There is still religious bigotry

It is not religion, but bigotry that destroys us - Islam also has the potential for peace and understanding

Our image of Islam is strongly shaped by the terror committed in its name and the coercion exercised by many of its followers. Nevertheless, it is wrong to see in it only a danger for peaceful coexistence in the western world.

In the mid-1990s I was a listener at a conference at Tel Aviv University on interreligious understanding. The focus was on the lectures by a rabbi, a Christian clergyman and an imam from Jericho, who spoke about the possibilities of religious dialogue in the spirit of the then keen hope of understanding in the wake of the Oslo Agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

During the discussion, the rabbi asked the Imam how he had the courage to attend this meeting. Because in those times marked by suicide bombings it was very real to fear that a Palestinian personality who appears openly at an Israeli university would endanger his life. The Imam's response impressed the audience. He explained that his life was in God's hands anyway, he decided whether he would have to live a long time or just a short time. Therefore it is a priority for him to do what he thinks is necessary and to cultivate the neighborly dialogue.

Mobilization within

As Stephan Grigat recently did in his guest article on the NZZ, one may smile at this fatalistic man as one of those contemporaries “who seriously claim that there are higher beings and therefore, quite voluntarily and without compulsion, focus on the spiritual Level from a few hundred years ago ». The fact is, however, that the Imam's attitude, in its undisguised faith, belies the claim that religion in general and Islam in particular is in itself a danger to peaceful coexistence in the western world.

The blasphemic can never be the unbeliever who laughs at a religion, but the one driven by bigoted convictions who kills the unbeliever in the name of religion can be.

This is not about trying to play off an allegedly original spiritual Islam against a "betrayed" political Islam, as Mouhanad Khorchide tries to do in his most recent book. Because ultimately the result counts. What counts is whether religion today not only allows, but also promotes it, to offer support to overarching human dignity and peaceful coexistence instead of endangering or even denying it. This potential is there, but it can only be implemented through mobilization within the religious communities.

With the likeness or representation of God (in Islam), the human being as such enjoys an irreducible and above all intrinsic value in the monotheistic religions. In contrast, the secularly based human rights based on conventions always require external acceptance. Nobody has emphasized their fragility more sharply than Hannah Arendt, who summarized the - shared - experience of expatriates in such a way "that the abstract nakedness of their nothing-but-human was their greatest danger". The same applies today to millions of oppressed and needy people in unjust states.

It is well known that the transfer of this religious image of man into a pluralistic practice is hindered by the fact that non-believers or unbelievers are the targets of discrimination and violence. That is the Achilles' heel of religions, and in this they differ little from fascist systems. The former British chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks shows that the approach of universal validity has led to totalitarian tendencies instead of the Abrahamic mandate being discovered in the religious: “The God of Abraham is the God of all humanity, but the faith of Abraham is not faith of all humanity. "

Comparable in essence

Belief in oneself would therefore be pluralism. The Imam from Jericho made this clear in his own way. Well, will the atheists interject, and what about the refusal to believe? Here, too, Abraham is the model. After all, he went up against God personally in order to prevent him from destroying the "wicked" of Sodom.

The approach is by no means limited to religion, as the post-totalitarian age knows. And the boundaries between religious and identitarian extremism are also currently blurring, as individuals (mostly male) who are overwhelmed by the unreasonable demands of technological and social developments subordinate their free will to a supposedly greater one. In essence, the assassin von Halle and the murderer of the history teacher Samuel Paty are similar.

Stephan Grigat calls for the ban on blasphemy to be lifted. An internal religious reflection on the term would be more important. In the Jewish context, the term «chillul haschem», the desecration of the (divine) name, corresponds best to it. Significantly, the divine name can only be violated by those who identify with faith. By acting amoral, they provide arguments against their beliefs to those of different and non-believers. But how is a non-believer supposed to discredit a belief to which he does not adhere? Thus, the blasphemic can never be the unbeliever who laughs at a religion, but the one driven by bigoted convictions who kills the unbeliever in the name of religion.

Alfred Bodenheimer is Professor of Religious History and Literature of Judaism at the University of Basel.