has been shown by those who think they know what “real jews” should look like. Sand is right in believing that a more inclusive and elastic version of entry and exit points into the Jewish experience should encourage a debate in Israel of who is and who is not a “true” Jew. I could hardly agree more, and for precisely the reason that Sand seems not to himself embrace: namely that the legitimacy of Israel both within and without the country depends not on some spurious notion of religious much less racial purity, but on the case made by a community of suffering, not just during the Holocaust but over centuries of expulsions and persecutions. Unlike the Roman deportations, these were not mythical.

Sand would counter that such a refuge for the victims could have been in China, or on the moon, for all that Palestine had to do with the Jews. But since his book fails to sever the remembered connection between the ancestral land and Jewish experience ever since, it seems a bit much to ask Jews to do their bit for the sorely needed peace of the region by replacing an ethnic mythology with an act of equally arbitrary cultural oblivion.

Simon Schama is an FT contributing editor

Hürriyet Daily News    September 22 2011 18:24 GMT+2

The Islamic case for a secular state

When Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan promoted the secular state last week during his trip to Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, many were surprised. Especially ultra-secularist Turks, who are used to calling Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, or AKP, “Islamist,” could not believe their eyes.

I was much less surprised, though. Because I knew that what I call “the AKP’s transition from Islamism to post-Islamism” was real. I even tried to explain its reasoning in a series of pieces titled “The Islamic case for a secular state,” which appeared in this very column some four years ago.

Here is a long excerpt from one of those pieces:

    “In June 1998, a very significant meeting took place at a hotel near Abant, which is a beautiful lake in the east of Istanbul. The participants included some of the most respected theologians and Islamic intellectuals in Turkey. For three days, the group of nearly 50 scholars discussed the concept of a secular state and its compatibility with Islam. At the end, they all agreed to sign a common declaration that drew some important conclusions
    “The first of these was the rejection of theocracy. The participants emphasized the importance of individual reasoning in Islam and declared, ‘No one can claim a divine authority in the interpretation of religion.’ This was a clear rejection of the theocratic political doctrines — such as the one established in the neighboring Iran — which granted a divinely ordained right to a specific group of people for guiding society.
    “The second important conclusion of the Abant participants was the harmony of the principles of divine sovereignty and popular sovereignty. (Some contemporary Islamists reject democracy by assuming a contradiction between the two.) ‘Of course God is sovereign over the whole universe,’ the participants said. ‘But this is a metaphysical concept that does not contradict with the idea of popular sovereignty, which allows societies to rule their own affairs.’
    “The third argument in the declaration was the acceptance of a secular state that would ‘stand at the same distance from all beliefs and philosophies.’ The state, the participants noted, ‘is an institution that does not have any metaphysical or political sacredness,’ and Islam has no problem with such political entities as far as they value rights and freedoms.
    “In sum, the ‘Abant Platform,’ as it became known, declared the compatibility of Islam with a secular state based on liberal democracy. This was a milestone not only because the participants included top Islamic thinkers, but also because the organizers were members of Turkey’s strongest Islamic community, the Fethullah Gülen movement.”

In the following years, some of the participants of this Abant Platform became ministers in AKP Cabinets, and the ideas they articulated guided the AKP on matters of religion and politics. (In that sense, both the Gülen Movement, and the Said Nursi tradition that it sprang from, deserve credit for helping create the AKP.)

So, you might ask, what was the big war over secularism that haunted Turkey in the past decade?

Well, it was a war between those wanted a secular state and those who wanted to preserve the secularist one, which was not based on neutrality but on hostility toward religion. In the same series of pieces on Islam and the secular state, I noted:

    “Today the big question in Turkey is whether our republic will be a secular or a secularist one. Our homegrown secularists have never gone as far and radical as Mao, but some of them share a similar hostility toward religion. And they have every right to do so as far as they accept to be unprivileged players in civil society. But they don’t have the right to dominate the state and use the money of the religious taxpayers in order to offend and suppress their beliefs.”

Today, Turkey is more secular but less secularist. And that is why it is making more sense to Arabs and other Muslims.

* For all writings of Mustafa Akyol, including his recent book, “Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty,” visit his blog at On Twitter, follow him at @AkyolinEnglish.

Guest - Zubair Ahmad    2011-09-22 16:02:09
   Every nation has some different characteristics of their democratic system and seculaism.Muslim countries had been under secular facist dictators or islamic kingdoms.It will take time to emerge Islamic Democracies Or Islamic Secularism or Liberalism

Guest - Aaron Campbell    2011-09-22 09:55:15
   Secularism evolves from religion. its not just the absence of religion like people think. and its always something different, depending on what religious background it emerges from. each place has its own secularism that reflects its mix of religions

Guest - Oz_man    2011-09-21 21:20:34
   Mr Akyol on the money once again. However what Muslims do call for is a clear separation of religion and state. This should be backed up by a capatalist system where the state shouldn't fund the wages of Imams but should be self sufficient.

Guest - itstime    2011-09-21 19:15:50
   Erdogan once said Secularism and Islam are polar opposites and cannot co-exist. Is it any surprise that secular Turks don't believe him.

