The Theory of Crisis and the Crisis in a Theory: Intellectual History in Twentieth-Century Middle Eastern Studies



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The Theory of Crisis and the Crisis in a Theory:

Intellectual History in Twentieth-Century Middle Eastern Studies

Israel Gershoni
Introduction

Intellectual history as a sub-discipline of Middle Eastern studies was not in vogue in the last decades of the twentieth century. In fact, the study of the history of ideas and concepts produced by intellectual elites had for a long time been out of the forefront of the historical discipline. From the time that more materialistic, structural and quantitative sorts of history became popular in the profession in the 1960s and 1970s, and later with the profound changes that occurred in history studies and gave rise from the late 1970s to "new social history", followed by "the cultural turn", which led to "the new cultural history", intellectual history has been relegated to the sidelines of professional interest. Even during the 1980s when cultural history—which stresses, in fact almost sanctifies, text, representation, meaning and narrative—became hegemonic in the profession and took shape "as an upstart critique of the established social, economic and demographic histories",1 intellectual history remained peripheral in Middle Eastern studies. In spite of the significant impact on Middle Eastern studies that overall changes in the historical discipline had, there was no synchronic parallel between the developments. In the general study of history, intellectual history took on new life in the 1980s and 1990s, after a temporary crisis in the 1970s, and it was redefined as a "a new intellectual history after the linguistic turn."2 New methods and approaches (although often antithetical), the fertile influences of post-structuralist culturalism, "the return of literature" and the "invasion" of literary criticism into the study of history, Hayden White's narrativism, the radical contextualism of the Cambridge school espoused by Q. Skinner, J.G.A. Pocock, and J. Dunn, and, more recently, the study of collective memory, have given new momentum to “old” history and reshaped it into a more attractive, forward-looking discipline.3 In Middle Eastern studies, however, similar changes have not taken place, and intellectual history has not been rescued from its diminished status. This history, still regarded as a type of outmoded, conservative history and, worse yet, as Orientalist, has not undergone serious rethinking or significant revision. The extensive developments that occurred in European or American intellectual history have had almost no impact; Middle Eastern intellectual history has to a great extent been stagnant, and consequently it lacks attraction or the ability to arouse the enthusiasm of young scholars.

Apparently in our profession, the flight from any type of elitist history, certainly from the history of ideas produced by luminary intellectuals, the continued avid interest in "history from below", both socioeconomic and sociocultural, the irrepressible appeal of the insights offered by the Annales school, on the one hand, and by C. Geertz on the other, the ongoing emphasis on political history and the history of political economy, world systems and dependency theory, the reception and emulation of postmodernist and postcolonial paradigms and their application to the study of non-elitist groups, the growth of women's studies and the history of gender—have all combined to impede the recovery of intellectual history. What Murray M. Murphy stated at the end of the 1970s in regard to intellectual history in general continued to precisely characterize the dominant mood in Middle Eastern studies in the 1980s and 1990s: "Students no longer see intellectual history as the place 'where the action is', and the profession seems to concur that the 'cutting edge' of historical scholarship lies elsewhere" (in "the history of the inarticulate and the oppressed", what we today call the "subaltern").4 Although William J. Bouwsma's prophecy that "the history of meaning" would replace the "history of ideas" has been disproved in European and American history, it seems to have been fulfilled to a great extent in Middle Eastern studies.5 Discourse analysis, which originally came into being as an accepted historical method of the new intellectual history, has been “lowered” in Middle Eastern studies to the analysis of the discourses of minorities, women, popular culture, lower-class social groups such as workers and peasants, and literary texts—fictional, poetic, artistic and cinematic; in addition, nationalist discourses as well as the formal and informal ideologies found in the public discourse of the press have continued to be in vogue. Discourse analysis has also been found to be an effective research tool for investigating the clusters of thought of the radical political Islamic movements and organizations that attracted such a great deal of attention. Beyond this, however, the transition from dealing with the great producer to the "secondary" producer, and shifts of interest from production to patterns of consumption and reception, and from creative intellectual communities of discourse to communities of consumers and receivers and agencies of transmission, have not encouraged an interest in the intellectual history of high culture. Actually, none of the new historical agendas and methods in Middle Eastern studies, all undeniably important and innovative, could be defined as intellectual history or a history of the ideas produced by intellectuals. Perhaps as a result of the growing popularity of sociocultural histories, intellectual history seems to have been marginalized and suppressed.

Significantly, Edward Said's Orientalism (1978), a book that utilized the method of the history of ideas (generally European), or discourse analysis,6 had an immense paralyzing effect on and, in fact, contributed to the shrinkage of Middle Eastern intellectual history. After Orientalism, Middle Eastern intellectual history was identified as a sub-discipline that applied distinctly Orientalist methods, and it has since been viewed as an obsolete history in which confirmed Orientalism finds its fullest, most characteristic expression. With a good deal of justification, as we shall presently see, the history of ideas and intellectual history have been perceived as a direct continuation of the over-textualism and philological hermeneutics that marked classical Oriental studies, against which Said's Orientalism brilliantly inveighed. Even if it did so unintentionally, Orientalism rendered the history of "high" ideas in the Middle East suspect, “booby-trapped” with an Orientalist paradigm and contaminated by the “bug” of Orientalism.



