4 Σεπτεμβρίου 2016

The rise and fall of secularism in the Arab world.

Dr. Salem, associate professor of Political Studies at the American University of Beirut and the director of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, is the author of Bitter Legacy: Ideology and Politics in the Arab World (Syracuse University Press, 1994). In 1994-95 he was a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC, working on a book entitled Charting the Labyrinth: Contemporary Issues in the Arab Predicament. The author thanks Mr. Aref Hasan, graduate assistant in the Department of Political Studies at the American University of Beirut, for his assistance in tracking down some of the material cited in this essay and in discussing some of the issues involved.

Απόσπασμα από The Free Library

The challenge of a modernizing state to traditional religious authority was launched first and foremost in Egypt, where Muhammad Ali surmised that the secret to strengthening his rule and his realm lay in expanding the traditionally circumscribed military and tax-extraction role of Ottoman viceroyship towards the construction of a state on the emerging European model. The model that Muhammad Ali quickly endeavored to put into practice involved an encroachment into the realms of education and the courts (previously the preserve of the religious classes), the transformation of the content and method of education away from the religious and memory-based toward the scientific and technical, and the encouragement of national patriotism as a basis of social cohesion and popular allegiance to the ruling authorities in place of religious cohesion and allegiance.

The encroachments into education, law and popular consciousness gave birth to growing segments of the population that identified themselves by national and state allegiances rather than religious, that adopted the objectives of nineteenth-century European civilizational progress, and that thought in recognizably secular scientific categories. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the Ottoman government itself had embarked on a similar course of attempted modernization, characterized by the Tanzimat reforms (1839-78) and leading to similar encroachments into education, law and popular consciousness. Although several other factors (some of which will be discussed below) in turn came into play to shape the current condition of Arab secularism, it was these first state-sponsored steps toward erecting a European-style state that shattered the integrity of traditional Ottoman religious society and introduced the possibility -- as well as the foundations and protection -- for the emergence of non-religious outlooks, identities and organizations. It was this divergence in the projects of the religious and politico-military classes that created the framework for Arab secularism.

In terms of public consciousness and public opinion, the alternative space opened up by the challenge of the modernizing state to the religious establishment and outlook was at first gradually filled in the second half of the nineteenth century by an active group of authors and journalists working in Lebanon and Egypt. Among the Lebanese Christians, there was little attachment to the Islamic religious status quo ante, and they were ahead of most Muslims in terms of exposure to and understanding of the culture of the West by virtue of the Western Protestant and Catholic missionary centers and schools that had already been active among them. They were eager to propagate a non-religious outlook on society and politics in order to overcome their isolated and inferior status as Christians in a Muslim society in favor of the emergence of a modern secular state in which citizenship, based on national belonging, bestowed equality. The influence of these Lebanese philologists, encyclopedists, authors, educators and journalists such as Butrus al-Bustani, Faris al-Shidyaq, Nasif al-Yazigi, and others was great on the growing non-religious literate classes of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine.(1)

As the Ottoman authorities clamped down on press freedoms in Lebanon and Syria in the late nineteenth century, the locus of activity shifted decidedly to British-dominated Egypt, where a fairly liberal press and publishing industry picked up on the strands of secular modern European thought and carried them forcefully into the twentieth century. The work started in Egypt by Rifaa Rafii al-Tahtawi and such secular modernizers as Shibli Shumayyil, was continued in the first half of the twentieth century by such influential authors as Farah Antun, Ahmad Lutfi al-Sayyid and Taha Husayn. To these thinkers, the rationality, science, secularism and national patriotism of Europe were the keys to overcoming the weakness and problems of Egypt, and, while religion was to be preserved, its role was to be circumscribed to the realm of private choice and private life and, only partially, to instruction in morals.

Curiously, the tide of modernizing, quasi-secular thought was significantly bolstered by the rapid spread of masonic adherents and lodges in Egypt and the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries prior to World War I. The masonic movement brought many reformers and progressives together in a common belief in science, secularism, humanism and an abstract non-anthropomorphized God. In Egypt, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Muhammad Abduh, Saad Zaghlul, Mustafa Kamil, Boutros Ghali and even Khedive Tawfiq were all linked to the movement at one point in their careers, whereas in Damascus and Beirut scores of politicians, intellectuals and civil servants associated themselves with the movement as the engine of enlightened progress in the face of religious obscurantism and clerical and political authoritarianism.(2) Interestingly, it was the further extension of British and French influence in the Middle East after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire that put a swift end to the masonic movement, as the opposition of the Western churches to the movement was already well-advanced.

The defeat and dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, the abolition of the caliphate by Mustafa Kamal in 1924, and the extension of French and British mandate influence in the Arab Middle East further dismantled the institutional framework of the religious state and opened wider opportunities for the growth of secular politics and outlooks.(3) Although the Arabist sentiment that emerged in the late Ottoman period in reaction to the pan-Turanism and Turkification programs of the Istanbul authorities under the Committee of Union and Progress was not particularly secularist and was led in revolt during World War I by the religious figure of Sharif Husayn of Mecca, its adherents were mainly of the modernizing military, bureaucratic and intellectual classes, and its post-World War I ideology turned decidedly secular.


Συνέχεια: The Free Library