24 September 2012

The New York Times: “A 21st-Century Islam”

As for the new leaders of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, and the great mass of moderate Muslims, they might recall the words of the late Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri protesting the stolen Iranian election of 2009 — an example of God’s supposed will imposed over the will of the people:

A characteristic of a strong and legitimate government — Islamic or not — is that it is capable of respecting all opinions, whether they support it or oppose it. This is necessary for any political system, in order to embrace all social classes and encourage them to participate in the affairs of their nation, and not dismiss and repulse them.

Roger Cohen

As I was returning from Paris – for the second time this year, nevertheless – I picked up a copy of the International Herald Tribune (courtesy of AirFrance) and this article drew my attention. It reminded me of a small story I heard two years back in München from a tour guide. We were ending the free tour at the Feldherrnhalle; the entrance is flanked by two lion statues – incidentally one of the city’s symbols. The lion on the right faces the Münchner Residenz, the seat of government up until the beginning of the 20th century, and has its mouth open – which is meant to signify that you should be able to speak against the government, to question the decisions of your leaders. The lion on the left faces the Theatinerkirche and has its mouth shut, meaning you shouldn’t question your God and religion. That is the almost impossible task of a theocratic government, balancing the need for flexibility and change with the already established ‘Word of God’.

Feldherrnhalle from the front

Ironically, this building played a major role at the start of the Nazi movement as the place of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch and later has been turned into a hallmark of Nazi propaganda in Germany, turning the symbol of the two lions on its head: challenging existing beliefs while restricting the freedom of speech – or even the freedom to live – for the citizens of Germany.

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