and democracy: Fear of the modern
Addison-Wesley Publishing Co
English translation by Mary Jo Lakeland
Imagine for a moment a river on which two boats, the Orient and the Occident, are sailing toward each other, both with many people on board. The Orient looks at what is ahead of it, and suddenly it sees only his own reflection. The Occident at that precise moment is nothing but a mirror. The Orient is seized by terror, not because the Occident is different, but because it reflects and exhibits the very part of the Orient that it is trying to hide from himself: individual responsibility. Democracy—that is, insistence on the sovereignty of the individual rather than of an arbitrary leader—is not as new as the imams proclaim. What it is is repressed. Democracy in this sense is not foreign to the Muslim East; it is an infected wound that the east has been carrying for centuries. Opposition forces have constantly rebelled and tried to kill the leader, and he has always tried to obliterate them. This dance of death between authority and individuality is for the Muslim repressed, for it is soaked in the blood and violence that no civilization lets float to the surface; it is awash in the inexhaustible rivers of blood that our teachers hid from us and that we hid from ourselves while rhapsodizing about the benefits of unity and solidarity within the umma, the Muslim community. The west is frightening because it obliges the Muslims to exhume the bodies of all the opponents, both religious and profane, intellectuals and obscure artisans, who were massacred by the caliphs, all those who were condemned, like the Sufis and the philosophers, because, the palace said, they talked about foreign ideas from Greece, India, and ancient Persia.
Democracy is like that sovereign boat that floats on the river of time, obliging us to face what we have been unable to contemplate up to now in our Muslim culture: ‘aql (reason) and ra’y (personal opinion or judgment). Since the beginning the Muslim have given their lives to pose and solve the question that has remained an enigma up until the present: to obey or to reason, to believe or to think? The assertion that the individual and his freedom are not the sole property of the West is at the heart of our tradition, but it has been submerged in incessant bloodbaths. The West with its insistence on democracy seems to us eminently gharib, foreign, because it is a mirror of what frightens us, the wound that fifteen centuries have not succeeded in binding: the fact that personal opinion always brings violence. Under the terror of the sword, political despotism has obliged Muslims to defer discussion about responsibility, freedom to think, and the impossibility of blind obedience. That was called the closing of the gates of ijtihad, “private initiative.”
The gharb [foreign], by constantly talking about democracy, brings before our eyes the phantom ship of those who were decapitated for refusing to obey. It also brings to the surface the struggle between the pen and the sword: that is, the struggle between, on the one hand, the intellectuals, the qadis (judges) thirsting for justice, the Sufis thirsting for freedom, and the poets who tried to express their individuality; and, on the other hand, the caliphs and their shari‘a, their very authoritarian reading of divine law.
Islam is probably the only monotheistic religion in which scholarly exploration is systematically discouraged, if not forbidden, since rational analysis would not serve the purposes of the despots. The Muslim history we possess is that ordered by the viziers to fulfill the needs of the caliphal palaces. Passing over in silence what the people think of the imam is a priority in that writing of history.
Beginning in the first decades after the death of the Prophet, the Kharijites raised the question of whether you must obey the imam if he does not protect your rights. Should you blindly obey, or can you trust your own judgment? The Kharijites answered by saying that you are not obliged to obey; you can “go out” (kharaja) from obedience. “To go out” is the title they gave themselves, one that has stuck to all dissident movements ... The motto of the Kharajites, “La hikma illa lillah” (“Power belongs only to God”), was used for the first time during the fourth caliphate, that of ‘Ali, and led to his assassination by terrorists sent by the Kharajites in year 40 of the Hejira (661). This same slogan has condemned hundreds of imams and Muslim leaders, the last of whom was President Anwar Sadat of Egypt. Political dissident is expressed in Islam as condemnation of the leader. It is this rebel tradition that links dissidence with terrorism.
Taking the place of the leader because the rebel believes he can do better is the fantasy and the motive that for fifteen centuries have inspired scores if not hundreds of sects. The modern militant opposition forces who claim power in the name of the sacred are only replaying that scenario. The traditional palace revolt is a matter between a ruler and a rebel chief and leaves the masses of believers on the sideline.
