“This book, pillar of Italian litterature, is offensive and discriminatory to the Jewish people and teaches students an antisemitic message relayed by the Catholic church in the mass and the homilies,” says Valentina Serini, president of Gherush92, a consulting association for the UN Economic and Social Council that deals with human rights and conflict resolution. For which reason, she argues, the Divine Comedy should be withdrawn from Italian school curriculum. Not only this, but Dante’s poem is also offensive, they say, to Muslims (because it depicts the prophet as a jar containing alcohol, which is prohibited by Islam) and and to homosexuals (called “Sodomites)–read article here. We are tempted to ask why Italy has not seen more antisemitic and homophobic attacks than other Euopean countries. Or else students are surely fools and unable to judge critically a literary work, and we should appreciate Serini’s concern.
But Gherush is, sadly, not the first to put a poem on trial. In 2006, Salvatore Pertutti, electrician in Thionville, France, sued the Bible (together with the Koran) for… its perceived homophobia and sexism (article here).
Such an assault on what consitutes the very soul of our civilization is not new–it has antecedents as early as the 18th century, during the Enllightenments and the French revolution. What is new is the legal weapon that those who wish to destroy it are now using, thereby thinking to give themselves a hint of legitimacy. All this in the name of tolerance. They sure demonstrate a lot of tolerance by judging Christians without the least care for historical truthfulness and holding them responsible for whatever evil they want to name. Self-appointed Crusaders are precisely those that display the least of the values they pretend to defend.
Yet, it is not so much about the Inquisition that the autodafe those warriors of “tolerance,” “human rights,” or whichever ideology are writing makes me think. I am more tempted to relate this to Mao’s Cultural Revolution in the sixties and seventies. “Destroy the old, forge the new” was the motto of those who engaged in the campaign. Classical literature, temples, all products of millenia of Chinese cultural development, were destroyed because they did not fit in the new ideology that the leadership sought to impose to modernize the country. With the consequences that we know.
It is not because the contemporary campaign to remove even the greatest literary treasures of faith and culture does not involve violence that it is legitimate and just. It still denies people the most precious treasure they hold: their culture and collective memory. Violence lies in this denial. If such is the contemporary European dream of tolerance and live-together, then we should resist it and fight for it never to happen.