Guest - Kahan    2011-09-21 19:09:51
   In India, a multi-religious country, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians practice their own religions, one religion not interfering with other religions. Of course, nothing is perfect - there are deviations. It can be a good model.

Guest - Yabanci    2011-09-21 18:22:23
   Erdogan and AKP will never support the introduction to Sharia. Because, Sharia will encourage the extreme Islamists to demand more and endanger the lives of Erdogan and his close associates. AKP can only survive under the protection of secularism.

Guest - ChrisB    2011-09-21 18:08:23
   @Babadog.. the sciences of chemistry, biology, psychology, sociology, philosophy are based in fact. (in order of our understanding) Religion is based on INDIVIDUAL beliefs/faith.. Secularism is the SEPARATION of fact and faith.. facts apply to ALL!

Guest - Nova    2011-09-21 13:58:04
   Secularism does not mean the absence of religion. England is a country which has the Chruch of England as the official state church, with Bishops serving a unelected members of the House of Lords, yet all the state institutions are secular!

Guest - Gotham    2011-09-21 13:28:52
   Secularism is a concept denoting the absence of religious involvement in government affairs as well as absence of government involvement in religious affairs.In Turkey the involvements of the both parties exist.Where does Turkish /AKP secularism fit?

Guest - Murat    2011-09-21 13:24:41
   I think the definition of secularism by the government would indicate that most all governments are secular. Can you really say you have a secular government when a branch of the government is the religious directorate?

Guest - salih    2011-09-21 11:48:46
   Just because the Caliph says Secular, does not mean Secular! He also says freedom of speech, democracy, or advanced democracy! He said "zero problems with neighbours", and "there is no kurdish problem", How should his words be listened to or trusted?

Guest - LS    2011-09-21 10:47:50
   Actions speak louder than words; extreme censorship, jailed journalists, jailed professors, amending policies on headscarves/quran courses, Islamicizing school syllabus', etc. AKP is not working towards a secular state at all.

Guest - erol    2011-09-21 10:09:19
   Mr Akyol, please explain 2 points: Why does Turkey have a minister for religious affairs (i.e. for Muslims only), and why is Turkey a signatory of the Cairo Human Rights Declaration which states that laws ought to agree with Sharia? Equal distance??

Guest - Ayegba S.Ayegba    2011-09-21 07:42:28
   Mr Akyol,Turkey is still maintaining her secularity outlook.The draw back she experiencing now is the vocal stand points the AKP have adopted of late. Mr Erdogan' unrealistic conditions to Israel ought to be modurated.

Guest - Allen    2011-09-21 07:24:13
   The only reason that Turkey "makes sense" to Muslims is his support for Islamist terrorists and rhetoric against Israel. Except that, Erdogan cannot offer them any other merchandise, especially secularism and democracy! They just don't buy it!

Guest - babadog    2011-09-21 04:29:48
   religion is another way to explain truth and existence just like logic and science is.Therefore we must allow religion to flourish if it has to just like we allow science and technology to.A society wher all ideas are expressed freely is our desire.

Guest - babadog    2011-09-21 04:26:03
   I think religion is a very personal matter and you either embrace it or reject it,but what you must not ever do is to enshrine it with state control or manipulation as Turkiye has done and the UK and USA have never done.Rekigion must be free.

Guest - Boncuk    2011-09-21 04:01:01
   Let's get real. PM Erdogan advocates for Turkish mothers to stay home and raise at least three children. Cover your head and obey your husband. What kind of secularism is that?

Guest - Baris    2011-09-21 02:31:24
   Bit misleading. Big war over secularism also involved those who wanted sharia, i.e. Menemen Incident and Turkish Hizbullah. They exist even today. Tr is making more sense to the Arabs mainly because of the "One Minute" saga and the economy.

Guest - angryyabanci    2011-09-21 01:35:23
   If by "Said Nursi tradition", you are referring to subversion and dissimulation, you are correct, as the Gulen movement have adopted those tactics to infiltrate the Turkish state.

Guest - emre    2011-09-21 01:13:07
   Your article is based on the false premise that there are people called "secularists", that they dominate the state, and need to be replaced by "secular Muslims", or whatever the latest buzzword is. Do, say, France and Germany have this problem? Yes?

Guest - Laur    2011-09-21 00:31:41
   Great opinion, what can I say...then, looked down on other news about the parlament banning some gay sites to simply invalidate all your column.

Schweizer Monat    November 2012

Wenn die Sonne um die Erde kreist
Von Florian Rittmeyer, Michael Wiederstein, Pervez Hoodbhoy

Was passiert, wenn Iran fähig ist, Atomwaffen herzustellen? Was folgt auf den «arabischen Frühling»? ?Der pakistanische Nuklearphysiker Pervez Hoodbhoy stellt sich grosse(n) Fragen. Die wichtigste betrifft über 1,5 Milliarden Menschen: Wie kam es so weit, dass Islam und Wissenschaft getrennte Wege gingen?
Herr Hoodbhoy, Sie sind Nuklearphysiker, Menschenrechtler – und leben in Pakistan. Diese Kombination lässt aufhorchen.
Stimmt: für westliche Ohren klingt das sonderbar.

