Israeli attack on Gaza adds to tensions Arabs and West. Several Muslim scholars no longer believe in dialogue with the West. Christian calls to ban book Dr. Yūsuf Zaydān rejected.
Days ago Israel launched a new brutal attack on Gaza. Hamas had previously fired some rockets on Israel. One can blame them for inciting Israel but the Israeli response was totally out of proportions and shows a disregard for human lifes. I believe Western nations are co-responsible because Israel is not punished for this and thus has no consequences to fear.
Attack such as these pushes Muslims in the direction of radicals. Bahir Dokhan from our office met on the day of this attack with Muslim scholar Dr. Muhammad Selim al-Awa who told him in no uncertain words that he no longer believes in dialogue with people from the West. Dr al-Awa’s disappointment in dialogue stems from several years ago. Pope Benedict’s lecture in Regensburg, played for an example a major role in his disappointment but also other situation whereby leading people in the West have been disappointing him. An attack such as this on Gaza followed by a very poor Western response to these atrocities of course does not help.
I visited later Coptic Catholic Bishop Yohanna Qulta who I told of Dr. al-Awa’s disappointment in dialogue. The Bishop knew of Dr. al-Awa’s disappointment and said he deeply regrets this, in particular since Dr. al-Awa has previously played such a positive role in Muslim-Christian dialogue. Bishop Qulta then mentioned Dr. Muhammad Samak from Lebanon, once also very positive in Muslim-Christian dialogue but now also deeply disappointed. There are several other examples of prominent Muslim scholars who got disappointed. This is something that should make Christians think about this. It is a great loss to mutual understanding to loose such eminent scholars as Dr. al-Awa and Dr. Samak for dialogue. Christians should make better efforts to understand these disappointments and better respond to injustices such as the unbelievable harsh Israeli response to the ineffective rockets of Hamas.
Four articles in this issue [art. 2-5] deal with Christian anger and responses to Dr. Yūsuf Zaydān’s novel ‘‘Azazil.’ Many clergy would like the book to be banned. I agree with Hānī Labīb that banning would be harming freedom of expression in Egypt [art. 5]. Calls to banning whatever work come from people who believe their own religion should not be offended. I doubt any religion is helped with such efforts for censorship. If one believes one’s religion has been offended one should respond with well founded critique in an article, book or perhaps even TV production but not asking for censorship. Dr. Yūsuf Zaydān’s novel does describe a period in Egypt’s history in which Christian clergy and mobs in Alexandria did not show much tolerance for people with different beliefs. There was persecution and killing such as the great philosopher Hypatia (c 370 – 415 AD) who was killed by a Christian mob. That is a part of a black side of Christian history and it makes no sense to try to hide that. The problem for Coptic Orthodox Christians, however, is that this violence took place in the time of Coptic Pope Cyril (ca. 378-444) who is widely revered in the Coptic Orthodox Church with titles as “Pillar of Faith" and "Seal of all the Fathers." Dr. Yūsuf Zaydān does not claim to have written history but wrote an historical novel but even though, if people believe he made mistakes they should write that but not ask for banning his book.