Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Losing my Europe

I have been feeling pretty disturbed this week. Disturbed, not as in, ready to be put in the looney bin, but disturbed at finding out the realities of a Europe that I did not know. It started before the cartoon fiasco when Theo van Gogh got murdered in Holland on November 2nd 2004.

I am feeling unsettled because growing up in the Netherlands, tolerance was instilled in me from a very young age. Things we would see on tv and not understand in terms of other cultures, my parents would say, "well, that's the way it is in their culture", and that was all there was to it. No judgement as to whether the people from 'those cultures' shouldn't or wouldn't, it was just a fact and accepted as such. Even in Holland itself, if people vehemently disagreed and even loathed someone (say as in politics) nothing, NOTHING every warranted death threats or murder. It is almost considered something beneath one to even want to kill someone just because you don't like what they have to say. To claim offense is not an excuse, and claiming religious offense is often taken with a grain of salt. In Holland's history, the Catholic Church and its agents throughout the times claimed religious offense and killed people for it. Often, religious dominance really is a guise for those in power who want to keep it.

The Dutch, being mostly protestant (although the configuration is not the same as last century) fought an 80yr war with Spain, when Charles V, the Roman Holy Emperor put out a decree to kill all those heretical Dutch (all inhabitants). The Dutch have done and been there and evolved into a society where protestants and catholics could live side by side (spain did not win btw) and where political pluralism is possible because of the tolerance of diverse opinions. Not only that, one is expected to tolerate opinions because 'yours' is supposed to be tolerated as well.
As Theodore Dalrymple says in his article Why Theo Van Gogh was murdered, "for tolerance to work, it must be reciprocal"

The current intolerance of some very conservative Muslims in Europe is most disturbing in that it is not in the arena of politics or debate where the disagreement and dissatisfaction is expressed, it vents by way of death threats where people need body guards for their day to day life, and ultimately in actual murders in the name of Islam. Furthermore disturbing is how hate always finds a breeding ground. For every murder, other innocent Muslims bear the brunt of reprisals, furthering the belief of 'it is us versus them'. How can there be an end to it? The Europe that I left in the mid '80s did not have any of the sorts and felt like a safe place to return. Now it does not. The US went through a time when fundamental Christian nut jobs killed nurses and doctors for working in abortion clinics (killing to save life because life is sacrosanct, makes sense right?) and a zero tolerance seemed to have turned the tide on that. Although I can't say for sure what made it stop. How can we make the murders in the name of Islam on Western soil stop? I am not talking about Al Qiada and wannabees, those are political. I am talking about people who claim you can't say or do this because it offends either the prophets' name, or their religion.

When I lived in Saudi Arabia for a few years, I had totally mixed feelings about living there. I did love it in a way because of the friendships I had made and the people part agreed with me if you will. The limitations on my person as a woman was not particularly enjoyable, but I adjusted and accepted it part of the culture. I did not go out and advocate that it was an insult to my religion and did not do anything to offend anyone there. In fact, even when someone offered me 'sadiqi' (bootleg alcohol) at a party, I said no thanks.

When I emigrated to Canada in the '80s, I went with the idea that I voluntarily went into another culture and had to adjust. In fact, a Canadian documentary series following the adjustment of the various immigrant groups commented how the dutch were one of the most adjusted as they embraced their new country. It's coming full circle with that tolerance again; you go into someone else's house, you adjust and accept it because it is their house with their rules. There seem to be plenty of intolerant Muslims who have not shown any courtesy or ability to do so in their newly adopted home country. What can you do??

However, if I felt totally helpless and taken aback in how to think and respond to this development of death threats and murders, here comes my blog idea full circle in the form of the Imam of the Ismaili Muslims, Aga Khan who said recently in a Sunday Telegraph interview;

"I see it as a clash of ignorance rather than a clash of civilisations," he says. "I feel quite strongly about this. I think there's a remarkable degree of ignorance between the civilisations - and please note I put this in the plural - of the Islamic world and the civilisations of the non-Islamic world.

"I think we [Muslims] as part of human history have been amazingly absent from the definition of an educated person in Judeo-Christian society … An educated person in the 21st century in terms of basic knowledge of human society has got to have basic knowledge about the Islamic world.

"I'm not talking about religion, I'm talking about human society and civilisation. It's not a religious issue."


So I must be attempting something right; let's educate each other out of this ignorance and hopefuly all of us in our own way, in our own worlds, can contribute to a peaceful coexistence a little bit more.

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