In the first half of the twentieth century, however, and in particular from the 1920s, the intellectual ecology and the historiographical fashion were entirely different. In the 1930s and 1940s, the history of ideas and intellectual history were on the rise. After World War II, intellectual history reached new heights and in the 1950s was, as Robert Darnton so aptly put it, "the queen of the historical sciences”—a fashionable history highly regarded by the guild of historians. (Darnton also traced its decline in the 1960s and 1970s.)7 The effect of these developments on Middle Eastern studies was obvious, although intellectual historians of Middle Eastern studies, as we shall see, were not always conscious of it. In this early period, some of the finest Orientalists studying Islam and the societies and cultures of the Arab Middle East were intellectual historians or historians of ideas and concepts produced by high elites. In a certain sense, some of them could also be defined as cultural historians, since they were engaged in studying the elitist Muslim culture (or cultures). The paradigm that was common to Orientalist scholars in this group and which underpinned their work was that the synchronic internal understanding of "Islamic" or "Arab" ideas (they were indifferent to the need to place the ideas and texts they studied into sociopolitical contexts; some of them also showed little historical diachronic concern for chronological time and historical change) would not only provide the key to an understanding of the meaning and ideational quality of ideas themselves, but, moreover, that these ideas contained the secret to understanding the Arab-Islamic reality as a whole—patterns of social behavior, economic systems, institutions of political control, and cultural symbols and icons. The idea and the thinker—the intellectual and the intellectual elite—provided the sites for methodical study, and it was assumed that only from them was it possible to glean knowledge about the historical evolution of Muslim cultures and societies. Orientalist intellectual historians thus focused their efforts on understanding the text and the Islamic clusters of thought or systems of faith that, they posited, were autonomous, coherent and essential entities. Their concept of culture was that of kultur—a high, learned culture produced by first-tier groups of intellectuals. The expanding contacts between Muslim societies and Western civilization in the modern era, in addition to European intellectual influences that clearly affected Arab-Muslim intellectual elites, seem to have only enhanced the Orientalists’ sense that “ideas” were what held the promise of true inner knowledge of the modern world of Islam. Being essentially a European profession that embodies a vocation to describe and explain Islam and Muslim societies to Western readers, Orientalism has naturally tended to focus on the study of ideas, through which "Islam" and “the East” have been compared to and contrasted with "Christianity" (or "Judaism") and “the West”.

To be sure, there is an overall correspondence in this early period between the popularity of the history of ideas in the historical profession and its broad acceptance in Middle Eastern studies and the study of modern Islam; thus, it is all the more surprising that those actually engaged in this sub-discipline, i.e., Orientalist scholars, did not refer to these links and influences. It leaves one wondering at their apparent unawareness of their existence. The Orientalist scholars to be discussed in what follows developed their approach to the history of "Islamic ideas" without reference to the methods, theories and insights then evolving and taking shape in the professional schools of intellectual history and the history of ideas in Europe and America. It is sufficient to note that some of the intellectual historians of the era who made the greatest contributions to shaping the sub-discipline—Carl L. Becker in the 1930s, Arthur O. Lovejoy and the Journal of the History of Ideas under his editorship in the 1940s, Isaiah Berlin, Perry Miller and John Higham in the 1950s and 1960s—are not cited in any of the hundreds of works produced by these Orientalists. The fact that they all dealt with ideas in a method similar to Lovejoy’s, which entailed identifying clusters of "unit-ideas", defining their boundaries and analyzing their internal contents, makes this omission even more awkward.8 The essentialist efforts by Orientalists to prove the cultural uniqueness of “Islamic ideas” and, their detachment and even alienation from Western ("Judeo-Christian" or modern-scientific) worldviews, was certainly one of the main reasons for the severance of the study of Middle Eastern ideas from the history of ideas as studied in Europe and America.

The purpose of this article is to take a critical look at several of the characteristics that marked the development of the writing of Middle Eastern intellectual history in the twentieth century. It will trace the methodological and practical ways in which several of the more prominent and influential intellectual historians studied the intellectual evolution of the modern Middle East and represented it in their work. It will attempt to place these historians’ methods within the overall development of intellectual history and the history of ideas in the twentieth century.

In this limited framework it is, of course, impossible to cover the broad spectrum of the historiography of intellectuals and intellectual histories of Middle East societies and cultures as it evolved in the twentieth century. My comparison between works on Middle Eastern intellectual history and those on intellectual history dealing with Western—European and American—societies and cultures is of necessity only partial. I have chosen to address only one chapter, in my view a central one that engaged a considerable portion of this historiography and its writers.

