Comprehensive theories have been criticized since the mid-twentieth century. Those who have been criticized include preachers, intellectuals and religious clerics.
Michel Foucault was an outspoken critic as he announced the demise of the intellectual and even criticized his major project. “I never wrote anything but illusions,” he once said. Gilles Deleuze was also a prominent critic as he refused to be described as an “intellectual” and believed this description meant gossip and boring television appearances.
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He preferred the term “philosopher” because it means being preoccupied with small details while working to develop or define a concept. Roland Barthes said: “Intellectuals are good for nothing.” This orientation affected Arab thought via writings that criticized intellectuals.
Some examples are the books “The End of the Preacher” by Abd al-Ilah Balqaziz published in 2000 and “The illusions of the elite and the criticism of the intellectual” by Ali Harb published in 2004. Many Arab authors later published similar books announcing the end of the intellectual’s “preaching” role in the public sense.
Ignorance is spreading in the Arab and Muslim world and respect for knowledge and education is decreasing in a frightening mannerFahad Suleiman Shoqiran
Prestige through silence
Social media exposed many intellectual icons who gained their prestige through their silence and balanced presence via writings in intellectual publications. Social media revealed that some of these intellectuals are in fact ignorant or frauds while many of them tried to curry favor with their followers.
They sought popularity thus destroying the value of education and knowledge. A public intellectual suffers from the same disease as a preacher, artist or star as they all feed off followers and care about nothing but pleasing them.
Education and knowledge are endless but the intellectuals’ and preachers’ main problem is that they claim to be perfect and show everyone that they can answer anything or debate any topic. A public intellectual, like a preacher, claims to know the entire truth. He has the energy to brag about his achievements and take pride in all the fuss which his empty presence causes on social media.
The Amr Khaled example
Within this context, preacher Amr Khaled recently caused a big fuss after he used his Facebook page while performing hajj (Muslim pilgrimage) to pray for his followers and wish that God makes their dreams come true. This simply exposes his desire to please his many followers. Meanwhile, his followers stated that they were deeply moved by his prayers while many mocked him.
Some analysts concluded that the jokes pertaining to the matter were because societies have matured. However, Sheikh Amr has millions of followers. Therefore, concluding that Muslim societies have matured – through the comments condemning Amr’s recent move – is inaccurate. Ignorance is actually spreading in the Arab and Muslim world and respect for knowledge and education is decreasing in a frightening manner.
It is actually unbelievable how no one reads or learns about new things. This is all because of the intellectual’s failure, the end of the preacher and the emergence of tools replacing knowledge.
These tools help one achieve a sense of psychological victory as they make one feel important when they post a picture or write a bad line of poetry or post a new idea which they think are new to this world. When others share these posts or like them, one feels complete though he made no effort whatsoever. Truth is, however, it’s all emptiness and illusions.
It is important to declare the end of the preaching intellectual’s task no matter what his post is or what his logic and approach are. Another word should be used as many people who call themselves “intellectuals” made the mistake of seeking to please others. Sometimes this went as far as submitting to fundamentalists and armies of violence and terrorism.
The term “intellectual-preacher” has been exhausted. Human being must break free from misleading and harmful symbols and icons. It is time when we return to his shadow, as described by Gilles Deleuze, one of the men who announced the end of the intellectualism.
This article is also available in Arabic.
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, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran.