Misreading History with Richard Bulliet

Transcript Details

Event Name: Misreading History with Richard Bulliet
Transcription Date:Transcription Modified Date: 5/24/2019
Transcript Version: 1

Transcript Text

>narrative because the master narrative

is that you know warring competition

makes you strong and inventive and you

know gives you the power to rule the

world well this is have gilding the lily

I think but it's a it's part of this

story now what I'm trying to to argue

for is a a view of history that says you

know the similarities both in doctrine

and in scriptural origin and in the

actual history of institutions whether

we're talking about universities or the

clergy or other phenomena the spread of

a single dominant religious language

that the the similarities between what

happens in the Islamic Middle East and

North Africa and what happens

particularly in that part of Europe that

becomes part of Latin Christendom those

civil ladies similarities are so great

as to constitute a single history and

they should be taught together just as

someone in a classics Department is

expected to know Greek and Latin and

someone at least in this university who

studies East Asian history is required

to know both Japanese and Chinese we

should make it a requirement that anyone

who does let's say pre modern history

dealing with northwest the northwest

quadrant of the afro-eurasian landmass

they should all be required to to know

both Arabic and and Latin and preferably

Greek and Persian as well because we

don't we've been so governed by the

narratives of division that we have

structured our entire Academy around

this it is naive I think of me to think

this could ever change I when I was

writing the book I had this idea that I

would throw out the term Islamic

Christian civilization and then I would

simply google it every few weeks or a

few hours and and watch as it took over

the world because surely that is what a

better idea does this is this is what a

this is what the better mousetrap does

so I did and lo and behold I pretty soon

eyes out of the single digits and so you

know I can't say that my endeavor has

been crowned with success or perhaps

ever will be crowned with success but if

one thing I think it has done is to

introduce at least the possibility of

people reading history differently and

it isn't that you can look at it this

way and learn from the other the notion

of the other is in itself is a

questionable issue are we not the same

who's the other after all for a very

very long time

Europeans knew perfectly well who the

other was and if you were a Lutheran it

meant it was the satanic Pope in Rome

and if you were a Catholic

it meant it you were one of these young

it was these people who followed these

demonic demented

Protestant leaders and then it all kind

of cooled out they said hey hey we're

all Christians we can get along well you

know I'm not saying that there is no

violence now that there is no no contest

but in the long run we have one history

we're all sharers in this history and if

the Protestants and the Catholics can

sit down and break bread together and

agree to hate Muslims then why can't the

Protestants and the Catholics and the

Orthodox and the Jews and the Muslims

sit down and recognize that they have

more to learn and more to gain from

talking about their shared history than

they have in allowing anyone to

perpetuate the kind of ideologically

distorted history that this book

represents which to me is a profound

misreading thank you very much

thank you doctor bullet I think we can

all make a difference in creating a

slow-mo Christian as a part of our

current lexicon we should go to Google

we should write about it we should

demand it we need to put it in our

language what do you say why not

because you know it wasn't that long ago

that the notion judeo-christian became

part of our lexicon so there's nothing

impossible I think about what dr. bullet

suggests it is now my pleasure to

introduce to you Sheikh Hamza Yusuf who

is also a teacher who is a leader and a

friend he is founder and resident

scholar of Zaytuna Institute he is a man

who has learned his religion and taught

it with Austin authenticity and love in

a way that I greatly admire I will say

that he's mastered the language of the

Quran and my father is an Arab and I've

never mastered that so I'm I'm humbled

the tuna is based in Berkeley a city

that cultivates many revolutionary ideas

in in this last century in America and I

think a seminary Muslim seminary is

indeed a revolutionary idea

that's a to know sheikh hamza and his

partner Imams a shaker bring a

multi-dimensional and pluralistic and

traditional kind of learning to the

spirit of Islam and are beginning to

infuse a real sturdy steady integral

sense of Islam in America it's a very

exciting time I believe to be a Muslim

here in this country

Shekhar's is committed to as dr. bullet

is a better understanding of Islam in

this country at this time of crossroad

and indeed we are at a crossroads here

in this country and I think globally

since the defining day of that crossroad

September 11th 2001 Hamza Yusuf has

emerged as an expert on Islam in

Erica like professor bullet he

