Sunday, March 11, 2007

Tariq Ramadan: A Postscript

Tariq Ramadan
Making a Serious Point
(Image from Islam Online [9/5/03])

In a much earlier blog entry (February 7, 2006), I cited an opinion piece by Tariq Ramadan titled "Free speech and civic responsibility" that had been adapted for the International Herald Tribune from an interview with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels. In that piece, Ramadan makes several points, including the two below:
[(1) I]n the Muslim world, we are not used to laughing at religion, our own or anybody else's. This is far from our understanding. For that reason, these cartoons are seen, by average Muslims and not just radicals, as a transgression against something sacred, a provocation against Islam.
I find this first point only narrowly correct, for while Muslims might not laugh at a non-Islamic religion, they are certainly not above scoffing at the religious beliefs of others (e.g., Christian views of Jesus as God's son).
(2) Muslims must understand that laughing at religion is a part of the broader culture in which they live in Europe, going back to Voltaire. Cynicism, irony and indeed blasphemy are part of the culture.
Ramadan sounds here as though he's conceding Western culture's traditional right to satirize the sacred, but any concession is likely only temporary.

In a now-dated but for me eye-opening series on Civilisation, which I watched as a student in Baylor University's undergraduate Honors Program many years ago, the great British art historian Kenneth Clark presented his personal view of the Enlightenment in the tenth program, titling this episode "The Smile of Reason" and opening with the camera focused on a beautiful white-marble statue of a smiling Voltaire.

Perhaps from precisely that moment, I've considered reason and humor to be linked in their function of calling things into question, the very doubt that Ramadan sees as a Western weakness.

I ask myself ... when Ghazali excluded an independent role for rational doubt, did he also rule out a self-reflective, ironic humor?



At 6:00 AM, Blogger jj mollo said...

Well, I have read some Islamic humor. Muslims can be funny and they tell funny stories. It would be against human nature to have none. What's different is how we deal with humor. In the US, political figures don't have to be comedians, but they sure have to be able to take a joke, and tell one too. I agree that part of the Enlightenment is being able to laugh -- at anything.

Bill Cosby's conversation with God, in the role of Noah, was pretty funny, and nobody shot him. The Life of Brian was about as blasphemous as you can get, but none of the participants was stoned to death. In fact, there were a lot of Christians who saw the movie and loved it. It used to be that half the jokes in America started with a priest, a minister and a rabbi. These figures were mocked, but still respected. Did such jokes weaken religious sentiment? Maybe they did cultivate tolerance, which I sense is no longer honored in Islam.

Humorous attacks on POTUS represent a national industry here, yet he still serves as the Commander in Chief. In a lot of countries, there are actually laws against such entertainments. Thank God for Borat. Let's hope he survives.

At 6:28 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I agree, Muslims can be funny, but I wonder if humor is approved by the post-Ghazali Islamic tradition.

Is Borat worth seeing, by the way? A Canadian acquaintance of mine here in Korea told me that the film was terrible. I've not had any strong desire to see it.

Should I see it anyway?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hadith Bukhari: Volume 4, Book 54, Number 435:
Narrated Al Bara:

The Prophet said to Hassan, "Lampoon them (i.e. the pagans) and Gabriel is with you."

At 10:55 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, thank you for the help. I'm quite grateful for it.

Do you (or anyone) know if this is considered a strong, weak, or unreliable hadith?

At any rate, it's very useful to know of this tradition.

Jeffery Hodges

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