European Muslims Need Dante; So Does Everyone Else

May 28, 2024 by

By Rod Dreher, European Conservative.

Last week, an Italian news outlet reported that two Muslim high school students had been exempted from the required study of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Why? Because they were offended by Dante’s treatment of the Prophet Muhammad, whom Dante places in Hell as a sower of discord. The school allowed the students to study Boccaccio instead.

This is infuriating. If you wish to live in Italy—or anywhere in the West—you should study Dante, a poet of almost peerless stature. The poet T.S. Eliot said, “Dante and Shakespeare divide the world between them. There is no third.”

Though appreciating Dante and his Commedia has fallen into scandalous neglect in the Anglophone world, Eliot spoke truth. You cannot know what it means to be Italian, you cannot know what it means to be Western—indeed, you may not know fully what it means to be human—without encountering Dante. That the Italians—Italians!—have given Muslim students the option of skipping Dante is a shocking sign of the loss of self-confidence, and the acceptance of dhimmitude—Bat Ye’or’s term for the voluntary second-class citizen status weak-minded Westerners accept when confronted by strong-willed Muslims in their midst.

What’s next? Queer students claiming exemption because they resent the fact that Dante has created in Hell a Circle of the Sodomites? In fact, homosexuality is not really discussed in those cantos. Dante uses homosexuality as a symbol of creative infertility. In it, the pilgrim Dante (the character traveling through the afterlife, as distinct from the poet Dante) encounters his old mentor, Brunetto Latini, in one of the Commedia’s most moving moments. Brunetto encourages his former charge to keep writing poetry for his own personal glory. As we see later, in Purgatorio, this is bad advice; the poet Dante wants us to know that the kind of glory that lasts comes when an artist creates in service of higher ideals.


Even if you don’t believe in God, there are profound lessons in the Commedia about life and how to live it. A masterpiece like this doesn’t endure for eight centuries if it doesn’t speak to the depths of the human condition. The Commedia shows us a way of regarding life and ourselves—a way that draws us away from egotism and toward selfless love.  Who doesn’t need that?

Read here.

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