Modernization Hub

Modernization and Improvement
Islam and the Humanities 2018: Day 1 – Panel 4

Islam and the Humanities 2018: Day 1 – Panel 4

[MUSIC PLAYING] Well, when I relented
under [INAUDIBLE] relentless arm-twisting,
I was at first afraid that I was going to
be in over my head because I’m a
complete layman as far as Islamic studies
are concerned. My only familiarity
with it has to do with Cornell Fleischer
and [INAUDIBLE] on whose dissertation
committee I was. But since I read the
papers I was no longer afraid about understanding it. Now I’m afraid about being
able to finish on time. [LAUGHTER] So I’ll let my stopwatch go so
I can keep track of the time. It was a pleasure to
read these papers. It’s a pleasure to be here. It’s very interesting to
hear these excellent papers and the excellent comments on
them, to read them in advance and to have a sense of
what is going to come, and to learn a whole lot. And not as hard to follow as
I was afraid, even though I don’t know the languages. And that I really miss– not being able to
follow the languages is a problem, even if
the concepts show up only here and there. What I’d like to do
in these comments is to proceed in three steps. First I’d like to establish
a common perspective on both of these papers, and
I think a perspective that I found useful in thinking
about all of the other papers. Because they reach
something, I am convinced, that all of us in some sense
share in this conversation, and I’d like to identify that. Then I will speak
about each paper, and then I would
like to conclude with a few specific points. And if I’m lucky I won’t
even need 20 minutes, but I don’t know. So what is it that we share? What is this basic problematic? Well, for that purpose, in order
to illustrate that problematic I gave you the handout. I’m not going to comment
on all these quotations. There are a whole
series of things. They all revolve
around the same theme, and I’ll leave it to you to
puzzle out which way they relate to the same theme. I’d just like to draw your
specific attention to the line from No Country
for Old Men, which is one of my favorite lines, on
the second page because we’ve spoken about temporality when
Chigurh’s at the gas station and asks the attendant,
“what time do you close?” And the proprietor says, “now. We close now.” And Chiguhr says,
“now is not a time. What time do you close?” Now, I’m going to read this
quotation from Rush Rhees. It’s the only
other quotation I’m going to read at the
beginning, because it’s in straightforward language
and you may be puzzled at first and not see how it relates to
what we’ve been talking about. But perhaps you’ll
see it right away, because it’s very
straightforward. Rush Rhees, a student
of Wittgenstein, didn’t publish very much
except letters and essays, but a very influential
executor of Wittgenstein’s will and a very good interpreter. “We should mistrust
any statement about what is, quote, ‘in
the interest of education,” end quote, if the speaker had no
experience of educational work himself. And this holds generally of
activities and movements. There is no one who is qualified
to speak on behalf of all. And it is humbug for anyone
to advocate something, quote, ‘in the interests of all.’ To say that everyone has a
responsibility to society may be taken to
mean that everyone ought to show a regard for
the interests of society. And in this case I think
there is confusion and often dishonesty. There is dishonesty
because this is generally a way of advocating certain
particular interests– perhaps the maintenance of
public order, a general rise in the standard of living– for example in money
incomes or in real incomes– even though various people or
various sections in society would say that these
things are less important than other things or
other activities to which they are devoted. It will not do to say
that these people are setting their own interests
against the interests of society. They are setting
their own interests against the interests of
those who are opposed to them. That is all. Nor can it be said that,
quote, ‘society’ could not go on if people insisted on
pressing sectional interests. That is how society does go on.” One of my favorite lines
in all of these writings. That’s the common ground
that I believe we share. And that’s the common ground
that is, for some reason, so difficult to articulate– maybe particularly
in Islamic studies. I don’t know. It is certainly difficult to
articulate between medievalists and modernists in
European history, because for some reason
we feel compelled to disjoin modern
secular reasoning from medieval religion,
superstition from science, and you know all the
terminology– secular from religious. I don’t need to repeat that. That goes through
endless variations where you find the same
thing and the same problem, which is a disjoineder of things
that really belong together. Private and public is another
one of these disjoinders. And what we find difficult
is to look beyond that. Because we, meaning the modern
West, if I may call it that, has the conviction
that the distinction between public and private
and the distinction between rational and
religious or medieval and modern or
civilized and barbaric is a universal distinction. It applies everywhere. And it doesn’t. It’s a distinction
that was drawn by what you may, in
world historical terms, called a “sectional interest”–
a European interest. Europeans thought in those terms
and have imposed those terms on the rest of the world. And if we wanted
to get beyond that we have to be able to
recognize that this language is a sectional language. It is an interested language. And there’s nothing
wrong with that. There is no other way to talk. That’s what I loved
about this quotation that I quoted earlier
today in my first remarks, because it really attracted
my attention where the point is made
that everybody talks from their own point of view. There is no other
way of talking. And if you want to
get rid of talking from your own point of view,
from your own interest, then you’re left
talking about nothing. Because nothing can
be said in history that is absolutely true. And if you try to prove
