Thursday, October 18, 2012

Arab Spring

 The so-called Arab Spring began in Tunisia, in 2010. It brought down dictators, sparked civil war in Libya, and ignited a bloody uprising in Syria. Long-term repercussions remain in Egypt and elsewhere. Tariq Ramadan, a foremost Islamic thinker, examines and explains these events from his perspective (Islam and the Arab Awakening/Tariq Ramadan/ Oxford Press/2012).

This Ph.D. graduate of a French University and Swiss-born Egyptian son of one of the founders of the Muslim Brotherhood, is quite the cosmopolitan. He teaches at Oxford University and Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan. He is President of the European Muslim Network (EMN) in Brussels, and widely known in Western Educational circles.

Ramadan explores the uprisings, and offers his insights into their origins, significance and possible futures from a Muslim perspective, and provides some serious insights into our Western Culture from which we could profit greatly. Simultaneously, Muslims could profit from some of our cultural practices and educational perspectives, if they better understood how we got to where we are.

To Ramadan's Muslim peers, and those comprising the “Arab Spring“,  he forthrightly asserts “There can be no true democritization unless it is accompanied by the striving for greater social equality and economic justice” (63).

An astute observation for me was his assertion regarding our free market system: “First, it must be acknowledged that today’s states and democritically elected governments find themselves, structurally, in a position of virtual subservience to the economic sphere; which possesses its own imperatives, its institutions, and its multinationals where egalitarian, democratic, and/or transparent administrative practices are not enforced” (107).

In the same section he stated “The doctrine of free markets appears to be assuming the form of a new religion in the very heart of the secularized order.” Interesting perspective, if true.

He interprets Sharia very differently from Muslim extremists (literalists), and at the same time takes a critical view of Western Culture. Regarding “Implementation of the sharia (“the path of faithful-ness to the higher goals of Islam” ) does not mean enforcing prohibitions and imposing a strict, timeless penal code, as it is often understood by some literalist Islamists or as it is perceived in the West (emphasis added).

I liked his paragraph regarding the ethical orientation he believes the Islamic Awakening must provide. “There can be no ambiguity about the ethical orientation,” he insists, “that Islam provides: We have conferred dignity on human beings” - a principle that applies to all humans, women and men, rich and poor, black and white, Muslim or not. It is the primary, fundamental principle of social justice that, in practice, rests on two prerequisites: equal rights and equal opportunities. As John Rawls points out in his work on justice, the two types of equality are not identical; equal rights are of no avail if equal opportunities are not accepted and ensured. The first steps along the path to this goal are education, social equality between women and men (equal rights, equal opportunities, equal pay for equal skill, etc.), the protection of freedoms (religious or philosophical, freedom of speech and/or criticism); they apply equally to all citizens, be they Muslims, of another faith, or of no faith. The principle of ’no compulsion in religion’ must inform the state, as must human rights, which must apply to all without distinction. At the heart of social reality, the management of religious pluralism is strengthened by the internal dynamics of religions themselves. They can exist and flourish--and even spread--in a space free of constraint, through the strength of coherence and persuasion, never by imposition or prohibition” (112-13).

If true that these are consistent with Islamic values; they should by all means pursue this ethical orientation, but it sounds like a page taken from the best of our Western values and reinterpreted as Islamic values. As such, we should have no problem helping them achieve such values. If true, Islam has much in common with Western values. If not, who is misleading who?

One other paragraph I liked: it points to things I believe we must change about ourselves. He writes:

The most recent global crises, particularly that of 2008, have demonstrated--assuming proof was still needed--that states are so inextricably linked to the private activities of the financial sector that citizens are forced to pay for the foolishness, avarice, and dishonest practices of the major private and semi-private banks, which have consulted no one yet mobilize immense media resources to insist on the imperative need for government intervention. Despite soaring public debt, democratic states have bailed out rich but undemocratically administered banks. Nothing really new here: these events reflect the essence of the neo-liberal capitalist system and its management of the system’s cyclical crises. For all that, the frequency and intensity of the crises are sapping the very underpinnings of democracy. Suffice it to observe the fragility and the debt load of the American federal government, or the threat of bankruptcy that hangs over European countries like Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy” (108).

Ramadan would be a good read for many thoughtful American readers, I saw him interviewed: he is thoughtful; I believe he deserves dialogue; I would like to hear more from him regarding solutions, but would also like to correct what I perceive as his misperceptions.

From Warner’s World,
perhaps we need more intimate dialogue than we’ve been willing to participate in;
I am

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