Traditional Education in an Age of Terror

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Event Name: Traditional Education in an Age of Terror
Transcription Date:Transcription Modified Date: 4/26/2019 7:58:32 PM
Transcript Version: 2

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had an immense respect for the Muslim world. He was a teacher, but also a friend of John Locke-and John Locke was very influenced by his ideas. The extraordinary fairness of Edward Gibbon, given the limited resources that he had, in The Decline and the Fall of the Roman Empire towards Islam. If you look at his sources, many of his quotes are taken directly from Edward Pococke's works in which he recognized some of the really beautiful qualities of Islam. It's also very interesting that Gibbon mentions in his history that "Had the Muslims conquered-that is, in 732, defeated Charles Martel-perhaps the students of Oxford today would be circumcised and be studying the truths of the Qur'an and the teachings of Muhammad." So, he actually envisaged that possibility because it was a real possibility-but it did not happen. 

Nonetheless, the teachings of Islam should be taught here and they should be taught with fairness. People should be open to listen to that voice, a voice that in the deepest way possible informs the sensitivities and sensibilities upon millions and millions of people walking the Earth-one out of five people. If we are really to promote dialogue, to promote civil discourse, these things we hold very dear, I think the onus is on us to open this dialogue up, to have a broader vision. Much of what you are witnessing in the Muslim world is the frustrations of peoples whose dreams have been deferred. And people who do not dream, perish, as the Bible says, "A people without a vision, perish." Dreams are what make us human and I really want to stress this idea of dreaming. The moral imagination, the ability to actually envisage things different to the way they are. Much of what we have inherited was not of our making, but nonetheless we have inherited social institutions, ways in which we view the world. And we as the current residents of this planet in a long, long chain of inhabitants, we have to ask ourselves, "Are these institutions serving us? Are they fulfilling the functions they were created to fulfill? Is the commonwealth being enhanced or diminished? "These are questions we have to ask ourselves because we have inherited an immense amount of baggage and that baggage might not be the best to carry on our journey. But we are increasingly becoming interdependent and globalized. In many ways, we have always been interdependent. The meal that you ate, if you ate one this evening, this afternoon or this morning, if you contemplate what went into it coming to your plate-people picking rice in Ceylon, people picking tea-leaves and rolling them inAssam, the plate that might have been made in China, the fork that might have been made in America or Germany, the people that delivered them-all of us, interdependent and often failing to recognize how much we owe to each other. One of the Arab poets said, "Everyone, whether they are Bedouin or they are settled, is serving, without realising it, each other." We have to really question the conditions we find ourselves inland how we can get out of them and I believe much of it is through increasing dialogue, speaking to each other with respect. 

One of the tragic realities of this fiasco in Denmark is that many people in the West suddenly began defending this idea of "freedom of expression", this sacred right, instead of enjoining civic responsibility and just this idea of mutual respect. We can perhaps criminalize something but sometimes things should be condemned because they are simply breaches of basic common decency. I am all for people examining Islam,criticising Islam, discussing Islam but the idea of gratuitous insults, of denigrating people, we really have to question whether it's worth it-the amount of madness that was created. We have to in some ways recognize that if that potential exists, then there's need for some type of responsibility. It's very important that we question what we are doing to promote a more civic society. 

I really hope, especially amongst the students here, about "the deferred dream". 

Langston Hughes asks that question from The Harlem Renaissance, "What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun or fester like a sore and then run? "It's a question-what happens to dreams deferred? He is talking about the black people in the United States. Then he says, "Or does it stink like rotten meat or crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet? Or maybe it hangs like a heavy load? Or does it explode?" I think all of those responses occur in the human heart, but the idea of holding on to this ability to envision a different world and set out to do something about that. 

I was saying to somebody tonight-at the dinner table he was too young to be a cynic already-that's why it's important for you to hold on to those ideals and to take them into the world. In many ways, some of the highest ideals we treasure and cherish in the West are being entirely undermined. In some ways, we're not aiming high enough and we end up shooting a fellow hunter in the back when we have our sights set too low. 

The fact we can ask "The Torture Question" is very troubling to me because I know enough of the history of Western civilization to know that people died so that torture would no longer be a practice in the jails and prisons of the West. I don't accept the idea we are under some grave threat that necessitates extreme measures. We lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War and nobody justified torture during that period-whether they practiced it or not is another matter-but it was certainly not justified. 

We, I think in the West, have an immense about to do, especially the young people in this room and I don't envy you for the journey you have ahead. I don't envy you. We're facing immense calamities; we should be facing them collectively as a species as opposed to groups or nations, because these calamities are much greater than the individual problems we have that separate us. In some ways, those individual problems that separate us, it is the aggregate of those problems that's causing much of these calamities. So, both cannot be ignored. 

I truly believe that we have to envision a different world and I think it's possible. 

