Benno Barnard: "Long live God, Away with Allah"
The Dutch poet and essayist Benno Barnard, originally from Amsterdam, but a resident of Belgium for more than thirty years, was recently shouted down at the University of Antwerp, where he was attempting to lecture on the topic "Long live God, Away with Allah," an obviously provocative title that may well have been intended by him to get the reaction that it provoked, for an interview with Nikolas Vanhecke in De Standaard on the incident is titled "The best lecture I could give" (April 2, 2010).
I don't have access to the talk that Barnard didn't give, but here's my translation of the interview from the original Dutch, based on Google Translate and my knowledge of German:
Vanhecke: The title of the lecture that you intended to give at the University of Antwerp reads "Long live God, Away with Allah." The lecture is primarily about the Judeo-Christian tradition. Why did you choose that title?I don't know very much about Benno Barnard, but he's written a very readable, engaging essay on "Belgium's Culture: A Dutchman's View" in How Can One Not Be Interested in Belgian History (2005), in which he praises Belgium as a nation and thereby shows that his appreciation of Filip Dewinter's views on Islam is not based on political agreement about a need to break Belgium up into its two ethnic parts.
Barnard: "Obviously, I made use of the rhetorical technique of provocation in the title. A feature of the Judeo-Christian tradition is debate. This interaction goes back to the Old Testament and has led to the Enlightenment, humanism, and democracy. Provocation is the clearest form of disagreement. Our entire culture is based on this."
"Islam does not debate. To clarify the difference, I switched the metaphor to Allah."
Vanhecke: In other words, Islam is an undemocratic religion.
Barnard: "Real Islam doesn't recognize the possibility of democratization. There are sound democratic Muslims, but they do not respect the strict rules of Islam. Sharia (Islamic law, ed.) is described in the Quran, and the laws are what the real Islam preaches."
"There is a quote from Kemal Atatürk (founder of the secular Turkish state, ed.): 'Islam, which is the absurd theology of an immoral Bedouin, is a rotting corpse that poisons our lives.' And I can provide still more from unexpected people who raise criticisms against Islam. Secularization is against Islam, as it was born from Mecca and Medina."
"And as for all that nonsense about the real Islam, you can study that at the University of Antwerp in the context of active pluralism. Some of the members of Sharia4Belgium study at the University of Antwerp. That's where they came upon the trail that led them to the lecture. Or did you think that they came from outside the university?"
Vanhecke: Would you have preferred your lecture to the incident, or do you think that it made your point stronger?
Barnard: "That was the best lecture I could give. I spoke two sentences and got no further because "Allahu akbar" ('God is great,' ed.) begin to roar. Welcome to the future! By their action they have formulated part of my thesis."
Vanhecke: In 2004, along with other writers, you called upon people not to vote for [the separatist party] Vlaams Blok, as the party was then called. Last year you agreed with Filip Dewinter in his criticism of Islam. What changed you?
Barnard: "I studied Islam thoroughly, reading the Quran but also other books. Today, I think Filip Dewinter is a prophet. Previously, I called him a racist, but I had blinders on back then. He very early realized the true nature of Sharia. As a commited Belgian, however, I am no fan of Vlaams Belang (the separatist party that replaced Vlaams Blok)."
Vanhecke: What are you then?
Barnard: "I've often been called a left-wing conservative. I advocate a leftist emancipation. Many leftists are actually rightwing without knowing it. From a misunderstanding of social reality, they support Muslims. You then get to a point where feminists defend the burka. Education is ruined by a wrong equal opportunities policy of the Social Democrats. I am the opposite of a racist."
"This whole story is in principle the worst of all for the moderate Muslims. One of the officers yesterday (Wednesday, ed.) was Muslim, and was called a traitor."
Vanhecke: Were you actually forewarned that protection would be needed?
Barnard: "The police had contacted the university. Police security had noticed messages on the website of Sharia4Belgium and also knew that the 'Youth of Islam' had called for a boycott via SMS (Short Message Service)."
Vanhecke: Were you shocked by the incident anyway?
Barnard: "What do you think? At the moment it seemed so unreal that it was exactly like watching oneself on television. Only in retrospect did the reality begin to dawn on me. Luckily, I had bodyguards; otherwise, I wouldn't be speaking to anyone today."
Barnard may believe that he's given the "best lecture" he could give by being shouted down, but I would have liked to hear his argument on how the West's Judeo-Christian tradition is based on provocative debate and in what sense this traces back to the Old Testament. I'm interested because I'd like to know if by "provocative debate," Barnard means a "culture of discussion," for I would have thought this due more to the Graeco-Roman influence.
Do any readers know if Barnard has posted online the lecture that he didn't give?