Abdelwahab Meddeb on Tunisia
Interview with Abdelwahab Meddeb:
”The Islamists Are Not Ready for a Democratic Culture”
The Tunisian-French author Abdelwahab Meddeb is a critical observer of political developments in Tunisia and Egypt. In this interview with Ceyda Nurtsch, he explains why the Islamists are not creating a liberal culture of discussion and why he is sceptical about the concept of an Islamic democracy
You have written over and over again about how creative thought in Islam has been flagging since the Middle Ages and how religion has given the impression of being a guide to immaturity. Do you consider the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt to be the start of a new era of the self-empowerment of the individual or – to quote Kant – to be “the emergence of humankind from its self-imposed immaturity”?
Abdelwahab Meddeb: The Islamists who are now in power did not take part in the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia. Indeed the very fact that no religious slogans whatsoever were chanted during the revolution is in itself interesting. For this reason, it is safe to say that the election of the Islamists to government and their appearance on the political stage constitutes a kind of hijacking of the revolution.
For me, the Islamists have nothing to do with the Islamic tradition of the Middle Ages. After all, the text-based tradition of the Islamic Middle Ages was complex and ambiguous. It was based on controversy and the plurality of thought. Above all, however, it was part of a universal, historical theocentric age. In this age, God was at the centre of all societies.
When attempts are made today to put God back at the centre of society instead of humankind, then for me, that is an enormous step backwards. Islamism has changed from being a religious tradition into an ideology. As a religion, Islam has – just like all religions – a global vision. In other words, they want to assert their influence in all areas.
It is all about organising life on earth in such a way as to pave the way to an eternity in heaven. However, while the tradition is gradually transforming into an ideology – and also because it is doing so – this global vision is prone to totalitarianism. During the revolution, there was a kind of utopia in the Arab world. People believed that they could shape politics from outside the political sphere. Those who started the revolution came from outside the political sphere. That was what was so fascinating.
In addition to intervention via Internet, there was something almost situationist, anarchic, about the whole thing. Perhaps it is comparable with the post-ecological movement of the young, the Pirate Parties – with people who want to address certain issues, want to make progress in a certain area.
The question that arises in the long run is whether this is a way of doing politics. Or is it impossible to do politics without the structures of an organised party, without people who share the same ideas, without people who are working towards a clear goal. The phase we are in at the moment shows us that so far, this situationist vision is still utopian.