Two ways lay open to the Muslims: the way of rebellion taken by the Kharajites, which leads to violence and murder; and the way of ‘aql, glorifying reason, which began with the Mu‘tazila, the philosophers who intellectualized the political scene. Instead of preaching violence against an unjust imam like the Kharajites, the Mu‘tazila held that the thinking individual could serve as a barrier against arbitrary rule. Muslims would use both these approaches at different times, both were extremely important, recurring throughout centuries. In the modern Islamic world only the violent, rebellious way is being taken by those who loudly proclaim their wish to rule. The rationalist tradition is apparently not part of their Muslim heritage. That is why outlining it and thinking about it is so crucial.
The Mu‘tazila moved the problem to the philosophical level, asking, What is the purpose of our experience on earth, and to what use should we put ‘aql, that marvelous gift from heaven? If God has created us intelligent, it is to carry out a plan. The rationalist opposition replaced the murder of the imam with the triumph of reason as the barrier against despotism. To achieve the ideal of the well-governed community, all the faithful must be enlisted as bearers of God’s most precious gift, the ability of the individual to think and analyze. By introducing reason into the political theater, the Mu‘tazila forced Islam to imagine new relationships between realer and ruled, giving all the faithful an active part to play alongside the palace. Politics was no longer just a Kharajites duel between two actors, the imam and the rebel leader. A third element came on the scene: all believers who are capable of reasoning. The two conflicting trends within Islam, Kharajites rebels and Mu‘tazila philosophers, appeared on the scene very early and continued, under various names, to be active throughout Muslim history. Although their approaches differed, they shared one basic idea: the imam must be modest and must in no way turn to despotism. It was only on the subject of methods of realizing this ideal of the imamate that they diverged.
The rationalist tradition of the Mu‘tazila triumphed and succeeded in burying a corrupt dynasty, the Umayyads, through the insistence on the preeminence of ‘aql [reason]. Unlikely as it seems, the Abbasids, came to power riding the ferry steed of triumphant reason, which the Mu‘tazila proposed to a fantastic medieval Islam. Alas, very quickly the Abbasids fell into despotism, the Mu‘tazila became pariahs and ‘aql a shriveled exile, and the Muslim world rolled toward the precipice of mediocrity, where it now vegetates—in the mediocrity that is tacked on us as the essence of our “authenticity.”
How was it that politicians who fought against reason succeeded, and continue to succeed, in gutting one of the most promising religions in human history of its substance? The way of dissidence was prevalent within Islam from the beginning. But as intellectual opposition was repressed and silenced, only political rebellion and terrorism had any success, as we see so well today. Only the violence of the subversive could interact with the violence of the caliph. This pattern, which is found throughout Muslim history, explains the modern reality, in which only religious challenge preaching violence as its political language is capable of playing a credible role.
One of the questions the Mu‘tazila devated, and which drew crowds, was the question of qadar, "predestination”: are we free (qadir) to act and thus responsible for our fate, or is our destiny already fixed by God? One branch of the Mu‘tazila, the Qadiriyya, made this its central concern. Its adherents, the Qadiri, were “believers in free destiny, who thought that the human being was free to decide his own acts and so was responsible for everything he did, for evil as well good.” If God has fixed the destiny of men, he is then responsible for the evil that exists on earth. Either man is free, or God is responsible for evil. But the latter proposition is impossible: “For if God created evil, he would be unjust.”
However philosophical they were, the Mu‘tazila found they couldn’t avoid politics. If one is a reasonable, responsible being, one can obey authority only under certain conditions, notably under conditions of popular representation. Any authority that does not come from the people does not bind their will.
The entry of the Mu‘tazila into the political scene transformed and intellectualized it by bringing in new concepts: for example, i‘tizal, that is taking a middle position, weighing the pros and cons. This issue was important because it brought up the question of tolerance. What should be done with a Muslim who commits a sin? Should one condemn him or take a middle position, a position of neutrality? The Mu‘tazila chose the second option—neutrality, and thus, tolerance.
