"Q&A: Journey Through a Seismic Arab World"
September 29, 2011
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Prof. Mustapha Marrouchi presented reflections from a recent excursion through the northern African regions from Morocco to Egypt. His journey coincided with events that were unfolding in what is now known as the Arab Spring. Even as a measure of uncertainty still prevails over the political ramifications of these revolutionary events, Prof. Marrouchi attempted at some preliminary theoretical frames, cautions, and suggestions that affirm the aspirations of the peoples of the Arab Spring.
Below is a compilation of reflections on this presentation by ISS staff and students in the Critical Comparative Scriptures program.
The remarks of Professor Mustapha Marrouchi on a “Journey through a Seismic Arab World”was loaded with philosophy, ideological ponderings, a background in religion, staggering observations, and respect for the role of technological advancement in dealing with, reflecting upon, and promoting the revolution(s) in the Arab World. The invocation of Hegel to explain that reoccurring events in history is a sign of “deeper distress” and discontent with the way things are in connection to the “dignity” that the various Arabic peoples were proclaiming in their revolution was very relevant to the larger conversation of the ISS. The coherent whole that Marrouchi produced out of his various research interests and scholarly background was interesting because it called upon Foucalt, Hegel, Marx, Weber, and others in transgressing academic boundaries to produce practical commentary on a real situation that implicates a large part of humanity. What one is facing and processing from Marrouchi is a commentary that deals with the “signification” of larger unrest in the Arab world writ large across the Earth with the far-reaching fingers of instant-communication such as Twitter, Facebook, and Skype. The long pondered question of “who is my neighbor?” now has a more immediate and extensive consequence: one that crosses oceans and transgresses comfortable boundaries drawn by countries and other agencies. The only reservation I have regarding this presentation is the idea that only young people can communicate directly with the young people leading the revolution(s) in the Arab World. That is simply not true but anyone who can utilize this technology can receive information and provide support for the appropriate causes in that area. It is simply not supported by young people; they are supported by all people who can provide a virtual hand in the process of appropriating “dignity” for the peoples in the Arab World.
I was intrigued by two statements that Dr. Marrouchi made that seemed to me to be in tension with each other. The first was his contention that the uprisings of the Arab Spring were able to organize and mobilize themselves without a leader. In fact, according to Dr. Marrouchi, if an outside power were to designate a leader for any of these groups, it would actually undermine their power. Part of their legitimacy and locus of strength resides in their being non-centered groups.
His conclusion, however, calls into question the ultimate efficacy of these uprisings. He says that the groups must now consolidate their demands in a way that links the politically active with the impoverished. However, up to this point the groups, "express an authentic rage that cannot be a positive program of socio-political change. In fact, they express a spiritual revolt that is not a revolution." My question is this: would it be possible for the protesters to focus and direct their demands, without acknowledged leaders in the fore? If the answer is yes, then how might that look?
In his analysis of the recent anti-government movements in North Africa and the Middle East or what has now become known as the “Arab Spring,” Mustapha Marrouchi facilitates a reflection that is encompassing but also reluctant to arrive at any facile “aha” moment. While perspectives from emblematic figures of western thought provide schemes and references on which to plot varied human phenomena for analysis, the Arab Spring, in Marrouchi’s assessment, presented something new and not easily nameable. Even if the events were thought to have been grasped, there was always an overflow of significations: a revolution? a revolt? Islams or tribalisms, …but of what kind?
What might the implications of such epistemological shortfalls be for research on, with, and regarding scriptures? While setting up field logistics for the ISS’s film project, some groups were particularly uncomfortable with the use of “scripture” to frame the project. Given the problematic history attending to the currency and deployment of the category scriptures, a careful assessment of the definition and use of scriptures might benefit greatly from the slippages instantiated by the hesitance to categorize events of the Arab Spring.
