This was a shockingly bizarre set of responses from a man considered to be one of the great Arab intellectuals of our time. I have read Adonis extensively, and I am frankly really surprised to see him argue that:
“If we do not distinguish between what is religious and what is political, cultural, and social, nothing will change and the decline of the Arabs will worsen. Religion is not the answer to problems anymore. Religion is the cause of problems. That is why it needs to be separated. Every free human believes in what he wants, and we should respect that. But for religion to be the foundation of society? No.”
This statement reflects a profound and fundamental misunderstanding about the travails of our times. And the imaginary history of Europe that he is obviously repeating. It is as if he has never bothered to read people of his own generation: Wael Hallaq, Talal Asad, Akeel Bilgrami, Saba Mahmood, Edward Said, Amir Amin, Joseph Massad, Partha Chatterjee, Arun Appadurai, and so many others, who have taken so much time, so much research, so much effort, so much eloquence and insight, to peal apart the false construction of ‘state’ and ‘religion’ that underpins the very idea of ‘Europe’ in the post-Enlightenment period. Talal Asad alone has dissecting the ontology, epistemology, theory, and lineage of the creation of the ‘secular’ over a period of decades, dozens of articles and a few very critical books. What about Shahab Ahmed’s What Is Islam: The Importance Of Being Islamic? I could go on. I was simply flabbergasted to read Adonis speaking as if he has read nothing really related to the very subjects he wishes to pontificate on. And if he had gone a step further, he would have remembered to at least understand the reality and existence of colonialism, imperialism and global capitalism, that has something – I dare say something large – to do with the violent state of affairs we now find ourselves in. By what incredible imagination and feat of forgetfulness would anyone claim that Syria, and the chaos unfolding there – or in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia or Pakistan, has anything to do with the Western concept of religion? Details »
A truly pathetic and tragic situation. But here is the irony that most Pakistani liberals cannot fathom as they go about mindlessly screaming against the ‘evils of religion’ or ‘the need to separate religion and state’, or assume that Sharia’ is to blame, or that religion is backward and the cause of all that they suddenly see as ‘wrong’ in our societies because they happened to have read the latest UN missive:
“Pakistan’s blasphemy laws originated under British rule; in 1927 insulting any religion became a punishable offence in India. Punishment consisted mostly of fines and brief imprisonment. After the creation of Pakistan in 1947 this law was retained in the nation’s penal code. Under the administration of General Zia-ul-Haq the punishment for blasphemy was first changed to life imprisonment and finally in 1986, to death by hanging.”
These are secular laws! This isn’t Sharia’ or religion. This is the secular legal system, its laws written as a result of a so-called ‘secular’ colonial power, and then retained and sustained, implemented and acted on, by ‘secular’ Pakistani governments. And note again that General Zia-ul-Haq was one of the United State’s closest allies and buddies, as he was implementing these draconian and regressive interpretations of the legal system. That religious groups exploit these laws for various political and economic purposes – as would any other group – should not distract us from these facts. Details »
It is becoming a habit – women writers, academics, intellectuals and activists are pushing the limits of political and intellectual thought and where ever I turn I find myself reading them.
Saba Mahmoood, Sara Ahmed, Wendy Brown, Judith Butler, Joan W. Scott, Amy Kaplan, Inderpal Grewal, Gyatri Spivak. So here is the brilliant Wendy Brown on women, sexuality, sex, freedom, liberty and this bizarre moment in history where women in the West have been convinced that sex, sexuality, and less clothing are the ‘true’ measure of their liberation.
“…the equation of secularism with women’s freedom and equality often traffics in the tacit assumption that bared skin and flaunted sexuality is a token if not a measure of women’s freedom and equality. Sexual difference is already written into this assumption, of course, since the equation of freedom with near nakedness in public is itself a gendered rather than generic sign of freedom: rarely is it suggested that men in loincloths are free whereas those in three-piece suits lack autonomy and equality. But this very asymmetry is a reminder that, like the hijab, highly revealing Western female fashion is a negotiation, not a negation of women’s sexualized status and value in male dominant orders. If, in one case, this sexualization is robed, secreted from public view, and in another it is orchestrated through revealing fashion or expensive cosmetics and surgeries, these are but two iterations of this negotiation.35 Nor are these two iterations themselves really so distant. Many Muslim women combine modest dress with detailed attention to fashion elements, including heels and lingerie. And Western women, especially but not only in the professions, are compelled to devote an inordinate amount of time and money to balancing modesty and exposure, professionalism and attractiveness, as part of their dress-for-success look in a male dominant world. Details »
People want to believe that it is over once its closed. Bagram has fallen off people’s minds because the American’s were able to hand it over to the Afghani government, transfer the Afghan prisoners to them, and quietly release the other men – Pakistanis, Arabs and others, they illegally held there. Even the discussions about Guantanmo have pointlessly and unethically focused on ‘closure’, and not on the brutalization of human lives that have taken place there, and continue to do so. The entire discussion has become one of logistics and administration, not of human life, dignity, law and criminality. The men destroyed there are not worthy of concern, and not the principal concern at all. Details »
During a discussion with a friend and a colleague who has repeated expressed concern about my refusal to exhibit, or promote, or otherwise perform critical acts necessary for a ‘successful’ career as a documentary photographer. I did not have good answers for him, but later that night I happened to pick up a copy of Edward Said’s Representations of the Intellectual – a book I have read and re-read dozens of times, and came across notes I had scribbled on the back pages back in 2003 when I carried that book into South Waziristan while working on a story there. These notes helped clarify things, and in a later discussion, I was able to offer something like this: Details »