emphasizes the urgency of mutual

understanding among people of faith for

those of you who can go to Zaytuna and

sit at the feet of hamza and Imams aood

I highly recommend you avail yourselves

of the opportunity for those who cannot

we are here tonight to avail ourselves

of the opportunity of listening to

Sheikh Hamza Yusuf and then I will

return and the three of us will sit

together and talk please welcome a lot

and I say to Mohammed wine and he was

Sam he will send him to cinema and ham

dude first of all I wanted to just to

say to dr. bullet that I felt like I was

the opening act was the Beatles so now

I'm really stuck here so I think the

idea of miss reading history is a major

problem miss reading any book is always

a problem one of the former professors

at Columbia University Mortimer Adler

actually wrote a book called how to read

a book and it's actually worth reading

I would get the first edition which was

1940 it went into several editions and

it was later rewritten with Charles Van

Dorn who was the son of another teacher

from Columbia that I was actually named

after my father studied and took his

degree from Columbia here so I'm not an

alumnus but I am the son of an alumnus

that counts for anything here at the

university they'll probably send a

donation the thing now I I want to

recommend for people to read this book

because I think it is an important book

and I would not really put it past the

West that one day the idea of an Islamic

Christian civilization is quite possible

I said a few minutes ago that I think

before the Holocaust it would have been

been impossible for there to have been

the concept of a judeo-christian society

in the West I think it would have been

very difficult for people people tend to

forget that it wasn't that long ago when

Jewish people couldn't go onto the

beaches of the East Coast there used to

be signs no Jews and no Negroes allowed

so things have changed and that should

give us hope that there is possibility

of change there's a lot of talk about

change going on lately in the air but

the truth is that things do change

things change for the worse and things

change for the better and that's part of

the nature of just being in the world

even as you grow older I think you find

certain things change for the worse like

your body but your your mind actually

reaches its peak at 49 according to

Aristotle so for the young people in the

audience you have something to look

forward to if the lessons aren't making

any sense right now you might want to

review those notes in about 25 years

when you've got enough grey cells to

actually work out what the hell the

professor was talking about but I do

think things change and I think today

we're living at a time in which ideas

that were the ideas of philosophers a

thousand or 2,000 years ago are actually

becoming a currency amongst common

people which is quite stunning the idea

of racialism today is anathema in the

United States and public discourse it

it's very difficult for anybody your

career is pretty much ended if you

display public racism now there are a

lot of racists in the United States of

America and there are a lot of people

that are not even aware of their racism

we've had sociological studies where

they'll have a black person with a

Harvard degree come in and the person

interviewing the white person

interviewing them will change their

syntax because there's an assumption

that they just have to speak in a

different way and those people might

consider themselves completely free of

any racism but there are embedded

assumptions in worldviews and in the way

we look at things so things do change

and racism is one of the things that

we're seeing change in this country the

fact that 70 percent of the young people

in this country in the democratic

elections have been voting for Obama and

I think that's quite extraordinary it

says something about what's happening in

our youth it's it's and I think that

that's a sign if California they say

that what happens on the East Coast

today happened about 15 years ago on the

west coast I don't know if that's true

but we're all driving hybrid cars I

don't know if they've gotten out here

yet and we just started the Department

of volunteers which is quite I think an

extraordinary achievement by the

governor out there who if you want to

know why we elected him we're hoping

that we're going to be mistaken as a

foreign country

over in Europe so that that's one area

that has really changed we the the

people during the civil war there were

people in this country that justified

racism biblically as well as rationally

they used arguments from Aristotle of

natural slaves that there are natural

slaves in the world many of those people

were actually religious people Christian

and Jewish leaders that argued that it

was biblical that there was a biblical

basis the South was a very Christian

part of the country in fact the the the

confederacy could have been seen really

as almost a fundamentalist army I mean

these were really devout Christians and

they thought that slavery was a

perfectly acceptable biblically

sanctioned way to engage with other

people but that is no longer the case

despite the fact that there's still