Prof. Mustapha Marrouchi’s presentation is timely, as he exhumes in-depth knowledge of the subject of “seismic” revolts in the Middle East. He cautions absolute naïve celebratory sentiments which accompany revolutions— every time they occur— especially as we are currently witnessing in the Arab world. The lecture demonstrates that revolutions are inevitable when systems of governments constantly compel people to, against their thirst for dignified existence, act in the preservation of status quo: “poverty and exclusion.” And contrary to western media interpretations, and portraits, Marrouchi argued that this is not a Marxian uprising of the people.
It is fascinating that Marrouchi challenges popular western Christian notion that Islam is farther removed from the practice of democracy. He says it is, in fact, Islam that is closer in practice to Judeo-Christian principles of equity. The indictment of Saudi Arabia in checkmating alternative voices is important for me. Saudi Arabia seeks to retain and maintain oppressive oligarchic orthodoxies in the Middle East. How can the subject of ethics be brought into play in the Janus-phased- and double-faced-role of the United States, friend and business partner of Saudi Arabia, in preserving these [Arab] theatrical transformations? What might it mean since it is the same United States that sends AIDS and bulk of the military manpower to help replace her former-despot friends in the region? What does this tell about the role of makers of law [in society]? And what are specific implications these types of strategic maneuverings mean for the subjects of human inter-actions, relationships, power and, scapegoatism? What, then, are ethical values of value of westernized civilization and enlightenment?
Rather than display outright flippant pessimism, as opposed to being optimistic, Professor Marrouchi positions the possibility of an enormous turn around in human politics. This he does through the submission that “only the people can answer back” to oppressive and manipulative regimes.
In conclusion, Marrouchi’s passionate and brilliant presentation just demonstrated the location of change capital in the enlightened people themselves. Finally, what does “each revolt may fail; may be hijacked…but what will not die is the desire and the capacity of the people to question” mean for political dominance both for other countries in Africa where there is serious dearth in leadership momentum, and for the elite in the United States in light of the present economic abrasiveness among the citizens in relations to the bailout for banks?
Dr. Marrouchi offered an unique perspective on the Arab Spring. He stated that these movements “refuse central leadership”—that social networking, such as Facebook and Twitter, allow these movements to organize autonomously and without a center. He argued that traditional opposition groups can participate in these movements but can not direct or control them. I found this aspect of his argument particularly interesting, and it left me with several questions regarding center formation. Is it really possible for a movement to occur without a center? If so, at what point is center formation initiated? Does center formation begin with the institutionalization of a social movement, or is the institutionalization of a social movement the center’s prerogative?
Professor Mustapha Marrouchi’s presentation, “Journey through a Seismic Arab World,” proved to be a very informative session on several issues surrounding the Arab Spring, what it stands for, and where it may lead. One thing that initially struck me was how young the average rebels are and their ability to organize so efficiently through social media. This also spurred a desire in me to clarify the belief that only the youth are utilizing these technologies. It seems more appropriate to say that technology is a highly organizing and motivating tool for the rebels. In addition, those who are most familiar and effective at using these tools are generally the generations who grew up with the technology, but are not limited to the youth only. In fact, it would seem to me, if there were older persons just as fluent with these social mediums, they could stand to benefit a great deal in gaining support from the youth.
Dr. Marrouchi noted that the generations of the Arab Spring are finding unification around a general “Islam” instead of nationalism. With the influence of technology, social media, and less regard for discrimination of religious differences within Islam, I wonder what the face of Islam will look like over the next few decades. Will the Qur’an find greater acceptance of being translated into other languages? I realize the struggle is more political than religious, but how will Islam be transformed if the Arab Spring succeeds?
My final reflection is on the example the Arab Spring is setting before other countries and regions under similar oppression. My experience in Burma revealed to me the amount of hope so many people in struggling nations give to the idea that America will come to save them. However, it was among the educated youth that the hope was turned from external sources to themselves. The events, emotions, and potentially successful examples from the Arab Spring are an inspirational geyser to millions of other peoples.