But very early the Abbasid dynasty, which took power carrying the torch of reason and mobilized the most brilliant minds among the Mu‘tazila to promote its propaganda, fell into palace intrigues. The result was that the opening to reason, personal opinion, and the cult of private initiative was condemned as a “foreign” enterprise. The falasifa were hunted down and the freethinkers condemned as infidels and atheists. To strengthen their despotic rule the Abbasids recruited their thinkers from the tradition of knowledge based on ta‘a, banning reflection. This tradition is called the shari‘a, creating confusion that today blocks the democratic process by linking our blind obedience to the leader with our respect for religion. All calls for a rational relationship between the imam and his followers as well as any criticism of the leader are discredited as a rejection of Islam and a lack of respect for its principles and ideals. Thus in order to serve the needs of the Abbasid palace, the shari‘a was stripped of its questioning, speculative dimension. The Imam became a violent, bloodthirsty despot, and only the Kharajites rebel tradition managed to continue to assert itself as a voice of opposition.
After condemning the Mu‘tazila as bearers of a foreign patrimony, the Abbasids of the period of despotism were assassinated by rebels from a Muslim umma cruelly deprived from ra‘y, the right to one’s own opinion. Greeks and Mu‘tazila became vermin that had to be wiped out. The Muslim world rumbled on toward obscurantism, with its enlightened intellectuals being systematically condemned and its people reduced to intellectual apathy. From then on, fanatical revolt was the only form of challenge which survived within a truncated Islam.
Al-milal wa al-nihal [Revealed Religions and Fabricated Beliefs] contains all the terms of the debate on democracy which is shaking the Muslim world today and permeates key words that constitute its two poles. On one end is the pole of allegiance to the leader, confounded with faithfulness to God; it inseparably links together three words: din (religion), i‘tiqad (belief), and ta‘a (obedience). At the other end are grouped together three words that are just as strategic and that all affirm individual responsibility: ra‘y (personal opinion), ihdath (innovation, modernization), and ibda‘ (creation). The conflict lies in the fact that this second pole has for centuries been condemned as negative, subversive. Asserting oneself and believing in one’s personal opinion mean weakening the palace and the power of the community concentrated in the hands of the caliph, and thus playing the enemy’s game. This fear that the expression of individual opinion will weaken the group and play into the hands of adversaries is the emotional vein that all those who wish to block the democratic process on the Arab world try to exploit.
…the definition of a Muslim, forged by political men faithful to the despotic regimes, relayed by the fuqaha (religious authorities), and serving the palaces, would condemn ra‘y, ihdath, and ibda‘ as foreign and blasphemous. But this stripping our heritage of the rationalist tradition would not have succeeded if we had had access to the modern humanistic heritage that the Europeans forged during their bloody struggles against despotism, which opened the way to scientific development and political participation. With complete impunity, the Muslim leaders would battle the Muslim intellectuals who tried to explain and spread the philosophy of the Enlightenment. Like the Mu‘tazila of the past, those intellectuals were harassed, condemned, and denounced as blasphemers during the nineteen and twentieth centuries. Bans on their writings and imprisonment followed, despite the declaration of independence—but with one difference. The Mu‘tazila were the traitors who imported Greek ideas; the modern intellectuals are called servants of the West. Twentieth-century humanism, celebrated elsewhere as the triumph of creativity and the flowering and the individual, is forbidden to us on the pretext that it is foreign. Obscurantism is proposed as the ideal of the future, and one to defend.
The [Gulf] war intensified the feeling of distrust, not to say hatred, between rich and poor which was already latent in the Arab world. This serious malaise, rooted in economic frustration and unequal opportunity, uses the language of religion as one of either protest and revolt or dissimulation and manipulation.
When I visit a Muslim country, whether Pakistan or Egypt or Algeria, what strikes me as a sociologist is first of all the strong feeling of bitterness in the people—the intellectuals, the young, peasants. I see bitterness over blocked ambition, over frustrated desires for consumption—of cloths, commodities, and gadgets, but also of cultural products like books and quality film and performances which give meaning to life and reconcile the individual with his environment and his century. In no Western country have I ever seen such intense bitterness over wasted talent, spoiled chances, inequality of opportunity, or absurd career blockage. What always surprises me in the United States, for example, is that even people with the most mediocre talent seem to find a way to use the few gifts that nature has given them. In our country what is unbearable, especially when you listen to the young men and women of the poor class, is the awful waste of talent. “Ana daya‘” (“My life is a mess”) is a leitmotiv that one hears constantly. I don’t find this sense of failure which people drag around with them in any European city. For me the absence of moaning and groaning is a sign that I am on foreign territory, where talent follows a “relatively” normal course to emerge, struggle, expand, and flower.
