Near Sorrento

Among my international students (systems engineering courses) the most interesting to me are the Indians, the Chinese and the Muslims. I find they are profound, less globalized (the term here being used in the negative sense) and extremely intelligent. Ok, they are also more exotic to me, but this is not the only reason.

One evening, in a small sweet town of Southern Italy where life is relaxing and food so exquisite, I was having dinner under the pergola of a nice restaurant overlooking the sea together with a group of 4 Muslim students in their thirties (image above: source), all of them affectionate and long-term pupils of mine. One is from Lebanon, quick-glancing eyes, restless, a real Phoenician; one from Afghanistan, elegant and supple, coming from a rich family of land-owners; one from Bosnia, acute light-blue eyes & acute mind; one finally from the Ivory Coast, a sweet good-natured black giant I called my body guard and who spoke very good French.

At the end of this pleasant dinner after a lot of laughing and pleasant chatting (and where unfortunately no wine was tasted) I touched upon the subject of the victim complex many Muslims (in my view) have and of the necessity of rolling up one’s sleeves to really solve problems (this playing-the-victim and always-blaming-the-others type of behaviour, I told them, was also typical of many Italians from Southern Italy, who keep blaming Northern Italy for many of their woes).

They didn’t overreact, but I clearly felt they took it badly. Sympathy among us was not broken, no, but I felt some further explanation was necessary. Unfortunately being already very late we had to separate, and since it was the evening before the last day of course, we didn’t have the opportunity to approach the subject again.

It is a pain I keep in my heart.

18 thoughts on “Pain in the Heart

  1. You picked one of the most difficult conversational subjects to bring up!

    Even if you did not talk about religion directly, perhaps your comment was regarded as being an attack on their religious beliefs. Many Muslims appear take their religion extremely seriously, I know a couple like this, and would not dream of bringing up issues relating to Islam. It would be asking for trouble.

    Actually, I’ve always found it much easier to talk about religious issues with non-religious people. The devout appear to be almost blinkered by their faith.

    Don’t worry too much about the incident – just chalk it down to experience. Next time you want to bring up such a touchy subject, you should perhaps try to test the waters, before sticking your foot in!

    At least you tried.

    Kind regards,



  2. Hi Alex,
    Well, I do not see why my comment should be regarded as an attack to their religion. By ‘rolling up one’s sleeves’ I was implicitly referring to countries like India or China who had a lot of economical problems but then, after a lot of ‘sleeves rolling up’, if one can say that, are becoming rich and powerful. Of course some parts of the Arab world are extremely rich, but the masses aren’t. Complicated topic anyway. I will get back to it one day.

    Ciao e grazie


  3. It is sad but true that most muslims would prefer to say “LOOK!! I am the victim!” and bring religion into every argument/debate. That said most of the middle east countries still live in the middle ages when it comes to way of living – religious clerics and warlords have all the power.

    I think Alex says it perfectly – “I’ve always found it much easier to talk about religious issues with non-religious people. The devout appear to be almost blinkered by their faith.”


  4. It’s not a question of religion, IMHO, but rather (perhaps) one of “beverage choice” …

    “At the end of this pleasant dinner after a lot of laughing and pleasant chatting (and where unfortunately no wine was tasted) “

    Please excuse the joke Man of Roma, but I am one of those Italians who (moderately) enjoy good wine and have little confidence in abstemious people, regardless of their religious, philosophical, and political beliefs …

    More seriously, I once was told that sincerity was one of the fundamental bases of Islam.



  5. @Ashish
    @Wind Rose Hotel
    Interesting comments. I’ll reply as soon as I can. Btw, I am now in the same training centre in southern Italy and tomorrow classes start again. But I do not think those students will be present.
    All the best

    I can’t add much for lack of time. What I can say is that, no matter what, I always prefer to (try to) establish some form of dialogue with people. Islam and ‘the other shores of the Mediterranean’ are important to my blog because somewhat linked to Rome’s and Southern Italy’s history. Of course non religious people can be freer in their discussions, but let us not forget that fanatics are present in all religions, not only in the Muslim religion.