racism in the South people do not accept

that idea of one person owning another

person so I think we have to be aware of

that that's quite extraordinary now in

terms of the miss reading of history I

think first of all you have to read

history before you can miss read it and

I think unfortunately a lot of people do

not know anything about the past the

past for many people is taken from

Hollywood films they know more about I

think British history from films like

Braveheart than they do from anything

they heard in in a history class and

Braveheart is has nothing to do with

British history for people that know

anything about William Wallace or what

actually have an other that there was a

guy named William Wallace who did fight

somebody named Edward you know the

second in in in British history

but this is something that many people

in this country are not aware of not

only our own history and a good example

of that is something like Ron Paul who's

seen as

kind of wacko candidate and yet much of

what he articulates is is very consonant

with founding fathers early beliefs so

it shows you how far the country has

come in terms of the founding fathers

and for instance foreign policies no

foreign entanglements that was

definitely part of American foreign

policy for a long time Americans did not

want to get involved in other places

there was massive resistance to even

getting into World War one and World War


there was actually a very strong America

first movement in this country one of

the spokespersons for that movement was

Charles Lindbergh who flew across the

Atlantic so there was an isolationist

attitude in the United States Americans

did not like to get involved in foreign

entanglements despite the fact that

there is a history especially after

during the McKinley and after that there

is a history of imperialistic

interventions in places like the

Philippines but generally there was

resistance to that certainly Mark Twain

if anybody's ever read his article about

the Philippines and the massacre of the

Filipinos he was part of the

anti-imperialist movement in this

country and very well-respected as

people know one of his statements about

which I think related to the Philippines

is that naked people have no rights in

this world meaning Aboriginal people and

he has his own racist remarks and things

like that in his statements but he was

acting as an American he's

quintessentially American in his anti

imperialist attitudes so the problem

with this country and the way that we

miss read history I think is that we do

have this master narrative the Americans

tend to see themselves as wearing white

hats in in many ways we are the

Manicheans we are the people that really

see things in terms of black and white

it's very difficult for us to perceive

ourselves as the bad guy because it's

just doesn't go with the narrative that

we were raised with that that was a view

of that Americans had manifest destiny

God is with after the the the

kaveri char's and the indians all fell

the Cavallari chars and the indians all

died but the country was young then with

God on our side and this is a view that

has been carried into the Middle East

this is a view that has been carried

into Afghanistan and many other places

so it's hard for us to see that we have

good intentions and this is an argument

you will hear well we have good

intentions so we're not really there

about the oil we're there to bring them

democracy well there's a lot of other

countries in the world that don't have

democracy that would have been a lot

easier to bring democracy to as just

sample case studies just to show that we

could do it like for instance Miley

Miley would give you no resistance at

all I've been to Mali I guarantee you

the Malians would love for the Americans

to invade the country and build their

infrastructure drill wells for them so

that they'd actually have potable water

and their children didn't die from

dysentery because I was just in West

Africa and I was in a village there

where the children are urinating blood

because of the grit in the water and so

I'd like to see us bring just wells to

Mauritania just wells not democracy just

well so that they can drink pure water

but that's all because we spend billions

watering our lawns and that water is

potable billions watering lawns but

we've got people dying from a lack of

potable water all over the world so

these are the realities of our time we

we like to see ourselves both in the

past and in the present as sometimes

very different from how we're viewed by

others and so it's very it becomes very

important to listen to the others so

that perhaps you can hear something

because one of the Imam Shafi one of the

great scholars of Islam who was noted

for his impeccable character was once

asked how he got such good character he

said I listened to my critics and I took

their criticism seriously it can be very

very therapeutic to listen to what

people who don't like you have to

say it can actually help you see

yourself one of the extraordinary things

about the Greeks and the Trojan War was

mentioned if you look at Homer homers

anything but manichaean because although

he's a Greek writing this sacred history

