Do we need a new Enlightenment?
Do we need a new Enlightenment? The modern Enlightenment emerged in Europe and is a European project in spatiotemporal terms. But the Islamic world had its own Enlightenment. The European and Islamic Enligh - tenments both rest on the primacy of reason. If Muslims would only think back to their own Enlightenment, this could provide a basis for building bridges between Muslims and Europeans and perhaps depriving fundamentalists of their ideology.
By Bassam Tibi
The question 'Do we need a (new) Enlightenment?' is not simply an academic question, for three reasons. Firstly, from a historical point of view, the Enlightenment is part of Europe's identity. So abandoning the Enlightenment would mean abandoning Europe's identity. My book Europa ohne Identität? (Europe without Identity?), published in 1998, is a defence of the Enlightenment. In it I refer to the Jewish philosopher Max Horkheimer, who fled to America in 1933 but returned to Frankfurt in 1950. In his Critical Theory he warned: "The identity of Europe is the Enlightenment; defending this identity is the duty of every thinking being". Secondly, in today's post-Cold War period, we need global peace and global democracy. When people from different cultures and civilizations come together, they need to have something in common. If they do not have this, they end up talking at each other rather than to each other. Talking to each other means addressing problems and looking for solutions. Any dialogue without this cannot be truly called dialogue. Enlightenment should provide a common foundation for global discourse and global peace. Thirdly, I am a Muslim and a migrant. But I did not come here as a migrant. I came here to study and planned to return home. But for various personal and political reasons I ended up staying in Germany and becoming a migrant. Today we are experiencing a huge flood of migrants to Europe. A few figures: in 1950 there were fewer than 1 million Muslims living in Europe. Around 800,000 were living mainly in France and the UK, a hangover from these countries' colonial past. Very few Muslims were living in other countries such as Austria and Germany. In 1962, when I arrived in Frankfurt, there were at most two or three hundred Muslims in the city. Today, 35 percent of Frankfurt's population is non-German. And the Islamic community makes up the majority of these. This means that Islam has arrived in Europe. We have to find ways of communicating with it and integrating Islam and Muslims. But on what basis? I believe it should be on the basis of the Enlightenment. Do we need a new Enlightenment? I have divided my article into four sections, each of which begins with a particular theory.
My first theory is that we live in an age of nihilism. This means that we do not have a particular value orientation that binds us all together. Some people have a value orientation which completely or partially guides their lives. But it seems to me that most people are living in an age of nihilism in which the Enlightenment finds itself coming under fire. Criticism of the Enlightenment comes from Postmodernism. Postmodernism affords other cultures almost unconditional respect in the name of cultural relativism. This is set against European thought as universalism, in as much as it requires universal validity, and also discredits what should be relativized. Respect for other cultures means accepting what they produce. It means relativizing, which includes human rights. In Europe, torture is a breach of human rights. In Turkey – I know, because I have lived there – torture is a normal part of police interrogation.
I know from my time in Damascus that beatings on the soles of the feet are incredibly painful. People soon start talking. They say this is not a violation of human rights. Respect for other cultures seems to require that we agree to keep quiet about human rights violations. A few years back, a court in Frankfurt rejected a divorce petition from a woman who had been badly beaten by her husband. The judge justified her verdict by claiming it was necessary to respect other cultures and stating that in Islamic countries it is normal for husbands to beat their wives. The verdict was overturned. But this demonstrates the cultural relativism of Postmodernists who insist on the end of the Enlightenment. Perhaps we need a new Enlightenment, perhaps not. Whatever the case, we have to defend the Enlightenment against the attacks of the Postmodernists. Enlightenment is not a dogma. There is nothing that cannot change. Even enlightenment can change. But it has one principle that cannot and should not change. In his book The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, (in my view, his most important work), Jürgen Habermas quotes Immanuel Kant when he describes reason "as the supreme tribunal, before which anything that claims validity must be justified." This principle of the Enlightenment has not changed – if enlightenment is to truly remain enlightenment. The primacy of reason: when I say something is right or wrong, this can only be decided through the application of reason. Noone has a monopoly on reason and rationality. Whether or not something is rational is revealed through discourse. And I believe this was also the case in Islam.
