Time to stop im­port­ing Western so­lu­tions to Arab prob­lems

Arab News - - OPINION -

There are two ma­jor is­sues that need to be ad­dressed in this re­gard. First, we need to un­pack what is meant by Is­lamism and sec­u­lar­ism within the Arab con­text and, sec­ond, we need to re­frame the de­bate and root it in what the con­flict is ac­tu­ally about and how it has noth­ing to do with the real prob­lems on the ground.

First, sec­u­lar­ism as an idea is quite alien to the Is­lamic world in gen­eral and the Ara­bic world in par­tic­u­lar. In fact, the word it­self never ap­peared in any Ara­bic text un­til the early 20th cen­tury, when it was coined from Euro­pean lan­guages. Since then, it has be­come syn­ony­mous with athe­ism in the minds of many peo­ple in the re­gion. The his­tory of Europe, which orig­i­nated the idea of sec­u­lar­ism, is quite dif­fer­ent and was eas­ily ca­pa­ble of de­vel­op­ing this con­cept be­cause of the sep­a­ra­tion be­tween God and Cae­sar in the Bi­ble, as well as the bloody his­tory of Euro­pean re­li­gious wars, which are now be­ing re­peated in our re­gion. Po­lit­i­cally speak­ing, sec­u­lar­ism does not mean deny­ing re­li­gion, but in fact, as in the US, pro­tect­ing re­li­gion from gov­ern­ment in­ter­fer­ence and po­lit­i­cal ma­nip­u­la­tion. It is about es­tab­lish­ing the rights of cit­i­zen­ship for all, ir­re­spec­tive of re­li­gious be­lief.

Sec­ond, the quest to es­tab­lish what is called an Is­lamic gov­ern­ment, de­spite their frag­men­ta­tion and in­ner con­flicts, rests on the fa­tal mis­un­der­stand­ing that Is­lam does not re­quire or even have an Is­lamic gov­ern­ment in its teach­ings or his­tory. Is­lam sim­ply re­quires that Mus­lims need an Is­lamic law, not gov­ern­ment, to fully prac­tice their re­li­gious rights, for ex­am­ple as in the law of in­her­i­tance. Is­lamic his­tory, how­ever, also shows how var­i­ous Is­lamic em­pires ac­com­mo­dated the rights of mi­nori­ties by also grant­ing them the right to ap­ply their own laws equally among their fol­low­ers. As Is­lamists en­gage in more in­ter­nal con­flicts, they are ac­tu­ally mim­ick­ing Euro­pean his­tory and mak­ing the calls for sec­u­lar pol­i­tics even stronger.

In the murky con­fu­sion of to­day, now that both sides have be­come an in­te­gral part of Ara­bic pub­lic dis­course, the re­gion needs Arabs them­selves to search in­wardly and come up with their own au­then­tic and indige­nous frame­works to solve th­ese is­sues, not im­port Western so­lu­tions that have noth­ing to do with Arab prob­lems or their his­tory and cul­ture in or­der to fight rad­i­cal­ism and ter­ror­ism.

To com­bat rad­i­cal Is­lamist vi­o­lence and ad­dress the chal­lenges fac­ing us, we need a new nar­ra­tive that can re­frame and cast such is­sues in the light of our own his­tory, cul­ture, and needs, not im­port ide­olo­gies from the West as if we are im­port­ing cars or ap­pli­ances.

Hafed Al-Gh­well is a for­mer ad­viser to the board of di­rec­tors at the World Bank Group. Twit­ter: @HafedAlGh­well

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