Abdelwahab MEDDEB, The Malady of Islam (originally published as La Maladie de l’Islam, 2003, ISBN 0-465-04435-2
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The Malady of Islam is as much a lament as it is a critique. Abdelwahab Meddeb probes the thorny issue of Islamic fundamentalism and examines how it has gained such a dangerous foothold in the 20th century. His analysis, while learned and compelling, is, unfortunately, not entirely startling. A devout Muslim now living in Paris (he was raised in Tunis), Meddeb speaks with the authority and indignation of one who recognizes a "paradise lost." Citing a host of historical, poetical, and religious texts from the advent of Islam to the 20th century, he describes, with regret, how the one-time pluralistic tradition of the Muslim faith has been undercut by narrow readings of the Qur'an that denounce any departure from the letter of the law.
Islam: Inconsolable in Its Destitution
For Islam, entropy has been at work since the fourteenth century, but it was only toward the end of the eighteenth (with Bonaparte’s expedition to Egypt) that the Muslims themselves began to become conscious that they were no longer at the same level as the West. It was this lateness, this lag, that allowed a number of countries belonging to the Islamic territories to be colonized because they found themselves in the situation of the colonizable. The Muslim individual, who claimed superiority to or at least equality with the Western individual, cannot grasp the process that has led the Muslim to such weakness when faced with the centuries-old counterpart, enemy or adversary, or at times partner and even ally, depending on the circumstances. In reaction to this state of affairs, ressentiment against the Westerners arose among Arabs and Muslims. (I am taking up the very useful concept of ressentiment as developed in Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals.) Nietzsche himself thought that the Muslim (or more precisely, the Arab) was someone who belonged to a people who, throughout the ages, had acted more in conformity with aristocrat morality, the morality of affirmation – someone who illuminates, someone who gives without trying to receive. The situation of the person of ressentiment, on the other hand, is to be in the position of the one who receives but who does not have the means to give; the person of ressentiment cannot affirm. Thus the Muslim is no longer the individual of the “yes” that illuminates the world and creates a naturally hegemonic being. From sovereign being, the Muslim has slowly become the person of the “no,” the one who refuses, who is no longer active but only reactive, the one who accumulates hatred and waits only for the hour of revenge. This sentiment, initially unknown to the Islamic subject, will imperceptibly grow and take over the person’s center. I believe that the fundamentalist actions whose agent is the Muslim subject can be explained by the growth of the subject’s ressentiment, a condition that had historically been unknown to the Muslim since his first appearance on the stage of history as an individual.
[…]From being aristocratic, the Muslim subject gradually became the person of ressentiment, a frustrated, dissatisfied individual who believes himself to be better than the conditions imposed on him. Like every half-educated person, he turns out to be (in his accumulated refusals and hatreds) a candidate for revenge, predisposed to insurrection and all it demands in terms of dissimulation and sacrifice.
But the real origin of this development, which lies at the point where psychology and ethics intersect, is the end of creativity, the end of the contributions that made Islamic civilization. Aware of their sterility, the Islamic people have grown inconsolable in their bereavement. Now, this state of affairs does not date from the colonial era; the imperial role that the majority of Islamic countries experienced is not the cause of their decline but the consequence of it: For the past several centuries, Muslims have not been creative in the scientific domain, nor have they been masters of technical development. It took them more than a century to master technology, something that happened in the postcolonial phase. As I have already said, the Americanization of the world is what permitted this acquisition. It belongs to the domain of consumption and functioning, and not to that of production and invention. It is useful primarily for the expansion of markets. However, apart from some individuals of Islamic origin working in Western research institutions, Muslim individuals, inside the horizon of their own symbolic and linguistic territoriality, remain excluded from the scientific spirit. They are not involved in the conception of the airplane, its invention or even its production, but they can pilot the flying machine very well, and go as far as to steer it to destruction.
To this unreasonable claim, I will answer with a Talmudic precept that should serve as a teaching for the recognition of the Islamic presence in France: Dina dê-malkhuta dina: “The law of the State takes precedence over the law of the Torah.”9
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