Mike Ghouse, Tuesday, August 21, 2007
I am pleased to share the following:
- The Clash between faith and politics on CNN Starting today, Tuesday, August 21
- Cities of Light: An Intriguing Documentary - The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain
- Islamic Spain - history's refrain - Christian Science Monitor
- Religious Pluralism
- 11th Hour
TELEVISION & RADIO
The clash between faith and politics
By David Bauder
August 21, 2007
NEW YORK -- Christiane Amanpour's work on the documentary series "God's Warriors" took her directly to intersections of extreme religious and secular thinking.
She watched, fascinated, as demonstrators in San Francisco accused teenagers in the fundamentalist Christian group BattleCry of intolerance in a clash of two cultures that will probably never understand each other.
Understanding is what Amanpour is trying to promote in "God's Warriors," airing in six prime-time hours on CNN. The three-part series on religious fundamentalism among Christians, Muslims and Jews runs tonight through Thursday.
Many people know only stereotypes of these true believers, even the ones in their own country, she said.
Yet it's vital to be familiar with their thinking given the growing importance of these movements in the war on terrorism, the never-ending conflicts surrounding Israel and conservative politics in the United States.
"I'm not interested in drumming up false fears or falsely allaying fears," CNN's chief international correspondent said by phone from France, where she added last-minute touches to the series. "I just want people to know what's going on."
Amanpour traveled extensively over eight months to work on the series. The trips to Amanpour's native Iran are most fascinating. She explored the ancient roots of the conflict between Shiites and Sunnis and talked with one of the country's most accomplished female politicians about how Muslim women are treated.
Another segment tries to explain why so many devout Muslims are willing to give their lives to a cause.
"To the West, martyrdom has a really bad connotation because of suicide bombers who call themselves martyrs," she said. "Really, martyrdom is actually something that historically was quite noble, because it was about standing up and rejecting tyranny, rejecting injustice and rejecting oppression and, if necessary, dying for that."
Finishing the project didn't leave her with a sense of fear over the implications of stronger fundamentalist movements.
"I did come away with a sense that we -- or those people who don't want to see religion in politics and culture -- if we don't look into it and see what is going on, we're in danger of missing it and not being able to react to it properly," she said.
Amanpour was one of the last reporters to talk to the Rev. Jerry Falwell. She interviewed him a week before he died about the legacy of the Moral Majority, the organization that thrust evangelical Christians onto the political stage.
The segment on Christians explores BattleCry in some depth, digging at the roots of an organization that fights against some of the cruder elements of popular culture and urges teenagers to be chaste. In noting how girls at some BattleCry events are encouraged to wear long dresses, Amanpour asks the group's leader how it is different from the Taliban.
In a nonjudgmental way, she visits a family that is home-schooling its children and explores the influence of Evangelicals on the courts.
"There is so much nuance, so much information, so much to talk about, by no means were we able to talk about it all," she said, "and by no means do I claim this is the definitive project. It is one of the fullest, one of the most ambitious and one of the most complete."
Amanpour, 49, is no longer CNN's most visible reporter, as she was when skipping from one war zone to another. She received a lot of attention for her documentary "In the Footsteps of Bin Laden" last year and said she's enjoying the opportunity to put day-to-day news in greater perspective.
She has frequently criticized American television networks, including her own, for not spending enough time on international news.
That hasn't changed. "I believe [the audience] wants to know more than our bosses or superficial focus groups would have you believe," she said.
Amanpour was recently named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. She's leaving her home base of London to move to New York with her husband, former State Department spokesman James Rubin.
"This is really a personal move for my husband, who has lived eight years out of his own country and wants to come back," she said.
'CNN Presents: God's Warriors'
When: 9 tonight, Wednesday and Thursday
Cities of Light: An Intriguing Documentary
By Michael van der Galien
When I returned from vacation, there were several books waiting for me to read (and review). I published a post listing all of them. Books, however, were not the only thing sent to me: I also received a screener for the documentary Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain, scheduled to debut on PBS on Wednesday, August 22, 2007 at 9PM. After reading the introduction which accompanied the actual documentary, I could not wait to watch it. It seemed – to put it mildly – like a fascinating subject, about a place and time most of us do not know much about. Luckily, I was not disappointed.