the absolute truth, you will have nothing to say and
you won’t be of use to anybody. So that is the shared
ground, as it were. Which, in a sense, is
precisely not a shared ground, but a ground over which
conflicts arise that consist of different interests. And there’s no denying
that those interests may conflict in such a way that
society does not go on. There is such a thing
as civil war, after all. The fabric can fall apart. That’s a possibility. That’s a real possibility. Now, it seems to me that
both of the papers on which I was supposed to comment
and will now comment deal with this issue in
a slightly different way. Nils Riecken’s paper
deals with this issue by focusing on a particular
person, Abdallah Laoui, about whom I was very
interested to read, and did read up on
Wikipedia that he was a prolific Moroccanist,
prolific Moroccan historian and
novelist born in 1933, still alive and very active. Now, Nils’ central claim,
as I understand his paper, is that in order to
understand Laroui we have to deal with
the problem that I just tried to articulate. Because the common
understanding of Laroui is thwarted by this
familiar dichotomy between either true
Islam or secular reason, either conservative reactionary
or progressive liberal Marxist. And he, as I understand
him at any rate– and you can correct
me later if you want– tries to undercut that. Because as long as these
dichotomies occupy the debate, it doesn’t matter
which of the two sides you occupy because
both of these sides fail to do justice to
what Laroui’s actually talking about. Both– as he calls it, in a
very good bit of terminology, I think– both are guilty of
a romantic desire for unity or heroic
overcoming or identity. And it doesn’t really matter
whether this heroic overcoming of the disjunction and
disruption of the experience of time because there are
sectional interests that actually do conflict
with each other. If that happens in terms of the
essence of Islam and theology, or if it happens in terms
of secular modernity that seems to be
incompatible with Islam. Both fail to grasp what
Laroui’s talking about. He borrows this term about
the heroic overcoming, the romantic desire for unity
and identity from David Scott, and opposes it to what he
calls a tragic temporality. “Tragic” because it
recognizes and privileges the disjunction in the
experience of time. And then he goes
to exemplify that. “This concept of a
tragic temporality, with a very close and
sympathetic reading of Laroui’s treatment of Islam.” Now, the details
are complex and I have to admit I couldn’t
follow all of them, in part because I
don’t know the language and I lose track of how
are these terms related to each other in the details. In the principle I think I
understood it reasonably well, and I would put that
understanding like this. Tradition, the way Laroui talks
about it, is never a given. We think of tradition as
something that is fixed, but it does come, after
all, from the Latin word for “transmitting something,”
handing something over. It’s a gift. And when nobody is accepting
the gift no gift has been given. Somebody has to give,
somebody has to take. Or, as my colleagues
used to say when I was trying to make
progress in my department, you’ve got to give
in order to get. It’s worth remembering. [LAUGHTER] It’s like data. Data are not fixed. All scientists know that. Historians sometimes forget it–
more likely than scientists. They’re not fixed. And tradition is not fixed. Because tradition is always,
at one and the same time, past and present. It is laying claim to
the real truth of Islam, but it can only
do so if it stays alive in a specific
contemporary setting. That means that religion
and secular reason are both involved in this. And the clearest terminological
clarification of that that I could see, according to my
understanding– and again, you’ll correct me if
I’m wrong on this– is in the opposition
between hadith– is that right– and fiqh. Yeah. OK. This opposition. Which leads to what I
thought was a really lovely save Ibn Khaldun from the figure
of being the progressive person who can anticipate
modern secular reason and modern development,
the first sociologist, the founder of
sociological thinking, rather than understanding
him as an Islamic theorist and intellectual who
approaches the study of history and society from a
grounding in Islam that is both religious and secular. Because you need both. The hadith, the saying– the thing that is the
same, that stays the same– but that is meaningless
unless you apply judgment. You have to make a judgment. Whenever you use
a word, whenever you use a term for something,
whenever you say “this is that” you’ve made a judgment. That’s what it means
to make a judgment. Not just in court,
but in naming things. So the real struggle
is, therefore, never with the tradition
but within the tradition. That’s where it
really takes place. And one of the reasons why I
think I find it easy to accept is because I started
in philosophy. And in philosophy I
was taught explicitly that the only way you
can make serious progress is by engaging
with the tradition, by criticizing the tradition. First you’ve got to master
it, then you criticize it. You can’t make progress
outside of the tradition. So the central question always
is, what is the tradition? And a convincing answer always
requires both, the judgment and the hadith, the
saying that stays the same and the
application to the present. So if I understood
the paper correctly, this is how Laroui sees Islam,
as Sunna properly understood. It is capable of change
within the tradition, and it is this
understanding of Islam, that escapes from an
understanding that reduces Islam to pure
theology or dismisses Islam as mere tradition. It is neither pure theology
nor mere tradition, but it is a normative tradition. Now Rian Thum comes
at a similar problem– the way I understand
him, at any rate– comes at a similar problem from
within Islamic historiography, contemporary Islamic
historiography. And he identifies it
with a debate between– in generic terms you might
call it realists and idealists, or materialist and idealists, or
