Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Where’s an 18th-century French aristocrat when you need him?

To that appalling spectacle of woe,Will ye reply: �You do but illustrateThe iron laws that chain the will of God�?Say ye, o�er that yet quivering mass of flesh:�God is avenged: the wage of sin is death�?What crime, what sin, had those young hearts conceivedThat lie, bleeding and torn, on mother�s breast?Did fallen Lisbon deeper drink of viceThan London, Paris, or sunlit Madrid?The above is an extract from “POEM ON THE LISBON DISASTER; Or an Examination of the Axiom, �All is Well,� which Voltaire penned on the occasion of the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755. In the wake of the Indian Ocean catastrophe, the French Enlightenment figure has been wheeled out as religious leaders and secularists have clashed over the “meaning” of this event. Richard Dawkins, the scourge of believers, was particularly vehement in the letters page of the Guardian:”It is psychologically possible to derive comfort from sincere belief in a nonexistent illusion, but – silly me – I thought believers might be disillusioned with an omnipotent being who had just drowned 125,000 innocent people (or an omniscient one who failed to warn them). Of course, if you can derive comfort from such a monster, I would not wish to deprive you. “However, regardless of the debates in secular (or Godless, as some might accuse) Europe, it seems that the devastation has done little to dent faith in areas that have actually suffered. The South Africa Star reports “across these battered shores, dozens of mosques still stand, their minarets glinting defiantly in the sun – a phenomenon survivors in the deeply Islamic region credit as much to divine intervention as robust architecture.”God’s invisible hands prevent the mosque’s destruction,” said Mukhlis Khaeran, who saw the sea sweep away his home village of Baet outside the north Sumatran city of Banda Aceh, but leave the neighbourhood mosque relatively intact.”He punishes us for our greed and arrogance but He will protect his house,” a dejected Khaeran said.”The Independent has devoted its front page to asking commentators “Could the tsunami disaster be a turning point for the world?” Most of those who reply automatically take a paternalistic attitude, envisioning the possibility of the wealthy North reaching out to an impoverished South. But wouldn’t a real turning point occur if this tragedy were to engender at least one Islamic Voltaire, one who questioned whether 100,000 Indonesians were really so sinful as to merit being wiped out? Or one who wondered aloud why the mosques were the only buildings to have been built soundly? Assuming those who raised such questions survived, such a development might be literally revolutionary. After all, two years after the fall of the Bastille, Voltaire was reburied amid fanfare in the Panth�on, a mausoleum dedicated to those who inspired the French Revolution.