Although the makers certainly had an agenda – convincing the viewer that multiculturalism can work and that we can learn from the situation in Spain during the Middle Ages and before Christians ‘reconquered’ it – one has to admit (even a fierce critic of multiculturalism such as me) that they made a good case and that they did not hide the downsides of the society of al-Andalus. When different groups fought against each other, when fundamentalists tried to take control over cities or villages, the documentary spends attention to it and explains when things went wrong and why.
Islamic Spain was, in the words of the introduction and the documentary confirms it, “the one civilization of pluralism and interfaith cooperation that for a few centuries lit the Dark Ages in Medieval Europe.” After Muslims conquered a large part of, what we call Spain today, they decided not to force their religion on others; instead, they proved themselves to be tolerant. People of other faiths had to pay extra taxes and accept the authority of the Muslim government, but that was about it.
The documentary pays attention to the rulers – in reenacted scenes – who tried to make this complicated society work. One of the most effective rulers was Abdul Rahman III. When the Muslims had just taken over, they were more busy fighting each other for a few decades, than with building a tolerant, thriving society. Until Abdul Rahman the Third took over, that is. He enforced order, made friends and declared himself Caliph (rightful heir to Mohammed). More importantly, he also turned Al-Andalus into a little paradise on earth.
Abdul Rahman III was, according to the documentary, a man far ahead of his time – at least according to European norms that is. He was tolerant towards Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. He also encouraged men of great intelligence to study the works of the ancients and to, by doing so, improve society. He talked to Christian European leaders, accepted their representatives to his court and he sent ambassadors of his own to European kingdoms. Instead of sending people of his own religion – as was normal at that time – Rahman III chose to send Christians to represent him.
He also allowed people of other religions to make a career for themselves. According to Cities of Light, one of the greatest scientists (and poets) of that time and place was… a Jew.
Not only does the documentary show us reenacted scenes, key to the explanation of how they lived and what the political structure was like, are experts. Several experts weigh in. Obviously history experts, but also Islamic scholars and a Jewish scholar. The last one convincingly explains that, at that time, it was better for Jews to live in Al-Andalus – under Islamic rule – than under Christian rule. Christians often persecuted Jews, in Al-Andalus, on the other hand, they were free and even allowed to make a great career for themselves.
The documentary argues not just the above: it also proves that the seeds of the renaissance were laid in this time. The Muslims in Al-Andalus studied the works of the ancients, and their translations and explanations then spread throughout both the Muslims and the Christian world – and that is nothing to say about the tolerance and the prominent role poetry played in this modern yet ancient society.
Since all men are sinners, the relative haven of tolerance and religious cooperation had to come to an end. A violent end. More and more both Muslims and Christians were influenced by their less tolerant co-religionists and violent clashes occurred moe and more. Then, the Muslims invaded Constantinople – a tremendous loss for Christian Europe. The response: Christian Kingdoms united and ‘reconquered’ Al-Andalus (or Spain). Soon religious tolerance disappeared and the once multicultural society of Al-Andalus was nothing but a vague memory in the minds of the men and women who once lived there.
Well, vague, the documentary constantly uses poems of people who either lived in Islamic Spain or who remembered it by story telling (cultural inheritance). These poems are often quite strong – the emotions – and make the viewer aware of how terrible the loss was to the Muslim empire. They remembered Al-Andalus for its tolerance, peace and beauty. They remembered it as the ultimate society.
When I say beauty, I mean it. The documentary makers remade some important places (like palaces) and show us how the rulers (and other people) lived. When Christian leaders came to visit the Caliph, they were more than impressed by what they saw. Where Christian Kings lived in cold palaces, without much beauty, Al-Andalus was a haven of green and fountains. Beautiful, no awesome mosques were built, amazing palaces were constructed, and – above all – they had running water: something Europeans did not have.
