February 12, 2011

SUCCUMBING TO GLOBALIZATION:

The new middle east: intellectuals and democracy: The change that is unfolding across the middle east places an especial responsibility on intellectuals to think civically and engage ethically (Ramin Jahanbegloo, 2/03/11, OpenDemocracy)

Whatever the outcome of the tumultuous events in Egypt and elsewhere in the middle east, it is clear that the region is entering a new phase in its history. This era of change, a century after some Arabs started thinking of their independence from Ottoman and European rule, is also a defining moment of intellectual history. For it is in such historical moments that writers and thinkers - Arab, Turkish and Iranian - have an opportunity to prove whether they have become critical enough to help transform their societies in a democratic direction.

The role of public intellectuals in any society is indeed one of the elements crucial to its development. Yet for many decades the region has been held back by intellectual elites who surrendered their critical independence to the dogmas of ideologies such as Marxism-Leninism and Islamism. The result is that these intellectuals have been less agents of enlightenment than handmaidens of power, who have to a great degree merely reinterpreted local political realities in accord with their purposes rather than putting ethical and critical issues at the heart of their scholarly and professional activities.

This approach involved a kind of contract, whereby some intellectuals became the icons of discontented, disillusioned and frustrated generations - in return for allowing themselves to be used by political parties and Muslim clergy as instruments of organisational power and political control. Instead of speaking truth to power (as Václav Havel and Edward Said put it), they chose to spread ideological messages: a role that reflected their view of themselves as guardians of the "true" vocation of socialist, nationalist or communalist movements, as against what they saw as corrupt politicians willing to make unacceptable political compromises.

As intellectuals in the middle east put overarching narratives of modernisation - whether framed in terms of liberalism, nationalism, fascism or socialism - ahead of democracy, what could appear as “oppositional” intellectual practice was made to serve the quasi-theological dogmas of states and party or movement politics.


Happily, a key import that comes with Anglofication is anti-intellectualism.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at February 12, 2011 5:59 AM
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