in medieval terms, nominalists and realists. It’s an old debate. And here it is exemplified
by one side, Qurani, who maintains that Islam is
what Muslims believe it is. And the other side,
typified by Ahmed, who maintains that Islam must
have some kind of real core. It can’t just be
whatever they say it is. It can’t be, because
then anything goes. There you have– it’s a typical
exposition of this split. Either it’s going to be
anything goes and you just let people say whatever
they want to say and you’ve got no Islam
left, and all you have– there’s got to be an
essence, something essential about Islam. And neither one of
those alternatives work. One can see the
merits of both sides, and they loosely
reflect the terminology of what Nils called the
“sovereign gesture,” of rejecting the past,
of rejecting tradition, and theological essentialism. On one side the sovreign
gesture as anything goes and the other side, the
theological essentialism tries to grasp the
essence of Islam even if it’s only Islam-light,
as I think I read at one point, or a Goldilocks kind of Islam,
which is a nice way of getting under that particular skin. Now, so having set up this
problematic, what I understand Rian to have been
doing is to ask what exactly is the place
of self-described Islam in the history of Islam? What do we do with people
who call themselves Muslims even if, in one way or another,
their understanding of Islam conflicts with other peoples’
understanding of Islam? Can this be the real
Islam if they ascribe it to themselves, and
in particular if it is such an extreme case as the
one on which he focuses mostly, and that is the extreme case
of the Chinese, [CHINESE] I don’t know how
to pronounce it, but you can correct
me on that– who was studied by Drew Gladney. Who, again if I understood
it correctly, for a long time didn’t even– was
unique in not using either the term “Muslim”
or the term “Islam” in identifying themselves. Until ironically– I’m not
sure I got that correctly, but I think I did– until ironically later on, maybe
late 19th, early 20th century, they began to refer
themselves that way on the basis of publications,
printed books that were written for
non-Muslims in order to explain to them
what Islam was about. So this kind of
ironic reversal– this is the basis on which
these Muslims, who didn’t used to call
themselves Muslims, learned to call
themselves Muslims and to refer to Islam in
a way that was initially designed for non-Muslims so they
could figure out what that was. As if they had not known
what Islam was before they learned that from
these books– as if. Now, working through
this example, Rian concludes that
self-ascription is not merely nominal, but is historical. And there’s a difference
between being nominal and being historical. It’s not just what they
say, because self-ascription rests on three particularly
important phenomena that include the transmission
through history, historical transmission. That also includes
conversion, because there is such a thing as
ascribing Islam to yourself by converting to Islam,
and not just accepting it in a tradition but
embracing it individually. And then third, the
effects of both. The effects of transmission
and the effects of conversion. These all enter into history,
and these are not merely nominal characterizations
of Islam. For his main
theoretical conclusion he uses Greg Denning,
also a figure– I haven’t read David Scott. I haven’t read Greg Denning. He uses Greg Denning’s
concept of a texted past. He distinguishes
the history of Islam as what happened in the past
from a history that consists of the past transformed into
a text, and uses this term, the texted past, in order
to reconcile with one another the supposedly real
essence of the past that is out there and the supposedly
purely nominal text that is just words about the past. The second, I think–
his main conclusion, even though it comes sort of– it’s not particularly
accented, at least not for me. It didn’t strike me as
particularly accented, but my eyebrows
sort of went up when he said that, was
that this was directed against the domination
of Islamic history by students of the Middle
East, which clearly does not please him. Because he wants
to see– he wants people to recognize that
Islamic history goes way beyond the history
of the Middle East. And he points out that
it excludes, simply in terms of populations,
at least a third of Muslims in Southeast Asia
and sub-Sahara. So it seems to me that, with
this concept of a texted past that can reconcile with one
another the idea of Islam as whatever they say it is and
the idea of Islam as somehow defined, he reconciles
them with each other in a way that reminded me
of what Nils Riecken writes about Laroui. It’s a similar place. And the reason why it is a
similar place, I would suggest, is because the problem is a
problem that– this is really a universal problem. Maybe it’s a negative
universal problem or a situated universal problem. Maybe it’s not even
the problem at all, but it’s certainly reality
because human beings can speak. And that’s where it originates. We can speak. And whenever we speak and have
something to say, what we say is new in context and whatnot. It’s a new thing. But the words we use are old. They’re the same words countless
other people have used before according to rules that
are firmly established in the grammar of our language,
whether we know those rules or not. So it’s simply in
the act of speaking there has to be a dielectric
between repetition of the same and occurrence of something new. And you have to have both
for language to make sense. If you want to say
something meaningful, you can’t merely
repeat the words because then you wind up with
meaningless, rote repetitions. And you can’t just
make up language de novo out of whole cloth,
because then people won’t understand what you’re saying. You have to do both. That’s where the
problem originates, because at any moment that
situation can threaten, unsettling an understanding
because maybe you’re saying something so new that
people don’t want to hear it. I mean, some people
get extremely upset. They can go apoplectic
over saying such a thing as, “I wonder to
