Specifically, we no longer find the forced need to pander to collective pride in the achievements of Islam, in which even Christian writers of an earlier era, such as Michel Aflaq, Constantin Zureiq, and Antoun Saadeh felt compelled to wrap their secularism. In sum, celebrated as it was as an age of liberalism, the nineteenth-century Arab Awakening could not firmly establish a solid, durable foundation for secularism beyond the confines of the intelligentsia.
Thus, Aflaq would maintain that whereas in Europe religion was an external importation to the continent, Islam could not but remain an integral part of Arab consciousness. More than half a century after Aflaq, an open rapport permitting an autonomous critique of religious and secular use and abuse of power remains sorely absent from Lebanon and the Arab world as a whole, as Lebanese Orthodox bishop Georges Khodr and the Syrian poet Adonis have remarked.
During a public address at the American University of Beirut, Adonis offered a scathing analysis of the far-reaching consequences for politics and society alike of a pervasive culture of censorship. Just as it is anathema—and legally proscribed—to critique all things religious and sacrosanct, so too the image of the sect has become a sacred, untouchable icon.
Even self-proclaimed secular parties in the Arab world are liable to unwittingly mimic an intolerant dogmatism that is all but religious. Adonis wrote:. The [Syrian] opposition is a regime avant la lettre ….
Military dictatorship controls your mind. But religious dictatorship controls your mind and body.
After this refusal to lend unconditional support to an increasingly violent and unabashedly sectarian revolution, the octogenarian poet was faced with death threats on Facebook and a barrage of scorn from the Syrian opposition. Yet up until the uprising it was Azm rather than Adonis who could be charged with pro-regime sympathies. Paradoxically, the Arab intellectual world today is suffering from a contagion of noxious sectarian prejudices, even as a tendency to downplay the vigor of sectarianism persists. Just as reports of sectarian acts were proliferating, American secretary of state John Kerry lobbied the U.
Those carrying arms are mostly members of the dissident army.
All parties are calling for a civil, democratic pluralistic state that treats its citizens as equal in front of the law. Civil is a version of secular—secular in the way that it assures it is neutral towards religions and sects, and assures the separation of state and society. What is more, the Tunisian prime minister, a member of the Islamist party Ennahda, openly gave cover to terrorists. The argument justifying the support of Islamic radicals to stave off fundamentalists has a long pedigree. Since the s, the United States has again and again lent support to Islamist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood, first against atheistic communism, and subsequently against other competing groups and ideologies.
Thomas Friedman took this Machiavellian line of thinking furthest. However hostile the geopolitical milieu may have been to secularism, it is important to underscore that even the most nefarious of foreign agents could never have exploited sectarian sentiments and jihadist movements to further their ends without the fertile ground of prejudices against secularism in the Middle East.
It still remains far safer and easier to defend a religious form of legislation. Not just Islamists but even ostensible leftists have maligned secularism as a byword for Western Christianity.
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At present, the discourse on the civil state remains stuck between two fronts. The third group of prominent secular Arab intellectuals who have eschewed such apologetics and instead engaged in an introspective self-critique remain pushed to the margins or into exile. Their defense of secularism continues to be defamed as atheism or equated with an automatic justification of tyranny.
Yet they have been proven correct in their warnings that the continued, unquestioned paramount dominance of tribe and religion in defining Arab identity would make the region vulnerable to both self-immolation and external exploitation of competitive communalism. The broader question, then, still remains: whether the notion of a civil state can take root in societies that are overwhelmingly governed by instincts of fear and communal identities.
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It may even be facing further setbacks as the region continues to suffer an internally and externally induced state enfeeblement and fragmentation. See Haidar Hadj Ismail, ed. Author interview, Cairo, October 20, The claim that the Muslim Brotherhood first invoked the term in the s is thus incorrect. London: Routledge, , II Beirut: Dar al-Nahar, , Abdullah al-Alyali, Wherein Lies the Mistake?
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Suna Kili and A. Bianchi cited in Roderic H. Even more portentous fusions of paternalism and patriotism are found in European analogues. One indication of the negative stances toward secularism is provided by the popular polls conducted by the website of Al Jazeera over the past decade. Consistently, a bias against secularism is revealed. A poll on February 21, , for instance, showed that Gerard F. My point of reference here is Albert Hourani, who showed an unparalleled gift of nuanced scholarship but whose thesis can be reassessed with respect to the developments of the past two decades. Raziq was subsequently fired from Al-Azhar and disbarred by a Wafdist parliament under the leadership of Saad Zaghlul.
Hussein opposed declaring Islam as the religion of state in Egypt as he feared that nonbelievers and minorities would be prejudiced against.
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The press directives were enforced by Abdul Hamid during the Russian-Ottoman war. The use of blank space or the use of dots in place of items censored in a newspaper is forbidden. Important official personalities should not be criticized. In Egypt, Law no. The Syrian constitution stipulates that the president must be a Muslim and that Islamic jurisprudence is a main source of legislation. Such clauses were designed to curry favor with the populace and bestow a Sunni veil of legitimacy on what are, for all intents and purposes, a family-run, Alawite regime in Syria and a military-dominated autocratic regime in Egypt.