I believe in dialogue. I believe much of what we can do in the West is simply to listen tithe Muslims. Simply to listen to the Muslims, listen to the pain. I don't think we've done enough listening. I've lived in the Muslim world. I've listened to people. There's much validity in what's said and a lot of it is totally invalid. But what you do when you listen is that you suspend those types of judgments in order for some kind of healing to come about. 

I believe the same is due in the Muslim world. That they also need to listen and the only way we can encourage that is through dialogue, through discussion. The path ofcivilisation is a path of discussion; it's a path of dialogue. Civil society is something we should encourage not only at home, but abroad also. But if we don't have a civil society ourselves, if we're not encouraging a civil society ourselves, how can we take it to other people? How can we help other people to do that? I believe in many of the principles of this society, Great Britain. I think truly it's great country. I love many of the great people of this country. I love the Hannah Moores,the Edwin Arnolds. 

Edwin Arnold was an extraordinary man. He was actually the editor of The Daily Telegraph and wrote two great poems. One of them was The Light of Asia in which he tried to introduce Buddhism, the Chinese culture and civilization into the West because he felt it was very important that we came to know Asia. Then he followed that up with The Ninety-Nine Names of God from the Islamic tradition. In the introduction to that book, he said, "Islam cannot be scornfully thrust aside but it must be conciliated-We cannot scornfully thrust aside Islam, we must conciliate it-because it shares a task with its sister religions in the edification of the peoples of this planet."9I really truly and honestly believe we have an immense amount to learn from our religious traditions. I believe Islam has an immense amount to teach us, if we're open to it. You don't have to believe in Islam as a Divine revelation but [only] to recognize it as the genius of human possibility. George Sale translated the Qur'an and it was published in 1734-[and] in one its fair translations. In the introduction, he said it's time we stopped denigrating this man - and this is 1734 - and we have failed to learn this lesson today. He said it's time we stopped denigrating this man and simply recognized him as one of the great law-givers of humanity. He's honored it the fresco at the Supreme Court of United States of America with the other great law-givers of the world-honored as a law-giver. 

I really believe we need to come to know who the Prophet Muhammad was as a human being-what he stood for, what he believed in. 

I didn't embrace Islam to join a tribe and to stand and "Rah-Rah" with my tribe, right or wrong. It's not what I joined Islam for. I joined Islam because it was something I believed to be true. It was the truest thing that had appeared to me up to that point and I have yet to find something truer. And if I did, to be true to myself, would have to go to that thing. 

But even if you don't see it as true in its totality, to recognize the great truths in it and the great benefits of it, it would do an enormous amount to you own personal edification. 

I believe truly, all of us, have something to learn from Islam and if we acknowledge that and acknowledge the already existing debt that Europe-and by extension the United States-owes to the great civilization of Islam that has been acknowledged by some of the great historians of human civilization. I think if that is acknowledged, that would be an immense step towards reconciliation between these two great civilizations. Many Muslims feel they are constantly scornfully thrust aside, that the past of Islam and much of its greatness is not recognized, the indebtedness of the West to the Islam of Spain, of the Renaissance in Italy, three hundred years of Islamic rule in Sicily, six hundred years of rule in Greece. The Parthenon was used as a mosque for seventy years. This is a great deal of history and the influences need to be examined and we can begin by digging up some of these treasures like Edward Pococke. I hope somebody takes that seriously here and goes and finds out who he was and what he stood for because he had a great influence of John Locke. Locke's biographers say that he was one of the greatest influences on Locke's thinking and ideas-and "The Treatise of Toleration", I believe, is indebted to the Ottoman practice of the millet system and the idea of a pluralistic culture. 

I want to see pluralism. People are saying the multicultural state has failed. I don't think it's been tried yet, I really don't. We're assuming a failure before we've even attempted to practice this. But we need to help each other get beyond our prejudices. 

Prejudice is an antipathy that results from inflexible generalizations that are uninformed. 

There is too much prejudice on all sides and I really think we need to examine ourselves, to really look in ourselves and ask that question. 

I want to finish this by a quote from another great historian, Samuel Scott, who wrote a history-The History of the Moorish Empire in Europe. It's a three-volume work that was published over a hundred years ago and he really records the immense indebtedness of the West to Islam. 

He says: "To undertake the radical amelioration of such political and social conditions that existed in the pre-Islamic Arabian world was a task of apparently insuperable difficulty. Its fortunate accomplishment may not indicate the active interposition of Divine authority, the glories which invest the history of Islam may be entirely derived from the valor, the virtue, the intelligence, the genius of man. If this be conceded, the largest measure of credit is due to him who conceived his plan, promoted its impulse and formulated the rules which ensured its success. In any event, if the object of religion be the inculcation of morals, the diminution of evil, the promotion of human happiness, the expansion of the human intellect, if the performance of good works will avail on that Great Day when mankind shall be summoned to its final reckoning, it is neither irreverent nor unreasonable to admit Muhammad was an Apostle of God. "Thank you very much.