It would appear that synchronicity has struck again. No sooner have I celebrated Larry Flynt as a "dogged free-speech advocate and professional provocateur" than I find myself reading a report of a truly radical, but apparently sincere, effort to push the envelope of free speech in SPIEGEL ONLINE. Here are the lead paragraphs:
Günter Wallraff doesn't think of himself as a provocateur, he justs wants to get a dialogue going and to put the integration of Muslims in German society to the test. His method is somewhat radical. The well known German writer has said he wants to read aloud from "The Satanic Verses" in a Cologne mosque.
Wallraff denies that his proposal to read from a book regarded by many Muslims as blasphemous is a provocation. Rather, he says, he just wanted the Rushdie book to finally be discussed within the Muslim community.
The mosque in Cologne is being built by the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) and Wallraff says he wants to take the organization at its word when it says the new mosque is to be a place for transparency and dialogue. Some local residents have opposed plans
(more...)to build the mosque, including the atheist novelist of Jewish heritage Ralph Giordano, who has said Muslims should learn secular values and integrate into Germany.
My initial reaction was to wonder how the priests of the cathedral in Cologne would react to anyone proposing to read from The Last Temptation of Christ there; but, if we are to take DITIB at its word, this would be a false analogy. As I understand the practice of Catholicism, the church is a place for ritual, nothing more, nothing less. It is not that Catholics are averse to either transparency or dialogue; they just do not wish to associate those activities with a physical place of worship. My guess is that many Jews are more inclined to see the synagogue as a place of learning and might therefore, to choose about as radical an example as I can imagine, condone the reading of Mein Kampf for the sake of a dialogue that would lead to subsequent enlightenment. On the other hand I really know nothing about mosques, except for the way in which the media like to report sermons that seem to be delivering political, rather than religious, lessons. However, if DITIB really intends their mosque "to be a place for transparency and dialogue," then I have to admire Wallraff for responding to their seriousness of their intentions. In the elaboration that SPIEGEL ONLINE provided, his intentions appear to be honorable:
Wallraff said he envisaged a "discussion event and not a classic reading." He wants the passages that have been criticized in the Rushdie book to play a central role in any reading and for them to be translated into Turkish.
Nevertheless, many of us are probably familiar enough with efforts to discussion sensitive issues (such as, for example, the Middle East) that, in spite of their good intentions, degenerate into shouting matches, generating, in the words of that old cliché, more heat than light. I suspect the real challenge for the sort of event Wallraff has proposed will reside in how it is moderated. If that moderation can be satisfactorily framed, then this could be a valuable opportunity for the Muslim community, in Cologne if not at large.