By Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Dutch MP Geert Wilders’ comparison of the Quran to Mein Kampf is deeply offensive and betrays a profound ignorance of Islam. Wilders is now claiming to have produced a film in which he promises to share his hateful views at greater length.
Wilders’ misrepresentation of the fundamental values of Islam is offensive not only to Muslims. We, as Christians, also feel aggrieved by it. For by attacking Islam as a religion, he offends those who share the universal tenets of all religions: respect for the other, charity and human solidarity.
The most appropriate reaction to the Wilders’ allegations would be to simply ignore them. Given that they contain no genuine attempt at seeking the truth and show no good faith in trying to understand Islam, the best response should be a resounding silence.
There are, however, several reasons why we may not be able to ignore Mr Wilders’ views about the Quran. For one thing, they are cynically designed to offend and drive a wedge of misunderstanding between communities. To engage with a faith and question its precepts in order to gain a better understanding of it is one thing; to criticize it by making offensive and unsubstantiated statements about it is quite another.
I am particularly concerned by his claim that the film will conclusively portray the Quran as a text that generates violence and hatred in the world. Such distortion of the truth is not only disingenuous; it is also dangerous.
Indeed, by inciting hatred against the Quran, is the intention not also to generate hostility against those who hold it as sacred? By denigrating Islam as a religion, is the aim not just to create antagonism against Muslims as a community?
Seeking knowledge about a religion is a legitimate endeavor; provoking violence and fanning the flames of hatred is not. Mr. Wilders’ views about Islam and the Quran are offensive not because they abuse the right to free speech, but because they abuse a faith and those who embrace it. They are voiced, not to ask questions or raise a debate, but, purely and simply, to provoke violent reactions from extremists on all sides.
Together, we should resist any attempt at vilifying any faith or religion. Instead, we should engage in constructive and genuine dialogue in order to better understand each other’s beliefs. Through that process, we are likely to discover that there is much more that unites us than divides us.
-Archbishop Desmond Tutu is the former South African Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town and Founder of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation. (This article was originally published in the London-based Asharq al-Awsat on April 3, 2008.)