Robert Marchenoir is a reader and frequent commenter here at Gates of Vienna. A recent interview with Tzvetan Todorov in Reset Dialogues prompted Mr. Marchenoir to write to the website and express his own opinion.
First of all, here’s a summary of Tzvetan Todorov’s position on the “European identity”, as described in the blurb for the interview:
“During any given day, most of the time I feel European, and this feeling has become stronger ever since my native country, Bulgaria, entered the EU”, says Tzvetan Todorov to Resetdoc. He sees the foundations of a European identity in the protection of diversity and in an “obligation of tolerance”. The French-Bulgarian philosopher and linguist, who recently published La Littérature en péril, says that he is “very proud” of being a European, and hopes for greater continental political integration, while believing that national traditions are not destined to disappear (“I do not think that we will ever speak ‘Europeanese’“). The author of The Conquest of America also hopes that Tony Blair will not become the President of the EU and asks us not to identify the culture of Muslim immigrants with their religion: “I do not think that there is such a thing as an encounter between the West and Islam”.
Below is Robert Marchenoir’s excellent response, which he sent in an email to Resetdoc:
Tzvetan Todorov says in your interview: “In the case of the encounter between European and Islamic countries, I believe there is a preliminary point to make, which is that one should not identify the behaviour of hundreds of millions of people, or even more than a billion people, with their religion. So I do not think that there is such a thing as the encounter between the West and Islam. To me this is a already a way of formulating the encounter that vitiates and perverts the nature of the encounter. Muslims are not a special subspecies of the human race, entirely determined by their religion, compared to the Chinese, Indians and Europeans who behave according to all sorts of impulses and determinations.”
This is so dishonest that it is difficult to know where to start.
“One should not identify people with their religion”. Oh, really? And why shouldn’t we? Todorov fails to say. What he does say however, is that this is a preliminary point to him. Meaning it’s a condition. Meaning he refuses to discusses Muslims if religion is brought into the matter.
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How it’s even possible to discuss Muslims without discussing what enables one to identify them as Muslims, which is the Moslem faith, is beyond any logic. Being Muslim is not a race, it’s not a citizenship, it’s a religion. Todorov is supposed to have spent his life studying language, so he cannot pretend not to be aware of this fact.
“One should not identify people’s behaviour with their religion”. Obviously not. Religion is just something you mention on an identity card (in some countries). Religion does not dictate or alter your behaviour in any way. It’s just akin to choosing between Coke and Pepsi, really. One day you’re Muslim, the next day you’re Christian, then you might try Buddhism for a while. No big deal.
Never mind that billions of people, in the course of thousands of years, have been convinced, by their religion, to alter their behaviour to the point of going to a specific place at least once a week, at a set time, to honour their God; to the point of saying specific words of prayer every day, at specific occasions, at specific times, even five times a day for observant Muslims; to the point of not eating certain foods, or of not eating at all on specific days or times of the day, or of eating certain specific foods on specific days or occasions; to the point of respecting elaborate rules and rituals for marrying and having sex; to the point of going through other, specific rules and rituals before and after death; to the point of wearing certain clothes or accessories at all times (veils, turbans, daggers, you name it); to the point of never shaving; to the point of embarking on costly and life-threatening pilgrimages to far away places; even to the point of cleaning themselves in a very specific way after going to the toilet.
Never mind that moral edicts are central to all religions, and that they are precisely meant to alter one’s behaviour, in the supposedly correct way. Never mind that religions have convinced billions of people, in the course of thousands of years, that they will earn eternal happiness if they alter their behaviour in the right way, and eternal suffering if they do not.
Never mind that contemporary Muslims in the West — since this is the subject — increasingly insist, in a most aggressive and domineering way, that non-Muslims should change their behaviour so that themselves may entertain the specific behaviour dictated by their religion — making all food halal in schools even for non-Muslim pupils, harassing non-Muslims in the streets who eat during Ramadan or carry alcohol, disrupting work in businesses for daily prayers, forbidding access to non-Muslims, or men, or women, at certain times, in public swimming pools, insisting that the call to prayer is broadcast by loudspeaker over massively Christian cities, insisting that children be handed over, at the end of the school day, to women unrecognizable as their mothers because their face is hidden behind a veil, etc, etc.
“There is no such a thing as the encounter between the West and Islam”. No, obviously not. Especially not on a website which has such sections as “East, West and democracy”, “Migrations”, “Arts and cultures”, whose motto is “Dialogues on civilizations” and whose “scientific committee” consists of Giuliano Amato, Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, Abdullahi An-Na’im, Abdou Filali-Ansary, Seyla Benhabib, Giancarlo Bosetti, Fred Dallmayr, Silvio Fagiolo, Maria Teresa Fumagalli Beonio Brocchieri, Nina zu Fürstenberg, Timothy Garton Ash, Anthony Giddens, Vartan Gregorian, Renzo Guolo, Hassan Hanafi, Roman Herzog, Ramin Jahanbegloo, Jörg Lau, Amos Luzzatto, Avishai Margalit, Krzysztof Michalski, Andrea Riccardi, Olivier Roy, Otto Schily, Karl von Schwarzenberg, Roberto Toscano, Bassam Tibi, Nadia Urbinati, Umberto Veronesi and Michael Walzer.
There is no European Council for Fatwa and Research, either. No Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe. No Euro-Islam group of scholars within the French Centre national de la recherche scientifique, supported by the European Commission. There was no World Conference on Dialogue (between Islam and the other religions), organized by the Muslim World League and hosted in Madrid by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. All this is happening in an imaginary, parallel world where Tzvetan Todorov does not belong.
“Muslims are not a special subspecies of the human race”. Who said such a thing? Nobody did. Here we have at work the unhealthy obsession of so called “anti-racists” with race. Todorov starts with denying that Muslims, as a group, have anything to do at all with religion, then stealthily switches the discussion to race. He pretends to disprove the link between Muslims and religion by stating that the concept of Muslims is not linked with race. The dishonesty is staggering.
“Muslims are not entirely determined by their religion”. Again: who said such a thing? Nobody did. Nobody said Muslims were entirely determined by their religion. However, Todorov uses that tired rhetorical trick in order to “prove” that Muslims’ religion does not determine their behaviour in the least. There is plenty of evidence to show that, on the contrary, Muslims’ religion has a massive influence on their mores. Whole books have been written on the subject. It will take more than one sentence of false logic, by someone who has no academic authority on Islam, to disprove them.
“Muslims are not a special subspecies of the human race, entirely determined by their religion, compared to the Chinese, Indians and Europeans who behave according to all sorts of impulses and determinations”. This supposes either that the Chinese, Indians and Europeans have no religion of their own, or that their religion has no significant influence on their behaviour. Both assumptions are dreadfully wrong, of course. (This sentence also supposes that there is not a large number of Indian and Chinese Muslims, wreaking havoc in their respective countries — which shows the extensive knowledge Todorov has of Islam.)
Actually, this helps to understand where Todorov speaks from: he inhabits a fantasy world where religions do not exist, where Christianity did not occur, where Europe does not owe much of its achievements, heritage and values to Christianity, where Muslims were never at war with Christians, where Jihad does not exist, where all men are the same (except a few funny, cosmetic differences such as ties versus turbans), where any problems can be solved by “dialogue” and “understanding”, where no reasons for conflict exist (except “socio-economic” reasons, of course, which have to be dealt with by more socialism — there, mere “dialogue” will not do).
He lives in a liberal world. In a leftist world. He’s in denial. He refuses to acknowledge reality.