"The origins of the disenchantment of the world and the Enlightenment are in Europe. But the Enlightenment must have a universal validity that is removed from its roots and stylized as an archetype in which the spatio-temporal dimension has been neutralized."
It is not only in Europe that people believe in the primacy of reason. It is also defended by people in Africa, Asia, Latin America and in Islam. In this respect, Max Weber speaks of the primacy of the "disenchantment of the world". In his Discourse, Habermas applies a momentous abstraction to this understanding of Modernity. He separates Modernity from its modern European roots and stylizes it as an archetype in which the spatio-temporal dimension has been neutralized. In Damascus I learned to view the world through the lens of the Koran, through my religion. The same applies to Christians, Buddhists, and so on. Yet, if it starts raining, I know that it is a natural phenomenon that I can explain by reason. At one time I lived in Morocco, a country that sporadically suffers from drought. Its people pray: "Allah, Allah, send us rain!" It depends on Allah whether it rains or not! Of course it has nothing to do with Allah. Rainfall has a scientific explanation. The origins of the disenchantment of the world and the Enlightenment are in Europe. But the Enlightenment must have a universal validity that is removed from its roots and stylized as an archetype in which the spatio-temporal dimension has been neutralized.
There is an essential, and not only academic, difference between universality and universalism. Every 'ism' designates an ideology. For example, Islam is a religion, Islamism is an ideology. The same is true of universalism. I am against universalism but for universality. This differentiation is not just academic nitpicking. Universality and universal refer to things that every human being shares, such as the need to drink water.
Reason is the supreme tribunal
This is not African, European or Asian. Similarly, a universal human right is the right not to be tortured. People say this is a European idea. Its roots are in Europe, but we can and must defend this right and this idea as a universal standard in Immanuel Kant's sense that human reason is the supreme tribunal, before which everything that claims validity must be justified and applied universally. For example, when I hold lectures in Islamic countries, it is always possible for someone to point to the Koran and say "You're wrong. In the Koran Allah says..." There is a contradiction, a conflict, between beliefs and human reason. How should we address this problem? By making human reason the supreme tribunal and not the text of a holy book, whether it is the Bible, the Talmud or the Koran. In an age of globalization, people are moving closer together than ever before. I can cite an example of this from my own experience. In 1992 I lived in Dakar in Senegal. While living there, I developed my concept of European Islam. 85 percent of Senegalese are Muslims. I lived among them, observed how they practised Islam and visited other areas of the country. In rural areas, barter is more important than money. I met some young people and swap - ped some spare shirts and trousers for some very beautiful wooden figures.
I had the following exchange with a young boy of 10 or 11: "Monsieur, vous êtes raciste!" "Moi, raciste!", I said, "Allah preserve me, I'm a Muslim like you. I've got white skin, but I'm still a Muslim. What makes you think I'm a racist?" The boy replied: "I gave you a great wooden figure and you gave me a shirt with an old-fashioned collar. It's out of fa - shion." The boy had never been to Europe. So how did he know that? Because there are magazines, television, mobile devices. Young people see and know what's in and what's out. The collar, the shirt, that I tried to swap was out, no-one wore shirts like that anymore. This is an example of how people are being brought together more closely than at any time in human history, an example of globalization. When people come together so closely, there has to be a minimum amount of true commonality if they are to get along. This minimum includes democracy, enlighten ment and cultural modernity. We have to build bridges. In 2012 I published a book entitled Islam and Global Conflict , with the subtitle: Conflict and Cross-Civilizational Bridging. This means delving beneath the surface and talking to each other about the causes of problems and about justice. We have to ask questions such as: what is justice, what is injustice? Justice is a normative structure. We need an understanding of justice that can be shared globally. In other words, justice must have or be given a secular basis. In 1993 an international conference on human rights was held in Vienna. The Saudi foreign minister's position