As said, it all had to come to an end. The experts – and by now even the viewer who might be a critic of multiculturalism – are filled with sadness and regret. Well, that might be a slight exaggeration, but fact remains that the loss of Al-Andalus as a highly tolerant society, was not just a loss to the Muslim empire, but to humanity itself.
The main point of the producers (and of the experts who all seem to agree with each other which is one of its main weaknesses) is that as long as people of different faiths respect and accept each other(‘s differences), society can flourish. Even more so, the example of Al-Andalus shows that only open societies can flourish: when society – irrelevant what kind of religion – closes itself to other societies (of other religions), it is in the very real danger of stagnation and even degradation.
When watching Cities of Light one cannot help but to agree with that thesis, at least partially. What the makers sadly forget to address is how to behave once one of the religions falls hostage to fundamentalists and, therefore, becomes intolerant. More, one can also wonder whether any multicultural society can last. When we look at history, we see examples of multiculturalism, and Al-Andalus is a prime example of it, but if we look at the fate of these societies and especially of Al-Andalus, is it not fair to conclude that perhaps – sadly – multicultural societies are doomed to failure because, in the end, man becomes intolerant since intolerance (evil) is in our nature?
And that, that is one of the questions I have asked a producer of Cities of Light. The interview will be published ASAP. In the meantime, you all should not forget to tune into PBS coming Wednesday at 9PM to watch this enlightening documentary. Questions remain, but this documentary is quite important: in the larger debate about Islam and about multiculturalism we sometimes forget to look at the good sides – besides that, often the Islamic empire is made out to be ‘evil’ in Western books or we simply do not know anything about it – it is time to change that. History is not all black and white.
For more information about Cities of Light please visit Unity Productions Foundation website.
Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain
Producer / Director: Robert Gardner
Executive Producers: Alexander Kronemer & Michael Wolfe
Narrator: Sam Mercurio
- Lourdes Maria Alvarez: Director of the Center for Catalan Studies and a professor of Spanish at Catholic University in Washington, DC.
- Brian Catlos: Associate Professor of history at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
- Ahmad Dallal: Associate Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies and Chair of the Arabic and Islamic Studies Department at Georgetown University
- D. Fairchild Ruggles: Associate Professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf: Founder and CEO of the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA Society) and Imam of Masjid Al-Farah, a mosque in New York City
- Mustapha Kamal: Currently a lecturer in Arabic, Department of Classics and Mediterranean Studies, at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he focuses on instruction of Arabic language and literature
- Chris Lowney: Former Jesuit and author of A Vanished World: Muslims, Christians and Jews in Medieval Spain
- David Nirenbergs: Charlotte Bloomberg Professor of the Humanities in Medieval History at John Hopkins University
- Raymond P. Scheindlin: Professor of Medieval Hebrew Literature at The Jewish Theological Seminary and Director of JTS’s Shalom Spiegel Institute of Medieval Hebrew Poetry ____________________________________
Islamic Spain: History's refrain
from the August 22, 2007 edition - http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0822/p09s02-coop.html
Islamic Spain: History's refrain
It's a model for interfaith ties, and a warning about religious division.
By Alexander Kronemer
The past sometimes provides examples of glory and success that serve as models. Other times, as the philosopher George Santayana said, it warns of impending calamity for those who do not learn from it.
For the past several years, I've been immersed in a history that does both. As one of the producers for an upcoming PBS documentary on the rise and fall of Islamic Spain, I've witnessed its amazing ascent and tragic fall countless times in the editing room, only to go home and watch some of the same themes playing out on the nightly news.
Islamic Spain lasted longer than the Roman Empire. It marked a period and a place where for hundreds of years a relative religious tolerance prevailed in medieval Europe.
A model for religious tolerance
At its peak, it lit the Dark Ages with science and philosophy, poetry, art, and architecture. It was the period remembered as a golden age for European Jews. Breakthroughs in medicine, the introduction of the number zero, the lost philosophy of Aristotle, even the prototype for the guitar all came to Europe through Islamic Spain.