who that is useful.” It’s not “to who,”
it’s “to whom.” [LAUGHTER] There’s an M there
that belongs there. And some people, “literally”– I mean, maybe not with that
particular phrase any longer. But you know what
I’m talking about. There is this kind of phenomenon
where people get furious when you violate the rules
that way because you’re not paying your respect to
the essence of language, and you are undermining
all of society. [LAUGHTER] And if everybody were to do
that then a whole society would collapse. That’s how people think. That’s the base, that’s the
reason why we always come back to this problem in
one way or another. And that’s the
reason why we need to be able to step out of
the European temptation to confuse one particular
approach– and not a very happy approach, as
far as I’m concerned– to this alternation, to
this duality between the old and the new, the
repetition of the same and the saying something new. We have to be able to step
out of that because that’s been dominant in
European thinking for now half a
Millennium or so in order to be able to do justice to
our present time, in which very different kinds of groups
are coming together. They need to learn to understand
each other with a language that is more suited to that kind
of understanding than what we have at our disposal. The alternative,
real or nominal, is simply a false alternative. I mean, it needs
to be stepping away from that because it’s normal. I’ve used up 22 minutes. I wanted to say a couple more
things to both Rian and Nils, because I would say that
since this is normal I would encourage both of them
to go a little bit further than they have gone. Because it strikes me
that, in some sense, they’re still overly-respectful
of this terminology, of this way of thinking. With Rian I found
it only in one spot, in the spot where he said that– asking, what is Islamic
history and is it worth doing, raising
the question? And he says, well,
Islamic history has an obvious inherent value,
to which my response is, no. It doesn’t. It doesn’t have an
obvious inherent value. You say it does, and you’ve
got good reasons for saying so, and I think few people in
this room would disagree. These are the people who
share your interests, and that’s all there is to it. You think it has value. So stand up for it
and defend its value and speak for it without
claiming that everybody has to agree the value is inherent. It has nothing to do with
what Rian Thum is saying. To Nils– what really struck me
was that at a number of points I found Abdallah Laroui’s
quotations easier to understand than your prose. [CHUCKLES] You invoke a blizzard of
technical terminology. And that’s a very
familiar device. Academics are very
vulnerable to the temptation to use that kind of
terminology, because it’s a very good defense. And I’d suggest to you
that you don’t really need that much defense. You have a really, very
good point to make, and you can make
that by rejecting theological occupation of
Islam and dismissal of Islam by the sovereign
gesture without having to deploy all of that armature. And the second point is, I would
ask whether this temporality has to be tragic. It certainly can be
tragic, because there is such a thing as civil war. But I would not be happy to
say that it has to be tragic, because sometimes
things do work out and people with
conflicting interests manage to get along
with one another. And I suspect that
in some way there is the danger that,
behind the terminology of tragic temporality hides
an inversion of the romantic, happy, overcoming of the
problem so that the one is reflective with the other
and in some sense continues the problem that you’re
trying to overcome, but not romantically. I’ve used five minutes too many,
so I’m going to stop right now. [APPLAUSE] Thank you. So [INAUDIBLE]. So, first Nils. Yeah. First, thank you, Shazad. And thank you,
Konstantin, for this engaging with my paper in this
act of translation also by– Can you put the– Sorry. Sorry. Can you hear me now? OK. So thank you for this act of
translation, I would call it, and this is always
what I’m engaging in in the paper, a translation
of Laroui’s works in Arabic and the
French into English through my German and
English-thinking head. And also applying this, maybe
starting with that point close to the end of your response,
this blizzard of terminology. I think for me this is a
way of distancing myself from my own presuppositions
and the presuppositions Laroui works with. So to have an optic– like using Scott’s
reading of Hayden White– an optic that allows me
to see maybe other things or to see a certain logic
working in his texts. And in this way to connect
Laroui’s text or his arguments with larger debates,
for example, in your American academia. Which is a difficult
enterprise, to translate so-called non-Western
theory into debates in your American academia. And this is, for me, a way of
trying to develop an optic that allows me to do that. But I take your point. So thank you for– and I appreciate that
to say, well, I’ve actually point enough. I don’t need that. But I think it was a way for
me to try to get to that point where I can talk about
his concept of tradition in a way that avoids the
pitfalls that inevitably come up when you talk from
my place of speaking about the concept of
tradition regarding a Moroccan contemporary
intellectual, who responds to Muslim theologians in
Morocco and the Arab world to other contemporary
Arab intellectuals, and also to a certain
hegemony of what we call Western modernity and the
renderings of tradition in these types of practices. And I think this
terminology, this optic that I use with Scott
served me to work out the particular difference. He reads into the
concept of tradition regarding these discourses
or discursive practices he engages. So now back to the
beginning of your comment. I think it’s very– I appreciate very much
that you brought out this point about conflict. I think that is a
key concern for me. Through invoking the tragic to
emphasize the role of conflict in Laroui’s view of
tradition, that he reads conflict back into tradition. Which is, in a way, occluded