If we are to sharpen our understanding of the intimate link between authoritarianism and the state’s refusal to engage the masses in the great debate that modern life demands of us—that is, the question of the secular state—we have to understand how the system operates. The regime of President Bourguiba monopolized the mass media and the schools to tell citizens that they must modernize and renounce tradition while refusing to grant then the essence of modernity: freedom of thought and participation in decision making. The government lauded democracy while robbing the Tunisian citizens of the right to have a say in how their tax money was spent. The result was that Arab countries like Tunisia which call themselves liberal, or those like Algeria which call themselves socialist, created the most confusion among people and thus brought on the fundamentalist opposition that now threatens them.
The fundamentalists’ argument is that if Islam is separated from the sate, no one will any longer believe in Allah and the memory of the prophet will dim. Since we are constantly bombarded via satellite by advertisements for all sorts of products, from soap to films, the sate must defend Islam. Such reasoning is in fact an insult to Islam, with its suggestion that Islam can succeed only if it is imposed on people in totalitarian manner, through courts that punish those who drink wine or refuse to fast during Ramadan. According to this argument, Islam has nothing to offer a modern citizen, who would quickly abandon it if state surveillance were lifted. We shall see in the following chapters that Islam has much to offer. As both Christianity and Judaism have done, Islam can not only survive but thrive in a secular state. Once dissociated from coercive power, it will witness a renewal of spirituality. Christianity and Judaism strongly rooted in people’s hearts are what I have seen in the United States, France, and Germany. In those countries the secular state has not killed religion; rather, it has put a brake on the state’s manipulation of religion. It took three centuries of effort by many European philosophers and several revolutions for this fundamental nuance to be developed, accepted, and made understandable to the masses.
It is in the types of knowledge available in each institution that we find the inequalities that today divide the Arab world and create an intense animosity between classes. While the children of the rich are educated from the beginning in both modern and traditional knowledge, the children of the poor are excluded from early training in modern learning, especially mathematics and modern educational games. It is true that many of the faqihs and faqihas, aware of the need to modernize their methods and course content, ask children to buy mathematics books and certain games. But most of them are not equipped to teach these subjects. This means that those who go to the Koranic school until the age of seven (the age of compulsory public education) start off with a handicap that is difficult to overcome, especially in modern science and foreign languages, which are given priority in Western-style preschools facilities. This difference in the cultural universe of Muslim children, depending on their class and parent’ income, is probably responsible for the xenophobia and rejection of the West in those who were deprived early in life of access to modern education. Chances of finding employment are in turn closely dependent on mastery of modern knowledge.
…Oil money is not being invested to redress the inequalities to access to knowledge, but rather under the cloak of the sacred to cultivate ta‘a (obedience to authority) and the docility and proverbial fatalism that are continually dinned into our ears.
In order to understand why the word haqq [right, truth] stirs up the crowds, we have to go deep onto our collective memory. We must turn the calendar back to the zero time and plunge into the jahiliyya, the pre-Islamic era. What was Mecca like before Islam? All voyages are, of course, an adventure; they are a foray into al-gharib, “the strange”; we know it and we prepare for it. But it is impossible to find anything more gharib than the jahiliyya. With its violence and anarchy, the pre-Islamic era seems to resemble the life that is so familiar to us today. We have a feeling of déjà vu so troubling that we no longer know, as in the ancestral myths, whether we are going forward or backward in time.