was: "Human rights based only on sharia law". We should not only look at Europe, but also further afield. Why should a Hindu or a Confucian accept sharia law? There is no basis for this, no reason. We need a communal set of values when creating a basis for the law and how it is practised. The law is a value system. My second theory is that today there is a synchrony between structural globalization and cultural fragmentation. This may sound academic, but it has a significant sociopolitical impact. Europe's financial crisis affects America, Asia, Africa and Australia. Globalization is expressed in information technology, politics and communication. But alongside this, globalization is not expressed in cultures. My American colleagues are always talking about 'cultural globalization'. In America it is possible to be a straight talker without insulting anyone: "Come on, stop now. This is nonsense!" Everyone wears jeans, has a cell phone, wears fashionable shirts, drinks Coca Cola. This is often con - sidered to be cultural globalization. One of my colleagues, Benjamin Barber, has written a book entitled Jihad versus McWorld . McWorld is a world that shares everything. But Muslims are waging jihad against McWorld. A few years ago we were both in the United Arab Emirates and debated this issue. The fundamentalists I have met in places such as Egypt all eat burgers and drink Coca Cola. But they want the introduction of sharia law. How do they reconcile this? My colleague does not understand this. But culture is not consumption; culture is a production of meaning. This is something I learned from the great American anthropologist Clifford Geertz in Princeton. However, many American social scientists interpret cultural behaviour as consumer behaviour. The fact that people consume the same goods does not mean they espouse the same values. Values and value systems arise from the production of meaning. So there is cultural fragmentation. People may live in the same age and be linked via networks and globalization, but they still have different value systems. I think this cultural fragmentation harbours conflicts. Cultural tensions arise because of the incompatibility of different value systems. A good example of this is the way court proceedings may involve Muslims invoking their faith, as often happens in Germany. The accused says to the judge: "I don't accept it. I'm a Muslim. I only abide by sharia law, you're not a Muslim. You are basing your verdict on German law. That is not my law. So I accept neither you nor your verdict." When these kinds of tensions are politicized – and thus also become problems for cultural policy – then we have a conf lict, a problem. Then we are in difficulties. My third theory is that enlightenment, or as Max Weber terms it, the disenchant - ment of the world that should have universal validity, is now being called into question by the emergence of religious fundamentalism.
"The fundamentalists I have met in places such as Egypt all eat burgers and drink Coca Cola. But they want the introduction of sharia law. How do they reconcile this."
Islamic fundamentalists believe that Western secularism is part of a Zionist/ Crusader conspiracy that aims to destroy their religion. The Jews are behind it all. This is based on the research I carried out for my book Islamism and Islam, which was published by Yale University Press in 2012. It contains 50 pages on the Islamization of anti-Semitism. Islam is not the source of all evil. Anti-Semitism is a European ideology. The Islamists have Islamized it. Between 2008 and 2010 I worked in the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and focused on the idea that secularism is a conspiracy against Islam promoted by Jews. We're back on religion, but not on belief in God. This is a subject that has to be addressed. I respect every religion. This is why I have been active in interfaith dialogues in Europe, Africa and India. In 1994 in New Delhi I acted as a mediator between Hindus and Muslims. Respect for religion and religious practice is a human right. But when religion is politicized, then religion is no longer faith. Respect for religious faith does not apply to ideologies masquerading as religion. At the Central European University in Budapest, I worked on a research project entitled The Return of Religion to Public Space. The return of religion to public space occurs in Islam, but not only in Islam. It is a global phenomenon. Four words are important in this respect. Once again they are academic words, but they are eminently related to our everyday lives and to our social and political lives. They are postmodernity, absolutism, relativism and multiculturalism. Postmodernity has a message which says: modernity – another word for enlightenment and cultural modernity – has run its course. This