Letter from Germany- Part 6 – Human destiny

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German-Iranian author Navid Kermani arrives for the awarding ceremony of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade Association at the Paul's Cathedral in Frankfurt, Germany, on October 18, 2015. AFP PHOTO / DANIEL ROLAND (Photo credit should read DANIEL ROLAND/AFP/Getty Images)
German-Iranian author Navid Kermani arrives for the awarding ceremony of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade Association at the Paul’s Cathedral in Frankfurt, Germany, on October 18, 2015. ©DANIEL ROLAND/AFP/Getty Images

Christl Stephanblome - croppedby Christl Stephanblome

In writing about the background of the refugee crisis, I will try to give an  impression of the speech of Navid Kermani, journalist, author, specialist in Islam, and a practising Muslim, given 17.10.2015 in the Paulskirche in Frankfurt on Maine, as he was awarded the Peace Price of the German Book Trade. In his moving speech he focused on Islam and its inner destruction by the ideology of the Islamic State (IS), identical with the Wahabism and today’s Salafism in Europe. There are only two links to us:”Shopping mall” built beside the Kaaba in Mekka and “snuff videos”* of the IS.

 The basis of his speech are the stories of the fates of the Italian Jesuit Paolo Dall’Oglio, founder of Mar Musa, and Father Jacques Mourad, responsible for Mar Elyan, Syria, communities, where Christians and Muslims live together, communicating their  religion in respect and harmony. Both were kidnapped by the IS, with 200 Christians,  whom Father Jacques had convinced to stay. Nothing is known about the whereabouts of  Father Paolo. Father Jacques was freed by Muslims.

Paolo Dall’Oglio had openly criticized the government of Assad, which has answered the  call for freedom and democracy with massacres and poison gas, leading to civil war, as well as the leadership of the official church, who didn’t speak up against the violence of the government. He hadn’t been able to break the apathy of the European politicians, the UN etc. Father Jacques (Interview with Kermani, 2012) wanted the world to know, what happened in Syria. He was bitter about statements from the West, willing only to accept Arabian Christians, that didn’t take notice of millions of Syrians, who peacefully demonstrated for democracy and human rights, about the West, that destroyed Iraq, about the West, connected with Saudi Arabia, the main sponsor of the jihadists, about the West, that supported with its statements that confessionalism*, which is the danger for the Christians.

This danger of the IS, a sect of terrorists, who draw a terrible picture of Islam” (Father Jacques), arrived finally in Mar Elyan. Father Jacques convinced his community  to leave because they had been forsaken by the Christian world that distanced itself from them, because it didn’t want to be involved in this danger. “We are not important for them.”(Father Jacques). These two sentences of Father Jacques gave structure to  Kermani’s speech. The first point is, as he sees it, a vindication of the true Islam, the second a critique of his own group. The love for his own shows in self-criticism.

Not only the gruesome pictures and messages from Syria and Iraq, but also the fact that in so many Arabian countries governments, institutions, theological schools or insurgent  groups abuse Islam when they suppress their own people, persecute those who think and  live differently. He quotes examples in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Libya, Bangladesh, Somalia, Mali, Saudi-Arabia, Iran, Bahrain, Yemen. Surely, he says, most  Muslims refuse terror, violence and suppression. Mass uprisings in the Arabian world have been uprisings for democracy and human rights. The stream of refugees shows, that  people want to live in peace and freedom. The theological authorities in the Arabian world, all of them, don’t give the IS the right to speak in the name of Islam. It is  important to say that it is wrong to believe that the Islamic world leads a war against the West. That’s a chimera. Islam leads a war against itself. The multi ethnic, multi religious, and multi cultural orient that he had known as a child, a student, a journalist, as a lively world doesn’t exist any more and will never exist again.

So Kerami asks: What has happened? Identifying the ideology of the IS as Wahabism, spread all over the Islamic World, and as Salafism in today’s Europe, he tells us, that they divide all humankind into believers and infidels, into forbidden and allowed. If  one discriminates against other people systematically, one will finally not respect  their lives. This religious fanaticism is not the beginning, but the end of religious thinking.

Kermani tells of his love and fascination for the mystics, the philosophers, the  rhetoricians, theologians of the Islam; how he was impressed by the originality of the scripts and the spiritual breadth, aesthetic power, human greatness of Ibn Arabi, Rumi, Ibn Khaldun, Averroes, Ibn Batuta, 1001 Nights, penetrated by the essence and the verses of the Koran. Nothing of this is found in the religious culture of the modern Islam. Not to speak of Islamic architecture, art, music – they are gone, a loss of creativity and  freedom.