Is the jahiliyya behind us?
p. 89 The
ideal that was not realized
Like the other monotheistic religions, Islam promises peace at the price of sacrifice—sacrifice of desire, hawa. Rahma, peace in the community, can exist only if the individual renounces his ahwa (plural of hawa), which are considered the source of dissension and war. The jahiliyya saw the unbridled reign of hawa, desire and individual egotism. Islam was to realize the contrary: rahma in the community at the price of sacrifice of ahwa, individual desires and passions. Rahma in exchange for freedom is the social contract that the new religion proposed to the citizens of Mecca. Renouncing freedom of thought and subordinating oneself to the group is the pact that will lead to peace; salam will be instituted if the individual agrees to sacrifice his individualism. Hawa means both “desire” and “passion,” but it can also signify “personal opinion.” It is the unbridled individual interest of a person who forgets the existence of others in thinking only of his own advantage. Desire, which is individual by definition, is the opposite of rahma, which is an intense sensitivity for the other, for all the others, for the group.
From the beginning Islam was able to establish only a fragile peace, one that was constantly threatened from within by desire, the most unpredictable expression of individualism. Submission to the group was confused with ‘aql (reason), and all indulgence of preferences and individual desires was labeled irrational. Hawa was thus equated with mindless passion. The threat of pre-Islamic disorder would always hang heavy over the city, for the danger is inherent in human nature. In every person sleeps a potential jahili; peace is only a shaky equilibrium. The words hawa and its plural ahwa occur some thirty times in the Koran as the negative pole of the ideal city. Hawa is the chink, the crack through which dissension and disorder can infiltrate.
But—and this is the genius of Islam—hawa is not to be excluded or eradicated; it must rather be managed in such a fashion that it will not exceed the hudud, the sacred limits. Islam does not reject anything; it manages all things. Its ideal schema is equilibrium. In normal times everything can move within a state of equilibrium which does not put the security of the group in danger. Individual excesses can be contained. There is no clergy to monitor and punish, for the fundamental design is not a prison, but equilibrium. The key adage that mothers and teachers hammer into the little brains of Muslim children every day is “a‘mal wa qayyis” (“everything in moderation”). It is up to the individual, in the absence of a watchful clergy, to maintain a sense of moderation and never lose sight of the interests of the community. Individuals should enjoy themselves, but also keep a feeling for the collectivity. Human beings do not live alone in a desert; they should not shock the people around them. They ought not to deprive themselves, but they shouldn’t exaggerate either. These guidelines keep hawa in check, for when the community is threatened, it can drag the ship down into chaos.
…The year 622 is the year the break between the Prophet and Meccan officialdom reached the point of no return. In order to survive, the prophet decided to emigrate. He left for Medina, but not to stay there. In the Muslim collective memory, emigrating is not a definitive move; it is only one step on the way of return, a detour to bring one back to the point of departure—Mecca, where the prophet would return as conquering hero to reduce multiplicity to the One.
The Muslim calendar begins at this time, the year 622, when the break between polytheism and monotheism was decisive. The miracle achieved by the prophet of Islam was to have succeeded in demonstrating in his lifetime that his model was effective. In 630 he occupied Mecca and entered its temple, the Ka‘ba, the high holy place of all the Arabs, as conqueror. The unification of Arabia was almost complete when he died in 632. The spiral of success and triumph had been set in motion. In 632 the Roman armies suffered their first defeat in Syria. In 637 it was the Persian armies that were crushed in the battle of Qadisiyya, the battle constantly refereed to by Radio Baghdad and the Iraqi press during the war with Iran and during the Gulf War. Jerusalem was taken in 638, Cyprus in 649, Persepolis in 649-50. In 655 the Muslim fleet attacked the Roman fleet southwest of the Anatolian coast, and its commander, the Byzantine emperor, was barely able to escape.
…any penetration of a foreign army onto sacred soil would reawaken the memory of year 8, called the Year of Triumph, and set the depths of the Muslim unconscious to trembling, bringing to the surface forgotten instincts and archetypes and calling to mind the symbolic events that express them. This is exactly what happened with the deployment of American troops on the sacred territory of Islam, whose psychological center is still Mecca and its environs.
…only the power of God is eternal…the root of the inherent instability of the Muslim political system, whose leaders, from the caliphs of old to today’s presidents of republics, are easily challenged—and often physically attacked, in the tradition of the Kharijites revolt.