Pakistan ist die erste islamische Republik der Erde, besitzt Atomwaffen und ist im Westen dafür bekannt, Zufluchtsort für Terroristen zu sein. Kurz und gut: der Menschenrechtler, der dort an einer staatlichen Universität die Nutzung der Kernenergie erforscht, ist auf den ersten Blick suspekt.
Das kann ich verstehen. (lacht) Wir reden also über Religion und Wissenschaft?

Richtig. Und da zeigen sich direkt die nächsten Paradoxien: Die islamischen Gesellschaften zwischen dem 9. und 13. Jahrhundert waren weltweit führend in der wissenschaftlichen Forschung und Entwicklung. Heute nehmen wir in derselben Kultur eine eklatante Kluft zwischen Fortschritt und Tradition wahr.
Und sie existiert. Sie ist grösser als je zuvor. Wollen Sie dafür eine kurze oder eine lange Erklärung?

Grosses Thema: wir bitten um die ausführliche Version.
Okay. Der Islam – und ich muss gleich anfügen: «den» Islam gibt es nicht – weist tatsächlich eine lange wissenschaftliche Tradition auf, die von höchster Brillanz zeugt. Zwischen dem 9. und 13. Jahrhundert waren Muslime überhaupt die einzigen Menschen, die aktiv Wissenschaft betrieben. In dieser Zeit kam es zu spektakulären Errungenschaften in der Optik, in der Astronomie, der Medizin. Aber nach dem 13. Jahrhundert folgte eine schwarze Ära ohne Fortschritte. Obwohl der Islam durchaus militärisch erfolgreich war, entwickelte er sich intellektuell nicht weiter. Er hörte auf, neue Erkenntnisse und Ideen zu produzieren, und dehnte sich nur noch flächenmässig aus.

Um dies zu verstehen, müssen wir zu jenem Punkt zurückkehren, an dem einflussreiche Muslime in die Arbeit der Wissenschaft einzugreifen begannen. Zur Zeit des Propheten Mohammed, im ?6. und 7. Jahrhundert, gab es noch keine institutionalisierten ?Wissenschaften. Als die islamischen Reiche dank Eroberungen expandierten, stiessen sie bald auf die Schätze der griechischen Zivilisation. Lern- und Neugier veranlassten die Kalifate, Über­setzungen aus dem Griechischen zu fördern. Die so gewonnenen Erkenntnisse über andere Völker und Kulturen lockten wiederum Gelehrte aus anderen Teilen der Welt in die Kalifate. An den Höfen von Kalifen wie Al-Ma’mun oder Harun ar-Raschid lebten und ?arbeiteten Muslime Seite an Seite mit Christen, Juden, Nestorianern. In einer Atmosphäre der intellektuellen Toleranz und des Freidenkens florierten die islamischen Wissenschaften.

Wir können folgen. Aber wir vermuten: der intellektuelle Bildungs- und Wissens­austausch gestaltete sich nicht ganz so harmonisch, wie es bei Ihnen klingt.
Natürlich gab es Unstimmigkeiten. Interessanterweise waren es aber vor ?allem Spannungen innerhalb des Islams, die letztlich zur Stagnation führten. Vereinfacht gesagt, gab es jene Muslime, die an Prädestination glaubten, und jene, die den Glauben an den freien Willen hochhielten.

Die religiös Orthodoxen behaupteten, dass Gott alles bestimme und das Individuum nichts von sich aus machen könne: Alles sei vorherbestimmt. Auf der anderen Seite vertraten die Gelehrten die Ansicht, dass Gott den Menschen genug Fähigkeiten und ?Intelligenz verliehen habe, um die Welt verstehen und mitgestalten zu können. Diese konträren Ansichten übertrugen sich auf einen politischen Kampf zwischen Konservativen und Rationalisten. Während vielleicht 400 Jahren herrschte zwischen den zwei Seiten dieses Hin und Her. Die Kalifen hingegen, die das Ganze bezahlten und beaufsichtigten, waren grundsätzlich liberale, aufgeklärte und aufgeschlossene Menschen – sie schlugen sich folglich eher auf die Seite der Rationalisten. Dann kam es zu einer Art Wendepunkt: Mit Imam Al-Ghazali, einem muslimischen Theologen, Philosophen und Juristen, der sich vor allem als Mystiker hervortat, wuchs im 11. Jahrhundert der Widerstand gegen das liberale Denken. Al-Ghazali zettelte einen Protestzug gegen die Vernunft an und überzeugte damit weite Kreise. Er ?bestritt, dass es einen Zusammenhang zwischen Ursache und Wirkung gibt. Stattdessen glaubte er an Prädestination, also daran, dass Gott alles fügt und lenkt, auch den Menschen, dessen Handeln letztlich fremdbestimmt ist.