Some time ago the Koran was thought of as a poetic text, to be understood only with the methods of poetology. Today those, who are of this opinion, are accused of heresy; others are persecuted. What happened, when the power of the language of the Koran isn’t understood any more, is seen all over the world. Perhaps the problem isn’t tradition  but the loss of tradition, loss of the cultural memory, the civilizing amnesia. All the people of the orient have experienced the way into the modern world as ordered and  brutal, not as freedom, but as despotism and exploitation. They didn’t part gradually
from their past but tried to destroy and to forget it. Even the religious fundamentalists didn’t save their culture, but, as they wanted to return to the very beginning of Islam, they waged a dedicated fight against tradition. Wherever the  Islamists established themselves, they fast destroyed Sufism, the base of the lay piety, which penetrated high culture and was the ethical and aesthetic counterweight to the orthodoxy of the jurists, and also penetrated the Islamic societies with values, stories and sounds, which couldn’t be deduced from the piety to the letters.

It was the lived Islam, which replenished the Islam of the law. Even the reformers  and the enlighteners of the 19th and 20th centuries thought the Islam of the people to be backward and antiquated. The destroyed old towns with their ruined monuments and the  shopping mall beside the Kaaba show the decay of the Islam. The scripts of Sufism were saved by by scientists of the West. Yes, today there are excellent works of art, but they don’t have anything to do with the spirit of the Islam. Is there hope?

The shock, following the messages and horrible pictures of the deeds of the IS, has  set free counter- forces. Inside the Islamic orthodoxy finally opposing forces and  resistance against the violence in the name of religion is forming. And for some years we have seen, maybe not as strong in the Arabian heartland of the Islam, but rather at the periphery in Asia, South Africa, Iran, Turkey, in the West, how a new religious thinking is developing.

Kermani reminds us that Europe invented itself anew after World War II, but the contempt, the disrespect of the project of unity as a model, a utopia, he can’t understand. Europe is needed, that one can read in the faces of the refugees: Europe is a promise. “We are not important for them.” (Father Jacques) The disinterest of our  public for the catastrophe in that East, that we hope to keep away from us by fences, war ships, enemy images, and mental screens, is not to be overlooked. We only stand up,  when one of the bombs of this war hits us or when the refugees knock at our door. But our protest and our solidarity is non-political. There is no discussion about the  sources of the terror and the escape movement and how our own policy promoted and  promotes this catastrophe. We don’t ask why Saudi Arabia is our partner in the Near East, why General Sisi was received by our government. We learn nothing from our mistakes when we only draw the conclusion from the terrible wars in Iraq or Libya that we better stay away from these genocides. Nothing came to our mind, as the Syrian  government murdered its own people. We came to terms with the existence of a new
religious fanaticism.

The IS isn’t invincible for the communities of the world: “Today they are by us. Tomorrow they will be by you.” (Johanna Petros Mouche, Bishop of Mossul) What else has  to happen before we agree with his opinion. The strategy of the IS is, to produce an ever higher level of horror, as the snuff videos from Libya and Egypt show us. The longer we wait, the fewer options we will have. It is much too late. As the bearer of the Peace Prize I don’t call for war, I only point to the fact, that there is a war, that we have to act in proportion to it. The war only can be ended by the powers behind
the persecuting armies and militia: Iran, Turkey, the Gulf States, Russia, and also the West. And when our societies no longer accept the madness of the wars, then the government will move. The biggest mistake will be to do nothing in the future.

Kermani refers to Father Jacques, who was freed by the Muslims of Mar Musa, that love has overcome the borders of religion, ethnicity, cultures. Someone, who was  awarded the Peace Price, can’t call for war, but he can call for prayers, wishes, sent to God, for Father Paolo and the 200 Christians, for Father Paolo Dall’Oglo or for the liberation of the hostages and the freedom of Syria and the Iraq. We all could stand up to set a picture of our brotherliness against the snuff videos of the terrorists.

The audience rose and stood in silence.

*David Kermani, born 1967 by Iranian parents, German and Iranian citizenship.
 *Snuff videos: cinematic recording of a murder for the entertainment of the viewer. In Germany the portrayal of violence is forbidden by law.

*confessionalism: (excessive) accentuation of one’s own religion