Friday, May 12, 2006

Syed Hossein Nasr on Image & Distortion

[This is an excerpt of a speech that Professor Nasr gave at Averroes Academy, a full-time Muslim school in Northbrook. The speech was given in the spring of 2001. S.H. Nasr is Professor at George Washington University.]

The distorted image of Islam goes back almost 1300 years ago, when the famous book of John [of Damascus] was translated from the Greek to the Latin, which became the foundation for all books against Islam and against the Prophet. Salman Rushdie’s is the latest chapter of many hundred of books written against the Prophet of Islam. But that image would have gradually disappeared if not for two events which happened in the 20th century: oil and the question of Palestine. There is a concerted effort to preserve the distorted image of Islam. Now Muslims have done wrong things, but there are other people doing wrong things on earth. No better, no worse. When Muslims are massacred in Burma, nobody talks about Buddhist violence. But if the situation were reversed, it would be called Islamic violence. Of course, you’ve heard of this tragic violence of what the Taliban did. What caused the Persian Gulf war? Who made Bin Ladin as Bin Ladin? How did the Taliban get to Afghanistan? Of course, nobody wants to talk about these things. But we receive the bill at the end of the day that we have committed the sin of destroying world art [in Afghanistan]. I got so angry at this. For about 1400 years, the Muslims have ruled over Persia, which includes modern day Afghanistan, and some of the most famous and powerful rulers of the Islamic world ruled this area. Not one of them destroyed these statues; we had to wait for a few illiterates in the name of Islam to do that. But nevertheless, the reaction is on our shoulders. We just cannot say “Who cares?” for there is a constant erosion of whatever positive image is built . . . . And this is, of course, a very great tragedy. There are many people that have very good intentions; they are not the problem. The problem is those people who work at keeping this image all the time, and so you get the issue of slavery in the Sudan; I mean everything is distorted, like the question of women in Afghanistan, as well, about which, it seems, everyone in America has become so compassionate. I once said that there should be a conference in Cairo on the ill treatment of children in the United States, boys shooting each other in high schools. It should be a conference to recommend something, a cry for this situation here in America. Of course, nobody would dare hold such a conference because they wouldn’t get any money from the IMF or the World Bank the next year.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


You would not happen to have the full transcript by chance? This is an interesting perspective on Nasr. He's never seemed so fired up as in this piece. By the way, how did you get a hold of this?

5/12/2006 2:46 PM  
Blogger fromclay said...

I attended the event, and asked for a recording and got it. I'm not sure where the whole thing is and would have to look. I have pieces. It was published somewhere else though.

5/12/2006 4:32 PM  
Anonymous Irshaad said...

Thanks for this excerpt - any chance you could put the entire recording up as an mp3?

5/14/2006 11:31 AM  
Blogger fromclay said...

It's unlikely, Irshaad, that I'll put up the recording. First, I don't know how to do that. Second (perhaps the real first), I would not feel comfortable doing that without getting appropriate permissions, which typically take a lot of time. This excerpt is in the realm of fair usage. I hope.

5/14/2006 12:03 PM  

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