of the Trojan War I tend to side with

the view that he actually really has a

soft spot for the Trojans I think he

really sees them as actually having more

virtue than a lot of these Greek Keon

leaders in that war and yet he was a

Greek and that's why the Iliad is

anything but melodramatic because the

Greeks were not melodramatic great

literature and great poetry is never


it can't be or it wouldn't be great

literature or great poetry so when you

read poetry and and this is one of the

beauties for me of the tradition of

Islam is that it demands of you before

you can actually interpret the Quran you

have to master jaggedy poetry because

it's poetry that gives us the nuances of

life it's only through the poet's vision

of the world that we can actually get a

sense of the ambiguities of the world

and this is something that's often very

difficult for people to recognize that

the world is an ambiguous place it is

often very easy to miss read the world

it's very often easy to see ourselves as

we are not rather than as we are and

it's always easy to see ourselves in the

best light always that's the easiest way

to go down so in in reading history I

think the first and the first and most

important aspect is is obviously to get

the right books because often if it's

Mis written we fall into great error and

and these these lies and distortions of

history have been repeated so often that

they do become like truths for instance

that the Alexandrian library was burnt

by the Muslim

III even had a professor even though I

proved to him that it was not and this

was a professor of Religious Studies I

proved to him that it was not the case

he still told me well I like my version

better ok I mean quite literally and

this is like Galileo makes fun of a

group of church men where he shows them

that the this the central nervous system

was was located in the brain and not the

heart and he shows them and and he and

they remark that it's very interesting

what you've demonstrated and had not

Aristotle said that it was centered in

the heart we'd have to agree with you so

this is one of the tragedies that we

have authorities that become like Moses

bringing tablets in stone

if Bernard Lewis said it it must be true

because he is the doyen of Middle

Eastern Studies

nobody knows Middle Eastern Studies

better than he's fluent in Turkish and

Arabic and Persian and and and what do

you say oh great master o wise one grand

pooh-bah of all who know of the Middle

East tell us what you see with your vast

wisdom Islam something's gone wrong

we have to rectify it the question that

that I would have as an American living

in this country not even as a Muslim

American as an American is what went

wrong here what went wrong here because

when I grew up in this country I had to

get under a wooden desk out of fear of

being bombed by the Russians with

nuclear bombs if it long before Osama

Bin Ladin seriously and this was not an

axis of evil that was living in caves

that didn't even have email because

there there's there's no seriously

there's there's

oh you know Osama you've got mail you

know he's not he's not up there in that

cave you know this this was this was the

Russian war machine this was a real

threat and and we were told quick get

under your desks when I was in third

grade I didn't realize that the little

wooden desk would not protect me from a

nuclear explosion so why were they doing

that to us what was the purpose of that

exercise create fear I inherited from my

great grandmother

Lillian Cummings who studied rhetoric in

high school in Wichita Falls and in that

book which she studied in 1882 by

Alexander bein called rhetoric there's a

section called the emotions she was 16

years old when she studied this section

and in that section it had a couple

paragraphs on fear and it said

politicians will often use fear to

deprive citizens of their civil

liberties this is why in a democracy

citizens must be vigilant and always be

on guard against the use of fear because

once a person enters into a state of

fear he's willing to surrender his

common sense now why aren't those books

taught in our schools anymore really why

aren't they taught instead you know

Roosevelt said all we have to fear is

fear itself and and we had a president

that started orange alerts and red

alerts and are you afraid yet that was

actually a cover of Time magazine it had

the question are you afraid yet question

mark but when I was growing up we had

the Russian threat and yet I never heard

anybody talking about should we torture

Russian spies if we capture them to find

out what they were doing

should we have a Guantanamo

Bay for Russian spies I never heard that

it just wasn't part of America at that

time and that's why for me to be in this

country and hear people talking about

the torture question when did it become

a question because I thought that was a

medieval concept that that we we've

thrown off

I thought we transcended that I thought

human dignity no matter what a person

did they were entitled to be protected

in their body that's what I thought this

country was about so what went wrong

here that's that's a that's a question

that I think Bernard Lou's needs to ask