Das bedeutet: wenn Sie mir nun sagen, dass Sie durstig sind, und ich Ihnen ein Glas Wasser einschenke, so haben wir beide nicht selbständig und nach unseren Bedürfnissen und Regungen gesprochen und gehandelt, sondern Gott hat mich geschickt, damit Sie Ihren Durst stillen können?
So in etwa, ja. Averroës, der 60 Jahre nach Al-Ghazali lebte und diesen nie persönlich traf, formulierte es in seiner berühmten ?Kritik wie folgt: «Schaut euch Al-Ghazali an! Er sagt, dass ein Stück Baumwolle nicht deswegen brenne, weil man es mit einem Streichholz entzünde, sondern weil Gott Engel sandte, die diese Wirkung entfachten.» «Al-Ghazali», so Averroës, «sagt, dass man nicht deswegen keinen Hunger mehr verspüre, weil man zuvor Brot gegessen habe, sondern weil einem die Engel dieses Sättigungsgefühl verschafft hätten.» Und so geht das immer weiter. In diesem Zuge kam es letztlich seitens der Orthodoxen zu einer allumfassenden Absage an das Prinzip Ursache und Wirkung. Nach Al-Ghazali ist Gott die einzige Quelle, die einzige Ursache.

Diese Haltung ist so bequem wie verheerend. Mit dem Prinzip Ursache und Wirkung setzt Al-Ghazali nämlich auch direkt das Prinzip Haftung ausser Kraft. Der Anhänger seiner Theorie kann also mit seinen Mitmenschen tun und lassen, was er will: Letztlich ist schliesslich Gott dafür verantwortlich.
Das ist es, was wir bei den sogenannten Gotteskriegern im Extrem wiederfinden: Diese glauben von sich, dass sie gar nicht anders können, als eine Waffe des Islams zu sein. Für die Wissenschaft ist diese Haltung übrigens nicht weniger problematisch: Sie akzeptiert nämlich keine Wunder. Und Wunder sind ja nichts anderes als das Ausserkraftsetzen der Gesetze der Physik, ob – wie bei ?Al-Ghazali – durch Gott oder durch sonst jemanden. Wir wissen heute, dass das nicht möglich ist – und dieses Wissen kollidiert frontal mit dem orthodoxen Islam. Die Idee des allumfänglichen Wunders besagt doch letztlich, dass Menschen komplett nutzlos sind, da sie rein gar nichts selbst beeinflussen können. Sie negiert alles, was wir heute unter dem Begriff «Selbstbestimmung» zusammenfassen.

Man muss an dieser Stelle anfügen, dass wir bisher von einer Zeit sprechen, da auch der sogenannte Westen sich nicht durch Gesellschaften gebildeter, selbstbestimmter Individuen auszeichnete. Im Gegenteil: im Hochmittelalter sah es, was Fortschritt und Wissenschaft anging, in Europa ziemlich düster aus, auch wenn es bis zum Tiefpunkt, der Inquisition, noch eine Weile dauerte...
Richtig. Und Sie müssen wissen: Zu Beginn war das Weltbild ?Al-Ghazalis nicht wirklich populär, aber es gewann kontinuierlich an Anziehungskraft und mündete letztlich darin, dass die Rationalisten verfolgt, verbannt und getötet wurden. Al-Ghazali wurde einmal als zweiteinflussreichster Moslem nach dem Propheten Mohammed bezeichnet. Und in gewissem Sinne stimmt das auch: Seit seiner Zeit existiert in muslimischen Gesellschaften keine ernstzunehmende Wissenschaft mehr. Bis heute sagt man uns: ?Alles, was ihr wissen müsst, ist im Buch Gottes zu finden.

Das sagen uns ultrareligiöse Christen auch. Die US-amerikanischen Kreationisten dürfen in staatlichen Schulen ungeniert lehren, dass es so etwas wie einen Brontosaurus nie gegeben habe. Aus dem einfachen Grund, weil er in der Bibel nirgends erwähnt wird. So gesehen hat die muslimische Welt also keine Fundamentalismus-Pole-Position?
Doch. Denn anders als den Kreationisten in den USA steht orthodoxen Muslimen keine Armada aufgeklärter Gegenkräfte gegenüber.

Wir behaupten: wenn der Kreationismus schon common sense in den Schulbüchern einiger US-Bundesstaaten ist, so ist eine landesweite Umsetzung auf Staatsebene auch nicht gänzlich unwahrscheinlich. Und das 500 Jahre nach der Reformation.
Das wäre in der Tat sehr bedauerlich. Denn egal ob die höchste ?Instanz nun Jahwe oder Allah heisst: Wenn alle Erklärungen im Buch geschrieben stehen, das von Gott selbst autorisiert wurde, und dies nicht ausgelegt werden darf, wird niemand mehr kritische Fragen stellen. Lassen Sie mich eine kleine Anekdote erzählen, die verdeutlicht, was ich meine: Ich war einst zu Besuch bei Professor Abdus Salam, der 1979 den Nobelpreis für Physik ?erhielt. Als ich in sein Büro trat, legte Salam gerade den Telefonhörer zur Seite, kicherte und sagte: «Pervez, die BBC hat angerufen. Sie wollen, dass ich mit Abdullah ibn al-Baz, Rektor der Mekka-Universität, debattiere.» Dieser hatte kurz zuvor ein Buch geschrieben, in dem er allen Ernstes behauptete, dass die Erde still stehe und es die Sonne sei, die sich um die Erde drehe. Er ?behauptete ausserdem, wer dies nicht glaube, befinde sich ausserhalb des Islams, sei Häretiker. Salam lachte nur und meinte, er werde ganz sicher nicht mit diesem Herrn über solchen Unsinn debattieren. Das Buch wurde von Scheich Baz publiziert, erlangte aber keinerlei Bedeutung. Das sind wirre Ideen, die mit physikalischem Basiswissen gekontert werden können. Die gute Nachricht ist: selbst in orthodoxer Perspektive gibt es ausser der darwinistischen Sicht auf die Evolution eigentlich keine grossen Themen, in denen sich der Islam und die Wissenschaften prinzipiell widersprechen. Kurz, solange sich beide Disziplinen nicht ineinander verweben, gibt es eigentlich kein Problem.

