Debates of rupture and heritage between Radwan al-Sayyid and Ali Harb

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran
Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran
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After accusing Nasr Abu Zayd of apostasy and following the fuss triggered as a result in the first half of the 1990’s, Jizelle Khoury hosted Abu Zayd, his wife Ibtihal Younis and Radwan al-Sayyid during her show Life Dialogue. The interview also included a commentary from Ali Harb.

The reason behind the accusations directed at Abu Zayd was his book Critique of Religious Discourse. Sayyid thought the book was political, while Harb viewed it as a broad criticism that could even change or influence fixed concepts. These opinions express two different projects or rather two major differences between visions and it can be helpful to tackle them to highlight few issues.

Sayyid is an Azhar sheikh who criticizes Islamic rhetoric from within, in order to develop and renew it. He plays the role of the good judge and guide in terms of ending obstructions that hinder Muslims’ activity. He was preoccupied with the nation, the group, the authority and policies of modern Islam and gave a great deal of thought to the authority in the Islamic field. He fought those calling for abandoning heritage and thought that these figures were fighting Arabism and Islam.

These thinkers do not suffer from ignorance or have ill intentions, but they suffer from dogmas related to progress and its conditions. They attribute a part of our underdevelopment to the nesting of these legacies in our minds and souls

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

Harb, however, is the complete opposite. He was influenced by the rising philosophies in France, especially philosophers of difference since the days of Friedrich Nietzsche, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze. His postmodern vision developed from his book “Truth and Interpretation” to “Critique of the Text, Critique of the Truth, the Forbidden and the Prohibited.”

His vision’s development did not stop at the book “After Deconstruction.” His applications were greatly influenced by Derrida. In his book “Towards a Transformative Logic,” we can see how preoccupied he was with Deleuze’s texts. As we’ve seen in his most recent article in Al-Hayat newspaper, he’s proposing the concept of post-truth. There are major differences between them, and the only thing they have in common is the similar vision towards the aspired Lebanese model as both men support the project of what was known as the March 14 coalition in Lebanon.

The post-truth era

In his article entitled “Sadiq Jalal al-Azm is the most enlightening and least narcissistic” published in Al-Hayat, Harb addressed some of the differences he has in terms of the project which Sayyid represents. He wrote: “If we are to review and hold others accountable in order to derive lessons then we cannot evade reconsidering the proposed slogans and programs. Not only that, but we must reconsider the means, approaches and plans in which slogans, cases and identities are addressed. The slogan is not something we propose and then seek to literally apply. A slogan is not something we violate or abandon if we fail to transform it into something fruitful and constructive. The game and the bet are about confronting what may suddenly happen by creating new facts that alter maps and formulas in the scene. This is the case of the post-truth which they argue about today and which scares them. When writing, most of us were not moved by the love for truth but by an old desire to achieve fame and statuses or win an award which many who work in the cultural field are obsessed with.”

In an interview I held with Sayyid and published on Al-Arabiya’s website, Sayyid attacked the projects of “rupture” which he considers Harb to be ones of its poles in the Arab world. Taha Abdelrahman even considered Harb one of the most significant publishers and implementers of the “deconstruction” concept on the Arab front. Radwan criticized those calling for rupture and said: “A few days ago, I read a book about Arab thinkers of rupture.

These thinkers do not suffer from ignorance or have ill intentions, but they suffer from dogmas related to progress and its conditions. They attribute a part of our underdevelopment to the nesting of these legacies in our minds and souls. Many of them were fond of Michel Foucault, the thinker of rupture, and they wanted to be great like he was. Many of our young and old men welcomed their writings because they are upset from the current situation on the level of religious traditions and authoritarian regimes. What’s ironic is that Doctor Seyid Ould Abah, who knows Foucault more than they do, defended (my criticism of this rupture concept). Ould Abah’s PhD thesis in modern philosophy was about Foucault, despite that, he was not deceived by this rupture and did not understand it like Arab scholars did.”

How education works

This is the difference between the two projects. This difference represents a rich element to Arab readers but it proves the confusion of the intellectual vision to exit ideological, political and religious crises in the Islamic field. There is “contact and separation” with traditions as per Sayyid’s approach and “rupture,” criticizing the truth and going beyond all inherited legacies, exposing them and scandalizing them as per Harb’s approach. It seems there is major distance between the two projects. One – Sayyid’s - represents vision from within and its light is derived from these legacies while another – Harb’s – thinks the world is intertwined through its influences and deliberations.

All current debatable issues are a source of enrichment that elevate intellect and improve concepts and styles of dialogue and they may become complete through the influence they engrave. They may particularly influence students and learners as their sense of judgment will improve so they can later experiment between educational edifices, analytical schools, and philosophical doctrines. This is how education works as we cannot cancel philosophies, knowledge and approaches and cannot marginalize them or dwarf them regardless of the critical approach adopted against them. It’s fortunate that we reached this extent of Arab educational breakthrough that’s beneficial and enlightening to studies and researches which enrich one another, even if they deny that or refuse to acknowledge it.

Intellect’s bliss is in its arguments and effects. In the past, while describing the exit journey and difficult path, Descartes said: “It’s just as if I had all of a sudden fallen into very deep water, I am so disconcerted that I can neither make certain of setting my feet on the bottom, nor can I swim and so support myself on the surface.”

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on February 23, 2017.
Fahad Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat,, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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