Arr. Iqbal Academy Scandinavia (IAS), Islamic-Christian Study Centre (IKS) and Centre for European Islamic Thought (CEIT)
Place: Centre for European Islamic Thought, Faculty of Theology, Købmagergade 46, 1150 København K
The seminar was one in a series of yearly seminars/symposia in celebration of the Iqbal Day, held by Iqbal Academy Scandinavia since 2005. This year the seminar took place at the university with participation of 23 scholars and students from Denmark, England and Pakistan. It became a very informative and instructive meeting with very active involvement by the participants.
There are different views and interpretations as to whether the uprisings in the Arab world are to be considered with optimism. There are people who consider them as the birth of a new era, a radical turning-point between past and future. Others are more cautious and claim that they may not change the political or economic relations in the various countries. Others again refuse to believe it. The movements are just to be seen as a transition towards a new type of western dominion.
Despite these different interpretations and uncertainties it is clear that the Middle East and North Africa (and the world) will never return to what it was. The uprisings have brought a new impulse, inspiration, impact internally and globally.
The seminar was dealing with this question. In which way have the uprisings brought changes beyond the Middle East and North Africa in the East and West – the image we have of each other? Have they led to a redefinition of the concept of democracy, social cohesion, diversity, integration etc.? have they brought us closer together? more solidarity?
The first part of the seminar was dealing with the Arab Spring and its implications for the way we in the West and East think of each other.
The first speaker, dr. Jørgen S.Nielsen, prof. and director of CEIT, explained the background and current situation of the Arab Spring. Although the uprisings in Egypt have not changed the situation much – except that the president has disappeared - at least two conditions have been reformed in the countries involved: that of the position of women and of higher education. At the same time has the economy in Egypt died.
The media have been caught by their own framing. In Egypt it has focused entirely on Tahrir square in the capital whereas the vast populations have been neglected. In Syria, however, there has been sense of the uprising being de-centred (for example in Homs, Hama and Daraa). By their constant picking on the negative side the media and western politicians are closing the door to new and positive developments.
After the presentation ensued, among other things, a discussion about media influence and the problem that there is little focus on areas of Islam outside the Arab world.
Sarosh Alamgir, member of IAS executive board, drew parallels between the different social classes across the East and the West and showed how a large set of values has always been shared by the grassroots universally. He compared the Western “imperialist polyarchies” and NATO command with the Eastern “oppressive monarchies and brutal oligarchies”, and contrasted those with the conscientious and benevolent grassroots at both ends. Sarosh argued that the relations between the main actors in the “war on terror” and the popular terrorist organisations are symbiotic and their roles similar; He also compared the Arab spring and the Occupy movements to show that the conflict of values does not lie between these societies but uniformly within them.
Sarosh pledged a common-person’s perspective, and focused on two main issues which according to him posed challenges to the global co-existence: 1)- The academics, scholars and intellectuals worldwide, on the whole, fell short of their basic responsibilities of engagement with masses to enlighten and animate them, and deeply consumed themselves in self-serving activities in a complete disconnect from the grassroots. As a consequence, despite their capability to see the realities across borders, and their reach to the masses, they miserably failed to counter the grossly misleading mass media propaganda perpetrated by imperialist minorities. He emphasized that an immediate win of the Arab spring is the discovery of the hidden venues of mutual harmony between East and the West, which must be capitalized on by ensuring public access to the distant realities. 2)- At the end Sarosh criticized the excessive sense of triumphalism infused in various societies through misinformation and indoctrination, and said that coexistence entails exclusion of intimidation and narcissism. He stressed that replicating the experiences of ones ahead is not a condition to success in the sociocultural evolution and added that, “The temptation of ‘correction’ is hard to fight unless we all accept that we are as ethnic as any other nation in the world … The pluralist reality will increasingly manifest itself… the question is, are we ready to embrace this change as a beautiful cultural spectrum, or shall we keep chanting the ludicrous, yet a rather self-fulfilling prophecy of the clash of civilizations”. Sarosh finished by extending on a quote from Dr. Scott Peck as, “we can share our similarities, and celebrate our differences, and move on to the higher planes of life”.
DPhil.cand. Laurent Lambert, University of Oxford, first presented a review of the academic discourses that used to prevail on the question of autocracy and democracy in the Arab world prior to the Arab spring. He looked at various scholars within various disciplines (anthropology, political culture and economy) their suggestions as to why the Arab spring was not expected.
Lambert then analyzed how the uprisings were received in Western Europe, using two cases, France and the United Kingdom, and how they affected the Gulf monarchies, especially Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Finally he concluded on how the Arab Spring might have changed Western and Eastern mutual views and how this could have an impact on global co-existence.
Lambert showed that different political traditions within the Arab world have led to different state reactions towards the Arab Spring, thereby contradicting the idea of a single and homogeneous Arab Muslim political culture. Nevertheless, the four cases from Europe and the Arab world have, according to Lambert, have shown an overall popular support for the Arab spring, identified with peaceful demonstrations and legitimate demands. An important role in the rapprochement of the views between and among Europeans and Arabs seems to have been played by the transnational media. A positive trend for mutual understanding and global co-existence could also be reinforced by the increasing use of the Internet in the Arab world.
The second part moved on to more philosophical and religious issues and looked at cultural diversity and integration trying to relate it to the development in the Middle East and North Africa.
Dr. Shahzad Qaiser, vice president of Iqbal Academy, Pakistan, presented in his key-note speech Iqbals metaphysics of culture and the Arab awakening. He claimed that answers given to the question of a transcendent world, transcendent source of knowledge in Eastern and modern Western philosophical traditions have gone in two opposite directions. Whereas the Eastern tradition has given affirmative answers to these questions, the modern West has denied the transcendent world.
Iqbal combined in himself the two traditions. He developed his own metaphysics by coupling his traditional understanding with a study of modern philosophy and psychology.
According to Iqbal wisdom and power must go together. As he said:“Vision without power does bring moral elevation but cannot give a lasting culture. Power without vision tends to become destructive and inhuman. Both must combine for the spiritual expansion of humanity”
Modernism should not be imposed on humanity. That can only make the gulf between people living in different parts of the world greater. A society can only be creatively transformed from within in consonance with own ideals in its respective tradition.
According to Iqbal the principle of spirituality is the foundation of humanity. One must be careful not to cling to the outer aspects of religion at the cost of its inner or spiritual dimension. Iqbal desires a society based on the principles of social justice, cultural harmony and universal brotherhood. This is the essence of Tauhid (unity of God).
Also the principle of permanence and change must go together in order not to lose identity. They do not exclude each other, on the contrary. Thus, metaphysical knowledge of truth, spiritual love, transcendence must be elements of the struggle to establish social justice, equality and freedom. Transcendent love gives meaning to this struggle. But it does not allow any form of violence.
Dr. Safet Bektovic – philosopher with Bosnian background and lecturer and researcher at CEIT, drew attention to some aspects of Muslim political life, historically and currently, that may throw light on possibilities of civil society and secularism in a Muslim society. For instance, the Ulama (and not the central power) have played a crucial role in people’s everyday life, in education, in social and economic life. Bektovic referred to Indonesia as an example where the issue of religious pluralism, democracy and civil society were tackled from an Islamic perspective.
Muslims in the West are faced with the challenge to understand the relationship between religion and not-religion and define the boundaries between them. The Arab Spring has shown that it is not possible to maintain a monopoly on religious interpretations and to uphold political censorship on social life. In this way it has opened up a new understanding of social dynamism and social justice in Muslim countries.
The seminar ended on a positive note by the chairman of Iqbal Academy Scandinavia, Ghulam Sabir.