Not until the Renaissance was so much culture produced in the West. And not until relatively recent times has there been the level of pluralism and religious tolerance that existed in Islamic Spain at its peak. Just as the vibrancy and creativity of America is rooted in the acceptance of diversity, so was it then.
Because Islam's prophet Muhammad founded his mission as a continuation of the Abrahamic tradition, Islamic theology gave special consideration to Jews and Christians. To be sure, there were limits to these accommodations, such as special taxes levied on religious minorities. But in the early Middle Ages, official tolerance of one religion by another was an amazingly liberal point of view. This acceptance became the basis for Islamic Spain's genius. Indeed, it was an important reason Islam took hold there in the first place.
When the first Muslims crossed the straits of Gibraltar into Spain, the large Jewish population there was enduring a period of oppression by the Roman Catholic Visigoths. The Jewish minorities rallied to aid the Arab Muslims as liberators, and the divided Visigoths fell.
The conquering Arab Muslims remained a minority for many years, but they were able to govern their Catholic and Jewish citizens by a policy of inclusiveness. Even as Islam slowly grew over the centuries to be the majority religion in Spain, this spirit was largely, if not always perfectly, maintained.
Pluralistic though it was, Islamic Spain was no democracy. After years of enlightened leadership, a succession of bad leaders caused the unified Muslim kingdom to fragment among many smaller petty kingdoms and fiefdoms.
Though they competed and fought, the spirit of pluralism continued. Indeed, it thrived as rival kings sought the best minds in the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish worlds for their courts. This was just as true in the Christian petty kingdoms, as the Muslim ones. Christian and Muslim armies even fought alongside each other against mutual rivals of both faiths.
It is at this point that the darker parallels to our time begin. Into the competition for land, resources, and power, some leaders on both sides began to appeal to religion to rally support for their cause. Wars became increasingly religious in nature. Into this tinderbox a match was thrown: the Crusades – the same term that many Arabs use today when referring to America's adventure in Iraq.
The Crusades deepened Spain's religious divide. Minorities in both Christian and Muslim kingdoms become increasingly suspect. Persecutions, expulsions, and further warfare ensued. Nothing could stop it, not even the black plague.
Ultimately, Christian kingdoms gained the upper hand as the Muslim kingdoms of Islamic Spain fell. Spain's Muslims and Jews were forced to either leave or convert. This led to the rise of the Inquisition, whose purpose was to verify the loyalty of suspect converts. The expulsions and inquisitions racked Spain economically, culturally, and morally. Its power was severely compromised. The fall of pluralism in Spain was the fall of Spain itself.
Dark parallels with today
This fall directly links to events today and raises many of the same stakes. Though few Americans note it, one of Osama bin Laden's justifications for the 9/11 attacks was to avenge the "tragedy" of Islamic Spain.
So far, the post-9/11 world and the policies it has spawned seem to be heading in the same dangerous direction as witnessed before. The religious intolerance that engulfed and overwhelmed medieval Spain threatens the increasingly beleaguered pluralism of our own time.
At its best, the history of Islamic Spain is a model for interfaith cooperation that inspires those who seek an easier relationship among the three Abrahamic faiths. At its worst, it's a warning of what can occur when political and religious leaders divide the world. It reminds us what really happens when civilizations clash.
• Alexander Kronemer is a writer, lecturer, and documentary producer focusing on religious diversity, Islam, and cross-cultural understanding. His film "Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain" premieres on PBS Aug. 22.
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Monday, August 20, 2007
Bill Berkowitz and Barry Lynn seem to think that the idea of a modern evangelical meeting with Muslim theologians is a novel idea. Perhaps they missed all those debates with Aquinas on transcendence? Or perhaps they missed the more recent discussions that Ravi Zacharias has had with Muslim theologians?
Whether ancient or modern, it's not at all novel. But what is encouraging is that it happened. Hopefully more meetings will occur and progress towards peace can be accomplished. Something that Mr. Berkowitz (and Jane Hunter) missed is clear:
"We also found interesting Jonathan Falwell's and Benny Hinn's discussion of 'religious freedom' in the Arab world from their customary vantage point, rather than as pluralism that could benefit Arab societies. But why should we be surprised at that, given the Christian right's lack of interest in pluralism here at home?" Hunter said.
