Where Shall We Begin
Dr. Ali Shariati
In Algeria in the 1950s, in order to divide and fractionalize the people
and in turn to inflict a great disaster in North Africa, the colonial
powers propagated the progressive views of thinkers such as Rousseau,
Voltaire, and Morris Dubare, which are scientific and emphasize
nationalism. The central thesis of nationalism that each nation should
have its own state was used to divide the Arabs and Berbers, who had
until then been united by their belief in Islam- thus they became
victims of French colonialism. Now, in place of fighting the common
enemy, Arab and Berber nationalists were facing and fighting one
another. In short, when presented with a social theory, before
evaluating its positive or negative contribution, one should understand
the context and consequences of its presentation. Another example in my
discussion is what I call "false bonds" or "fake common denominators."
Just as it is possible to create animosity between two related groups,
it is equally possible to establish spurious or false links between two
enemies. This is a tactic, which has been used in Africa, Latin America
and the Islamic East, by misusing the theses of common religion,
nationalism, and humanism. These three schools of thought are legitimate
ways of thinking, but if utilized in the wrong time and place they can
easily turn into the tools of creating unity among people who should be
fighting one another. Humanism is a school of thought, which is used to
combat nationalism, because today the latter has become a progressive
anti-colonialism front in African Asia, and Latin America. In the Third
World, particularly African it is even more progressive than Marxism. It
has taken the leadership away from official Marxism in the struggle fur
Humanism is a thesis utilized by the powers that be in the world, which control the destinies of other nations to establish superficial and false relationships between the colonizer and the colonized. It aims to eliminate the natural state of enmity, struggle and rancor between these two opposing poles and to create a mystical, humanistic and general peace between them. Obviously, I am not talking about the scientific and philosophical aspects of humanism, for certainly, the oneness of the human race is a sacred truth. The questions I am raising here are those of by whom, for what purpose, and at what time this sacred truth is being utilized. Are East and West and the colonized and the colonizer the members of the same camp?
Referring to a particular nation, when used in the wrong place, nationalism serves as a camouflage, a way of establishing an artificial blood-based unity and relationship, but only by and for those who do not truly believe in this idea, in order to suck the blood of the people under the banner of nationalism. Ironically, such a relationship really is based on blood because, after all, the blood of a leech is the same as that of its victim.
Under the disguise of the existence of common religious conviction and rituals, religion has also been used to create a false and spurious relationship between the exploited and the exploiter. Religious rituals, slogans, and false indoctrination are easily misused for the attainment of this purpose. As a result, people who in actuality should be enemies are linked together with the false presumption of "religious brotherhood."
Having said all this, the greatest responsibility of the enlightened soul is to identify the real causes of the backwardness of his society and discover the real cause of the stagnation and degeneration of the people of his environment. Moreover, he should educate his slumbering and ignorant society as to the basic reasons for its ominous historical and social destiny. Then, based on the resources, responsibilities, needs and suffering of his society, he should identify the rational solutions, which would enable his people to emancipate themselves from the status quo. Based on appropriate utilization of the resources of his society and an accurate diagnoses of its suffering, an enlightened person should try to find out the true causal relation- ships between misery, social illness and abnormalities, and the various internal and external factors. Finally, an enlightened person would transfer this understanding beyond the limited group of his colleagues to the society as a whole.
Contemporary "intellectuals" generally believe that dialectical contradictions at work in any society, of necessity move the society forward toward freedom and revolution, and give birth to a new state of being. According to this logic, mere "poverty" or "class differences," which symbolize the existence of social conflicts, inevitably lead to a dialectical contradiction. Which in turn creates motion in the society. In reality, however, this is not more than a big illusion. No society will be mobilized and obtain its freedom merely because of the existence of class difference or tragic disparity between rich and poor. Poverty and class conflict may exist in a society for thousands of years without causing any structural transformation. Dialectic has no intrinsic motion.
Considering that motion in any given society is the product of transformation of the social conflict from within the society into the conscience of its members, the responsibility of the enlightened person is obvious. Briefly, it is ''to transfer the shortcomings and abnormalities of his society into the mind and conscience of the members of that society." Then, the society will take it from there. Another definition of the enlightened person is that he is one who is aware of the existing social conflicts and their real causes, who knows the needs of his age and his generation, who accepts responsibility for providing solutions as to how his society can be emancipated, who helps his society to shape and define its collective goals and objectives and, finally, who takes part in mobilizing and educating his static ignorant society. In a word, a contemporary enlightened person should continue in the path of the prophets. His mission is to "guide" and work for justice, his language is compatible with his time, and his proposed solutions conform to cultural values of his Specify.
Therefore, "Where shall we begin?" is an irrelevant question. One should ask, "Where shall we begin in our society?" Our greatest and most pressing responsibility is to see, historically speaking, where the Muslim society is. Do Muslims live under the same conditions as those of twentieth century Europe, and is it thus possible for European solutions, ideologies and writers to be useful? Do Muslims live in an industrial age, and so experience the same problems as those of industrial societies? Have Muslim societies reached the modern bourgeois era? Have they passed the era of the rule of religion? Are they experiencing some kind of religious reform! Are Muslims living under the same conditions as were the Europeans during the Renaissance or during the French Revolution? How does one characterize Muslim culture? Once the historical condition and the culture of the society are understood, both the enlightened and the general public will know what their responsibilities and duties are.
Historically speaking, the present condition of Muslims, as com- pared to that of the West, is where the latter was at the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance. Similar to that time, Muslims are in a period of social and intellectual transformation. Economically, the dominant system in the Islamic societies is an "agricultural market" or the intermediate bourgeoisie. In other words, the largest and the basic foundation of the economy is agricultural production and not urban-market economy and bourgeois capitalism, as commonly understood. The reason is that European bourgeoisie, which contributed greatly to the French Revolution, was completely different from that of the present Iranian or other Islamic societies. The bourgeoisie in the Islamic Societies includes the bazaar merchants and not the modern industrial and banking capitalists. To be more exact, the bazaar merchants lack the vigor and dynamism of the modern bourgeoisie. They only act as a mediator between the agricultural sector and the consumer. There is, no doubt, a newly evolving bourgeoisie resembling that of eighteenth century Europe, but it has not had the same influence that the latter had. The new bourgeoisie in Iran has replaced the old shops with modern ones, only to become a middleman in spreading Western culture in these traditional societies. Unlike its counterpart in eighteenth century Europe, which prompted urban production at the expense of rural production, the Iranian bourgeoisie has only enhanced urban consumption without contributing to urban production. Of course, there are individuals who have begun urban production, but they are simply scattered enterprises, which cannot be called a national modern bourgeoisie.