* Last in a Six Part Series: Tolerance and Intolerance in the Islamic World, held at the Palais des Nations during the Durban Review Conference. All members of the Panel are Practicing Muslims.
Bismillahi Rahman ar Raheem. My name is Stephen Suleyman Schwartz. I was not born a Muslim. My mother was the daughter of a Christian minister. My father was Jewish. Both of them were anti-religious so I was brought up without any religion. I became Muslim in
I would like to start with a couple of comments that have been made by representatives of major Muslim powers at this conference. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the leader of a powerful country with a great culture and history and a great Islamic legacy, commented that in the Middle Ages scholars and scientists were sentenced to death, and that later on the world witnessed the transatlantic slave trade, with the hunting down of innocent people, separating them from their families and taking them in bondage to America in the worst conditions.
Well, Islamic figures were also sentenced to death, by Muslim authorities. Some outstanding Islamic thinkers were killed in this way. And slavery was not an invention of the Renaissance or the Medieval era. Slavery existed among the Greeks and Romans and it existed among the Muslims and there's even an Islamic legal tradition dealing with slavery.
So I ask the question: why is it that President Ahmadinejad seeks to put the blame for these historical atrocities - for racism, slavery and suppression of free opinion - only on the West? This is equally a part of the negative history within Islam, which we need to correct, in dealing with these bad, anti-human practices.
I see also that in the official statement of the permanent UN representative of the
In other words, the
All religion as we know it today is based on criticism. The Jews criticized Pharaoh. The Christians have their criticism of Judaism as it was practiced at the time. Islam criticized the polytheists who had taken over the Haram in
So I would ask: are certain Muslims happy to have it said that they have put themselves on the side of those who oppressed Moses, those who oppressed Jesus, those who oppressed Muhammad? Is that what they want to be on the side of, by calling for an end to discussion and criticism?
Calling the criticism of certain aspects of Islamic societies or the criticism of Muslims or even negative criticism of all of Islam, stereotyping and hate speech, is false. There may be stereotyping, there may be hate speech, but there is no reason to respond to it by attempting to suppress it and attempting to prevent people from expressing themselves.
Whether you are of no religion or whether you are a monotheist or a Buddhist or something else, if you believe in your religion you must be prepared to argue in defense of your religion. And the Koran commands us that when we debate with the People of the Book, we argue in a quiet and a pleasant way because God hates wrath. So we don’t argue against those who say things that may hurt our feelings about Islam by saying, "Oh, there should be a law and they should be arrested and imprisoned and they should be suppressed and silenced."
Here's a little folder I picked up in this building: “
Why are these people here in
I think what we have seen and what we are seeing in the Durban Review Conference is an attempt to protect radicalism and intolerance under the pretext of combating stereotyping and incitement. Why is this necessary? Why is it necessary to engage in this double dialectic, this double dialogue, this double language, by saying that any criticism of Islam is stereotyping and hate speech? The aim is clear: to do away with pluralism, to do away with dialogue, to do away with discussion.
In traditional Islam, the glory of our religion is that it is like Judaism in that it encourages debate among its scholars. As the Prophet Mohammad said, the differences among the scholars of religion are a blessing and a mercy. He also said that the scholars of Islam, the scholars of religion, are like the stars in the sky; if you choose one, you'll be guided. That's traditional Islam. Traditional Islam is not afraid of criticism either from within Islam or from outside of Islam.
Diversity must not and cannot be used as a pretext to deny diversity and above all freedom of opinion. That's the bottom line.
I have only been given ten minutes and these are obviously topics I can talk about at great length. But I wanted to include a little bit - maybe a little bit extensively in talking about my own experience in the Balkans.
I first went to the former
And I asked myself about the United Nations, because the United Nations rules Kosovo, just as the United Nations played a role in
But what does the UN say about
I'd like to add a point that is of interest to me. Everybody who is literate in any way about religion knows that there is immense diversity in Christianity. If somebody says, "I've become a Christian," and I say, "Oh, you must be Catholic," they may say, "No, I’m a Baptist,” or a Methodist.” If somebody says that they're Jewish, and if I say, "Oh well then you must be Orthodox." They might very likely say, "No, I'm Conservative or Reform." If somebody says, "I'm going to go to the lands of Buddhism," we know that Tibetan Buddhism, Chinese Buddhism and Korean Buddhism are quite different from each other.
Why is there supposedly only one Islam? And it's the Islam that's dictated from
I spoke earlier about the ghosts of
The League of Nations did not act against
The United Nations bears that legacy, and those ghosts are here too. This is what I say in conclusion: I am an American. There was always a flaw of the
Stephen Suleyman Schwartz is the author of 20 books, including The Two Faces of Islam (translated into Bosnian, Albanian, Indonesian, and Farsi) and The Other Islam, both of which have gained wide readership in the Muslim world as well as in the West. He also worked as a consultant for the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Former