Abid Raja’s initiative to bring together politicians, journalists and various people with Muslim background is a step in the right direction. Dialogue is the most effective means through which understanding is promoted and misunderstanding dispelled.
Today’s debate (March 22) at Litteraturhuset was about hatred directed to and from minorities in Norway. The minorities in question are Muslims, Jews and Homosexuals. Interesting issues were raised regarding the burning of hijab, the question of anti-Semitism in Norway and the intolerance against homosexuals.
I should like to ruminate on two issues that I think were left hanging in mid air. The first is the question of freedom of expression. There are two aspects to this question. One is negative and the other positive. On the negative side, a Muslims radical, Muhammed Ali Chisti, was given a platform to air his new Nazi anti-Semitic views, accusing Jews for being responsible for what Hitler did to them. Although a small group in the world they have all the world’s power on their hands, he told us.
My question is, should we give people with such radical views a platform for spreading their hatred against the Jews? In other words, should we give freedom to the enemies of freedom, to those who demand the freedom for themselves so that they can, through their monologues, incite fear and hatred against Jews as a people? Chisti was clearly not interested in dialogue. Neither the content nor the form in which he delivered his speech indicated that he was interested in dispelling anti-Semitic hatred. So how prudent is it to invite him to such gatherings?
On the positive side, most, if not all, of the Muslims who were present in the debate took an alienating distance from his anti-Semitic mania. It clearly brought out into the open that ordinary Muslims are neither radical Islamists nor anti-Semites. They commonly oppose all forms of extremism, which threaten the mutual and peaceful coexistence of all who live and work in Norway. The majority of Muslims show no interest in the perverted discourses of the self-righteous radical individual Muslims. This is an aspect which should be taken note of in our debates about the presence and the status of Islam in Norway.
The second issue is related to the question of homosexuality. Although several times Muslims repeated that they see a problem with the lack of respect of homosexuals in Muslims milieus they nonetheless went on to defend a position that in Islamic theology homosexuality is a sin. The inconsistency is clear. Islam prohibits homosexuality but Muslims should respect homosexuals.
There are two problems with this view: The first problem is that it treats Islamic theology as if it were absolute and resistant to all change. History, however, does not support this view. Islamic theology is an amalgam of many contradictory positions on every imaginable issue. Orthodox interpretation of homosexuality is not the only available interpretation of Islam. Elevating the orthodox interpretation to the dignity of Islamic dogma ignores all the social-historical and political struggles which contributed to form this interpretation and finally it suppresses other minority interpretations.
The second problem is purely theoretical but with potential practical consequences. Muslims will tolerate homosexuals but they would rather not have them in their midst. The representative of the Salam magazine Mubashir Amin said that homosexuality is a sin the same way that alcohol is. It is not difficult, then, to see the psychological and social pressure that families and communities put on both homosexuals and the alcohol drinkers. Muslims who drink alcohol are severely reprimanded by other Muslims who consider drinking alcohol a big sin. They generally do not serve it at their homes and certainly would not look away if their children, who consume alcohol, brought it home.
There is another crucial distinction regarding the classification and categorization of sins. Some sins clearly are of personal nature. Others involve other people and thus necessarily implicate the notion of human rights. It is important therefore that Muslim clergy and other intellectuals make an effort to change at least some of the premises of the current theology. It is vitally important to bring theology to the level of human rights discourse. Luckily there are Muslims who work incessantly to bring this change about, although their influence in mainstream Islam is still invisible.