also if he's going to ask what went

wrong over there which is a valid

question because things aren't so good

over there but are things really that

good over here

because we've got we're rebuilding

apparently Iraq and Afghanistan and and

we haven't rebuilt New Orleans yet we

haven't rebuilt New Orleans yet really

so we have to be able to perceive the

world through the lens of nuance we have

to recognize that we're not living in a

black-and-white world there's not pure

evil in this world and pure good human

beings are an admixture of good and evil

it's our nature all of us whether you're

Muslim this is one of the extraordinary

things about the world is it's so evenly

distributed good and evil really it's

it's quite extraordinary and

intelligence as well the idea of

superiority of races intelligence is

very evenly distributed across the the

world you can take people from the

poorest countries in the world and take

them as little children and put them in

the most developed countries in the

world they learn very quick they adapt

they learn all the same sciences

everything that people here are learning

they can do it in fact you can take a

Bedouin where I lived in Mauritania you

can take a Bedouin and bring him here

and within two weeks he'll know how to

turn the switches on flush the toilet

put the toast into the toaster pop it

out you open the refrigerator pour the

milk out do the whole thing that all we

do but if you go over to where he lives

you'll die in two weeks seriously you'll

die in two weeks

you'll be dead so they can survive here

but we can't survive over there we've

got a lot to learn from the Aboriginal

peoples because we might end up going

back to no electricity and it you know

it looks like it's all headed that

eventually right the polar ice caps are

melting it's gonna all the water levels

will go up and all this electricity that

you'll have water in the house get up to

the level of the sockets and that's it

right Florida they won't have

electricity there I'll be on those

stilted houses like they have in some of

the South Asian countries so we have to

learn to look in a more nuanced way now

that I there's one issue that I want to

talk about our clothes on this is that

we're in a crises and I think

everybody's aware of that and the crises

are very deep and there are no simple

answers to this crises but we need to go

deeper and and I want to use one example

we had a police acquittal I think was an

acquittal did they it was acquittal

three police officers shot somebody

quite horribly 50 times I mean I Madiha

know it was similar situation but we

also have to recognize and this is

something that the Buddhists are

probably more adept at doing the most

other traditions we have to be able to

get in to the skin of the other and

until we can really do that in some real

deep way we'll never get to any serious

solutions we're going to remain in that

black and white us versus them police

versus civilians this type of attitude

we're living in a very violent kind

we have police officers that are

incredibly stressed out they they

graduate from these police academies

probably with a lot of ideas about what

it is to become a policeman and become

very jaded especially those that are

working in these inner cities and things

like this and until we start realizing

that we've got people out there with

post-traumatic stress syndrome we have

people out there with high levels of

depression in my state one of the

highest rates of suicide is in the

Highway Patrol this is this is our

Social Sciences you know people are

having a hard time out there and until

we start seeing that collectively we

need to work together and to really

start looking at these things at a much

deeper level we're not going anywhere in

the Muslim world we have serious

problems we have failed States we have

people that do not have basic rights we

have countries that basically there are

no legal systems they're simply not

working you cannot go to a judge and get

recourse to justice in many many

countries in the world today

it creates an immense amount of

resentment an immense amount of

instability but these are the realities

of our time and then we have a system

that rewards greed and venality we have

a system of economic injustice that is

extraordinarily harmful to the human

condition it not only harms the people

at the very bottom of the pyramid it

also harms the Pharaoh and the Quran

calls the Pharaoh as well as the slave

the Quran commands Moses to go to

Pharaoh and speak to him gently that

perhaps he might wake up and we tend to

forget that the oppressor needs help as

much as the oppressed does Socrates said

I would much rather be the one being

oppressed than the one oppressing

because the oppressed his body is being

harmed but the oppressor is destroying

his soul

in terms of the Islamic Christian

civilization I think it's a possibility

and it's going to either be the ballot

or the bullet and I'm counting on the


I wanted to make note as we're talking

of change at what's possible and the

Islamic Christian civilization that we

have sitting at this stage on this stage

we have a Methodist we find out we have

all three American born here American

