Friday, 12 September 2014

Moslems: Their Beliefs, Practices and Politics - Part 3


Based loosely on an article published by Catholic priest and scholar Don Curzio Nitoglia.

Part 1
Part 2

In the nineteenth century there prevailed at first in the Islamic world a certain fascination towards modernity. Egypt was the first Moslem country to send a team of forty scholars to France to study the sciences, technology and literature, and to apply them to the socio-economic benefit of the country, without, however, wanting technological progress at the expense of their traditions, culture and religion.

Therefore the social emancipation of the Moslem world was always viewed in light of a renewal and rebirth of Arab culture, and not in opposition to it. The study of European science and technology was intended to be in line with a return to the sources of Arab culture and used by the Arab nations to solve the political and social problems that they faced in the nineteenth century.

The late introduction of philosophical modernity – subjectivist, rationalist and relativist – in Arab countries, irreconcilable with their religious tradition, gave birth to a traumatic disturbance in the populations of the Near and Middle East. This was exasperated by Anglo-French colonialism which was not accepted by the Arab world, in part because it was more inclined to exploit economically than to evangelise and civilise.

Father Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916), a missionary in Algeria and Morocco, had explained tirelessly to the French authorities the grave danger of what was primarily a material and exploitative colonialism that neglected or rejected being the bearer of the Gospel and Christian civilisation; a colonialism that was, therefore, unable to conquer the minds and wills of the Arabs. It was not only necessary but opportune to bring the Gospels to the Arabs because they were still immune to the rationalism of the Enlightenment and still profoundly orientated towards the transcendent, despising atheism and agnosticism, and thereby being open to grace having a deep impact on their souls.

Unfortunately modern Europe, with the exception of the missionaries sent by the Church (who were not supported by the secular power of the State), instead of bringing the Gospels, the Fathers, Thomist metaphysics and the social doctrine of the Church, brought with it Agnosticism and Enlightenment culture along with the technological development and, therefore, the colonialism of Europe was, with good reason, despised and hated by the Arabs.

Faced with the sudden intrusion of European Enlightenment modernity into the nineteenth-century Arab world, many of the leaders of Arab society were blinded by self-preservation and lust for greater wealth and power, and began to act as parrots who aped Napoleonic Liberalism, without trying to understand its meaning, and without trying to distinguish what might be consistent with truth and what was not.

In turn, this led to an exaggerated fideistic reaction which was anti-metaphysical and gave birth to Wahhabism, Salafism, the Muslim Botherhood and the radical politicised movement of a fundamentalist Islam that came into conflict with traditional Sunni and Shia beliefs, and the social-orientated nationalism of Egyptian Nasserism and Syrian and Iraqi Baathism.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Arab intellectuals studied European thought in the light of the Arab renaissance and formed a national and Pan-Arab political vision and understanding of the world.

Pan-Arab social thought, which was mainly political without being irreligious, and somewhat comparable to Ghibellinism or to Italian Fascism and therefore fundamentally different from both Atheistic and Materialist Marxism on the one hand and religious integralism on the other, attempted to raise Arab culture to the high levels once obtained during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. This Pan-Arab current looked towards Islam as the cement for reunification and political and cultural renaissance of the Arab world, with the Arab national and political element holding primacy over the Islamic religious element.

This socially-inclined Arab nationalism was tolerant, not confrontational, with Christians who accepted the building of a national and Pan-Arabic State and its culture; for example in Syria, Iraq, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. The national and Pan-Arabic State was also seen as a means of emancipation from Ottoman-Turkish despotism.

However, this current of thought was opposed by Salafist thinkers or ideologues who rejected all the developments of Islamic thought and culture over the centuries as innovations, and who want to return to an almost stone-age cultural barbarity. The conflict of the Muslim Brotherhood with Arab nationalism gave birth to Al-Qaeda and Jihadist revolution and the current on-going struggle against the Pan-Arab nationalist and secular Islamic regimes and populations of Iraq, Eqypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Syria.

So, since the nineteenth century, two types of Islam have collided: the first secular-nationalist/patriotically-inspired, religiously Islamic but not fundamentalist (Nasserism in Egypt, Baathism in Syria and Iraq), and the second which is fundamentalist and Jihadist which wants to fight against social Pan-Arab nationalism but which, at the same time, is trained and bankrolled by a US-Israeli-Gulf-Turkish alliance which they theoretically claim to oppose.

To be continued.

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