in the theological readings and the secular liberal readings
of tradition he engages with and I engage with. So to take conflict at
the basis of the grounding of the social– because
tradition is, in a way– or, how I approach it
with Scott is that– what interests Laroui is
how tradition and accounts of tradition ground the present
in a certain historicity so that a certain
way of linking a past with the present and a future. And the way you spell
out tradition, following a certain historicity,
determines the way your history has the present– his Moroccan present. So either determined as
a certain Islamic present or Western modern present
or Moroccan present. So it’s this question
of the historical series you’re establishing through
the terms you invoke. And so, for example,
what I was trying to bring out by calling
this a tragic temporality is that his point is
not to say, well, let’s get away from these
theological readings of tradition and from
liberal readings of tradition and let’s do something new. So the present frame is not a
place of liberal free choice or direct access to a practical
program of political action, but it is highly determinated. And that has to
be worked through. And it’s, in that
sense, that no concept or no practical
solution– and he’s basically interested in a
rational political action. It’s never finished. And I think to bring out this
sense for the unfinished– it’s always been unfinished. That’s what I’m trying
to get at with using this term of the “tragic.” Not in the sense of
pessimism, but more in a certain sensibility
of temporality and historicity that things with
theologies and eschatologies, but things also beyond them. And rejects their ways of
historicizing or offering narratives of the social or the
present based on something that is taken as finished and
determinate, like tradition or modernity as
something reified. So I think that’s, for
me, a major point– how he reads conflict
back not only in the concept of
tradition, but through that into the notion of the
present and his present. Second point– I don’t know
how much time I have left. You have about four minutes. OK. That through this dialectic
movement between hadith– or the vision of truth, history,
time of the hadith sciences– geared towards
preservation of a memory, of a tradition as
opposed to fiqh, the Islamic jurisprudence
concerned with the new– the logic of the fiqh being
or expressing a concern within the new, with
a case, with material, with a conflict that
has to be solved. And you can respond to
the new in two ways, his argument would be. You can either fold
it into something that is taken as given,
an analogy with a past, or somehow open your view to
the new as a material event. And that connects
to these discussions we had on the event as a
rapture and materiality. Sorry. So he poses, in a way,
the vision of the hadith with the preservation
of meaning and memory to the emphasis on materiality
and the event as a material event, and fiqh because
jurisprudence is concerned with cases, with concrete
cases and social conflicts and having to make a
judgment in concrete cases. Now, what I’m trying to show
is that this dialectic is not, for him, specifically Islamic. Because he doesn’t
start by saying, well, let’s look at what
is specifically Islamic or what is Islamic
historiography. But he takes a certain body of
historical thought and asks, what makes this body of
historical thought Islamic and what produces this
idea of the Islamic or the Islamic tradition in
this body of historical thought? What are the epistemic
conditions for this discourse for us to create this vision? And there he identifies
this dialectic that he interprets
as an expression of an autonomy within
the concept of history, between the creation of
continuity on the one hand and discontinuity
on the other hand. As a dialectical relation
we can trace across history. And he does that in
a particular field. So once you get away
from these ideas of what is specific
for Islamic history, but he tries to insert
it into a more general, into a universal problematic of
historicity and human action. And tradition is their
mode that constantly can emerge in the present. It’s not something of the past,
but the creation of continuity can constantly emerge here now. Not only in a religion,
but also in politics, in science, as he points out. And it’s a way of
reworking temporalities around a foundational event. And in that way he
kind of normalizes what the Sunna does
and tries to insert it into a larger discussion about
the concept of tradition. And that brings me
to my last point, because that came up repeatedly. His approach– as I
characterize it in my paper and in other earlier papers,
as a situated universalism. What I mean by that is
that this constant movement beyond a certain
historical archive is beyond a certain body
of historical thought while determining the
limits within this body of historical thought,
or trying to delimit it. But not then positing something
as universal in the sense, OK, now we have the
authentic hadith Islamic here or the authentic, definitive
understanding of the human. But always to keep this
figure of the universal open and again, to think with
existing articulations of the universal. For example, in Western
modernity and in the Sunna, and think with them towards
another, possibly wider articulation of the
universal, which is not fixed and can never be fixed. And this is like this
figure of thought of negative universalism, or
a situated Universalism that always has to continue this
movement of self-reflexivity, and tries to get away
from a mode of thinking that works with anchoring itself
in something stable, that says, well, some things are stable. And this is a huge discussion
in the Islamic tradition that people say, well,
there is the stable and there is the
changing, and this is a very influential
distinction that from his reading
we can problematize. So, yeah. That wraps up. Thank you. Thank you. And Rian? Well, thank you very much
for that kind reading. The last thing I expected
to come out of your comments was to suggest that
I be more bold. [LAUGHTER] I was not reluctant