What he missed is that the discussion necessarily entails religious pluralism, empirical pluralism. (Because Ann Coulter is right -- secular pluralism (secular liberalism) is based on rationalism -- it's Godless.)
Mr. Berkowitz also bemoans the lack of women in the meeting. The empirical pluralist holds the orthodox to a standard that the religious pluralist does not hold. They are necessarily intolerant of orthodoxy and are certainly not the pluralists they claim to be.
Dr. D. A. Carson deals with this inconsistency in granting liberty by the empirical pluralist in his work The Gagging of God. It seems that the secular pluralist's hermeneutic has forgotten some imortant characteristics of history -- the place of Natural Law within our system of laws. (Yes, this means that our Constitution's constitution, it's essence, came out of a Christian world view, not a simple atheistic, rationalistic, secular motive. If that were the case, Natural Law would not have been part of the founders' discussions.)
The result is that different interpreters, judicial and otherwise, handle such expressions quite differently. Many appeal to the phrase "Laws of Nature" in the first sentence of the Declaration. The second sentence provides a definition: human beings are "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights," including "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Others point out that none of this is preserved in the Constitution, which neither mentions God nor includes such general "rights." Moreover, persuaded by the arguments of Leff, cited above, they think there is no place for a "natural lawa" reading of the Constitution. But perhaps most argue in an ad hoc fashion, well illustrated in a brief essay by Michael Kinsley. Kinsley is quite sure that Justice Thomas could abuse his bleief in "natural law," yet at the same time he argues:
All this is not to say that natural-law concepts have no role to play in constitutional interpretation. Many people, for example, find it hard to understand why freedom of speech must be extended to Nazis and others who do not believe in free speech themselves and would deny it to others if they could. The answer is that the Bill of Rights is based on the theory of natural law, not on the alternative theory of a social contract. You are entitled to these rights simply because you are a human being, not because you have agreed, literally or metaphorically, to honor them.
Though Carson's analysis of Kinsley is not a positive one (evaluating his inconsistent hermeneutic) it remains (and I think it is correct) within Kinsley's statement that the presence of Natural Law has an unarguable historic foundation in our system.
So why should the empirical pluralists over at TalkToAction be opposed to a meeting such as this? Why does this type of religious pluralism even matter to them? It's a matter of control. Whether real or perceived, there is the perception of an impending theocracy once people of these varieties of faith transcend the capabilities of government, authority, and militarism.
Should these meetings help theologians of all stripes return to the conditions pre-WW I, where Christian, Jew, and Muslim could live together peacefully in the region, that would be a threat to the authoritians of the Left. The failure of the Marxist eschatology has forced the Left to retreat to a more Hegelian approach, and that requires a strong government. Whether the neo-Liberal or neo-Conservative, the perceived threat of a revived evangelicalism and Catholicism threaten the dominance of today's dying Liberal world. Religious Pluralism is nothing new.
Imam Feisal in 11th hour movie
In recent times, tremendous effort has been put into increasing awareness on issues of global warming. A new film, The 11th Hour with Leonardo DiCaprio, aims to bring more light to environmental issues by presenting the opinions of reputable experts who urge action.
To include the Islamic perspective on the issue, the filmmakers interviewed Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Speaking on the full-length DVD version of the film, Imam Feisal outlines an Islamic perspective on climate change, citing Muslim standards of individual accountability in environmental conservation. As caretakers of the earth, he says, humans have a special responsibility to be its safeguards. Even as we drive to eliminate world poverty and improve living conditions for our own kind we must never forget the well-being of that which sustains us.
We invite you to see the film The 11th Hour (now in theatres) and to bring your friends and family along. There can be no better educational, motivational, and inspirational experience on the subject of our era's most weighty challenge.
To view the trailer for The 11th Hour, please click here.
To learn more about the film's environmental campaign, please click here.
The ASMA Society Team