"Les Religions Meurtrieres" ("Murderous Religions,") the name of the book says it all as it addresses the stark reality of today’s world, when Western society has gone into religious hibernation due to an overdose of secularism and is being jolted back to the real world with sanguinary religious terror acts. "You thought that God was dead and buried … Well, think again," declares Professor Elie Barnavi at the onset of his book.
Barnavi, Scientific Advisor of the upcoming "Museum of Europe" in Brussels, a former ambassador of Israel to France and a doyen of the historical world, spoke to a distinguished audience at EGMONT, Royal Institute for International Relations, Brussels last week.
Barnavi also spoke exclusively to New Europe about his wide spectrum of experience and pragmatic vision to deal with the modern social impasse of fear and doubts facing Europe.
Elaborating about the difficulties along the path for the upcoming ""Museum of Europe," Barnavi told New Europe, "We started eight years ago with the idea to create a place where the Europeans could meet the common roots of their civilisation. We tried to create a place where visitors can come and see that all this was possible not only because of Cold War, not because of two World Wars that devastated, but also because there is something like Europe exists. It’s a single civilisation finding its roots deep in history like any other civilisation in an organic way, century after century. The idea was to show this and then we start to think how to implement."
Pointing out that it was a very complicated matter, Barnavi said, "First of all, it’s politically complicated. With such improbable political entities such as European institutions and Belgian government and while one is caught between these two, one has to deal with national biases."
Framing a counter-question, "And then how do you show in a single exhibit 2000 years of history?" Barnavi answered, "We wrote 30-plus projects and what we have today is quite different what we had at the onset. To show in the permanent exhibit a short history of Europe and then to have a series of temporary exhibitions, each one showing another layer of this long process of civilisation building."
Asked to elaborate on measure Europeans should take, as he calls them, "ignorant in matters of religion," in his book, Barnavi said, "Europeans must read first of all. What I see and its perfectly understandable people have lost the ability to think in religious terms because of the particular history of the West, because of secularism. People do not understand any more what religion means and so when religion strikes, it appears again under such shape and forms like terrorism and when they face burning religious passion and violent religion, they don’t understand it anymore in a very precise sense of the word."
Walking down memory lane, he continued, "They used to understand, 17th, 18th century. Now they don’t understand and it’s an experience I made myself and one of main topics of teaching is reformation. I taught reformation for years in Tel Aviv and also in Europe. But it’s easier to teach reformation in Tel Aviv than in Europe for a very simple reason: in Tel Aviv they know the Bible. It’s part of their curriculum. They don’t study it with the religious studies. I can read the Bible as I can read New Europe. It’s part of my culture and it’s not a part of the European culture anymore. That’s why it’s so difficult and that’s why they find it so difficult to understand what’s going on. So when something like September 11 happens, the first reaction is to look for rational explanation: what happened? It’s not rational or at least not rational in the Western sense of rationality. It’s something different, it’s another type of thinking and of feeling of course."
On the question of the definition of "radical Muslim Fundamentalism," Barnavi laughed and said, "This is a Western question. For me, this question of if it’s more politics than religion is meaningless. For me, it’s religion, made into politics. I am not talking of Islam. I devoted chapters in this book to Jewish radical religion, Christian radical religion. Today, Islam is the problem but these tendencies exist in all the religions mainly in the historical religions." "For me, it’s not a political thing clad in religious clothes, it goes together. How to combat it? This is a very big question, I think that first of all it must be understood the nature of the problem. Secondly it must be fought militarily and by police means but this is not enough, it’s a matter of battle of ideas."
"We need in the West, correct means of integration of populations. I am speaking of a combination of measures. Only one of them will not be enough. First of all, it must be understood that it’s a very long thing, it is a war, and it is a war of civilisation. What I want to stress, it’s not clash of civilisations, that’s history, a complete waste of time. The rift is within the civilisation, it’s not Islam against West. It’s civilisation against barbarism. Our best allies in this war are Muslims."
On the question of integration in Western societies, Barnavi said, "I find that the British model does not work in principle and the French model doesn’t work in practice, although it’s a good model. But it’s weak and doesn’t work anymore. The British model is a multi-cultural model, but I think that multi-culturalism is a bad solution because it will always bring about ghettos. I do not believe that society can live without a minimum of common codes of behaviour and very few but very set common values. Without this what you have is ghettos and this is exactly what’s happening in Britain, and also now in France, because they failed to sustain the old model of integration that worked for two centuries."
"Political religion" is what interests Barnavi, as he pondered: "Religious truth does not interest me. It’s the political religion that will be our fate for many years to come, is what’s vital to understand."
"I wrote my first book, ‘God’s Party,’ and then Hezbollah which means the same was formed." "Every religion of the West has political violence, but using the Holy Scriptures to explain suicide bombers shows that it’s not what’s written in the Koran but what is read at any given time and the interpretation of it," Barnavi argued.