Zuhair Al-Harthi

Al-Tayeb and Le Pen ... Between an Image of Acceptance and the Disaster of Intolerance

It seems that in the Arab world, we are constantly on the lookout against inherited religious discourse and literature on the relationship between religions, us and the other etc… This is evident from the issues kept under wraps for fear of upending social cohesion and controversy.

This creates distance from the other, which raises dangers that some overlook or avoid because of their ideological and social sensitivity, opting to avoid the subject although it is a human endeavor that both has the potential to point us in the right direction and is vulnerable to failure.

The remarkable Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s speeches and public discussions about these subjects and issues broke this taboo. They continue to echo across the Islamic world, and they created a turning point for how societies are being reshaped, how they define their relationship with religious discourse, and text being disentangled from custom or habit. The Crown Prince’s speech laid the foundations for the future of the Islamic world and its relationship with the West.

The details of this future will become clear with time - when those concerned understand the significance and depth of what has been proposed. These statements promote enlightened thought and demonstrate incredible courage and an exceptional capacity for rising to the occasion, breaking barriers, and making profound intellectual arguments.

Thus, the legislative institutions in our Islamic world must seize on his remarks and build on them in order to ensure a bright future for our societies and future generations. The political decision has been taken, as demonstrated by its ability to introduce changes at will, regardless of the ideological or social opposition. The developments underway in Saudi Arabia are the ultimate proof.

Nonetheless, there some figures in crisis in this world that are constantly fighting an internal battle and are quick take out their frustrations in different ways. In this regard, the educated and the ignorant are equals because this is a question of hatred, intolerance, and racism. And so, you find these figures sowing hatred, creating hostility, and pushing for isolation. They do not believe in plurality. They claim a monopoly on the truth, absolute truth, and their narcissism and inflated egos compel them to attack whoever disagrees.

Marine Le Pen, the far-right French presidential candidate, and head of the National Rally Party, is one of these troubled figures. She represents racism par excellence. She is confrontational and extremist, and she has racist and revolting views of Muslims and immigrants. Her provocative and fanatical proposals always seek to stoke hatred and division and render this world more vulnerable to ethnic and religious conflicts. Such figures ascending to senior positions in democratic countries brings unpredictable threats.

On the other side of the spectrum, we find figures and mentalities that believe in the value of humanity and what brings up together. They call for tolerance, coexistence, brotherhood, and reconciliation.

Grand Imam of al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb is one such figure. His recent statements, which are worth going over, reflect the humanitarian virtues of a major Islamic figure, who is calling for openness and inclusion. He says: “It is forbidden for a Muslim to touch the Torah and the Bible without purification.” He asserts that “restricting the food and drink of a non-Muslim during the day in Ramadan on the pretext of fasting (absurd) is not appropriate.” He adds: “There is no justification for calling Christians (Dhimmis), as they are citizens with equal rights and duties...the fact is that (citizenship) expresses the spirit and philosophy of Islam.”

His Eminence adds: “There is nothing in the Quran or the Sunnah that forbids building churches. The harassment that occurs when a church is built is only a legacy of customs and traditions. Building a mosque in front of a church, and vice versa, is a form of this harassment which is forbidden. Moreover, Islam equates between defending mosques and defending churches and synagogues, and to the same degree.”

This is the sane voice of a sober Islamic scholar. However, it is unfortunate that, at a time when voices of moderation in the world are tending to understand and respect religious privacy, the voices of extremism and discord emerge and swiftly reject the principle of coexistence, perpetuating their hatred towards humanity.

Le Pen is an extreme right-wing French parliamentarian who engages in and perpetuates abhorrent racial prejudice in the hopes of securing more votes. She inherited the leadership of the extreme National Front from her father, and despite her disassociation from him, she adopted the same hateful racial tendencies, pressing to deprive minorities of their rights. Le Pen has contempt for Muslims even if they hold French citizenship, and even questions their loyalty and demands that they be harassed and ostracized.

Furthermore, the National Rally, Le Pen’s racist party that is hostile towards the other, also has a catastrophic future vision for France if implemented, as it calls for isolation and separation from Europe and its economic, financial and military commitments – as well as the Schengen Agreement. The party also seeks to prevent the entry of immigrants, cease the construction of mosques and prohibit the wearing of the veil in public places.

In other words, Le Pen’s political project is one of revolution against French enlightenment and civilization, and its system of liberties, human rights, and justice that Paris has always praised and promoted across the world.

The French public is convinced that most of Le Pen’s statements are not in protection of national sovereignty, as she claims, but rather an incitement to ethnic hatred as evidenced by her lack of respect for religions, which is a departure from the values of the Republic and the ancient traditions of France.

What is interesting are justifications given by idiots who claim that the hate they practice falls within the bounds of freedom of expression. Although we all agree to the necessity of freedom of expression, the difference that arises lies precisely in: How far can we go?

Of course, free opinion is at the core of political rights, as evidenced by their inclusion in international agreements and covenants. This has gone through multiple stages, especially after cultural and intellectual transformations, which means the need to reconsider it and, with a new reading, to define the parameters of the conceptual framework for the freedom and right to express opinions.

It is not acceptable, by any logic of reason, for people, even if they are politicians (who are supposed to be more prudent and wiser), and from any party, to drag governments and peoples into the trap of ethnic confrontations and conflicts on the pretext that the constitution guarantees freedom of expression.

So, should freedom of opinion be absolute or is it relative? Is it supposed to be restricted in certain issues? On the other hand, we could also ask: What would the outcome be if, for example, a French Muslim denied the Holocaust, or another burned the Bible or the Torah, despite our categorical rejection of such behavior? What would the Western reactions to it be? Will they consider it as falling within the scope of freedom of expression, or will it classify it as a punishable crime?

Freedom of expression in the West does not mean an invitation to hatred, nor does it grant you the right to offend any religion or symbols. Therefore, confronting religious intolerance can only be achieved by rejecting extremism from any party, and ignoring the proposals given by fanatics. This is achieved through a dialogue aimed at a global understanding between the adherents of different religions, which can put an end to broad generalizations and arbitrary provisions, and establish common ground for cooperation on the basis of respect for belief and coexistence.

The ideas of the new face of racism in France threaten the enlightenment project in Europe. The story was summarized by French newspaper Le Monde, when it described Marine Le Pen’s party as a serious threat to the country, and the party’s ideology and the solutions it proposes to undermine the values of the Republic, its national interests, and France’s image in the world.

We support dialogue, coexistence, tolerance and rejection of hate speech and racism. We are human beings living on one planet and it is important to focus on what we have in common, not our differences.

Confronting religious intolerance can only be achieved by rejecting extremism from any party, and ignoring the proposals given by fanatics. This is achieved through a dialogue aimed at a global understanding between the adherents of different religions, which can put an end to broad generalizations and arbitrary provisions, and establish common ground for cooperation on the basis of respect for belief and coexistence.

Let us compare the proposals of Le Pen, who will ban the veil which is a personal freedom in my estimation, and Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb who supports building churches and coexistence with Christians and Jews. Only then can we understand and comprehend the extent of the difference between civilization and backwardness, or between the value of openness, reason and tolerance, and between intolerance, selfishness and chauvinism.