Sunday 30 October 2011

Where are the Arab Intellectuals?

In his news analysis of 29 October 2011 published in the Sunday Review section, New York Times staff writer Robert F. Worth examines the relative silence of intellectuals from the Arab World during this year's 'Arab Spring'. It looks at the disappointment of Syrians due to the absence of any bold challenges by the famous poet Adonis in his open letter to Syrian President Asad.
Syrian-Lebanese poet Adonis
This makes Arab intellectuals look meek in comparison to their European, Asian and American intellectual predecessors like Vaclav Havel, Mao, and Thomas Paine. According to Worth it reflects the climate of repression under which many intellectuals in the Arab world live and work, but it is also symptomatic of the post-ideological era in which we live with much less room for 'unifying doctrines' and 'grandiose figures'. 

Syrian philosopher Sadiq Jalal al-Azm
Worth continues: 'To some extent the intellectual silence of the current uprising is a deliberate response to the revolutionary rhetoric of previous generations... [...] The protesters who led the Arab Spring had grown tired of the stale internationalist rhetoric of their forebears'. There is a perceptible shift from ideological grandstanding to a more realistic and pragmatic concern with human rights and democratization. Thinkers such as the Syrian philosopher Sadik Jalal al-Azm joined other Syrian intellectuals to sign the 'Declaration of the 99'.  But then again:
But in recent years their voices often went unheard, because their secular language had little resonance in societies where political Islamic was becoming a dominant force. nor did Islamic reformers fare much better when they tried to cast their political critique in religious terms. The Egyptian scholar Hassan Hanafi, for instrance, in the 1980s began calling for the creation of an "Islamic Left", a socialist ideology rooted in religion. He was branded a heretic and had to seek police protection after receiving death threats from jihadists. His work gained an audience in Indonesia, but not in his own country, said Carool Kersten, a lecturer at King's College London who has written on Islamic reformers. 
It appears intellectuals throughout the Arab world are struggling to find a way for giving voice to the frustrations, ambitions and expectations of its citizens. To read the full essay click here.

* those who read Arabic click on this link.

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