By speaking of one central chapter, I refer to the large number of intellectual studies that focused on the historical development of a particular intellectual school of thought, commonly known as the “modernist school”, which was justifiably thought to have enormous influence on the way the intellectual, ideological, literary and artistic contours of the modern Arab print culture were shaped. In fact, this intellectual stream largely determined the identity of twentieth-century Arab culture, in particular Arab culture in Egypt. The founding father of this important intellectual “school” was Muhammad `Abduh, who was active and wrote at the end of the nineteenth century. At the beginning of the twentieth century, his immediate disciples, Qasim Amin and, more notably, Ahmad Lutfi al-Sayyid and the journal he edited, al-Jarida, imbued this “school” with modern European methods of thought. They brought about a radical reformist shift and introduced a secular, humanistic, feminist, liberal discourse, accompanied by the promotion of Egyptian territorial nationalist ideas. Rashid Rida, who saw himself as more faithful to `Abduh's Islamic modernism, steered the modernist school in a salafite Islamic reformist direction and thus became less important to the Western-oriented intellectual evolution of “`Abduh's school”, which served as a sort of ideological preparation for the community of discourse of the generation of intellectuals that reached maturity in the decade following the 1919 revolution. It was this new generation of intellectuals, led by talented luminaries in the fields of social thought, literature, journalism and the arts, such as Taha Husayn, Muhammad Husayn Haykal, `Abbas Mahmud al-`Aqqad, `Ali `Abd al-Raziq, Ibrahim `Abd al-Qadir al-Mazini, Mansur Fahmi, Ahmad Amin, Salama Musa, and the somewhat younger Tawfiq al-Hakim, that gave the modernist school its full ideological historical expression. Beginning in the 1920s and for several decades, members of this modernist community of discourse controlled the centers of power in the field of print culture production. They manipulated the major production and dissemination agencies of the print media—newspapers, magazines, books and other texts—and turned them into the hegemonic forces in the cultural, literary and artistic arenas. To a large extent, they determined the contours, themes, symbols and genres of the Arab-Egyptian print culture.

Western Orientalist scholarship, which, as I mentioned, included the finest intellectual historians and scholars of the history of ideas, developed what I define as a “theory” or “narrative” of “intellectual crisis” as a conceptual framework for a description and explanation of the historical evolution of this prominent intellectual cohort. According to the theory, the 1918-1933 period marked the most productive, creative and successful years for the modernist intellectuals. They succeeded in producing a clear, Westernized, modernist, secular, progressive and liberal message, and in imparting it to broad readerships in Egypt and the larger Arab print world. Moreover, they laid the intellectual foundations for a modern scientific culture based on freedom of expression, cultural pluralism, rationalist thought, and scientific and critical literary methods. In addition, these intellectuals supported a parliamentary, constitutional form of government and democratic institutions to secure both individual and group civil rights. This local scientific culture attempted to maintain a vigorous, constructive dialogue with Western civilization and aimed to become an integral part of it.

According to the crisis narrative, however, from the mid-1930s, and more so during the 1940s and 1950s, the modernist school faced a severe, pernicious crisis that led it into cultural disarray and ideological confusion, and brought it to an impasse. The majority of its members retreated from their previous modernist and progressive positions and instead began to concentrate their intellectual efforts on writing Islamiyyat, popular Islamic literature about early Islamic society and the Islamic heroes of the seventeenth century, the Prophet Muhammad chief among them. This shift was, according to the narrative, a forced and apologetical attempt to prove the "modernity" and "progressivism" of classical Islamic culture and to show that its founders had constructed a complete system of values, principles and norms that were an authentic alternative to those created by modern Western culture, which now came to be seen as "foreign", "dominating" and "colonialist."

However, every attempt to effect the Islamic turn and to further the project of Islamiyyat literature as a basis on which to build a modern culture met with complete, humiliating failure. The narrative of crisis placed the major historical responsibility for this failure on the modernist intellectuals themselves. For the authors of the narrative, not only were the intellectuals' efforts to return to early Islam and to revive it as a contemporaneous, normative cultural system unsuccessful in offering a sound alternative to modern Western culture, they had also embroiled the modernist school in an intellectual crisis that undermined the self-confidence of its members, destroyed the ideal of a progressive society and led the modernists down a dead-end road. The “crisis” was seen as a fatal disease from which the modernist intellectuals never recovered, and the result, according to the narrative, was that the entire modernist movement declined, crumbled and finally perished.

At the end of the 1940s, the narrative continues, intellectuals began to abandon the cultural field and the political arena, making way for the rise of populist, radical Islamist forces and revolutionary military movements. In the 1950s, these growing "non-intellectual forces" promoted authoritarian, ultra-nationalistic and anti-Western political cultures that stifled intellectual expressions promoting liberal modernism or scientific culture of the Western brand and, the narrative concludes, they liquidated the intellectual modernist legacy.