means that Jürgen Habermas' book The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity is also out of date. Postmodernity states that it is passé. And with the return of religion, absolutist thought has also re-emerged. Here is a brief example of this: if the response to an argument is: "Then you are against Allah" (as has happened in Cairo), that is absolutist. If the response to the comment "Don't live in a sharia state" is "That is not up for discussion", that is absolutist. But ra - tional arguments simply come up against a brick wall, particularly in scholarly argu - ments. The word 'state' does not appear in the Koran at all, while the word 'sharia' only appears once, in sura 45, verse 18. If one's opponents turn to the Koran for justifica - tion and are unable to answer a query such as "Tell me where Allah used the word sharia in the Koran", then they have lost. But this is not a rational argument. The weapon in my armoury is that I know the Koran by heart. I had no choice in the matter. But this should not be the rule. The rule should be: argument against argument, on the same level – the level of rationality. The opposite of absolutism is relativism. Europeans have become relativists. And re - lativists always come off worse in arguments with absolutists. The best book about Postmodernism, Postmodernism, Reason and Religion, was written by the anthropologist, sociologist and philosopher Ernest Gellner, who died in Prague in 1995. On page 85 he writes: "Their attitude (of the culture relativists) is roughly that absolutism is to be tolerated". Respect for other cultures is a wonderful thing. But it should not be a blank cheque. The problem for Europe and Europeans is that other cultures have to be respected as they are. Europe takes a relativist view of culture. Religious fundamentalists are, according to Gellner, absolutist and rarely successful. And what about supporters of the Enlightenment? They are accused of "fundamentalist rationalism". I knew Gellner personally, and he was often misunderstood when he defended the Enlightenment. He did not want to place defending the Enlightenment on the same level as religious fundamentalism. He simply wanted to express that we should bring the same passion to defending the Enlightenment as the fundamentalists bring to their religion.
Multiculturalism is a minefield
Multiculturalism is a minefield. Anyone who criticizes multiculturalism or who has a naive understanding of multiculturalism is immediately suspected of being a right-wing radical. If multiculturalism were to succeed, if people from different cultures were to live together in harmony, then it would be impossible to criticize it. But multiculturalism has another meaning, the idea that anything goes, that values are random. According to this understanding, I have no right to criticize other cultures. I have to respect them as they are. But the main thing I learned from Max Horkheimer in Germany is the importance of criticism, criticism without taboos. In Germany, any silencing of criticism is a breach of the country's constitution. The German constitution guarantees scientific freedom. And science means critical thinking, and critical thinking means enlighten - ment in Kant's sense of the word: reason is the supreme tribunal, before which anything that claims validity must be justified. Over recent years a battle cry has emerged: 'Islamophobia', suggesting that Islam is the enemy. If you say that sharia law and human rights do not go together, you can be silenced by being called an Islamophobe. This is much worse in the US than in Europe – much, much worse. After 11 Septem - ber, the Islamists have won. In American academic circles, it is now very difficult to criticize Islamism. I know that from first- hand experience. I have taught and carried out research at all seven Ivy League universities, rounding off my academic career at Yale. This is where I wrote my book about the difference between Islam as a faith and Islamism as a political ideology. In Austria, if you get along with the editor and the editor likes your book, it will be published. No problem. But dealing with the University Press in the USA is like gaining approval for a doctoral thesis and requires three assessors. And if three are not enough, they draft in some more. The assessment of my book Islamism in Islam took two years, from 2009 to 2011. It involved four rounds of assessment and a total of 11 assessors. These assessors are all anonymous. They know me but I don't know them. Many of them were against publishing my book. In the end, the assessment file was a thick as the book itself.
"The Saudis are waging an ideological campaign against enlightenment under the banner of dialogue. We have to get involved in these ideological campaigns and fight for enlightenment."
