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Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ramadan Spar Over the Peacefulness of Islam (VIDEO). Article by Walter Owen for Vanity Fair. Part 1 of 2.
By Admin (from 23/10/2010 @ 08:00:49, in en - Global Observatory, read 1952 times)

On the day a Federal District Court judge told the would-be Times Square bomber that she hoped he would spend his life sentence thinking about whether “the Koran wants you to kill lots of people,” Christopher Hitchens and Tariq Ramadan took the stage at the 92nd Street Y to debate the question, “Is Islam a religion of peace?”

Neither man liked the question.

“This is not the right question to ask,” Ramadan said in his opening remarks. “It doesn’t mean anything.” It didn’t mean anything when George W. Bush called Islam a religion of peace, said the Swiss scholar, barred by the Bush administration from entering the United States on anti-terrorism grounds in 2004.

The right question, he said is “do we have something helping us toward peace?” Ramadan seemed to be saying that Islam served that purpose, though he never said so outright. “The Koran is the word of God,” he said. “The problem is not the book. The problem is the reader.”

In his rebuttal, Hitchens would agree with Ramadan about the perils of reading, but said that the fault did not always lie with the reader. “In reading the Koran,” Hitchens said, “I can’t tell if it’s the word of god, but I can hope it’s a sign of god having a bad day.”

Ramadan argued that religion was “instrumentalized” (he used the word five times) by bad actors who distorted it. With a penchant for becoming emphatic when stating the obvious, Ramadan said, “Islam is a religion for human beings. But we are not peaceful human beings.” The “diversity” within Islam—“Maimonides spoke Arabic better than me,” he said—led to the risk of “lots of wars.” Turning to Hitchens, a former Trotskyist and trade union organizer, Ramadan said, “You see what some did with Marx. Is therefore all Marx bad? No.”

(When he spoke next, Hitchens seemed to pause as he considered how far to take the bait about Marx, and then declined to do so at all.)

“You don’t give the people all the interpretation,” Ramadan told Hitchens. “It’s not serious to say all Muslims are acting in the same way. Don’t tell me you didn’t hear the Muslim condemnation of September 11.”

But Ramadan went on to complain that in fact Muslim appeals for reason do go unheard. Speaking of himself, he said, “When what he’s saying is good, he’s alone. When they don’t like what I say, it’s, `He has a huge following.’“

But he did not think that history should be any guide to reform. “Don’t rely on history,” he said. “With history you prove whatever you want.” He then drew a parallel between Islamist terror as a distortion of Islam and the American campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. “In the name of human rights we kill innocent people,” he said, his soft, French-inflected voice rising as he leaned over the podium. “The blood of an Iraqi or an Afghan is as good as American blood.”

In his rebuttal, Hitchens pointed out that though he didn’t think “the motion was a particularly good one, I knew about it as long as Professor Ramadan did, and I agreed to speak to it. Not to make it a point of self-pity.”

After rebuking Ramadan for his remark about American and Middle Eastern blood, Hitchens asked, “What has the United States done in Iraq that was as criminal as the blowing up of the Golden Mosque in Samarra? Deliberately intending to start a civil war, which it did. Where is the Sunni outrage? Where is the Sunni fatwa against this conduct? I missed it. And so, apparently, did the followers of the prophet.”

TO BE CONTINUED ...

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