Lettere contro la guerra w literaturze – #1

Listy przeciwko wojnie Tiziano Terzaniego, pisane po 11 września 2001, znalazły swoje odbicie w literaturze naukowej.
John Tolan, profesor historii na Universytecie w Nantes, wspomina Terzaniego w kilku miejscach w swojej książce (również w ostatnim akapicie epilogu!) Saint Francis and the Sultan. The Curious History of a Christian-Muslim Encounter (Oxford University Press, 2009):

If the crusades lend themselves to the paradigm of the 'clash of civilizations’, the peaceful encounter of Francis and al-Kamil offers, on the contrary, a gleam of hope. Even in the Middle Ages, and age of crusade and jihad, some had cool heads and large hearts and were ready to engage in dialogue instead of war. This is how, for example, Italian journalist Tiziano Terzani presents the encounter, shortly after 11 September 2001, as a model of peaceful dialogue in the midst of war, in opposition to those (from Osama bin Laden to Oriana Falacci) who preach hatred. This singular encounter also has become a model of ecumenical dialogue for various Christian authors, especially Franciscans. In January 2002, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, future pope Benedict XVI, affirmed that Francis had understood that the crusades were not the solution to the differences between Islam and Christianity and that he convinced the sultan of this. This peaceful dialogue is a model for today’s church: 'let us walk down the path towards peace, following the example of Saint Francis’, exhorts Ratzinger. (str. 3-4)


On 29 September 2001 Orianna Fallaci published in the Milanese newspaper „Il Corriere della sera” a vicious diatribe against Islam under the title 'La Rabia e l’Orgoglio’, 'Rage and pride’. This rambling essay is peppered with invectives not only against the terrorists, but against all those in Europe who had not realized that the attacks of 9/11 were part of a war against the West, a war of which Muslim immigration into Europe, which she presents as a clandestine invasion, is an even more dangerous dimension. Fallaci affirms the superiority of the West over Islam, of cathedrals over mosques, of Dante over Umar Khayyam, etc.
Among the many reactions to the rambling invective of the Italian pamphleteer was that of journalist Tiziano Terzani, titled 'Il Sultano e San Francesco’ (The Sultan and St Francis), published in „Il Corriere della sera” on 8 October 2001. As the title indicates, Terzani proposes, over and against the violence of a Bin Laden and the hatred of a Fallaci, the mutual respect which Francis and al-Kamil showed for each other. Terzani addresses Fallaci as an old friend disappointed and bewildered by the unthinking hatred in 'Rage and Pride’:

<< I’m also writing, publicly, for those of your readers who, perhaps like me, were almost as stunned by your outburst as they were by the collapse of the towers. I’m writing to let them know they’re not alone. Thousands of people perished in those towers and with them our sense of security. What seemed to die in your words is reason, the noblest part of the human mind, and compassion, the noblest sentiment of the human heart.”>>

He reproaches Fallaci for having embarked on a new crusade. We can never wipe out terrorism through war, affirms Terzani; we should instead try to understand its causes and resolve them. The causes of Muslim resentment towards the USA are numerous: favour shown to Israel, thirst for oil, propping up corrupt governments in the Muslim world, etc. We need new visionaries, sighs Terzani.
Francis and al-Kamil once more show us the path to follow:

<<A phrase of Toynbee’s keeps going round in my mind: 'The works of artists and writers live longer than the deeds of soldiers, statesmen and businessmen. Poets and philosophers go further than historians. But the saints and the prophets are worth more than the rest put together.’
Where are the saints and prophets today? We could certainly do with at least one! We need a St. Francis. There were crusades in his day, too, but he was concerned with the others, the ones the crusaders were fighting against. He did all he could to go and find them. The first time he tried, the ship he was sailing on was wrecked, and he only just survived. He tried again, but fell ill on the way and had to turn back. Then, in the siege of Damietta in Egypt during the fifth crusade, embittered by the  crusaders’ behaviour (’he saw evil and sin’), but deeply moved by the sight of the dead on the battlefield, he finally crossed the front line. He was taken prisoner, chained and brought before the Sultan. It’s a shame CNN didn’t exist in 1219, because it would have been fascinating to see this meeting on television. It must have been remarkable, because after a conversation which doubtless lasted deep into the night, the Sultan allowed St. Francis return unharmed to the crusaders’ encampment the next morning.
I like to imagine each putting his viewpoint to the other, St. Francis speaking of Christ, the Sultan reading passages from the Koran, and them ultimately agreeing with each other on the message that the poor friar of Assisi repeated wherever he went: „Love your neighbour as yourself”. I also like to imagine there was no aggression between them, given that the friar knew how to laugh as well as preach, and that they parted on good terms in the knowledge that they couldn’t stop the course of history anyway.

Francis and al-Kamil have all the qualities that Fallaci lacks: gentleness, modesty, critical distance. In the midst of a bloody conflict, they found time (one evening, until the wee hours of the morning) to speak with each other. Terzani’s Francis seems hostile to the crusade: he takes interest in the crusaders’ enemies; he is shocked by the sight of the dead. Terzani does not claim to know what the two men said to each other, but he likes to imagine a relaxed and friendly dialogue. The two men know that they have no power to divert the forces of history: there is no mention either of conversion or of a peaceful end to the war. His Francis wanted above all to 'go see’ the enemies of the crusaders, to try to understand them. This is the attitude that Terzani recommends to young Italians: avoid being blinded by hatred and intolerance like Fallaci; go and see the Muslim other, learn his languages, read his literature, study his religion. And do so with modesty and peaceful circumspection, knowing that we cannot stop history, that we will not be able to prevent the violence of the new fanatics of crusade and jihad.

Francis and al-Kamil were on the minds of those who got together for the third encounter of Assisi, a day of prayer for peace in the world, on 24 January 2002. As the US and its allies were engaged in war in Afghanistan in response to the attacks of 9/11, John-Paul II called together clerics of all confessions to pray for peace. Here is how several enthusiastic participants, five women from the Foundation for a Healing among Nations, describe the pope’s endeavour:

<<Some say that he is doing what St. Francis did on the battlefield, inviting peace with defenseless hands. Almost eight hundred years ago, the Middle East was under siege of the fifth Crusade and St. Francis made his way to Egypt and miraculously impressed the Sultan al Kamil, a Muslim, with his humble and loving presence. St. Francis asked the Sultan to choose peace.
What is significant to address is that this action which St. Francis initiated almost eight centuries ago was now realizing the fruit of its efforts so tangibly experienced by the meeting of the Mideast religious leaders in Egypt and their agreement for peace declared as the First Alexandria Declaration of the Religious leaders of the Holy Land. This meeting was taking place at the same time the Day of Prayer for Peace was occurring in Assisi on January 21, 2002.>> (str. 319-321)


There are, of course, questions without answers. Having deconstructed the ideological prejudices and assumptions of artists and writers from Jacques de Vitry to Tiziano Terzani, I cannot proffer a 'true’ or 'objective’ version of the encounter at Damietta. I can only observe that modesty behooves the historian who, in gazing into the murky waters of the past, may see above all his own reflection, the image of his hopes and fears. I simply hope that, through this presentation of the game of mirrors concerning the 'lieu de mémoire’ of the meeting at Damietta, I have been able to shed a bit of light. (str. 327)

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