The populace has always been mobilized around the Koranic concept of taghliya [tyrant]. As long as democracy does not penetrate the popular centers of mass culture, the mosques and suqs—which might be achieved trough education and participation in daily decision making—this orientation will not change. The modern Muslim regimes, which have plummeted the depths of sacred symbolism for everything that reinforces the bond of submission, have succeeded in subduing the masses for the short run. But for the long run it is the resentment of the oppressive power of the taghiya which Arab leaders have helped awaken, though their television propaganda carefully avoids any allusion to the concept of the despot. Islam is based on establishing an equilibrium between a positive pole (the ideas of ta‘a, “obedience”; salam, “peace”; submission) and a negative one (those of the taghiya and fitna, “disorder”). Even if broadcasters on television talk only about the former, always present in the mind of the Muslim listener is the missing pole: the shadow of the tyrant.
…it was the idols who demanded the murder of little girls..
The idea of deity who demanded the killing of children was inconceivable. To my mind, it is this phobia that explains the horror about the jahiliyya that up to the present day blocks scholarly research on that period. Before year 1 of the Hejira (A.D. 622), humanity had no history. There was nothing but darkness—only a zero. The fear that the jahiliyya inspires would explain all by itself why everything that recalls it stirs subterranean anxieties that we have never rid ourselves of.
The zero time is frightening in the same way that the future is—the future it so much resembles, with its violence that assails Arabs from all directions, from within and without, that swoops down from the sky in the form of bombs controlled by demonic enemy forces like the deities of the jahiliyya, each as mad as the other. …Whether the jahiliyya is behind us or before us is a question that recurs in the press. What have Arabs done to Allah which is so horrible that we are harrowed within and shamed, scorned, and bombarded without? The word jahiliyya, spread all over the media during the Gulf War, signified and condensed the problem that Islam came into the world to solve: the problem of violence.
Islam gave the faithful immortality in exchange for submission. The Arabs were to become immortal. A great Beyond opened to them the royal road to the conquest of time. They would no longer die; Paradise awaited them. Because the child born of the womb of the woman is mortal, however, the law of paternity was institutes to screen off the uterus and woman’s will within the sexual domain. Islam offered the Arabs two gifts, the idea of paternity and the Muslim calendar—gifts that are the two faces of the same thing, the privilege of eternity. The new code of immortality was to be inscribed on the body of woman. Henceforth the children born of the uterus of a woman would belong to their father, and he is certain of gaining Paradise of he submits to the divine will.
The Arabs, then, entered the history by the main gate: the mastery of time through the submission of the world to an Arab calendar. In their dealings with the Arabs, the Persians and Romans were obliged to use the Arab calendar of the Hejira—a calendar whose year 1 erased the previous 622 years of the Christian calendar and thousands of years of the Jewish one. Masters of the time and masters of women, the Muslim, with Koran in one hand and calendar in the other, set forth on the conquest of the world, succeeding with lighting speed for some centuries. Today they compute their debt and its amortization by the Christian calendar. As for women, under the compulsory chador, armed with university degrees and the contraceptive pill they challenge and threaten the city.
…our Prophet, who spent most of his time before the age of forty meditating on power and how to obtain it.
The feeling of absurdity that pervades our lives today stems from the fact that modernity reminds us every minute that it is Western, and that since that night of July 20, 1969, when a tall blond man planted the flag of his nation on it, the moon is not universal. That tall blond man was an American. We were happy to witness that triumph of the scientific spirit, that extraordinary breakthrough toward reaching the stars. But we were called back to reality by the astronaut’s flag, which did not celebrate the universal but rather was the flag of his tribe…Many Americans swelled with pride at this event, but those who thought about the responsibility of their country to establish universalism, in which everyone is welcome…were shocked by this primitive act.
…Female illiteracy, even in the well-off classes, is one of the characteristics of the decadence that led to colonization. What is new today and constitutes a break with the past is that women are posing their challenge as a problem between them and the state, a contract to be renegotiated. This is certainly a fundamental revolution. Traditionally the state ignore women, except in times of crises, when it fiercely attacks them.
