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Muslims Protest Against 1741 Voltaire Play

From the Wall Street Journal:

Blame It on Voltaire: Muslims Ask French To Cancel 1741 Play

By ANDREW HIGGINS

SAINT-GENIS-POUILLY, France — Late last year, as an international crisis was brewing over Danish cartoons of Muhammad, Muslims raised a furor in this little alpine town over a much older provocateur: Voltaire, the French champion of the 18th-century Enlightenment.

A municipal cultural center here on France’s border with Switzerland organized a reading of a 265-year-old play by Voltaire, whose writings helped lay the foundations of modern Europe’s commitment to secularism. The play, "Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet," uses the founder of Islam to lampoon all forms of religious frenzy and intolerance…

A meeting two days later to defuse the crisis got nowhere. Mr. Bertrand, flanked by officials from France’s security service and other state bodies, quoted a section of France’s constitution that guarantees free speech. Mr. Akhrouf and Mr. Ouardiri pleaded with authorities to try to understand Muslim feelings …

The night of the reading, riot police took up positions outside Saint-Genis-Pouilly’s cultural center. An hour into the performance, the mayor got called out of the hall because of street disturbances. The mayor says the mood was "quasi-insurrectional," but damage was minor. Police chased Muslim youths through the streets…

Mayor Bertrand says he is proud his town took a stand by refusing to cave in under pressure to call off the reading. Free speech is modern Europe’s "foundation stone," he says. "For a long time we have not confirmed our convictions, so lots of people think they can contest them."

I actually have a copy of this hard to find play.

To give you an idea, here is how it starts:

 

VOLTAIRE’S MAHOMET

A Play in Five Acts written by Voltaire in 1741, complete and unabridged translation by E. P. Dupont publishers (New York, 1901).

Dramatis personae.

Mahomet (Prophet Mohammed, Founder of Islam).
Zopir, Sheik of Mecca.
Omar, General and second in command to Mahomet.
Seid, Slave to Mahomet.
Palmira, Slave to Mahomet.
Phanor, Senator of Mecca.
Company of Meccans.
Company of Mussulmans
______

Scene, Mecca.

ACT I. SCENE I.

ZOPIR, PHANOR.

ZOPIR.
Thinkest thou thy friend will ever bend the knee
To this proud hypocrite; shall I fall down
And worship, I who banished him from Mecca?
No: punish me, just heaven, as I deserve,
If e’er this hand, the friend of innocence
And freedom, stoop to cherish foul rebellion,
Or aid imposture to deceive mankind!
  …

Sounds about right to me.

If you wish to have your own private reading, you can download the rest of Voltaire’s play (in Word format) here.

  Update!

And just to chap some Muslim hide a bit more, here is a letter M. de Voltaire sent to Pope Benedict XIV:

Most blessed Father—

Your holiness will pardon the liberty taken by one of the lowest of the faithful, though a zealous admirer of virtue, of submitting to the head of the true religion this performance, written in opposition to the founder of a false and barbarous sect. To whom could I with more propriety inscribe a satire on the cruelty and errors of a false prophet, than to the vicar and representative of a God of truth and mercy?

Your holiness will therefore give me leave to lay at your feet both the piece and the author of it, and humbly to request your protection of the one, and your benediction upon the other; in hopes of which, with the profoundest reverence, I kiss your sacred feet.

Paris, August 17, 1745

Voltaire

And the reply Pope Benedict XIV made to M. de Voltaire:

Benedictus P. P. dilecto filio salutem & Apostolicam Benedictionem.

This day sevennight I was favored with your excellent tragedy of Mahomet, which I have read with great pleasure

Those were the days.

This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Thursday, September 14th, 2006. Comments are currently closed.

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