Needless to say, the crisis narrative is a Western academic product. Even though its ranks include scholars of Middle Eastern origin, the narrative of the intellectual crisis itself is an example par excellence of a Western Orientalist approach to the intellectual history of the twentieth-century Middle East, as are its modes of interpretation of this history and the meanings it invests it with.


Inventing the Narrative of Crisis: Gibb and his Orientalist Legacy

In the first half of the twentieth century, especially from the 1920s through the

early 1960s, Hamilton A.R. Gibb played a key role in shaping modern Islamic and Middle Eastern studies in the West. His dominance in the field was undeniable. His formative influence is evident in nearly every work by contemporary scholars, and his imprint on the works of scholars in the 1940s and 1950s is clear. Many researchers who were not students of Gibb also counted themselves among his disciples and followers, made extensive use of his writings, and often explicitly acknowledged his great influence on them in the introductions to their books. The subjects in which Gibb took an interest and wrote about encompassed far broader areas than the history of ideas, but his systematic treatment of the evolution of ideas, or more precisely, the mapping of “Islamic” ideas and patterns of thought, held a central position in all his research and writing. In this article, I relate to Gibb as an Orientalist historian who invested great effort in an analysis of the systems of thought, attitudes, concepts and worldviews produced by "Islamic" intellectual elites. From this standpoint, Gibb is certainly be considered an intellectual historian who deals with ideas and their producers in Islamic societies and cultures. Significantly, though, throughout the span of his intellectual career Gibb wrote intellectual history with complete indifference towards the theoretical, methodological and practical developments contemporary in Western intellectual history.

Gibb began his academic career in the 1920s and soon published a series of articles and books on diverse topics, attesting to his wide range of interests. Some of the more prominent of these works considered the processes by which ideas were then taking shape in the Islamic world.9 One of his best-known studies from this early period was "Studies in Contemporary Arabic Literature", published as a series of four articles in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies of the London Institute between 1928 and 1933. This comprehensive study, which today might be categorized as a general survey, was a pioneering attempt to depict the major intellectual and literary trends and schools that had developed in Egypt and in Greater Syria of the modern era, from the nineteenth century to the 1920s. As Albert Hourani justifiably noted, Gibb’s studies on contemporary Arabic literature "were the first attempt by a scholar trained in the European tradition of literary study to apply critical standards to the new writing in Arabic."10 Overall, the four-part survey is historical and traces the stages of literary and intellectual developments, but actually it amounts to four static pictures that “photographed” the states or stages of these developments. Gibb devoted very little space to an analysis of the processes of change and the extra-intellectual political and social reasons for them; rather, his work is a textual analysis of ideas, presented alongside brief portraits of their producers and authors, the intellectuals.

In the first part of his study, "The Nineteenth Century", Gibb noted the leading role played by intellectuals such as Muhammad `Abduh, `Abdalla Nadim, Qasim Amin and Ahmad Fathi Zaghlul in creating a "movement of revival" of Arab thought and literature and reconstructing them as modern culture. He also dealt with the "modernization of Muslim religious thought" (which, at this stage, Gibb described sympathetically). He emphasized the unique contribution of Syrian and Lebanese immigrant intellectuals, chief among them Jurji Zaydan, in furthering the processes of modernization and Westernization of the culture and in developing a modern press as the major medium of cultural expression.11 In the second part, "Manfaluti and the 'New Style'", Gibb focused on an analysis of the neo-classicist prose and poetic works of Mustafa Lutfi al-Manfaluti and their contribution to changes in the methods and style of Arabic literary expression.12 In 1933, Gibb concluded his study with an article devoted to a description of the development of "the Egyptian novel".13

It is the third part of this study, however, that was the cornerstone of Gibb's discussion and is of interest to us here. "Egyptian Modernists", published in 1929, was an initial, broad look at what Gibb defined as "the rise of a distinctive Egyptian school of writers, which, from small beginnings in the years immediately preceding the war, gathered strength in the interval, and emerged into sudden prominence on the resumption of literary activities."14 Gibb showed that this intellectual avant garde, whose "training ground" prior to World War I was al-Jarida, under the auspices of Ahmad Lutfi al-Sayyid, followed by a more modest preparatory activity during the war years, entered the field of written culture after the war and dominated it in the 1920s. Gibb was the first to define this group as a "new school". In his view, it was the first "well-defined literary movement” in modern Arab culture. While cognizant of the divisions and diverse intellectual trends within this group, Gibb nonetheless viewed it as "one school" with common and "distinctive aims" and "shared characteristics".15 Specifically, Gibb focused on describing the intellectual development of Muhammad Husayn Haykal, Taha Husayn, Mahmud `Azmi, Ahmad Dayf, Mustafa `Abd al-Raziq,`Abbas Mahmud al-`Aqqad, Ibrahim `Abd al-Qadir al-Mazini and Salama Musa.16