Beirut in the s would indeed witness waves of liberalism, first and foremost among the upper-class Sunni elite of Beirut, which for the first time saw unveiled women in public, such as Anbara Salam and Fatima Bayhum. Zain al-Din was writing in the same period when Ali Abdel Raziq — was most active.
By contrast, the defense of religious freedom in the West by Thomas Jefferson — was absolute and unconditional. Prosecution of libel and slander cases, as in the United States for instance, remains difficult in Lebanon, save for criticisms of religion, for which there is a near zero-tolerance policy. Two things struck me about my brief visit with the Corries. They had immediately sought out their U. As expected, the Israeli lobby had explained the realities to them, and both women simply begged off. An American citizen willfully murdered by the soldiers of a client state of the United States without so much as an official peep or even the de rigueur investigation that had been promised her family.
Born and brought up in Olympia, a small city 60 miles south of Seattle, she had joined the International Solidarity Movement and gone to Gaza to stand with suffering human beings with whom she had never had any contact before. Her letters back to her family are truly remarkable documents of her ordinary humanity that make for very difficult and moving reading, especially when she describes the kindness and concern shown her by all the Palestinians she encounters who clearly welcome her as one of their own, because she lives with them exactly as they do, sharing their lives and worries, as well as the horrors of the Israeli occupation and its terrible effects on even the smallest child.
I thank you for it. What shines through all the letters she wrote home, which were subsequently published in the London Guardian , is the amazing resistance put up by the Palestinian people themselves, average human beings stuck in the most terrible position of suffering and despair but continuing to survive just the same. We have heard so much recently about the road map and the prospects for peace that we have overlooked the most basic fact of all, which is that Palestinians have refused to capitulate or surrender even under the collective punishment meted out to them by the combined might of the United States and Israel.
It is that extraordinary fact that is the reason for the existence of a road map and all the numerous so-called peace plans before them, not at all because the United States and Israel and the international community have been convinced for humanitarian reasons that the killing and the violence must stop.
If we miss that truth about the power of Palestinian resistance by which I do not at all mean suicide bombing, which does much more harm than good , despite all its failings and all its mistakes, we miss everything. Palestinians have always been a problem for the Zionist project, and so-called solutions have perennially been proposed that minimize, rather than solve, the problem. Whereas a few courageous Israelis over the years have tried to deal with this other concealed history, most Israelis and what seems like the majority of Americans have made every effort to deny, avoid, or negate the Palestinian reality.
This is why there is no peace. Moreover, the road map says nothing about justice or about the historical punishment meted out to the Palestinian people for too many decades to count. That is what she was in solidarity with. And we need to remember that that kind of solidarity is no longer confined to a small number of intrepid souls here and there but is recognized the world over. In the past six months I have lectured on four continents to many thousands of people. What brings them together is Palestine and the struggle of the Palestinian people, which is now a byword for emancipation and enlightenment, regardless of all the vilification heaped on them by their enemies.
Whenever the facts are made known, there is immediate recognition and an expression of the most profound solidarity with the justice of the Palestinian cause and the valiant struggle by the Palestinian people on its behalf. After all, please remember that all the main organs of the establishment media, from left liberal all the way over to fringe right, are unanimously anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, and anti-Palestinian. Look at the pusillanimity of the media during the buildup to an illegal and unjust war against Iraq, and look at how little coverage there was of the immense damage against Iraqi society done by the sanctions, and how relatively few accounts there were of the immense worldwide outpouring of opinion against the war.
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However else one blames Saddam Hussein as a vicious tyrant, which he was, he provided the people of Iraq with the best infrastructure of services like water, electricity, health, and education of any Arab country. None of this is any longer in place. It is no wonder, then—with the extraordinary fear of seeming anti-Semitic by criticizing Israel for its daily crimes of war against innocent unarmed Palestinian civilians or criticizing the U.
Here is where dignity and critical historical thinking must be mobilized to see what is what and to disentangle truth from propaganda. No one would deny that most Arab countries today are ruled by unpopular regimes and that vast numbers of poor, disadvantaged young Arabs are exposed to ruthless forms of fundamentalist religion. Yet it is simply a lie to say, as the New York Times regularly does, that Arab societies are totally controlled, and that there is no freedom of opinion, that there are no civil institutions, no functioning social movements for and by the people.
Press laws notwithstanding, you can go to downtown Amman today and buy a Communist Party newspaper as well as an Islamist one; Egypt and Lebanon are full of papers and journals that suggest much more debate and discussion than these societies are given credit for; the satellite channels are bursting with diverse opinions in a dizzying variety; civil institutions are, on many levels having to do with social services, human rights, syndicates, and research institutes, very lively all over the Arab world.