Modernizing the thought in the geographic and cultural
The contribution from the Lebanese philosopher Ali Harb.
Mohammed Chaouki Zine
Ali Harb, unknown in comparison to his peers such the Moroccan thinker Mohammed Abed El Jabri, and the Franco-Algerian thinker Mohammed Arkoun, is today an undeniable figure in the modernization of the Islamic and Arabic thought, by the pertinent use of cognitive tools of human Sciences used in the West: Criticism, Hermeneutics, Epistemology, Deconstruction, Pragmatism.
He is also one of the most prolific authors (See: Bibliography). His work analyses from a methodological point of view many topics such as Culture, Identity, Islam, the West, the Intellectual, Modernity, Postmodernity, etc. His erudition is allowed him to put forward on of the most important problem that Islamic and Arabic Culture had to face: the sclerosis of the thought.
The contribution of Ali Harb is part of broader ambitious programme initiated by many Arabic thinkers. The aim of this programme is indeed, the Criticism, in the epistemological sense, in order to define the conditions of possibility on the Arabo-Muslim épistémè. Mohammed Abed El Jabri, started a long time work which consist in criticising the Arabic reason (four books edited in 1984, 1986, 1992 and 1999) on the following:
1- The historical formation of the Arabic reason.
2- The internal structure: language and literature (bayân); philosophy and the dialectical theology (burhân); Mysticism and Gnosticism (‘irfân).
3- Institutional a political frame: case law, religious statute law, and caliphate, rural and urban world.
4- The ethical dimension: moral order, customers, rules of use.
At the same him, Mohammed Arkoun tried a critic of the Islamic reason (1984), a sort of reconsideration of its theological grounds and its canonical foundations.
Either way, the Egyptian thinker Nasr Hamid Abou Zayd has worked on the critic of the Religious reason in order to historicise the Islamic and Arabic thought. He indeed to put away its sacred and transcendental aspect which put it rooted to the spot, prey of lectures emanate from the Islamism.
The ambition of these authors came up against methodological and ideological difficulties. The methodological obstacle consists to confront incredulous minds, who reject human and social Sciences, shaped in Europe, and think instead that they are not applicable to other cultural context. The difficulty concerns in particular the Quranic Studies (Exegesis) and the possibility or not to read and interpret the parole of God in the light of human knowledge.
Nasr H. Abou Zayd was the most concerned about this issue, because his religious education at Al-Azhar (Cairo). The ideological obstacle concerns the tradition (mainly religious) and the way to insert it in contemporary debate.
The effort of these authors has been to reconsider the theological foundation of this tradition. Traditionalist interpretations backed by political institutions, worried to protect their interests, abated this critical impulsion of these thinkers.
The critical undertaking of Ali Harb is radical and doesn’t concerns only Arabic and Islamic thought, but also the previous authors cited (El Jabri, Arkoun, Abou Zayd) who, according to him, have fallen in the obsession of identity. His arguments spread into three interactive domains:
1- The religious rigidity as a canonical system sealed and loath to any change.
2- The locking up of the Arabic and Islamic thought and rejection of everything that comes from otherness.
3- The nationalization of the thought by the authors cited previously: El Jabri and the Arabic thought, Arkoun and the Islamic thought.
Against the religious and the traditionalist thought that put forward these ideals without any link to reality, Ali Harb recommend an open relationship that allow renovating principles and high ideals on which this thought has been built upon.
The cultural confinement incites advocates of the tradition to identify themselves to foundation texts (the Revelation incarnated in the Quran), and this process condemn these texts to archaism, and to be placed aside the movement of the world and the evolution of the society.
Against this confinement, Ali Harb’s gambling is to change our approach of these ultimate foundations, which are exegetic texts, jurisprudential, moral and canonical.
The initiative from the authors such as El Jabri, Arkoun and Abou Zayd is laudable, but still, according to Ali Harb, remain under the objectives, because they “nationalize” the reason, which means to identify the reason by symbols from a geographical and cultural Arabic and Islamic indeed.