Wie meinen Sie das?
Nehmen Sie die Quantenmechanik: Über diese gibt es keinen religiös-wissenschaftlichen Streit, da sie in keinem Vers des Korans erwähnt wird. Problematisch gestalten sich bloss die abstrusen Theo­rien über die Schöpfung des Menschen und über die Gestirne, die angeblich die Erde umkreisen. Die schlechte Nachricht ist, dass sich aber auch eine populäre Vermischung von Religion und Wissenschaft im Islam feststellen lässt, die ich als Nonscience, mitunter als Nonsense, bezeichnen würde. Hier wird versucht, wissenschaftliche Arbeit im Sinne der Religion umzudeuten, ja sie zurechtzubiegen, sie zu unterminieren. Einem Europäer lässt sich die Situation mit einem einzigen Stichwort vielleicht noch einfacher erklären: Das Verhältnis von Religion und Wissenschaft zeigt sich hier so, wie man es im Westen vor der Zeit Galileis vorfand.

Sie haben sich nach Ihrem Doktorat am MIT in Boston entschieden, den Grossteil Ihrer wissenschaftlichen Laufbahn in Islamabad fortzusetzen. Konnten Sie in Pakistan uneingeschränkt Ihrer Forschung nachgehen – oder sind Sie dort an Grenzen gestossen, die Sie nicht überschreiten durften?
Ich bin in Islamabad an viele Grenzen gestossen. Aber immer wenn ich an solche stosse, versuche ich, sie zu verschieben: Ich gebe öffentliche Vorträge, bediene mich der modernen Kommunikationsmittel wie Facebook – versuche also aufzuklären. Das ist meine Aufgabe als Wissenschafter. Vor einigen Jahren habe ich zwei Dokumentarserien produziert, die im öffentlichen Fernsehen liefen und breit wahrgenommen wurden. Aus den ?Reaktionen auf meine Dokus lässt sich ein interessanter Schluss ziehen: Wenn man nicht über biologische Systeme spricht, ist alles in Ordnung. Der Produzent meines Programms schlug mir vor, jede Sendung mit einem Zitat aus dem Koran zu beginnen. Meine Antwort lautete: «Entschuldige, aber das werde ich nicht tun. Ich glaube, dass Wissenschaft und Religion voneinander getrennt sein sollten.» Das wurde so akzeptiert. Eine der Sendungen wagte sogar den Titel «Von den Atomen bis zum Menschen».

Uns wurden ähnliche Sendungen in der Primarschule gezeigt. Wer aber solch eine Dokumentation in Pakistan dreht, geht erhebliche Risiken ein.
Stimmt. Am Ende dieser Sendung ging es um die Frage, wie Leben entsteht: DNA, Säugetiere etc. Wir wollten mit Graphiken illus­trieren, wie sich die Wirbelsäule des Affen veränderte und er sich zu einem Wesen mit aufrechtem Gang wandelte. An diesem Punkt sagte der Produzent: «Stopp, stopp, stopp!» Also hatten wir zuletzt einen Affen, der sich nur ein bisschen streckte (lacht). So weit ging es aber in Ordnung. Nun denn. Mittlerweile denke ich: Was sind schon ein paar hundert Jahre? Wir existieren seit 500000 Jahren. Die Reformation, die Aufklärung – wie weit liegen diese zurück? 500 bzw. gut 200 Jahre. Also können wir auch noch ein paar hundert Jahre warten. Wenn wir uns nicht selbst zerstören, dann wird der gesellschaftliche Fortschritt seinen Lauf nehmen. Voraussetzung dafür ist aber, dass wir uns vorher nicht mit nuklearen Waffen in die Luft jagen…

Das hatten wir in unserer Anfangsaufzählung vergessen: Verfechter nuklearer Abrüstung sind Sie ja auch noch.
Richtig. (lacht) Das ist es, was mir auf YouTube die Klicks bringt.

