Voices worth hearing

12 Sep

I was made aware of an excellent PBS Radio program through Tabsir: Insight on Islam and the Middle East whose 9/11 reflections that takes you to. The program, Hearing Muslim Voices Since 9/11, is indeed a public service and evidence of American thinking that is doing the world a favour, albeit a minority voice. One of the participants is the admirable non-militant conservative Muslim Seyyed Hossein Nasr who “brings a broad religious and historical perspective to hard questions about Islam and the West that have lingered uncomfortably in American life these past five years.”

Mr. Nasr: Every effect has a cause, otherwise we could not speak logically together. And so the first thing we must ask is this event — which is based on such hatred that it makes people lose their lives and also kill innocent people in the process — why is there such anger? Why is there such hatred?

Ms. Tippett: In these young men.

Mr. Nasr: In these young men who did such a thing. Then, when we analyze that, we realize that has a lot to do with the relationship between the West and the Islamic world. Putting the colonial experience aside — which Muslims shared with Hindus and Buddhists and African native people and everybody else — the presence of oil, which has caused many, many governments to be created in the Middle East, which are disdained by their people, which are kept in power by the West because of the trust they have that they’ll keep the oil flowing and things quiet and the Arab-Israeli conflict — which has bled the region for 60 years without there being any solution — are the two main causes of great anger against the West.

Ms. Tippett: You have a broad perspective, a longer historical view from your own life, from your scholarship. But you’ve lived in this country long enough to know that that kind of long historical view is very alien in this culture…

Mr. Nasr: That’s right. It isn’t that there is no sense of historical reality, but there’s no sense of historical reality when it comes to anything outside of the Western experience. Now, America is not only a player, but the major player upon the global scene. I’ve said always — half-jokingly but half seriously — that ignorance is bad. But worse than ignorance is applied ignorance. You know, we talk about science and applied science. I mean, if Brazilians have no historical sense, they do not understand Islamic world, do not understand Asia, so what? It’s just a shortcoming in their educational system. Let’s hope in the future they will learn. But America affects the life of those areas about which it is ignorant

First of all, I usually use the term traditional Islam and distinguish it very clearly from both modernism and secularism on the one hand, and fundamentalism or Islamism or [whatever] we like to [call] it on the other hand.

Ms. Tippett: So one end of extremism is religious fundamentalism or extremism.

Mr. Nasr: That’s right. The other extreme is secularism and modernism, and the two are the two sides of the same coin.

Ms. Tippett: They can both be fundamentalist.

Mr. Nasr: Not only they can both be fundamentalists, but on many things they have the same view. For example, lack of interest in traditional sacred art, complete espousal of modern technology with total lack of regard for the environment. Many things which are fundamental to contemporary life, they share together. It’s very interesting. Have you ever heard a doctrine or secularist say, ‘All right, secularism is one point of view. Religion is another point of view. They both might be right in their own way, and let’s live together’?

Ms. Tippett: So you’re saying it’s dismissive and intolerant of any kind of religious worldview, in the same way that a religious fundamentalist is dismissive and intolerant of a secular worldview.

Mr. Nasr: That’s right. Exactly. And modernism also has to limit its own claims. I accept that this is one way of looking at the world, but there are other ways of looking at the world. I’m not dismissing those as being for simpletons.

Real food for thought there!

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Posted by on September 12, 2006 in Current affairs, Faith and philosophy, Israel, Multiculturalism and diversity, Religion


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