Arabic symbol





Philosophers of  the Arabs



"The theoretical brittleness of contemporary Arabic thought", Mahmoud Ameen Al-Aalem, thoughtful issues, no. 15/16, 1995.



The eminent Egyptian thinker "Mahmoud Ameen El-Alem" criticizes the current state of Arabic thought, around mid nineties of the twentieth century for being less theoretical than it should be. For, philosophy, as he sees it, represents the top of the theoretical thought, whereas our contemporary Arabic thought 'misses a clear scientific theory as well as the accumulating scientific experience. Rather such thought in our contemporary time is eclectic, shallow and unhistorical.  (P.9).

Al-Alem, then, calls for a new theoretical, critical and foundational thought in order to overcome such problems and to cope with contemporary modern thought that has achieved major cognitive and technological steps in human history. He describes the thought, for which he calls, as encompassing all domains of thought and disciplines, a rational, deductive-inductive reasoning which is to present itself in different forms of consciousness. In addition, its theoretical content is to form a revolutionary methodology that is capable to explain the different social phenomena and to be able to foresee the future. (p.9)

Mahmoud Al-Alem is a Marxist and it is easy to infer from his call that what is meant by this call, is essentially the 'scientific sociological rational Marxism thought'. However, he admits that such thought cannot start from nothing, but it should start from the heritage of the self as well as its social and human experience. Therefore, it should formalize an ontological continuity with the self, but at the same time, it should posit an epistemological beak with it. He also admits that such thought would incorporate an Ideological element in it, due to its human cognitive tools, and to being bound by it historical contexts. (P. 9)

After this introduction, Al-Alem introduces a general analysis of the status of the Arabic thought. He starts by introducing different views of the different well known Arabic positions, the Nationalists, the Liberalists, the Communists, and the Islamists. (P. 10)

He first analyses how these different positions see the contemporary state, is there a 'crisis' or not. Some positions deny the existence of the crisis on the basis of the gradual ascending of the Arabic thought, and on the basis of the 'western propaganda' against our culture. Others admit the crisis but demonstrate different, unsatisfactory reasons for it as an inherent crisis of the Arabic mind itself. Both views, according to Al-Alem, exemplify the problem and do not take a positive position from it. (P. 11)

An important element of the Arabic crisis, as Al-Alem sees it, is its ambivalence. Modern Arabic thought admires the advancement of the modern 'West', but at the same time rejects colonialism as well as unjust western politics toward the east in general and the Arabic area in particular. This situation, he continues, has produced a state of ambivalence in the unconscious Arabic thought. Arabic modern thought tried to make use of the 'Western' methods of constructing the society, but at the same time remained essentially traditional in thinking. On the abstract level, this reflected itself on a theoretical form of duality, which produced a combinatory position between the newly imported methods of thought with the essentials of the Arab/Islamic culture. (P. 12)

On the basis of such analysis, Al-Alem discusses three moments that made a difference in contemporary Arabic thought and exemplified its crisis at the same time.  These three moments are, the military defeat of Arabic forces in 1967 war, the second, is the  gulf crisis during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on 1990, and the third is the dramatic worldwide changes after the fall of the 'Soviet Union' and the appearance of the new 'Imperial' system known as 'Globalization'.

The first moment, 1967 war, exemplifies the crisis through uncovering the failure to constitute a modern system that is capable of producing a strong modern 'State'. This situation has produced two extremes, according to Al-Alem. The first is represented by Abdallh Laroui in which he proposes to give up the Nationalist thought and to break up with our heritage. The second, which is represented by Hassan hanafi, proposes to base our renaissance on the Islamic culture albeit with modern methods.  (P. 14)

The second moment, the gulf war crisis on 1990, exerted, in his view, as much pressure on Arabic thought as 1967 war. For, in this case the confrontation has been between two parts of the 'self'. Consequently, creating a schism in the Arabic political and nationalistic system and hence, in the Arabic thought. Arab thought, in this crisis, was divided into three divisions. The first condemned clearly the invasion defending the natural rights of the people of Kuwait to choose their identity and political system. The second hailed the invasion as a step towards unifying the Arabic countries and erasing one of the establishments of Imperialism. The third, in his view, referred the crisis to the unstable political situation in the area, and viewed it as a result of the pressure of the super powers and capitalism. Hence, under such a pressure Saddam Hussein has in fact facilitated their plans by his invasion, which he was encouraged by such powers. Al-Alem himself endorses this last explanation. (P. 15-16)

The third moment is the current moment (the paper was published 1995). In this moment, Soviet Union has fallen, and the United States turned out to be the sole leader in a uni-pole world. This phenomenon, according to Al-Alem, has widened the gap in the Arabic thought. Arabic countries has lost the required space of maneuver, after the fall of the Soviet Union, and lost a great part of its sovereignty on its own borders.

 This has produced a case of severe polarity between an absolute subservience to the dominant Imperial super powers and an irrational self-defensive case of fundamentalism. Each of these positions exemplifies an element of the contemporary crisis of Arabic thought, and misses a consistent theory of real facts and needs of our contemporary Arabic world. However, according to Al-Alem, still there is a small party, which tries to think above these two directions, believing in the unity of humanity, while at the same time valuing the specific features of the different cultures. This position represents, in his view, a forefront not for the Arabic thought alone but also for the whole humanity. (P. 16-17)

Al-Alem finalizes his analysis of contemporary Arabic thought by his call to overcome the intellectual challenges of our thought through a revolutionary process of renovation. In addition, there is no renovation except through combining enlightenment of thought with modernizing the reality of Arabic life, through rational criticism of our historical view of ourselves,  through acquiring knowledge of the current scientific revolution, and through a major developmental project.

Finally, according to Al-Alem, this is not a utopian view but a call for freedom of thought and a radical change in our system of life based both on reality and theoretical thought. (P. 18)