Gibb had high hopes for these intellectuals, both individually and collectively, as a community of modernist discourse. In his estimation, these talented young writers were rising to new heights of intellectual sophistication and bringing about a revolution in Arabic literature. He was convinced that owing not only to its artistic talents and capabilities, but also to the depth of its internalization of Western norms and values, this group was far superior to its predecessors. The members of the "Egyptian school", he stated, "are striving to give greater depth and range to modern Arabic writing, and to rescue it from the fluent superficiality to which a literature based on journalism is particularly liable."17 Gibb examined the journalistic, literary and artistic writings of the members of this group and expressed particular admiration for Haykal and Taha Husayn. He praised the high quality of the new newspapers and cultural magazines they established in the 1920s and found much of interest in their books and articles inveighing against the rigid patterns of the religious orthodox tradition and presenting new methods and themes in order to construct a modern culture in their place. In his view, they were aiming "at applying modern aesthetic and literary criteria to the rich stores of old Arabic literature, as well as to modern productions, and at bringing out all that they can contribute to the building-up of a new civilization."18

Above all, Gibb’s third article was filled with optimism and great confidence in the ability of "Egyptian modernists" to rapidly engender the modernization of Arabic literature. Gibb lauded their originality, innovativeness, courage, intellectual integrity and commitment to the aggressive renewal of culture and literature. As far as he was concerned, intellectual or literary modernization meant the rapid secularization and Westernization of the Arabic print culture and the creation of an Arabic literature, patterned after models of European literature, that would internalize modern artistic and literary genres and adopt methods of literary criticism and rationalistic, scientific techniques of text analysis.19 Gibb was convinced that the modernists were capable of reviving and renewing literary traditions from the rich Arab-Islamic literary store and integrating them in a functional manner into the modern culture they were creating.20 In his article, Gibb draws our attention to several of the modernist intellectuals’ more influential projects, such as Haykal's idea to create a national Egyptian literature based on building a particular, neo-pharaonic national identity, or Taha Husayn's radical polemic, Fi al-Shi`r al-Jahili (On Pre-Islamic Poetry, 1926), which applied Cartesian criteria to a critical examination of Arabic jahili poetry and undermined traditional orthodox Islamic precepts.21 Gibb also expressed his conviction that the educated public in Egypt would support the intellectuals’ modernist agenda; as proof, he pointed out that their circle of readers was rapidly expanding.22 He concluded the article with lavish praise for the great accomplishments of the "Egyptian modernists", asserted that they had "brought into Arabic literature new values and ideals" and placed it in a position to make a “distinctive contribution of Arabs and Egyptians to modern civilization", similar to the contribution made by Russian literature to modern European culture.23 According to Gibb, the modernist intellectuals were "conscious that they stand at the beginnings of this development, that they are precursors of that newer Arabic literature yet to be." This new literature, he continued, was then being imparted by the creative elite, "with increasing success and a strong assurance of ultimate victory”, to broad sectors of society; its goal, he wrote, was to "convert and educate the people".24 Quoting from al-`Aqqad, Gibb declared, in the solemn tone of someone experiencing and recording a genuine cultural revolution, that the aim of the intellectuals was not to create an "intellectual culture", but rather "a natural culture, a culture of progress" for the people as a whole.25

Gibb's somewhat naive enthusiasm for Egyptian modernists was attended by a strong personal note. Born in Alexandria (1895), Gibb spent his childhood and part of his adolescence in that cosmopolitan Mediterranean city and personally witnessed the encounter between Arab-Islamic and European cultures. He undoubtedly felt an intimate link to the Egyptian intellectuals of his generation (most of whom were only a few years his senior). Although they wrote and were active mainly in Cairo, Gibb tended to regard them as Alexandrian cosmopolitan humanists. Some of them he knew personally from his frequent return visits to Egypt during the interwar period. A few of them, and Taha Husayn in particular, shared their intellectual experiences and literary and artistic quandaries with him. Others were in the habit of sending him their published works with a personal dedication written inside.26 It is difficult to avoid the impression that Gibb's affinity for them and sympathy for their work made him feel he ought to serve as their spokesman in Western academic circles. For him, this seemed to mean presenting their intellectual and literary projects in a complimentary, even laudatory manner.

