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Should we seek comfort in the death of Arab liberalism?

Mamdouh AlMuhaini

Published: Updated:

Arab liberal intellectuals receive little attention when they are alive and are almost completely forgotten after death. Apart from a thorough report, which Al-Arabiya.net published, liberal Kuwaiti author and intellectual Ahmad al-Rubei was completely forgotten during the ninth anniversary of his death last week.

Few years ago, famous liberal Algerian thinker Mohammed Arkun died and was silently buried in Morocco. I have recently watched what may be the only documentary about Arkun’s life and enlightening ideas.

I recall my meeting with late Syrian philosopher Georges Tarabichi few years ago in Paris. He seemed isolated and alone. He was pleased in a sad way when I told him that there a number of youth read his books and are influenced by them.

There is nothing strange about that. Arab liberals’ ideas spread during the first half of the past century which was called the phase of the second Arab renaissance. However, these ideas died quickly as suppressive military regimes rose to power with their eliminatory nationalistic rhetoric. These ideas further receded as waves of religious extremism raged in the end of the 1970s.

The control of revolutionary and Islamic movements over the street, media, schools and universities greatly weakened liberal rhetoric and liberal figures who were besieged with all sorts of accusations. Enthusiastic nationalists accused them of being agents of foreign parties while religious extremists accused them of apostasy. Ordinary people viewed them as Europeanized and Americanized but no more than that.

However, does this mean Arab liberalism, which was stained by intellectuals, clerics and a wide category of people, is dead? Are we ready to bury them and accept condolences? The truth is the complete opposite. Liberal ideas, despite the educational blackout and people’s disregard, are restoring life in a stronger manner than before.

There are several reasons that have led to this vital recovery. The most important reason relates to the nature of liberal ideas which rationality increases with time. Almost everything these liberals said turned out to be right despite the constant resistance against it.

Liberal principles are viable and can be developed but the nature of the new and changing world suit them more than any other intellectual order

Mamdouh AlMuhaini

Religious tolerance

The idea of religious tolerance is one of their most important principles. They have called for religious reforms and personally embraced modern and enlightening concepts. As we know, these ideas only received a little attention.

The tragic situation in Arab countries, where sectarianism and political problems escalated and where terrorist groups spread, proves that these liberals were right. Unfortunately, they were proved right after a lot of bloodshed.

The idea of scientific method which liberal thinkers, like Salama Moussa, called for decades ago has proved itself to be valid particularly given Arab universities’ retreating educational levels and the increase of scientific miracles’ scientists who are mere swindlers. Most countries compete over scientific awards, like the Nobel Prize and others, and it’s shameful that Arab scientists are absent in this field.

Awards themselves are not important, however, they do reflect the extent of nations’ civilization. Since academic institutions fought real scientists and embraced ideologically-oriented figures, their level dropped, just as expected. The same applies to medical or research institutions, which flourished in other countries.

Liberals are lecturers of the political realism which hates slogans and conspiracy theories and which believes in communication and openness. Their political school did not succeed and afterwards we witnessed how Arab leaders who raised slogans of Arabism and one nation killed their own people before they were dragged out to be hanged, and murdered.

These liberals have also called for individual personal freedoms. If we take a quick look around the world, we would realize that the happiest cities and capitals are the ones that guarantee individual freedom while the most miserable ones are those which restrain people.

The intellectual order

Liberal principles are viable and can be developed but the nature of the new and changing world suit them more than any other intellectual order. The international order is in fact a liberal system that has been established following the 30-year war between the Catholics and the Protestants and it was formally established after the signing the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

This order developed with time while the telecommunications and aviation revolution ended national borders among countries. Communist countries tried to establish their own private global order but they eventually failed after China, the last of those which opposed this new order, joined the others.

Economic development and the development of concepts related to human rights have become major supporters of the liberal spirit. Economic development is mostly based on the freedom of market, movement and thought. Major financial hubs are present in New York and London and not in Kabul and Mogadishu.

The development of human right is a development of the concept of freedom and reflects respect for humankind. This is why racists and people who believe in ethnic or national superiority have become outcasts. The new liberal world expelled them just like it expelled terrorists like Osama bin Laden, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Ayman al-Zawahiri and forced them to hide in caves.

Slavery vanished thanks to humane thoughts and the development of women’s rights, which transformed women from being follower of men to becoming his supervisor. This is how the liberal world flourished outside Arab countries and regressed within the region. A long time ago, Arab liberal thinkers called for joining this civilized club but no one listened to them.

Considering the failure of other ideological movements’ rhetoric, which produced ISIS, Popular Mobilization, Bashar al-Assad and Hassan Nasrallah, and after its been proven that liberal formula is the most successful across the world, Arab liberal thoughts have restored some credibility and legitimacy which its rivals undermined.

This article is also available in Arabic.
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Mamdouh AlMuhaini is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya News Channel’s digital platforms. He can be followed on Twitter @malmhuain.

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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