Finally, the editorial committee approved the book for publication. This is a restriction of freedom of expres - sion and scientific freedom. Enlightenment means that I can think, express my thoughts, and publish them. This is no longer the case. So what is to be done? The term ‘war of ideas’ is very prevalent in the US. Ideas do not wage war, yet there are ideological conflicts and military campaigns. For example, the Saudis are waging an ideological campaign against enlightenment under the banner of dialogue. We have to get involved in these ideological campaigns and fight for enlightenment. My fourth theory is that enlightenment is also part of Islam's history, despite the general view that the problem with Muslims is that they have not experienced an Enligh - tenment (as stated in an interview by Cardinal Franz König, the former Archbishop of Vienna). This could provide an opportu - nity to build bridges on the foundations of enlightenment. Like Cardinal König, Pope Benedict also spoke about Muslims and en - lightenment when he was a cardinal. But in reality, their history is otherwise. At the end of the 8th century, Christian Arabs translated Greek works. And from the 9th to the early 13th centuries there was an ongoing process: the Hellenisation of Islam. These were the centuries of the Islamic Enlightenment. The discussion that we are having today about what matters – what the holy scriptures tell us, and what reason tells us – was also held in Islam. And all the Islamic philosophers were unanimous about the primacy of reason. Al-Kindi was the first, in the 9th century. In the 10th century Al-Farabi wrote The Perfect State , based on Plato's Republic . In the 11th and 12th centuries there was an ongoing discussion about whether reason or revelation should be afforded priority. Defenders of Islamic orthodoxy argued in favour of a literal interpretation of the Koran, for scripturalism, while the Islamic proponents of enlightenment fought for the primacy of reason. The difference between Voltaire and the Islamic philosophers is in the radical stance towards the church and religion. The Islamic philosophers were not looking to create conflict, which was perhaps a mistake. Today we would say they were placatory, perhaps even appeasers. This is the basic position taken by Immanuel Kant. Several centuries before Kant, the Islamic Kant, Ibn Rushd (Latinized as Averroës), anticipated what Kant would write in this three Critiques: there is not only truth, but truths: the truth of religion, which applies in the mosques, and the truth of life, which applies in public. One truth arises from reason, the other from religious faith. And both of these truths have their own domains. The Islamic Enlightenment lasted for more than 300 years and is recorded in countless works. For a 50-page summary, see my book Der wahre Imam (The True Imam). This also highlights the difference between fiqh and sharia, a difference that is hugely important in discussions with Muslims. In the Koran, sharia describes the ethical principle of proscribing evil and prescribing good. This is the only meaning of sharia in the Koran. This is something that a Christian or an atheist can happily support. Sharia is neither a legal system, nor a governmental system. In my book Islam Between Culture and Politics, which I published with the support of Harvard University in 2001 and 2005, I demonstrate the following: in general, what Muslims say about sharia is incorrect. For example, the belief that everything in the Koran is sharia is quite simply false. In the Koran, sharia is what Allah says. However, what Islamic scholars read into their interpretations of the Koran are in fact – according to Islamic under - standing and religious study – fiqh, human understanding of sharia. Sharia comes from God. But scholars make out that Islamic law, which is fiqh, is actually sharia. When deba - ting with Muslims, it is absolutely essential to know and respect the difference between fiqh and sharia. Without this understan - ding, you have already lost before you start a dialogue with proponents of conservative Islam, particularly Islamic orthodoxy. Francis Fukuyama, an American with a Japanese surname, has become well-known in Europe since the publication of his book The End of History. At a reading in Washington he said that Muslim migration has led to Europe becoming a "battlefield" between Islam and "European identity". I would like to use this as the basis for my fifth theory. "Islam belongs to Germany": these words are wrong, in historical terms simply wrong.
"The difference between Voltaire and the Islamic philosophers is in the radical stance towards the church and religion. The Islamic philosophers were not looking to create conflict, which was perhaps a mistake."