Charles C. Adams' Islam and Modernism in Egypt was a further development of Gibb's themes as well as a sort of initial canonization of them. His book was published in 1933, the same year that the final article in Gibb’s series came out. Adams noted Gibb's direct influence on his work, and he considered his later studies on contemporary Arabic literature "admirable" and used them as a guiding framework for his own work.27 Adams extended and deepened the "story" of the intellectual history of modern Egypt, covering the period from the last quarter of the nineteenth century to the early 1930s. His method, an adaptation of Gibb's approach, was to present the intellectual biographies and works of the pioneers of Egyptian modernism. He placed Muhammad `Abduh at the center of the circle, presenting him as the founding father of the Islamic reformism that would pave the way for the development of Islamic modernism and for the patterns of thought of the secular, liberal, Westernizing, nationalist schools that would advocate social reforms. In fact, Adams institutionalized the sub-narrative (later accepted by many other scholars) that regarded `Abduh as the trunk from which the branches of modern Egyptian thought, as well as a large part of the intellectual schools of the Arab Middle East, grew.28 He noted the contributions of Qasim Amin, Ahmad Lutfi al-Sayyid and al-Jarida in fostering `Abduh's rationalist and reformist legacy (although unlike Gibb, he also noted the important contributions of Rashid Rida and al-Manar to the development of Islamic modernism in Egypt and in the Arab world).29 What is relevant to the current discussion, however, is that Adams concluded his description of this intellectual evolution with the emergence of what he viewed as a new, dynamic, assertive and extremely capable intellectual generation of "young Egyptian modernists", the apogee of the modernist school that began with `Abduh's pioneering activity and then matured with theirs.30 Adams looked favorably and admiringly on these young intellectuals "who are displaying a marked literary activity of a progressive, in some cases extremely liberal, tendency."31

It is prudent to bear in mind that Adams' book was essentially the first part of his doctoral dissertation, which was devoted primarily to Muhammad `Abduh. Its other part, never published, was an English translation of `Ali `Abd al-Raziq's controversial book, Al-Islam wa-Usul al-Hukm (Islam and the Principles of Government, 1925).32 Adams stated that his interest in the modernist movement was his search, among `Abduh and his disciples, for "the origin of these revolutionary views" that al-Raziq and other modernists expressed. He asserted that `Abduh founded this intellectual movement (like Gibb, he calls it "the Egyptian modernist school"), and that it had reached its peak with the intellectual group that dominated the cultural field in Egypt in the 1920s and early 1930s.33

As one may expect, Adams, following Gibb, devoted the last chapter in his book to an extensive discussion of "the young Egyptian modernists", among whom he counted Muhammad Husayn Haykal and al-Siyasa, `Abbas Mahmud al-`Aqqad, Ibrahim `Abd al-Qadir al-Mazini, Mansur Fahmi, Mustafa `Abd al-Raziq, `Ali `Abd al-Raziq and Taha Husayn (devoting special attention to the latter two and their writings challenging Islamic orthodoxy). He surveyed these intellectuals’ activity and writing and provided the reader with a personal portrait of each of them. For him, their intellectual products were the ideological culmination of Egyptian modernism, which had originated with "`Abduh's doctrines".34 Again following Gibb, Adams viewed Taha Husayn as the best representative of the radical, yet liberal modernist school that was fomenting a revolution in Egyptian Arab culture.35

About twenty years after the publication of Studies in Contemporary Arabic Literature, Gibb published his Modern Trends in Islam (1947).36 Based on his 1945 lectures at the University of Chicago, the book was a turning point in the now mature Gibb's Orientalist work, and it had an enormous influence on the development of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies in the 1950s, 1960s and beyond. R. P. Mitchell, for example, in his classic work on the Muslim Brothers (published in 1969, more than two decades after Gibb’s work) wrote that Modern Trends in Islam was "the first and yet most important [work] of all" on modern Islam.37 For decades, nearly every scholar who would conduct a study on the subject, or related subjects, concurred with the themes developed by Gibb in this book. Modern Trends in Islam was important mainly for Gibb’s attempt to sketch, for the first time, a complete map of the various modern Islamic schools and trends and to describe the intellectuals’ ideas and frames of mind as they grappled with modern reality. Gibb's erudition and vast knowledge of

medieval Islamic civilization were invaluable in helping him to interpret the modern trends and their affinity with classic Islamic systems of thought. Gibb identified, organized and catalogued the "currents of religious thought among Muslims of the present day", introduced hierarchical order into them, defined their ideological essence, and examined whether these thoughts were adaptable to the modern era. He created the first coherent picture that enabled Western readers to familiarize themselves with the complex and heterogeneous system of Islamic ideas and their producers, and their organizational manifestation in specific movements and societies.

Gibb’s tendency, however, was to draw a synchronic map of Islamic currents,

a snapshot of their state at the end of the nineteenth and during the first half of the twentieth centuries. Although recounting the biographies of the fathers of Islamic modernism, such as Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Muhammad `Abduh and Rashid Rida (for which Gibb relied on Adams) and drawing historical comparisons between Islamic modernist concepts and medieval Islamic ideas, in the main his work was a internalist textualist analysis of ideological situations in the modern era. Gibb exhibited scant sensitivity, if any at all, for the specific changes occurring

in the ideas of Islamic modernism or their historical dynamism, the results of

their encounters with changing political and social environments, or political and social explanations of the changes that took place in the texts and their producers over time. Gibb examined "modern trends" through an analysis of "unit-ideas": "the religious tension in Islam", "the principles of modernism", "modernist religion", "law and society", and the like. His approach was strikingly different, however, from Lovejoy's history of ideas, which was then at the height of its popularity. Lovejoy dealt with the transformation of ideas or clusters of thought along the time axis and their casting off of one form and taking on another according to changing environments and new contexts.38 While Lovejoy examined “unit-ideas” in historical time, Gibb examined them in space. Thus, if Lovejoy could be considered a geologist or archaeologist of ideas, Gibb, then, was a morphologist or geographer of them.