at all to take up this topic when I was sitting
in front of my computer alone, looking at
Shazad’s invitation, but then became more reluctant
as the date got closer. But in the end I decided
that the question of how we delimit
our subject of study gets avoided a lot because I
think people think to address the question
somehow necessitates some kind of naive, mechanical
engagement with details. The paper always comes out
a little too on-the-nose, and so we end up letting
some important things, some important details get
not-very-much-discussed, including the major attacks
on the self-description model. The most prominent one,
I think, by Talal Assad, where he basically doesn’t
explain why he doesn’t like it. He does it in about
five sentences. So I thought I would jump in. And you found some fissures
which might explain why I was OK with doing that. When you asked me
to be more bold you pointed out my
claim that there is an inherent interest in
talking about Islamic history. And you also noticed
my discomfort– or, no. Not discomfort. My annoyance with the
Middle-East-centered understanding of Islam
or Muslim societies, which Shahab Ahmed, who
was the foil in this paper and the inspiration
for the title, expanded a little bit to
the Balkans, to the Bengal. So what both of
these things point to is that there are
real-world consequences of these categories. And perhaps it’s a false binary,
the essentialist, nominalist binary. And indeed I tried to
give a little essence to ascription through
some very broad reading of various Islamic histories. But it’s not false
when it happens to you. And I would say that
the Middle-East-centered understanding of what Islam
or Islamic history is, is very much at the root of
essentialist views of Muslims as foreign in all of the places
where they are minorities. And that includes China, where
right now in the last year about 5% of the
10-million-strong Uyghur minority has been imprisoned
in so-called re-education camps on the basis of their
ethnicity and on the sense that their Islam is a
foreign, Middle Eastern Islam. So I think that’s what
may be encouraging me to pursue what is, yes, maybe
a very old dialectic or binary. But it’s one that
really, I think, plagues the study of Islamic
societies today, and it plagues real
Islamic societies today. Another thing that
I will probably add if I continue
working on this paper is the disentangling
of two questions of defining Islam, which seem
to be taken up always together without much distinction. One is, where do we draw a
line and say what is Islamic and what is not? And the other is,
what is the nature of whatever we’d call Islam? We could call it the
question of delimitation and the ontological question. And these tend to get addressed
at exactly the same time and cause a lot of confusion. I was trying in this paper just
to go with the delimitation which, indeed, I
think comes out to be a somewhat mechanical exercise,
but one we have to engage in if we’re going to have a special
issue on the Islamic pasts. Most notably because
Islams have not only differed across time
and space, but they have differed not
only in their nature but in what category they are. So, for example,
we could think of, like, a very secular
Islam where there’s a sense that Islam is a
religion and it’s only a certain part of
the human experience. And then we can imagine some
idealized pre-modern Islam where it’s all-encompassing,
it’s everything in your life. Do we really want to– any attempt to pin down
Islam ontologically is going to have to get rid
of one of these or the other. So I was looking for
a way to accommodate all the sectional interests
while being able to still speak from the sectional
interests, and I guess in doing so revealed my
own sectional interests which were very keenly spotted. Nothing wrong with that. I guess [INAUDIBLE]. OK. [APPLAUSE] OK. So I think we’re going to
follow the procedure we learned in the last panel. [LAUGHTER] And go one-by-one rather
than multiple questions. So we’ll just
start on this side. So, Nancy? Thank you very much. And I especially want
to thank you, professor, for that beautiful
formulation about, when we speak what we mean
is new but the words are old. And I found that to be a
very clear but profound way of articulating the
problem of reconciling human agency with tradition
and the way people engage in tradition in
a self-conscious way. I feel though that the problem
that was posed in Rian’s paper was asking us to get to a point
where it was difficult to sort of stop there. And I wanted to
[INAUDIBLE] through this, and I started thinking
about the analogy of the thing on a computer
that we used to call a mouse. And the reason it
was called a mouse was because it resembled
one physically. It was mouse-shaped
and it had a wire. And then it stopped
having a wire, but we still called it
a mouse, and everybody knew what that meant. They knew we didn’t mean a
little animal with grey fur and ears. But now it’s no
longer called a mouse. It’s called a trackpad now. But it behaves like a mouse,
like a computer mouse. And so you have the
idea of the thing is– the word is being evoked. It means something new, but then
it stops being the same word. It’s a different
word, but the new word does the same thing as
what the old word used to mean something good. And I started thinking, OK, so
that’s how traditions change. It’s still operating
the same way within the tradition
of the computer, the system of the computer, but
it’s called something new now. And I wonder, does it
matter that no one will ever remember that it used
to be called a mouse? Everyone will think it
was just a trackpad. If there’s no one left to
remember the old thing, then it doesn’t matter
that the tradition has now evolved so far beyond
the bounds of what used to be considered Islamic
to something that, let’s say, in the seventh century
or the eighth century Muslims could never have
looked forward and foreseen that this particular festival
in Sri Lanka or wherever is Muslim too. Right? But it doesn’t matter because
there’s no one anywhere to remember that. Except for the fact that
tradition is recorded and people engage with