They were uttered by former German president Christian Wulff and recently repeated by Chancellor Angela Merkel. As a Muslim academic I cannot agree to this. There is the Islam of Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi, Ibn Rushd, the Islam of the Enlightenment, which came to Europe via Toledo and Cordoba. This Islam belongs to Europe. But it no longer exists. Yet Europe needs it to be reborn. Europe needs a kind of Euro-Islam, even if the fun - damentalists oppose it. Baden-Württemberg is home to Germany's second-largest mosque, known as the Fatih. In Turkish and Arabic, this means 'conqueror'. Turkish sultan Mehmed the Second was known as Fatih because he conquered and Islamized Constantinople, turning it into Istanbul. In Istanbul I asked: "Do you want to Islamize and conquer, or do you want to engage in dialogue? Why is the Baden-Württemberg mosque not called the Al-Farabi mosque? Al-Farabi was a Turk who wrote in Arabic, the language of the Koran. During the 9th and 10th centuries, he was the first great political thinker of Islam. Many Turks have never heard of him. They are Muslims, yet they have never heard of Islam's greatest political thinker! The Al-Jabri project (named after the late philosopher Al-Jabri) is a project being conducted at Rabat University in Morocco. It is aiming to revive Islamic philosophy as enlightenment, a project to ignite a renais sance of Islamic philosophy. I have been involved in this project. Of course the modern Enlightenment emerged in Europe and is a European project in spatio-temporal terms. But before the second European Enlightenment, one took place in the Islamic world. The European and Islamic Enlightenments rest on the same foundation: the primacy of reason.
And reason is universal. If, as Max Weber and Jürgen Habermas have argued, the spatio-temporal dimension of the European Enlightenment were to be neutralized, and if Muslims would only think back to their own Enlightenment, this could provide a basis for building bridges between Muslims and Europeans. Then there would be a good chance of depriving the fundamentalists of their ideology, their belief that enlightenment and democracy are Jewish instruments that are used against Islam. My Euro-Islam project for Europe is based on enlightenment. But I have to admit that my project has had little success so far, because I have received no support from Europe. Perhaps the project will die with me. Or perhaps not. Of course I hope the latter is true. I developed my concept of Euro-Islam when I was in Senegal. This was the first country I had ever visited which was Islamic but not Arab. I heard the words "C'est notre islam" - "It's our Islam", and also "This is Afro-Islam". Islam has been around since the 7th century and arrived in West Africa between the 13th and 15th centuries. That is not so long ago. But Islam has really become entrenched there. Why? Why is this the case? Because it has been Africanized. This gave me the impetus to develop my idea of Euro-Islam as a response to the challenge of Islam in Europe. Ten years later, in 1992, the French government ditched its programme of assimilation and instead focused on a programme of integration. Assimilation no longer worked when faced with floods of migrants entering the country. Today 8 million of France's 63 million population are Muslims. So: integration. This means accepting the values expressed in the French constitution. I took on the task of developing a concept and showing how Islam can be interpreted in a European way and thus become native to Europe. I accomplished this in just ten pages, under the title: Les Conditions de l'Euro-islam. The aim was for Muslims to say: "This is our Islam". But this Islam also has to be acceptable to French people. One thing is clear, its foundation remains enlightenment. It cannot be based on fundamentalism. Fundamentalism can have many names and many faces. I agree with the two great American theologians, Martin Marty (a Protestant) and Scott Appleby (a Catholic): Religion is coming back. But not as faith. It is coming back with a desire to remake the world in line with religious principles. Let's assume for a moment that the world were to be organized along Christian lines. Muslims could and would not accept that, nor would the Hindus or the Sikhs. And of course Christians could not and would not accept an Islamic world order. So the world can only be organized in a way that is religiously neutral, so based on secularism. Enlightenment is secular. Of course Europe is Christian. But since the Reformation, and particularly since the Renaissance, Europe has exchanged the sources of inspiration for the European idea, from Jerusalem to Athens, from Christianity to Hellenism. Of course Christianity is still the dominant religion in Europe in people's private lives, but cultural modernity has been shaped by Hellenism, not by Christianity. Hellenism also had an impact on Muslims in their hey-day. So we have a common foundation: enlightenment as the primacy of reason. With regard to the creation of a modern world order, Oxford professor Hedley Bull pointed out that this can only work on the basis of shared values. I would add that these values must be based on a global enlightenment if it is to lead to true world peace in the Kantian sense.