Gibb had an edge over Lovejoy in that he created an overall map that organized the "modern trends" of Islam and provided the reader with a navigational tool for understanding them within a broad geographical space that covered the Middle East and Asia. But his greatest weakness was his tendency to ahistorically describe and explain ideas, ignoring the specific political and social contexts in which they emerged, formed, developed and faded. Additionally, he failed to sufficiently compare the various trends of Islamic modernism with other intellectual streams and ideological forces active within the field and consequently was unable to measure the proportional weight of modernist Islamic trends within the Muslim societies and cultures he dealt with. It is no coincidence, for example, that Modern Trends in Islam does not deal with Iran and Turkey. Gibb's explanation for the exclusion of these two societies from his discussion is a weak excuse at most.39 As a rule, his discussion of nationalism and the emergence of the nation-state as a dominant characteristic of the Middle East in the first half of the twentieth century is amazingly brief, partial and superficial. The very expanse of Gibb’s map led him to over-generalize, make ahistorical leaps and, as a result, reach rash conclusions.

The major importance of Gibb’s book for our purposes is the change in attitude it showed towards the modernist movement and the modernists. Gibb now harshly and often vehemently criticized modernist trends and ideas in his analyses. It is also noteworthy that his discussion of "modernism" and "modernist religion" was not restricted only to "Egyptian modernists"; Gibb also brought into his discussion Islamic modernist schools in other parts of the Arab Middle East, and in North Africa and Asia, in particular Indonesia, India and Afghanistan. In his general discussion, Gibb refrained from naming the "Egyptian modernists" or dealing with their individual activities and writings (although one can find occasional mention of Taha Husayn, `Ali `Abd al-Raziq, and indirect references to Muhammad Husayn Haykal's Islamic writings), but they are present, nonetheless. Gibb's aggressive criticism was leveled first and foremost against the Islamiyyat literature produced by Egyptian intellectuals in the 1930s and 1940s, in particular the works on the prophet Muhammad and the Khulafa' al-Rashidun written by Haykal, Taha Husayn, Tawfiq al-Hakim and al-`Aqqad. Gibb regarded the intellectual effort "to return to early Islam" and the intellectuals’ admiration of the personality of the Prophet as a cult of sterile apologetics that represented a disappointing retreat from the modernist, Western-oriented paradigm based on commitment to secular, scientific, rationalist and liberal principles.40 Gibb was "shocked" by the modernists’ “apologetic” methods of argumentation. Their attempt to rely on the assumptions of "Western liberalism" and “to interpret Islam in terms of liberal humanitarian ideas and values" seemed to him groundless.41 In his view, the modernists had become enamored of a romantic mind-set and a "Romantic outlook" which resulted in irrationalism, emotionalism, populism, and arbitrary subjectivity.42 They had renounced textual criticism and analytical methods of empirical historical thinking, and this, he posited, "opened the way to the rejection of objective standards in all fields of thought."43 Gibb, who thought of himself as a neo-classicist—an advocate of the values of the Enlightenment, objectivity, rationality, and historical empiricism—revealed a flagrant intolerance of Romanticism and a large measure of hostility towards what he viewed, rightly or wrongly, as an expression of the romantic, demonic, destructive force that resulted from its "exalting the imagination against reason."44

In Gibb’s analysis, the intellectual retreat from the principles of the Enlightenment also caused severe damage to the tradition of orthodox Islam as it had been experienced and practiced by generations of Muslim believers. As far as Gibb was concerned, the intellectuals had undermined the foundations of canonical Islam by adopting the "Protestant principle" of "the right of free examination of the sources and the application of modern thought to their interpretation." They denied the classical Islamic principles of interpretation (fiqh, tafsir, hadith) and broke the chain (silsila), "irrespective of the constructions of early doctors and legalists", teachers and witnesses, sweeping aside "the old classical science of tradition with its careful control" and replacing it with “purely subjective appreciation".45 In doing so, they proved "their disregard of all objective standards of investigation and of historical truth" which, Gibb pointed out, were also part of their Islamic legacy.46 By disavowing the more solid foundations of Islamic faith, they were severely undermining Islam's ability and that of broad communities of believers to defend themselves against the tyranny of internal rulers as well as against external threats.47 Indeed, as Hourani had so adeptly done, Gibb accused the modernist intellectuals of "trahison des clercs" and of "exploiting religious feeling for political ends."48

