Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ubi eadem ratio ibi idem jus, et de similibus idem est judicium

Gladstone, an Islamaphobe before the word existed?

"William Ewart Gladstone (1809–1898) was Prime Minister of Great Britain four times: 1868–74, 1880–85, 1886 and 1892–94. He called the Qur'an an "accursed book" and once held it up during a session of Parliament, declaring: "So long as there is this book there will be no peace in the world."
Times have changed a great deal. Now the votaries of the book he saw as such an impediment to peace have triumphed: an Islamic reading room is being set up at the library Gladstone founded near his home in North Wales. In this BBC audio report (thanks to Andrew), Gladstone's great grandson Christopher Parish and Professor Richard Aldous, head of history at University College Dublin, tie themselves into knots trying to come up with a reason why Gladstone would have approved of this reading room. Gladstone, you see, was a man of his time, but he actually made favorable comments about Muhammad in the margins of a biography of the founder of Islam, and his remarks weren't as extreme as those of some of his contemporaries...
It doesn't add up. The text of the Qur'an has not changed from the late 19th century to the early 21st. What has changed is the prevailing attitude toward the book. Now it has become a manifestation of bigotry and hatred to see in the Islamic holy book anything but peace and tolerance. But the text of the book remains the same. If it was an impediment to peace in Gladstone's day, it is now. If it is an uplifting exhortation to peace and tolerance now, then it was in Gladstone's day as well."
The Nineteenth Century was not an era of moral relativism. The Victorians, often portrayed as narrow minded and bigoted, did in fact possess a moral clarity lacking today. It was the century where slavery was abolished because of Christian religious fervor, a feat that would be impossible today, indeed slavery is making a comeback in our 21st. Prior to the Great War (WWI) a world traveler, a la Phinias Fogg, could circumnavigate the globe without presenting any government issued identity documents, a freedom now impossible. Today "Human Rights Commissions" regularly prosecute people for expressing offensive opinions while in the Nineteenth Century Darwin published On the Origin of Species but was never the victim of legal sanction. Now in the early 21st Century it is difficult to imagine how an equally unorthodox theory could be published without some sort of government sanction.

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