  6. @Ashish
    Yes, the picture represents a place very similar to where the restaurant was located. As far as ‘middle ages’ do not forget that some Muslim countries are very ‘modern’, like Lebanon, Tunisia etc. I know in India there is some clash between the Hindus and the Muslims.


  7. I meant middle ages as in thinking not in living. 🙂

    As for the clashes, yes the godhra riots and the 1992 riots were some of the worst although things are calm nowadays. Who can say though? It only takes a spark to light a field of hay. 🙂


  8. This picture made me thinking about vacation….such a great and nice scene…It makes mind and soul be relaxed. I wish i could spend rest of my life to look at it every days…


  9. @Di
    Yes, it is a lovely photo indeed. And the place too: Sorrento, not far from Naples. Btw, you are a very good photographer.

    If by ‘Middle ages’ you mean religion pervading almost everything you do during the day, yes, some Muslim are like that, but I do not think they are a majority. People like that are also present in many parts of the United States, it is not only a Muslim thing. In Europe we are actually less religious, I would say the majority of Europeans are agnostics, like me.

    Sweet and romantic thought of you, dear AutumnSnow. Yes, I would also like to live in a place like that forever. Only, I recently realised that sea climate is a bit too humid to my taste lol.


  10. @Wind Rose Hotel
    Wine is important for me also lol. I cannot conceive a meal without some good wine since all tastes are so enhanced by this gift from the Gods.
    “I once was told that sincerity was one of the fundamental bases of Islam.”
    Yes, they are very sincere people as far as I know, and very good people indeed, and this horrible September 11 has been a tragedy that has caused relationships with them to be so uptight and terribly complicated.


  11. It’s quite pity to hear that it’s a bit too humid to you, Man of Roma. I think if you really like that place, you would find way to get over the humid..

    I can suggest you not to stay close to the sea in Spring. I think Autumn is a good season for you to enjoy the scene of the sea. The humidity in autumn is much lower compared to in spring. Hope it could help you. 🙂


  12. @AutumnSnow
    I think you are right. It is the last time that I’ll spend a winter on the sea. Pity, because I adore the sea.


  13. It is the last time??? Though I do not understand why but I think no one knows what would happen in the future?…maybe you would stay/ live close to the sea for the rest of your life lol..


  14. @Man of Roma

    Did u think that I was gone? And u don’t have to answer my irreverent comments? Sorry, to disappoint you!!!! The Devil incarnate is back… And this time he is going to comment on your old posts too… [:D]

    Now I couldn’t find the exact post where I should put this comment but I knew it began from this single post ….So Here is a gift…

    1 more link…

    Now it’s not valentine day gift… so relax… And like my valentine day gift’s … it will also not be appreciated… But I know can’t refuse like those stupid gals… and best part is u won’t even slap me!!!

    Lucky me!!! [:D] See I am laughing!!!

    Ok .. I thought u might like this post… so ..…

    Why did I do it?
    Maslov Uncle says “human beings can also do things without any self-intrest”!!!

    Jus wanted to prove the old Guy right!!!

    And By the way … U r welcome!!!


  15. @Falcon

    Mwah ah ah Falcon, in these two last comments of yours it seems like you’ve eaten some (magic) mushrooms! You well know I don’t mind your irreverent comments or whatever they are. As regards your present, I think you are wrong since I liked that article, it is interesting, and I’ve added that Jai Hind’s blog to my mental list of good resources about India.

    One thing only. All this hype *for* and *against* religions, I wonder where *the hell* is the world going. I’m also a bit responsible, because I’ve often talked here about the things I don’t like about Christianity. It seems like I desire getting back to the ancient Greco-Roman religion(s), but it isn’t true.

    In any case, I never really talk about religions here but about *civilizations*, of which religions an important part. And yes, I am no more pro Muslim (did I give this impression?) than I am pro any other religion. I’m just writing a blog about the Western roots because they are my roots, and I hope it shows that rediscovering one’s roots means to me also desiring a dialogue with the roots of others.

    My generation was a dialogue generation, no doubt. We felt we were all brothers, no matter the race, religion, culture.

    Call it the hippie generation, Falcon, call it the way you like (I was not a hippie though.)

    And do not eat too many mushrooms, they’re bad for health 😉


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