The fight for tolerance

It was standing room only in Council Hall last Thursday when St. John’s students and faculty filled in to hear acclaimed author and NYU Professor Francis E. Peters unfold what he calls, “The Intolerance of Belief – Living with the First Commandment.”

“There are two exclusionary notions within monotheism that is its basis for principle intolerance,” Peters said. “These notions are [that] members of religion are chosen people, and some day these chosen people will go to a promised land.”

Citing the Qur’an and referencing major religious movements in the world, Peters educated students about the religious intolerance for freedom of belief, and cleared up common American views of Muslim violence.

“Muslims are no more violent than Jews or Christians,” Peters said. “Muslims weren’t affected by the Thirty Years War in Europe, or the Enlightenment. They’re not accustomed to secular values because they didn’t live with them for over 300 years like the Jews or Christians did. This difference labels them as violent.”

Peters also spoke about the confusing “Theory of Abrogation” within Islam, which says that God can replace a verse in the Qur’an with one he feels is more up to date. He explained that the Qur’an once said that there is no coercion in religion, and later changed, telling believers to pursue the unbelievers, and kill them if they do not submit.

At one point during the lecture, Peters was challenged by a St. John’s professor who disagreed with his claim that Islam is violent.

Peters responded, “Did anybody hear me call Islam violent?” which was met with silence from the audience. He then went on to say, “I’ve written hundred of thousands of words on the subject. I’d suggest you read them, and if you still feel like I’m calling Islam violent, come back and talk to me.”

Peters gladly answered all audience questions, but was obviously frustrated with people asking him to analyze the contemporary political structure of eastern society by repeating, “I’m not a political scientist” to such questions.

The event, which was presented by the University Honors Program, received positive reactions in general.

“The lecture was really good in the way he was able to offer several different viewpoints on various topics,” freshman Andrew Conde said. “I’m glad I came and thought he really opened up a talk worthy of discussion.”

“He was a little one sided in how he interpreted the way Muslim society acts,” said freshman Sal Himani. “It was a western view of eastern society, but even so, the lecture was great. It was definitely worthwhile to hear him speak.”