born son of two different Christian

traditions Catholic and Orthodox okay

so I ended up you know they call that

the Great Schism so they did divorce and

they produced one of America's great

Islamic and I and I you know I realized

the only way I could really get out of

the madness of the Catholic Orthodox

schism was to become Muslim I told an

Orthodox priest that you know he he was

actually a bishop from Albania and he

was so troubled that I apostate it and I

told him well you do know that we've got

that little clause there in the Orthodox

tradition that as long as you've been

baptized you'll eventually be okay

unlike the Catholics where it's just

well I wanted to mention that my mom is

Christian the daughter of a minister

from Scotland and my father is Muslim

Mustafa hiding from karbala and I think

that the with the three of us up here in

the mission that you set yourself out on

Richard bulletins what you're doing

Hamza in my small way perhaps myself we

are representing possibilities for this

nation and possibilities for the future

as are you out there in the room and

we're not so unusual I really wanted to

say that before we go into a greater

depth on

in this discussion because it's

important to note that there's a people

like us out there people like us out

there and and that's what we're going to

see our hope and our future so I did

notice in this talk of speaking

you stayed often enough and it's the

truth there is an American philosopher

named Tommy smothers who said that as

well he say it often enough it becomes a

truth so it's not just Bernard Lewis

he's in good company I wanted to but I

wanted to take a look just for starters

at the subtitle for this discussion miss

reading history what Islam and the West

can learn from each other so I want to

go there but I also want to thank my

disapproval of the terminologies Islam

in the West apples and videotapes you

know they're not parallel constructs so

as we try to get Islamic Christian in

our vocabulary I'd like to see if we can

find a different constructs first I was

it's a problem and it's used

so what would you say I'm going to do

use their journalist crusher what is the

most important the one thing that

America that go West should learn from

Islam and that as long should learn from

the West just for starters and I hate

that question but it's a journalist

crutch I'm going to use it right now

well the I mean I don't like the terms

either and I I think that no one except

people in the West really do like the

terms what they like about the West is

that they feel that that now is going to

ignore the fact that they have faith

tradition so they come out of and they

can say oh we're we're post Christian

were post on Judaic we're the secular

West without the without the slightest

self-awareness of where they came from

and the way in which where they came

from influence things so the the

question of what you learn to me you

know it seems to mean that you study the

history of the West through Western eyes

and you study the history of Islam it's

your westernized because we do not have

a well-articulated widely distributed

generally agreed upon history of Islam

that has not been generated in response

to and in conversation with and often in

kind of abject acquiescence in the views

of of Western scholars and I think that

one of the

one of the things that Islam can learn

from the West is the necessity of taking

control of the other dis cars so telling

the master narrative from that from

their own point of view the problem is

that the point of view shouldn't be you

know the West says it's always us

against them and we're good and they're

bad the alternative is not to say though

from a Muslim point of view it's us

against them and we're good in the West

is bad meaning you because of the you

can't mirror that dialogue instead you

have to transcend it and say no there is

a different view in which the issue of

some sort of eternal conflict is not

central that's a political changing

environment and the fact the matter is

that for hundreds of years the

Christians in the West did not consider

Islam a separate religion they thought

Judaism the separate us if it was a

heretical form of Christianity

people miss that nuance of the Divine

Comedy in that he places his fictional

character of the Prophet in the circle

schismatic no he not with the false

prophets but with the schismatic s-- and

and and i he is there because he split

Islam according to that Shia Sunni split

narrative so it was seen as a schism

it's it's it's it's very interesting so

for an author like the one that I was

talking about Anthony pactum he says don

t got it wrong inexplicably don t

doesn't understand that it's it's the

West against Islam but the Western songs

are actually very recent yeah and then

the the Eastern Orthodox Christians have

always been disenfranchised from even

Western Christianity and very much I

think that the letter of the arch Bishop

of Antioch to the Pope about his the the

comments he made about Islam he said

look you know we've been living here

with Muslims for centuries and it's very

different from from your perspective and

he was just asking that he understood

the situation a little deeper than