Bringen wir also einmal sämtliche genannten Charakterisierungen Pervez Hoodbhoys in einer Frage zusammen: Welche Verbindungen zwischen Wissenschaft, Religion und atomarer Aufrüstung existieren in Pakistan?
Die Verbindung zwischen Nuklearwaffen und Religion ist alles andere als abstrakt. 1988, als Pakistan seine Atomwaffen testete, begannen religiös-politische Parteien wie Jamaat-e-Islami, diese Waffen als etwas zu betrachten, das sowohl ihnen als auch der ?gesamten islamischen Welt – der Umma – gehört. Ich drehte 2001 einen Dokumentarfilm mit dem Titel «Pakistan and India under the Nuclear Shadow». Darin gibt es Filmmaterial, das genau dies zeigt: religiöse Führer Pakistans, die die Bombe nicht nur als Eigentum Pakistans ausrufen, sondern als Eigentum des Islams als ganzem. Ich behaupte nicht, dass das pakistanische Militär diese Sicht teilt – und ich hoffe, dass sie es nicht tun. Aber Nuklearwaffen befeuern nicht nur den nationalen, sondern auch den religiösen Stolz.

Das ist ja der interessante Punkt: Zwar lehnt man den wissenschaftlichen und technischen Fortschritt ideologisch-religiös ab, wenn man ihn aber zur Stärkung der eigenen Machtposition nutzen kann, so ist er willkommen. Die USA fürchten sich genau dieser Unberechenbarkeit wegen vor einem Iran, der fähig ist, Nuklearwaffen herzustellen.
Ich sage Ihnen etwas: Es bereitet mir starkes Unbehagen, wenn ?irgendein Land die Atombombe hat! Israels Nuklearwaffen sind genauso gefährlich. Und Israel ist ebenfalls ein Staat, der auf einer Religion basiert. Ja, ich bin beunruhigt und denke, dass Pakistan keine Bombe haben sollte, Iran nicht und ebenso wenig Indien. Wenn ich könnte, würde ich dieses iranische Programm stoppen. Aber solange Sie und ich es nicht stoppen können, müssen wir pragmatisch bleiben und verstehen, dass es nicht das Ende der Welt bedeutet, wenn der Iran in den Besitz von Nuklearwaffen kommt – und dass es noch andere Länder gibt, die illegal, illegitim und im Geheimen die Bombe erlangen. Und diese Länder wurden in das internationale System einer nuklearen Ordnung absorbiert, sie fallen niemandem mehr besonders auf...

...Sie sprechen von Indien.
Ja, Indien. Aber auch Pakistan. Und ich sehe nicht, warum Iran nicht auch diesem Pfad folgen kann. Es wäre der zehnte Nuklearstaat. Ich würde es bevorzugen, wenn es keinen einzigen Nuklearstaat gäbe – aber wenn es einen mehr gibt, so what?

Zugegeben, es handelt sich um eine bigotte Wahrnehmung. Das Problem liegt in der politischen Führung Irans, die mit der Auslöschung Israels droht.
Diese Drohungen verurteile ich vehement, aber ich gebe gleichzeitig zu bedenken: Eine solche Waffe ist auch in anderen Ländern, Regimes oder Händen nicht viel besser aufgehoben.

Einverstanden. Wird denn der sogenannte «arabische Frühling» das westliche Vertrauen in die politischen Führungen islamischer Länder zumindest stärken können? Oder anders gefragt: werden die sogenannten «Freiheitsbewegungen» für mehr Stabilität im Nahen Osten sorgen?
Ich muss Sie enttäuschen. Der «arabische Frühling» ist nicht mehr als die blosse Freisetzung angestauter Frustrationen. Es ist der Frust über die miserablen gesellschaftlichen Verhältnisse, über die Tatsache, dass Regierungen nichtrepräsentative Entscheidungen fällen, über Diktaturen, der sich hier entlädt. Mehr nicht. Es war keine Revolution, die eine neue Art des Denkens hervorbrachte. Es waren auch keine Ereignisse zugunsten einer wissenschaftlichen Aufklärung. Wir würden uns selber täuschen, wenn wir zu diesem Schluss kämen. Ich denke, man wird sich in einigen Jahren vor allem daran erinnern, dass die Islamisten eine grosse Rolle zu spielen begannen.

Sie reden von der Muslimbruderschaft?
Unter anderem. Das sind Fundamentalisten. Und sie sind gefährlich.

Es ist erstaunlich, dass sich die Innensicht eines in Pakistan lebenden Menschenrechtlers weitgehend mit derjenigen westlicher Islamkritiker deckt. Wir hatten das in dieser Form ehrlich gesagt nicht erwartet.

Dabei will ich betonen, dass diese Kritiker, wenn sie vom Islam reden, meist den Islamismus, also einen Fundamentalismus, meinen. Das ist selbstredend nicht dasselbe. Aber was diese sicher erkannt haben: das Radikalisierungspotential gemässigter Moslems ist gross. Und man kann diese Radikalisierung jeden Tag aufs neue beobachten.

Haben Sie angesichts ihrer klaren Positionsbezüge keine Angst um Ihr Leben?
Ungefährlich ist es nie, ein Querulant zu sein. In Teilen Pakistans erlebten wir einen so brutalen Aufstand der Taliban – sie wurden zur Trägerschaft der Bewegung –, dass der Zentralstaat sich nicht anders zu helfen wusste, als diesen mit schierer Gewalt niederzuringen. Die Bevölkerung hegt über weite Strecken Sympathien gegenüber den Interessen der Taliban, sprich: die Schaffung einer Gesellschaft, die durch die Scharia regiert wird. Und obwohl ich langfristig optimistisch bin, weil ich denke, dass die Macht der Vernunft gewinnen muss, glaube ich nicht, dass dies in den nächsten Jahrzehnten geschehen wird. Es gibt zu wenige Aufklärer, und auch ich bin nur ein kleiner Fisch. Aber wie Sie sehen können, sitze ich heute gesund und munter vor Ihnen.

