Dignity and forgiveness

And here's another part of an Orkut discussion. It's written by a girl from Bali. I find it's special how she can look at religion as an outsider, which is critical but who keeps her open mind and who respects the people she talks with, like her Muslim friend. I think that this is how Levinas says that real communication should take place between the one and the other.

And I also post the reply that I wrote...

"I have a question about terrorism. I had a long discussion about this topic with a Muslim friend. There are chapters in the Quran with more an emphasis on ‘dignity’ than on ‘forgiveness’. My friend always convinces me that the Islam is a peaceful religion, he gave me many books to read and we spend a lot of time in which he teaches me about the Islam. But each time I get stuck with this paradigm that dignity is the highest value, while forgiveness is just advisable.
It makes me think that the Jihad is done – the killing of non-believers and infidels – for dignity, for honour, for pride. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. When an outsider attacks your dignity you have to fight back. And I think that this path leads to terrorism.
If on the other hand forgiveness would be more emphasized, not dignity, then the causes of terrorism would be minimized. Then people could forgive each other instead of applying the method of an eye for an eye. When you claim it’s a peaceful religion, then forgiveness should be important. This is a question that my Muslim friend failed to give a satisfying answer to.
He can tell me stories about how great the Islam is and how good, but an eye for an eye can never lead to self-healing in my view.

But I can’t just think from one side. If I learn about cruel intentions I will at the same time look for beautiful spiritual texts at the other side, so I may get a non-distorted perspective. "

My reply:
"It's a good question you ask and I think it's difficult to answer, if forgiveness is less important than dignity in the Quran. It is always difficult to know the real / true meaning of the messages in the Quran. I only just started to read the verses and there are many of them, so I didn't read all of it yet, by far. Maybe there is only one correct interpretation but then the question is which one. I think that the interpretation of my friends who teach me about the Quran is correct, but I am not the right person to judge that, as a non-Muslim.

In my opinion dignity is indeed very important. It's not only a religious thing but also cultural I think. I think that many Islamic countries have a culture where dignity is important. In the Netherlands it's not very important. It's considered to be ok that people make mistakes and that they make a silly impression on others sometimes. A teacher can say that he doesn't know an answer to a question of a pupil, he doesn't have to pretend to be all-knowing. You can tell it to other people if you did something wrong, they will say, "no problem, next time it will be better". And if people think negatively about you it's only about you, it doesn't harm the image of your family. So Dutch people are usually open and direct to each other (sometimes too much), while there are many cultures where people are not so direct. They have to present themselves well to others to keep their dignity and pride high.

There's a saying that you shouldn't hang your dirty clothes outside (like you do with wet clean clothes to dry). The Dutch don't care about that, but in other cultures it’s very important that the clothes you show to the world are clean and proper. It doesn't matter how dirty your own socks are, as long as other people don't see it. When they see it it’s very bad. So then the image you present to others and to yourself is very important. I think this is the case for terrorists also, they find the image they create of themselves positive, as hero's. It certainly has to do with dignity indeed. And for terrorists forgiveness is not important because they don't think that they do something wrong. So with these people it would be good if their culture / values would change. If they would realise that the socks are very dirty and if they start to clean them, instead of hiding them well in the house and hanging some very beautiful clothes in the garden.

But this doesn't have much to do with what is written in the Quran, in my opinion. There are many verses about forgiveness, so far I got a strong impression that Allah will forgive people when they realise that they did wrong and when they show remorse. And I don't think that dignity in general is a bad value. It's only in combination with other values that it can be a problem. The problem of terrorists is not the dignity but the black-white thinking, the dogmatism, the violence and the wickedness.

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