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July 23, 2012, Monday

Tragedy of intellectuals

The book “A Sense of Siege: The Geopolitics of Islam and the West,” written by Graham E. Fuller and Ian O. Lesser, is full of interesting insights. The co-authors, known for their works on Islam and Islamic movements, pay particular attention to the position of intellectuals who have become spokespeople for the West in the Islamic world.

As an intellectual from North Africa told the authors in an interview: “You, the Westerners, have taught us how nations could rely on the right to self-determination in pursuit of their independence through the Versailles Conference and the League of Nations in the aftermath of World War I. However, the consolidation of the colonialist rule of the Western states over the Third World countries, including the Muslim states, has coincided with the same period. After World War II, a stunning conflict where the European states attempted to destroy each other, all countries were invited to join the United Nations and endorse the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, the European states have again violated these rights and been reluctant to recognize the same rights in the Third World. They, for example, recognized the independence of their colonies in the Arab world only after a million people died in Algeria.”

The interviewee further commented: “Algeria did not become an independent state until 1962, 14 years after the Universal Declaration. The colonies held by Portugal remained under its control until the 1970s. The Muslim states in Central Asia stayed subordinate to the Soviet Union up until 1991. The South African peoples still expect independence.”

However, he said, “What would you say about the Western attempts to protest in the name of universal values? You have attempted to get us involved in the clash and war between the white Westerners and the white Soviets. In the end, we, as those who have defended Western values in the Muslim world, are facing serious threats and challenges from the fundamentalists in our societies. They attack us because we have represented your values. We have come to an impossible position as the speaker and representative of Westernization and modernization. You have destroyed us.”

What the North African intellectual told the two authors of this book also applies to intellectuals of other nations. The intellectuals who have promoted and finally internalized Western values are like eggs left behind by the Westerners after their withdrawal. Political regimes have served as incubators for them. There has been no real link between their needs and the genuine spirit and roots of the environment where they have been so incubated. These intellectuals and the administrations that have backed them have kept subjects under the indirect control of authoritarian regimes. This has led to a meaningless struggle between the people, religion and history of these nations and their administrations.

However, the Westerners did not keep their promises; they violated the values they had promoted, leaving these Westernized elites all by themselves. This made the elites criminals and accomplices in the eyes of their countrymen.

It should be noted that the real problem faced in former colonies or other societies forced to undergo a process of Westernization or modernization has not been the people; rather, the problem has been the class of intellectuals and elites who have assumed the responsibility of changing the people under the auspices of the state, like secular missionaries.

This is a real tragedy. These intellectuals are unable to question their positions and their assumed mission because they have no intellectual, academic or informative resource other than the West to rely on. Western sources are their only assets; and once their link to these sources is lost, they will be abandoned in the middle of a desert. Sadly, these intellectuals are unable to find the spiritual energy and intellectual courage necessary to save themselves and their countries, to preserve their roots, because that would mean denial of what has become their identity. In this case, “the decisive hour,” as defined by Marx -- a concept that evolved into “class suicide” -- takes place, when a part of the ruling class separates itself and joins the revolutionary class. These intellectuals ultimately expect the support of military coups and dicta regimes. The Middle East has the most unfortunate examples of intellectual class suicide. The obstacle to democracy in this region is not Islam, or Muslim people; it is the intellectuals.

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