recorded tradition in a very self-conscious way. So this thing about
delimitation and the thing that we call Islamic– I think part of what’s
difficult about it for me to wrap my head
around, though I’m inclined to agree with the
conclusion you came to, Rian, in the paper, and opt
towards the more expansive, is that there’s something
about the passage of time and how tradition is fossilized
through its being recorded and constructed as
tradition at the same time that it is being undermined and
evolving all the time because of the idea that every time
we speak we mean something new even though the words are old. And so it’s that
point of tension that I wonder if there’s
any way that people have thoughts about resolving it. And I’m sorry for the
long and weird analogy. Would anyone like to– Sure. You go ahead. I’m not sure if I
fully understand you. You said that you
were inclined to go with this expansive
delimitation, but there’s this thing–
so I don’t understand. You think it’s a problem, this
phenomenon of fossilized– things being recorded
in one moment and continuing to have some
sort of agency in later moments? I think it’s the paradox between
tradition being fossilized but also always alive
that causes people to feel that there’s a problem in saying
anything Muslims do is Islam. Because the logical
question that comes is, what if what they’re doing
is antithetical to what lots of other Muslims are doing? And so there’s something about
that perceived slippery slope that is embodied in the paradox
of something being traditional but also always potentially
subversive because it is alive. [INAUDIBLE] Yeah. I can say something about that. What you were just saying,
when you first formulated your comment and question
I think that’s exactly– I heard the dialectic
that I was talking about in what you were
saying about the mouse and the trackpad. So that’s one thing. So the other is, for me the
question is also why are we asking this question? What is Islamic? What is our poblem space that
your turn to speak and discuss. And that is political because
it is about the groundings. And this very question
touches upon ontology. And if we say, this thing is– And so I think that
would be also like point to go further than
[INAUDIBLE] because what pushes people to identify
certain things as Islamic or not. Konstantin, please. The way I would come at
this is by saying that– why does this become a problem? Well, it becomes a
problem when people disagree with one another or
don’t understand one another. And that’s always
concrete, and that’s life when we’re talking
about these things because people have very
different views of what Islam is. And they have very articulate
positions about what it means or isn’t. And they are not the same. So there is a real disagreement. That’s why one has
to talk about it. Because otherwise we don’t
know what we’re talking about. We don’t understand each other. And to establish a
consensus on something that is so passionately debated
is just a very difficult process and sometimes it fails. That’s [INAUDIBLE]
quotation was about. Sometimes you wind up at
the point where you say, don’t you get it? And the other person
says, no, I don’t. And that’s the end of it. You just can’t go any
further than that. And then the question is
whether you come to blows or don’t come to blows. What I would like
to stress, however, is that in order for such
disagreements to be possible there needs to be a
lot on which we agree. There needs to be a
whole range of phenomena that are beyond debate,
which we don’t even assume. One of my models for that is a
wonderful passage on religion and society in Lucien
Febvre, this great old book on the problem of unbelief
in the 16th century, where he points out the important
thing about religion in the 16th century is
precisely not what people were thinking about. You have to pay
attention to what they were doing without
thinking about anything. Not what they were
thinking about. The moment you focus on what
they’re thinking about you’re going to be in the
realm of theology. And what do ordinary
people in the 16th century have to do with theology? This shows up in your
paper, by the way, because there was another thing
that I wanted to comment on, and that was the
difference between it’s whatever they say it is, and
it is what they believe it is. That’s a fundamental
difference, and that needs to be commented on. Because saying what
it is is an action. It’s a deliberate action. You say, this is what it is. What you believe
can be completely– you don’t even know
what you believe. People will ask you,
do you believe that? And you go, uh, I suppose I do. That must be part of what I’m
committed to, because it’s just part of life. I’m not saying– you know,
to give the famous skeptical example– I don’t believe really
there’s any doubt about the world outside these
doors having disappeared in the last five seconds. I mean, maybe theoretically
it’s possible, but I firmly believe
that it hasn’t. And I don’t talk
about that normally, unless there’s a disagreement. Only then will I talk about it. And this ground– that’s the
area to which Wittgenstein refers to as certainty. The things that are
simply beyond dispute, not because they can’t be doubted– not because they cannot be
doubted or because there can’t be skepticism about
them, but because they are not doubted. It’s a simple fact that
that’s all that matters. People don’t doubt
it at the moment. You could put it into
doubt if you like. Well, then people will doubt
it and they will debate it. But there’s a
whole lot of things that people do not
debate because there’s no reason to debate it. For example, whether the
universe outside the doors has disappeared. There’s no reason to debate
it, so you don’t debate it. And so in that area
there’s a consensus. But once you have a
conversation and you explicitly talk about an issue, then
you run into this problem because the moment you
have a conversation you have disagreement,
both sides trying to occupy the higher ground. And that happens by producing
either a universal definition– and say, this is what
it is and it’s then supposed to be universal. And then the other