Gibb, it should be emphasized, made his readers aware that the modernists were acting and writing under the immense pressures of modern life, that they were defending Islam against Western slander and stereotyping, that they had repulsed an attack by a Christian missionary on the Islamic faith and Muhammad, that they had challenged "petrified orthodox Islamic thought", and that their Islamic modernist writings were becoming increasingly popular within broad publics of educated middle classes whose faith in Islam had been weakened and who, through Islamiyyat literature, were once again relating to Islam as a culture and an authentic collective identity.49 But none of these extenuating circumstances dulled the edge of Gibb's trenchant criticism. He mercilessly lashed out at the modernists in derogatory language: "The liberal modernists…are theologically null"; "that intellectual confusion with which the whole modernist movement is burdened"; "the intellectual confusions and the paralyzing romanticism which cloud the minds of the modernists of today"; "the superficiality of its historical method"; "in their historical outlook there is no external control to restrain the exuberance of the romantic imagination”—these are but a few examples of Gibb's critical rage.50 In his view, the romanticism that dominated modernist intellectual thought was sterile, destructive and, moreover, attested to the grievous crisis that was assailing it and its producers; he surmised that the creative modernism of the 1920s had deteriorated into destructive romanticism by the 1940s. "The modernists," he charged, have committed "a profound disservice to Islam…So far from guiding Muslim thought into this creative channel [of empirical historical thought, the acceptance of the premises and principles of modern science, the presentation of facts as they are and the adoption of critical methods underpinned by Western culture but also by classical Islamic traditions], they have fastened on it still more firmly the shackles of the romantic imagination and encouraged it to interpret history in terms of the capricious impulses of the moment."51 Indeed, Gibb's anger at the modernists and his outspoken criticism of them revealed his Orientalism, essentialist moralism, and patronizing value judgments. Muhammad Husayn Haykal had already expressed this keenly in 1933 in his critique of Gibb's Whither Islam, when he stated that Gibb's writing was also guided by political motives: "Those same respected [Orientalist] scientists serve their own countries; they serve science and truth, but from the political vantage point of their countries and the viewpoint of Western civilization which they aspire to see as the hegemonic civilization of the world."52

What led Gibb, in the late 1940s, to hurl this venomous criticism against modernism and to express such profound disillusionment with the "Egyptian modernists" who, in the 1920s, had embodied for him the great promise of the creation of a modern culture in Egypt and throughout the Arab world? How can one explain this fundamental change of opinion that produced the narrative of crisis and anchored it as a paradigm for generations of intellectual historians to come? Gibb, interestingly, made no serious attempt to explain either the historical changes that occurred in the Middle East and Egypt in the 1930s and 1940s (which other scholars after him identified and studied in an effort to explain the changes in intellectual attitudes) or the reasons for the change in his own attitude towards Egyptian and Islamic modernism. In the 1940s, Gibb began to emphasize in his writing the anti-Western mood that he believed was spreading throughout educated Arab publics. In his view, Arab nationalism, to which he devoted increasing attention, was a clear reflection of this anti-Western trend. Although Gibb himself expressed qualified support for the ideal of Arab unity (albeit not without warning against the "irrational", "intolerant", "destructive" and "explosive" potentials embodied in "pan-Arabism") and often criticized the patterns of British imperialistic rule, he still found it difficult to accept the growing Arab criticism of Western culture and the view that it was a foreign, imperialistic culture.53 Beyond his disappointment with the intellectuals themselves, Gibb was also discouraged by the failure of the "Westernized classes" to transmit the modernist message to the masses that remained alienated from and hostile to Western culture. He lamented the fact that the assimilation of modernity was still the province of an elitist minority. With the rise of populist nationalism and mass culture, the alienation from and loathing of everything Western had greatly intensified. To his dismay, Gibb found that this anti-Westernism often included criticism of him, other Orientalists, and Oriental studies itself, which had all come to be seen as byproducts of an imperialistic mentality.54

There was definitely a personal element to be found in Gibb’s vehement criticism: he was personally disappointed by the modernist intellectuals, with the exception perhaps of Taha Husayn, who seemed to him to be the last Mohican "to say outspokenly" that if Egypt wanted to survive in the modern world, "the only way is to share Western civilization in its good aspects and its bad aspects, in what we like and what we do not like."55 This was the disillusionment of a staunch admirer (and spokesman) with those who, in his view, had failed to take up the historical and cultural charge handed them on a silver platter, and who had thus missed the opportunity to carry out their life mission. One expression of this bitter disappointment is the fact that Gibb, after 1940, rarely visited Egypt.56 Whatever the reasons for this change, however, the result was that in Modern Trends in Islam Gibb laid the foundation for the theory of crisis and the narrative of the intellectuals' failure. It was Gibb who created the dichotomy between the so-called lovely 1920s, the finest hour of the Egyptian modernists, and the 1930s and 1940s, the hour of their apparent decline and confusion, when the modernist movement became, for him, mired in a severe crisis reflected in a romantic, apologetic, paralyzed modernist discourse and consequently fell into "moral bankruptcy".57



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