Unemployment is the gravest threat to stability in the Arab states. One of its causes is the annual rate of population increase—one of the highest in the world, 3.9 percent. …putting the Arab population at 281 million by the end of the [XX-th] century.
Women, as half this population, (108 million in 1990, almost equal to the population of France and western Germany combined)—most of whom are under twenty-five years of age—represent a large army of job seekers. …like young men, they are concerned about their future and want to get an education first. Whereas early marriage used to be the rule, today the Arab world is seeing a spectacular delay in the age of marriage… By calling for the return to the hijab, the fundamentalists delegitimize the presence of women on the labor market. It is an extraordinary powerful political weapon.
The hijab is manna from heaven for politicians facing crises. It is not just a scrap of cloth; it is a division of labor. It sends women back to the kitchen. Any Muslim state can reduce its level of unemployment by half just by appealing to the shari‘a, in its meaning as despotic caliphal tradition. This is why it is important to avoid reducing fundamentalism to a handful of agitators who stage demonstrations in the streets. It must be situated within its regional and world economic context by linking it to the question of oil wealth and the New World Order that the Westerners propose to us.
The West came out of the Gulf war a winner, but along with it Saudi
Arabia, the most conservative regime in the Arab world and the one most
contemptuous of human rights, emerged not only stronger but also more than ever
the determining power for our future. Two-thirds
of the world’s oil reserves still sleep quietly beneath the soil of Mecca.
It is normal that millions of unemployed Arabs dream of a more favorable
distribution of this wealth as a solution to their problems.
…Saudi Arabia has inundated these millions of unemployed with Islamic
The role of oil in fundamentalism should never be forgotten. The resistance to progressive ideas, financed in large measure by the Saudi oil money that was simultaneously producing and extravagant, pricey Islamic culture, gave birth to a rigid authoritarianism…A better term for the fundamentalism in Saudi Arabia would be petro-Wahhabism, whose pillar is the veiled woman.
…the absence of democracy…results in this wealth being managed as a monopoly by a few families.
…Arab youths know that the hand cut off in Saudi Arabia can no longer be blamed solely on the Saudi regime… Above all, they know that it is not Islam that demands such horrors, but an anachronistic regime that can hide its archaism only by veiling them with the sacred. At last Islam is no longer guilty of what happens in Saudi Arabia in this New World Order that Mr. Bush urges on us. The American president has taken on ethical responsibility for the region, and along with him François Mitterand and Helmut Kohl and the citizens who elected them in the representative democracies of the West. Whoever consumes Arab oil is responsible.
Let’s look at some scenarios that might create full employment in the Arab Mediterranean area and the security of women, among other things.
Will the oil-needy Western democracies, which have emerged triumphant from the conflict, jump at the unexpected opportunity to push for the democratization of the Arab world? The economic pressure they could exert on the regimes that resist the masses’ demand for democracy is enormous!
…The future will tell how much sacrifice the west is prepared to make for the democracy it has taught us to love so much. …The West has been given the opportunity to show us that its noble ideas really are the basis of a civilization that is more advanced, more ethical than any other. In fact, if the West uses its power to install democracy in the Arab world, it will scuttle its own interests, which the status quo, strengthened by the Gulf War, guarantees. For democracy in the Arab world means the passing of power to the millions of young people who dream of using the oil resources for their own advantage.
Will the West undermine the legitimacy of the regimes it has just saved from the storm? Will it support the demands of progressive forces and promote the creation of a civil society that would participate in decision making and demand an accounting of resources? Here lies the challenge posed by this scenario to the great Euro-American peoples, who sing of universalism and their love of democracy.
Or will the Western states only use their influence to maintain the status quo and prop to the legitimacy of the regimes that called on them for help? The priority of buttressing their legitimacy then calls for the regimes to play the fundamentalist card. Women will again be required to wear hijab, while the progressive forces have to keep quiet and pray. Relaying on ta‘a [obedience] as the basis of politics will become the credo of a tele-petro-Islam transmitted by satellites. This credo will be all the knowledge that youth are entitled to as obscurantism is programmed by the electronic agenda as the modern heritage of Arab youth. The West will in great part be responsible for the avalanche of violence which will descend on all those who call for democracy, with women at the head of the list.