It is always for me a great source of wonderment: how come, being the same books, and with them the same evidence and arguments I rely on in my thinking, available to everybody, others don't seem to take them into account, and, even if they do, they are drawn to very different conclusions?
This means that there is more involved in thinking than sheer inference from evidence, or simply conforming to a "method" qualified as "scientific".
After the Swiss referendum that turned down the building of minarets, I read an interview to a Jesuit father, expressing his disapproval. "Who is afraid of people praying?", he provocatively asked.
"Well, nobody", is the simple answer, "as long as what they do is simply praying."
What else can it be? I could be asked in return.
My readings about Islam give a clear answer: a way of marking a territory as one's own. They say that setting up a mosque, possibly with a minaret and a muezzin calling to prayer from it, is for self-conscious Muslims a way to reclaim that place as dar al Islam, territory of Islam.
Hence the wonderment a spoke about. Didn't that Jesuit read the same things I did? Yes, and probably more. So, why does he brand as fear of diversity the wariness before Muslim immigration and the consequent proliferation of mosques? Couldn't it be the expression by a people of a right concern for their future freedom?
And though, that Jesuit father doesn't think so. Why? I ask myself.
Because, he says, praying is a religious matter, and claiming a territory a political and diplomatic one. And, he claims, they are separate matters, not to be mingled, as it would be the case if we were to ask Islamic countries for reciprocity: to have them allow us to build our churches while we allow them to build their mosques, with or without minarets.
I can't enter into the motivations of his wanting to think so. But I can question his distinction of politics and religion, deep down in its ground.
I do it by asking him for an effort at reciprocity: in translation.
Before people to whom we want grant the right to pray because it is a religious matter, the first thing to do is to look in their language, whether there is in it a word that translates our religion: not the Latin word, but the word as it is currently used, meaning something that stands by itself.
If not, we should beware.
We should beware them, but not just them, also the saying that what they do is just praying.
The lack of translation word by word should work reciprocally, with a feedback on our conceptual distinctions, making us realize that what we call "religion" and "politics", or for that matter "culture" (with all that falls into it), variously overlap in one or more words of the languages in which we would have liked to translate them.
This means that they are abstract words, that don't name anything existing separately, but only aspects of the same thing: what we do when in action and/or speech we define our world.
In any case, we advance a claim to know (let's call it "science"), and that our knowledge is the right reading of how things human and divine are (let's call it "religion"), and that in this reading we should find the bond that ties us together (let's call it "politics"). In any case, I repeat, whatever the way (let's call it "culture") in which we do it.
To keep acritically these distinctions, is a way to hide the issues involved in the process of communication, at all levels, among people, moved, it might be, by the most sincere will to dialogue, with no other result, though, than exempting oneself from taking note of the dangers present in that process.
All said, my wonderment doesn't really go away. It stays, before what appears a self-inflicted blindness, due to a will to dialogue that doesn't want to notice how it runs against its desires. Addressing people on the basis of distinctions that they don't make – like when one qualifies as their "religion" what for them is just the way things are – means not to take them seriously. And to anger them more.