Wie sieht denn die Gefahr für Querulanten konkret aus?
Nun, der Gouverneur der Provinz Punjab bezahlte mit seinem ?eigenen Leben, als er versuchte, eine christliche Bäuerin zu verteidigen. Der liberale Politiker erfuhr, dass die 40jährige Frau einen Streit mit ihren Nachbarn hatte und von diesen beschuldigt wurde, Dinge gegen den Propheten Mohammed gesagt zu haben.

Konkret: Man warf ihr Blasphemie vor?
Sie wurde aufgrund dieser Anzeige verhaftet – und zum Tode ?verurteilt. Man muss dazu wissen, dass gegen den Schuldspruch in einem Blasphemiefall kein Einspruch erhoben werden kann, denn ein solcher wäre ebenfalls ein Akt der Blasphemie. Der Gouverneur war ob dieser Lage ziemlich aufgebracht, ging die Frau im Gefängnis besuchen und versprach ihr, dass er eine Flexibilisierung der Blasphemiegesetze erwirken wolle. Er hatte nicht vor, diese abzuschaffen – das Bewusstsein um die Gefahr eines solchen Unternehmens war dazu viel zu gross. Dem Bodyguard des Gouverneurs, einem Mann namens Mumtaz Qadri, ging jedoch bereits die Aussicht auf eine Lockerung der Blasphemiegesetze zu weit: Er pumpte seinen Chef mit einem Satz Kugeln voll. Die anderen Bodyguards standen während der Tat teilnahmslos daneben.

Verstehen wir das richtig: Der Gouverneur hatte sich allein schon mit dem Flexibilisierungsvorhaben versündigt?
Richtig. Kaum war das passiert, erreichte mich ein Anruf einer ?Radioproduzentin, die fragte, ob ich kommentieren könne, was soeben geschehen sei. Ich meinte, dass sie eigentlich mit einem religiösen Gelehrten reden müsse, und nicht mit mir. Aber niemand, so sagte sie, wolle mit ihr sprechen. Also gab ich Auskunft und drückte meine Trauer aus. Einige Minuten später erhielt ich einen anderen Anruf und wurde gefragt, ob ich an einer TV-Diskussion teilnehmen könne, die im Islamabad Press Club stattfinden sollte. Ich ging hin und fand mich zwei Mullahs gegenüber. Im Publikum sassen etwa 100 Studenten. Die Moderatorin der Sendung war sehr nervös; sie meinte, dass dies die schwierigste Sendung sei, die sie in ihrem Leben je moderiert habe. Sie bat das Pu­blikum, nicht zu applaudieren und sich ruhig zu verhalten. Als die Sendung begann, stellte sie die Gäste vor, wandte sich an den ersten Mullah und sagte: «Ihre Fraktion ist bekannt für ihre Toleranz. Ist es nicht ein Mangel an Toleranz, dass der Gouverneur für seine Äusserungen ermordet wurde?» Der Mullah entgegnete: «Ja, wir sind sehr tolerante Menschen, wir haben nicht mit Gewalt reagiert, als unser religiöser Führer getötet wurde – und dies, obwohl wir über Raketen und ein grosses Arsenal von Waffen verfügen.» Aber, so der Mullah, was mit dem Gouverneur passiert sei, sei auch ?eigentlich völlig richtig gewesen. Jeder, der sich gegen den Propheten stelle, verdiene den Tod. – Das Publikum applaudierte.

Und der zweite Mullah?
Der zweite Mullah, der Vertreter einer anderen religiösen Schule, sagte: «Ich schliesse mich den Worten meines Vorredners im grossen und ganzen an. Allein Personen wie Professor Hoodbhoy, von denen es nur etwa 300 in Pakistan gibt, die sich von unserer Lehre entfremdet und keine Ahnung vom Islam haben, üben an diesem Akt Kritik.» Und so fuhr er in gleichem Stile fort. Sie sehen: ich war ein liberaler Aussenseiter.

Wie haben Sie die Sache überlebt, ohne von irgendjemandem aus religiösen Motiven niedergestreckt zu werden?
Ich argumentierte vergleichend: «Ich gebe nicht vor, ein islamischer Gelehrter zu sein, aber ich weiss, dass von den 40 bis 45 muslimischen Ländern dieser Welt die meisten keine Todesstrafe für Blasphemie kennen. Ich weiss, dass in Indonesien Blasphemie mit sechs Monaten Gefängnis bestraft wird, in Jordanien einige Jahre. Wenn es in den meisten muslimischen Ländern dafür keine Todesstrafe gibt», so behauptete ich, «handelt es sich dabei also schwerlich um ein Gesetz, das im Koran so geschrieben steht.»