Of course, their initiatives use the latest technical and epistemological from human and social Sciences, in Europe en particular, but for them, the identical preoccupation exceed the methodological demand. According to Ali Harb, the universal (Human knowledge) must not be an excuse to cristallize the special (Arabic and Islamic thought), but It’s to the special to get universal giving to itself the means to be reformed and to be able to invent and communicate something original and singular, as in the golden age of the Arabo-Islamic Civilization. This Civilization, as a specific culture, has been able to give to its literary, scientific and philosophical productions a universal dimension profitable to the whole humanity.
What are then the appropriate technics recommended by Ali Harb to modernize this thought? In his many books, he does a diagnostic of real and structural problems which prevent this thought to modernize.
1- The identity problem linked to the narcissistic wound who reminds the past glory.
2- The symbolic and religious capital confiscated by the political power, and prey of fundamentalist lectures, usually hostile to free and laic mind.
3- The excessive apology to the glorious past against the western Intelligence, designate like a “Cultural invasion of the West”.
4- The elitist obstacle of intellectuals like an exact opposite of the real and conjectural problems of their societies.
To these endogenous problems, Ali Harb opposes a shock treatment, and proposes a new logic in the way to apprehend things. It’s not enough to renovate concepts that constitute the Arabo-Muslim Weltanschauung, but to identify completely our approach to this vision of the world, rooted by the considerations cited earlier. In other words, it’s necessary to put into place a logic who does not only concern terms (concepts, customs, texts), but the relation between the terms in order to transform and modify it. Like this, the subject modify its relation to the object as it is transformed this modification. Each subject belonging to the Arabo-Muslim culture, try to contribute, by his appreciations and his interpretations, to renovate his heritage and to modify his relation to it. Like this, it’s himself who is transformed positively.
The project of Ali Harb is an enormous working whose deserve a particular attention. It has not benefited of a large and independent study by comparison to other thinkers.
Bibliography (works of Ali Harb, all in Arabic):
1- Man downstairs: disease of the religion and obstacle of the modernity, Beirut, 2005, 279 p.
2- Personal lecture of the post-deconstruction, Beirut, 2005, 311 p.
3- The times of the hypermodernity, Beirut-Casablanca, Cultural Arabic Centre (CAC), 2005, 254 p.
4- The world and its dilemma, Beirut-Casablanca, CAC, 2003, 192 p.
5- Politics of the Thought (2 vol.), Beirut-Casablanca, CAC, 2001
Vol.1: Dogma and Fetish (the Fate of the Cultural Arabic Project), 224 p.
Vol.2: Idol and Fantasy (Critics of Pierre Bourdieu and Noam Chomsky), 142 p.
6- Discourse of the ultimate Ends: the conquest of the Globalization and deadlock of the Identity, Beirut-Casablanca, CAC, 2000, 203 p. [translation into French by Mohammed Chaouki Zine].
7- The illusion of the Elite, Beirut-Casablanca, CAC, 1998², 224 p.
8- Substance and relation. Toward to a transformational Logic, Beirut-Casablanca, CAC, 1998, 269 p.
9- Forbidden and Prohibitive: critics of the thinker subject, Beirut-Casablanca, CAC, 1998², 287 p.
10- Thought and Event, Beirut, al-Kunuz al-adabiyya ed., 1997, 270 p.
11- Alienation and Abjuration (Islam between Roger Garaudy and Nasr Hamid Abou Zayd), Beirut-Casablanca, CAC, 1997, 121 p.
12- Discourse of the identity. An intellectual Autobiography, Beirut, al-Kunuz al-adabiyya, 1996, 176 p.
13- Truth and Thought, Beirut, al-Taliah ed., 1994, 245 p.
14- Critics of the Text, Beirut-Casablanca, CAC, 1993, 286 p.
15- Critics of the Truth, Beirut-Casablanca, CAC, 1993, 148 p.
16- Game Meaning, Beirut-Casablanca, CCA, 1991, 156 p.
17- Love and Destruction, Beirut, al-Manahil ed., 1990, 183 p.
18- Interventions, Beirut, al-Hadatha ed., 1985, 224 p.
19- Hermeneutics and Truth, Beirut, al-Tanwir ed., 1985, 230 p.
Translation into Arabic:
1- Logic of the living of François Jacob, Beirut, Community Centre of Development, 1989, 340 p.
2- Roots of the States and the violence of Marcel Gauchet and Pierre Clastres, Beirut, al-Hadatha ed., 1985, 220 p.