Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ready to Give Up?

Ready to give up on democracy? You are probably not the only one. I was feeling frustrated by the political situation here in Kuwait as we approach yet another election after parliament was dissolved. I could not see how things could get better. That is until I read the comments of my dear friend Jacques, and the source of countless intellectual and historical anecdotes. His comments came in response to an earlier post We Are Not Arabs Anymore. I am republishing his comments here. It is a welcome reminder to look at the situation from a historical context and think of the bigger picture and our role in it.

No, I don't want to call you Americans or Westerners, I want to call you Arabs, but I look forward to change in the Arab world which will make you proud again of being called Arabs. Voltaire hated the rule of the franch kings Louis XV and Louis XVI but he never asked not to be called french, he undertook to change France. Descartes spent years at the court of the queen of Sweeden, Diderot at the court of Russia, and Voltaire at the court of Prussia, building a network of so called "despotes éclairés" (enlightened despots, sorry they were speaking french in those old days) It changed the whole Europe, but it took a century, even a bit more. What bothers me is not the lack of rapid progress in social and political set up in the Arab world but the lack of intelectual production (or the lack of its circulation) that would lay the foundation for future progress. What we (and even some english scholars) call "le siècle des lumières" (the century of enlightment) has laid down foundation for a century of revolutions in France (1789, 1830, 1848, 1871) and throughout Europe, which would not have happen if Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau had turned their back to France (actually, Rousseau was not french, he was from Geneva which was a self-governing city-state pressured between two powerful kingdon of the time trying to swallow it: France and Austria, a little bit like Kuwait today)

The problem of Gaza/Palestine/Israel is a major threat to the world peace. It is the last remain of the colonial era. Demography will eventually prevail. It will be an agony, but there is no example of a colonial creation survive for ever.
But for the future of the Arab world, it is not as crucial as the scarcity of creative thoughts: the only books I can find are either inspired by marxist philosophy which has proved to lead to bankrupcy or inspired by religion which is hardly a guarantee of progress. All those who contributed to establish today's democratic societies, the french philosophers above, but think also of Patrick Henry or Thomas Jeffeson, got into trouble with the religious authorities of their time and places. Tell me of more creative writers and books dealing with the social and political future of the Arab world.

It's only in 1905 that the french government finaly took the step to sever its links with the catholic church. And still in the 20th century, the catholic chuch thought it had to take side in national debate on women's vote, birth control, how to prevent AIDS, divorce, etc... Can you imagine that when I married (19666 not in 19th century) my wife could not open a bank account without my authorization!!!
There is a lot to do in the arab world and only Arabs can do it. Don't let it to the Moslem Brotherhood. Your blog is an excellent start. Sorry I missed this entry when you published it.


Anonymous said...

at the risk of this sounding like a lengthy rant, let me list my thoughts prompted by this and your cited earlier post:

* you touch upon identification as an 'arab' but the problem is that even that distinction has not been clearly defined. the french knew their countrymen and i am afraid that until arabs do the same they will be squabbling to their demise. i also think this relegates the concept of being 'kuwaiti' to the dustbin of history since we do know that we would not survive on our own without gods gift of oil. we could have and we did long ago but not in our current state)

* the enlightenment and pursuant progress will take a couple of lifetimes if not longer. i tend towards speedier gratification but happily support others that would look farther.

* there's an interesting piece in the IHT about the natural resource curse in the context of iran and turkey's comparative 20th century history. well worth reading to see what oil wrought in terms of outside meddling in a country's affairs and the scuttling of progressive movements.

- peter b.

* while one may not be willing to give up, one must accept the risks they are taking and be willing to die for them.

Bu Ziyad said...

Thank you Peter. Being an Arab got muddled only recently in the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion on Kuwait. Even though Arabs rarely agreed but being an Arab and Pan Arabist was defined in thought at least especially in the days of its champion Jamal Abdulnasir.

I understand your tendency for instant gratification. It is the curse of our generation. We don't necessarily need to carry the torch to the finish line -if there is one- but to take it forward and feel gratification for doing so.

Thanks for the tip I will try to look up the piece in IHT. And let's hope we can achieve our goals peacefully without the need to sacrifice our lives!

Anonymous said...