Our Man blogging in Cairo

November 24, 2016 22:56

Of course, Franic Guy (Beiruit) is currently in the foreign office blogging dog-house so I thought it might be interesting to read what Domiinic Asquith has been up to....

"Between saying and doing, many a pair of shoes is worn out"
Posted 11 March 2010 by Dominic Asquith | 1 comments
There are some things that can make you irrationally angry. This week it was a photograph of an Indonesian student throwing a shoe at a poster of Obama entitled “Kick Obama Out”. Apparently there is a movement among the Muslim students in Indonesia to block Obama’s forthcoming visit to their country because he hasn’t delivered on his Cairo speech last June.

Why did I get angry? After all, Obama’s not my President. Why bother if someone wants to insult him? And may be Obama hasn’t delivered as much as so many hoped for after the Cairo speech.

I suppose what angered me was the self-important, unconstructive and ugly-mannered behaviour of someone determined not to engage in dialogue, not to hear another view. If as a Muslim student you aren’t satisfied with Obama’s performance, then you should make use of the opportunity of his visit to your country to engage him in debate and put your views to him. Obama seems to enjoy this sort of public debate. It strikes me as idiotic to prevent such a debate.

And it seems to reveal a human characteristic that is fairly common of blaming others for your problems. The latest UN Arab Human Development Report makes interesting reading on this. It is a report written about the region by a team of independent Arab scholars, policy analysts and practitioners who are from the region. It is about what it calls human security, which it defines as the liberation of human beings from those intense, prolonged and comprehensive threats to which their lives and freedom are vulnerable. As usual, it is an honest document.

The first report in 2002 caused a big stir in the Arab world. This one has caused not a ripple. Odd, because it has some troubling findings about the deterioration of rule of law, accountability and governance, the increase in under-nourished people and youth unemployment – which is double the world average. The problem, says the report, is that the modern Arab state has failed to develop a sense of citizenship among its nationals. Many citizens look abroad for protection rather than to their own community. This “colonial era mentality” was nowhere more striking than in the massive attention paid to waiting for the new Middle East policies of the Obama administration.

Posted 23 May 2010 by Dominic Asquith | 0 comments
The word “radical” has become abused. In British 18th century history the Radicals were those who campaigned for changes in political representation, particularly as regards the underprivileged. The word literally means going to the root or origin. But it has now become associated with anything that is extreme.

I wonder if those who have been campaigning to ban the publication of The Thousand and One Nights think of themselves as radicals, attempting to return society to some pre-10th century origin, before al Jahshiyari compiled the first written version. Drawing on an oral tradition that went back through the Persian Hazar Afsana, which itself contained stories of Indian origin, al Jahshiyari created a literary phenomenon. According to the Peruvian novelist Vargas Llosa it competes with the Bible and Shakespeare in being the most published, adapted, translated and embellished in history.

The art of storytelling is at the heart of all that is civilizing in fiction. Chaucer in England and Boccaccio in Italy understood it as long ago as the 14th century. To ban the publication of the Thousand and One Nights seems to be taking the root out of human nature – the reverse of radicalism.

This brings to mind another contemporary misuse of radicalism – the association that it has these days with those who pursue their aims through violence. “Radicalisation” is often used to describe the process which those undergo who carry out terrorism. To be radical, however, does not mean you have to reject western values, or liberal democracies, or tolerance of “the other” or trying to engage with those who have different beliefs. Indeed, those 18th century English radicals were trying to ensure those values were more widely respected. As a recent report by the London-based think tank Demos argues, radicals (as opposed to terrorists) are “more likely to recognise their own ignorance and stress the importance of context, reflection and learning”. Radicals reject the status quo, but they can be non-violent. Raising the banner of “radicalism” does not mean you turn your back on rationality – or indeed human values, by killing innocent people.

How Muslims are responding to the challenges of modernity is the subject of another fascinating analysis by a team of Muslims of very different backgrounds under the supervision of the deeply impressive Professor Yasir Suleiman at Cambridge University. The report urges Muslims to identify shared values between Islam and other world views, pointing to the Qu'ran's emphasis on qualities such as good neighbourliness, charity, hospitality and non-aggression.

I’ve come across a large number of “radical” people in Egypt over this past month, Muslims and Christians. They are very peaceful. They are working deep in the communities in which they live. I would describe their radicalism in the following way: they are passionate about improving the daily lives of those around them, of whatever religion - the things that really matter like health, education and employment. They raise money and they devote huge effort every day to making it happen: non violent radicalism going to the root of the problem.

November 24, 2016 22:56

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive