Monday, March 15, 2010

Fouad Zakariyya 1927 - 2010

On the blog The Arabist of Issander al-Amrani  I read that Fouad Zakariyya died a few days ago. Amrani also has a picture of him. Zakariyya, Egyptian philospher who at the time I was a correspondent in Cairo, taught philosophy at the university of Kuwayt, was really a name in Egypt. Many a time I used quotes from Op ed articles he wote in Egyptian newspapers as an illustration of how discussions among intellectuals in Egypt went.
One of the main caracteristicsof Zakariyya was that he was an ardent supporter of  secularism. Not that he was anti-Islamic, but he saw islam as a strictly personal thing. Secularism, as he saw it was a precondition for the modernization of Arabic societies. Western modernism, in several respects and domains like human rights, personal freedoms etc. , was necessary to do away with the lack of education and cultural dynamics in the Arab world. And what he meant by secularism was a system by which islam was separated from the public domain, much like the French system after the revolution, whereby the state was strictly 'laïc'. The other thing that made him special was his great style, which made him an excellent esayyist.
Amrani notes that the only one of his books  that, as far as he knows, was translated was Myth and Reality in the Contemporary Islamist Movement  and that it was one of the best books about the subject he ever read. I didn't know that one, but bought once in Cairo, another, translated into French 'Les arabes à l'heure du choix'. It is about the necessity to do away with islamism and choose for 'laïcité'. His translator, begins his preface of this small pladoyer for a radical transformation to modernity' with a quote from Zakariyya 'L'islam n'est rien d'autre qu'en  font les musulmans',  Islam is no more than what the moslims make of it'.
I choose a short quote in order to illustrate his way of thinking and the nice way he used to make his case. On page 130 he points at the fact that Arab critics of so called orientalism mostly  measure with double standards. He quotes an essay by a certain Zakkaria Hashim in which Hashim praises the fact that the Dutch orientalist Dozy knew to appreciate the way Spanish intellectuals in the 'Golden Age of Islam' in Spain stopped writing in Latin and started to use the Arabic of the victorious Arabs in stead.
And then he writes:
Au nom de quel methode peut on d'un coté applaudir l'ínfluence de la culture arabe sur l'Occident, et condamner de l'autre celle des idées occidentales sur les recherches des Arabes d'aujourd'hui? Soit l'influence d''une culture sur une autre est une bonne chose, soit c'est une mauvaise chose, mais on ne peut pas user de critères opposés pour juger d'un même phénomène. A ce jeu, un chrétien d'Espagne aurait fort bien pu qualifier l'influence arabe d'invasion culturelle et accuser les 'sages Espagnols' d'être tombés dans le piège du 'colonialisme' arabe et d'avoir laissé leur identité se fondre dans la civilisation arabe.   
(In the name of what method is it possible to applaud the influence of the Arab culture on the West at teh one hand and to condemn the influence of the West on the research of  contemporary Arabs at another. Either the influence of one culture on another one is a good thing, or it is a bad thing, but one cannot use opposing criterions in order to weigh one and the same phenomenon. In that way a Spanish Christian could well have qualified the Arab influence as a cultural invasion and have accused the Spanish sages of having fallen into the pitfall of 'colonialism' and having let their identity get awash in the Arab civilisation.)

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