Lassen Sie uns raten: dafür gab es keinen Applaus. Und niemand konnte die Frage beantworten.
Beides korrekt. Ich will Ihnen die Details der Veranstaltung ersparen, aber gegen Ende der Diskussion klatschten die Studenten ?jedes Mal, wenn die Mullahs ihre Unterstützung für den Mord nochmals und nochmals bekundeten. An diesem Punkt gewann meine Frustration die Überhand und mir platzte der Kragen: «Nicht der Bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri hat den Gouverneur getötet, nein, Sie waren es! Sie haben Blut an Ihren Händen, Sie haben ihn zum Mord angestiftet!» Der eine Mullah betrachtete seine Hände und sagte: «Oh, wie wünschte ich, dass ich Blut an meinen Händen hätte, wie wünschte ich, dass ich den Gouverneur mit meinen ?eigenen Händen getötet hätte.» Es folgten spontaner Applaus und Unterstützungsrufe aus dem Publikum. Sie sehen: Pakistan muss noch viel lernen, wenn es um Freiheit geht.

Unsere Frage lautet: Was genau kann Pakistan vom Westen lernen?
Die Tugend der Toleranz und das Aushalten religiöser Diversität. In europäischen Staaten und den USA gibt es grosse muslimische Gemeinschaften, die ihren Glauben praktizieren können, vielleicht nicht vollständig ohne Hindernisse, aber einigermassen frei. Andererseits lassen Länder wie Saudi-Arabien bis heute keine Kirchen zu. In Pakistan fürchten sich religiöse Minderheiten wie Christen, Hindus, Ahmadis vor Anschlägen – viele von ihnen haben sogar ihre Namen geändert, um ihre kulturelle Herkunft zu verschleiern. Diese Art von Repression ist verwerflich.

Und andersherum? Wo liegt das Lernpotential westlicher Länder?
Ich denke, dass in muslimischen Gesellschaften ein gemeinschaftlicher Geist und ein System der Kooperation existieren, die einen Zusammenhalt schaffen, den ich in vielen Teilen Europas und den USA vermisse. Ich beobachte dort vielmehr zunehmende Entfremdung und Fragmentierung. Individuen leiden vermehrt unter dem Gefühl, zur Seite geschoben zu werden. Es greifen eben nicht die gleichen Unterstützungsmechanismen, wie sie in muslimischen Gemeinschaften gerade für ältere Menschen bereitstehen. Sie sehen: Es gibt auf beiden Seiten den Bedarf, voneinander zu lernen. Den dringlicheren sehe ich aber auf Seiten der Muslime. Im Speziellen geht es darum, die Bedeutung von Wissen anzuerkennen. Muslimische Gesellschaften sind heute im Hinblick auf Wissen ernsthaft verarmt. Und das ist ein Problem der Einstellung, nicht eines der Armut an Computern, Büchern oder Universitäten. Es ist ein Problem der Attitüde, das hier überwunden werden muss.

Das Treffen mit Pervez Hoodbhoy
    Wir treffen Pervez Hoodbhoy nach einem ?Seminar des St.?Gallen Symposiums, in dem über das Thema «Islam und Wissenschaft» hitzig debattiert wurde. Hoodbhoy lächelt und ist äusserst gelassen. Der Nuklearphysiker und Menschenrechtler ist diskussionserprobt. Seit Jahren macht er sich nicht eben beliebt in Pakistan, indem er sich offen gegen den Kurs der einflussreichen Islamisten stellt. Er fordert eine grossangelegte Bildungsoffensive, Freiheitsrechte, offene Universitäten und gleiche Rechte für beide Geschlechter und alle Bevölkerungsgruppen.
    Einige Zeit nach dem Treffen stossen wir auf seiner Facebookseite auf ein Photo von Malala Yousufzai, einem 14jährigen pakistanischen Mädchen, samt beigefügtem Zitat: «I don’t mind if I have to sit on the floor at school. All I want is education. And I’m afraid of no one.»
    Malala wurde am 10. Oktober 2012 auf dem Schulweg angegriffen. Radikale Islamisten stoppten ihren Schulbus und  schossen Malala vor ihren Mitschülern in Kopf und Nacken. Dies sei die Strafe dafür, dass sie westliches Gedankengut verbreitet habe, so die Taliban in ihrem Bekenntnis. Tatsächlich setzte sich die junge Frau für eine in unseren Breiten wenig exotische Forderung ein: Bildung für Frauen.
    Solche Übergriffe, sagt Pervez Hoodbhoy während unseres Treffens in St. Gallen, seien in Pakistan nichts Ungewöhnliches. «Pakistan ist ein schönes Land, das regelmässig mit den weltweit schockierendsten Nachrichten aufwartet.» Seine Heimat entwickle sich mancherorts gesellschaftlich wie wirtschaftlich nicht nur nicht weiter, sondern sogar zurück. Unter dem Einfluss des radikalen Islams verkommen ganze Landstriche zu rechtsfreien Zonen. Scharia statt Toleranz und «Nonsense» statt Wissenschaft. Und Besserung, so der Professor, sei nicht in Sicht.
    Michael Wiederstein