Tuesday, 29 October 2013

French-Tunisian intellectual Abdelwahab Meddeb: Islamists are not ready for Democracy

In an interview with the Qantara website, the Paris-based Tunisian writer and commentator Abdelwahab Meddeb expresses his doubts regarding the future trajectories of his home country and Egypt under the governance of Islamic parties. Ever the critical observer he minces no words
The Islamists who are now in power did not take part in the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. Indeed the very fact that no religious slogans whatsoever were chanted during the revolution is in itself interesting. For this reason, it is safe to say that the election of the Islamists to government and their appearance on the political stage constitutes a kind of hijacking of the revolution.
For me, the Islamists have nothing to do with the Islamic tradition of the Middle Ages. After all, the text-based tradition of the Islamic Middle Ages was complex and ambiguous. It was based on controversy and the plurality of thought. Above all, however, it was part of a universal, historical theocentric age. In this age, God was at the centre of all societies.
Abdelwahab Meddeb
To his mind their reactionary attitude is out of sync with the present-day situation in the Muslim world:
 When attempts are made today to put God back at the centre of society instead of humankind, then for me, that is an enormous step backwards. Islamism has changed from being a religious tradition into an ideology. As a religion, Islam has – just like all religions – a global vision. In other words, they want to assert their influence in all areas.
Referring to Turkey, he still harbours reservations whether the Muslim world is really entering a post-Islamist era: 
Whether Erdogan's Islamism has really developed into an Islamic democracy will only become clear on the day that change occurs. So far, Erdogan has not been voted out of office. I am waiting for the day when he loses an election and I will watch with interest to see how he leaves office and returns to his own home. I don't think that the Islamists are ready for a democratic culture. I will believe in an Islamic democracy when I see this change actually taking place in the form of a democratic handover of power. In other words, change will be the ultimate proof.
 However, he is also cautiously optimistic about the chances of a change of course into an alternative direction:

At present, there is an open debate between secularists and Islamists in Tunisia. This is the first time that this has ever happened. Indeed, I think that people have long since forgotten the culture of listening to each other. We are currently in a period of transition. The period that follows will be critical.

Read the full interview by clicking here

Friday, 18 October 2013

Intellectual Archive: Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd

The Jadaliyya website, which has grown into one of the most prominent platforms for alternative voices from the Middle Eastern and North African parts of the Muslim world has established an archive offering a useful introduction to the intellectual legacy of one of the pioneering scholars of Islam from the Arabic-speaking world during the final decades of the last century and the early years of the new millennium.

Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd has done ground-breaking world in the subfields of Qur'anic studies and in the discourse analysis of religious thinking in the contemporary Muslim world. His writings drew the attention of inquisitive young Muslims both at home and abroad, and some of his writings have been translated into Turkish, Indonesian, French, German, and Italian.

On the other hand, his proposition to approach the Qur'an as  literary text that can be subjected to text analytical and semiotic investigations also earned him the hostility of reactionary Muslim bloc. In the combustible political-religious climate of the Egypt in the early 1990s, which saw not only bloody confrontations between violent extremist and the Egyptian security forces, but also the assassination of the writer Farag Foda and a failed attempt on the life of Nobel Prize laureate Naguib Mahfouz, Abu Zayd saw no other option than going into exile in Germany and the Netherlands. His premature death in 2010, cut short the life and career of Muslim humanist and innovative academic.

For those who can read Arabic, click here to read brief sketches and view video clips of a number of talks. For those who don't, here are a few interviews in English:

Part 1 & 2