side criticises it and then we wind up
with anything goes. And that’s an altered fact of
the debate that takes place in a contested setting where
people aren’t patient enough to try and figure out what
the other side actually has going for it
when it says x, y, and z because it just can’t
stand hearing “to who” without the M. OK. So we have a couple of
follow-up questions. This is more to to Nils’
example about the mouse and the trackpad. And then your question
about does it really matter. You know? We have something with different
names, similar function. Do we need to remember that
there was once a mouse? And we could have other
things, like [INAUDIBLE].. I think it is important
not just for the reason that you said,
that it’s recorded. But also think outside of
the textbooks, I think, because some of the
textbook [INAUDIBLE] and some of the things did
happen orally or emotionally, in other ways. And for history I tend to
call it impasses of history. The kinds of stuff that haven’t
kind of [INAUDIBLE] particular, that haven’t come out down to
us and don’t define who we are. And hence we tend to
ignore them conveniently. But I think all the
things that do define us– and here I come back to the
vantage point that human beings are speaking and thinking from– is also formed by all the
things, the debates that happened in parallel. And some of them died out and
some of them have survived. But the others have
helped form and shape whatever has come out of it. So I think also that means
even if we don’t see it, if the universe doesn’t
record it, [INAUDIBLE].. Thanks. So I think what I’m saying has
to do with this conversation. So I really appreciated
your attempt to kind of recuperate
a self-ascription, and I am working in South Asia
and the ways in which South Asian Islam can be configured. I really appreciate
and share your sense of urgency about
this issue, about who gets to define what is Muslim. But I guess one
thing that I think might enhance your
description or your assessment and engagement with this
idea of self-ascription would be to put it back
in a social context. I mean, there’s a social
life of self-ascription. So all of these
are very much kind of the individual in isolation,
and then the job is done. And this is where Judith
Butler can be really helpful. I hate being the person in the
room bringing up Judith Butler because I’m not a specialist
on Judith Butler, so full disclosure on that point. But just because of the
notion of performance and the fact that– so in her case it’s gender
that she’s interested in, how gender is performed. But what she’s very
good at articulating is the ways in which there are
multiple kinds of performances that are available to people,
some of them imposed on them, some of them there
are measures of choice with those performances. But there are also limits. Right? And so the social life
of self-ascription, the social life of the choices
and non-choices that we make, is there and it’s real. And she focused on the
contemporary period so she talks about exactly
the dynamics that you’re speaking about. Right? This closing down, this refusal,
the police officer effect that she talks
about, the limits. So I guess that, I think,
might be useful to you in conceptualizing
how you can understand these dynamics
that you’re seeing and that we’re
seeing on the ground, but still giving
self-ascription a place. Because it is really important. But that doesn’t mean
it’s always accepted. OK. Anyone else? Yes. Yes, please. Binary problem. [CHUCKLES] Right. So is this for Nils, and it’s
a comment and then a question. The comment is that it
strikes me in some ways that the project on
which you’re embarking seems much more like
a deconstruction than a dialectic, at
least insofar as– if Constantin’s
assessment is right– you want to have these
two different poles which are normally taken
as binary opposites to show the way each one
is inhabiting the other. And this seems to
always be the case. And, in fact, even when– you’ve often used
the term “dialectic” to explain the relational
properties of these, but it doesn’t seem
to be as though it’s working, at least in a Hegelian
sense, in a teleological way. It seems to be that it is
really a deconstruction that’s at work. You do evoke Derrida. So I would wonder about
your thoughts on that. But the other is, I want to
know about your commitment to the use of [? White’s ?]
tropes, and in particular to tragedy. And this may be an
issue with Scott and not with you,
but as I understand it the opposite of romance
for [? White ?] isn’t tragedy, but it’s sometimes satire. So in the romance you have
the triumph over evil, and in the satire people are
captives and resign themselves and they die. Whereas in tragedy you have
this transformative narrative– I mean, [INAUDIBLE]—- a hero
when there’s a fall or a test and they learn through
resignation and work to work within the limitations
of the world. And they overcome this,
the audience learns too. And so that– it seems
sort of [INAUDIBLE] in the Marxist sense, in
the revolutionary sense. But it wasn’t clear
whether that was actually what you were going for. So I would like to know about
your commitment to the tragic. Or are you trying to define it
in a slightly different way? How much do you need it
actually for the argument you’re trying to put forward? Thank you. You can go ahead, Nils. OK. Thank you. So about the dialectic
and Hegel and Derrida. I’m not a specialist in Hegel
or Derrida, for disclosure. But the point I’m trying to
make is that it’s not dialectic that is geared towards
[INAUDIBLE] of this tension. But the tension is precisely
at the core of his analytic and is precisely
kept at all times. And that makes it
situated in [INAUDIBLE].. And that runs against
these theologies of modernization theory of
heroic stories of overcoming because they interrupt this– what Scott [INAUDIBLE]
second point– this identification
of time, of history in 20th century
theories of politics, of political change in
Marxism, in liberalism. So the end of history,
modernization, development, the end of tradition, the
overcoming of tradition, the overcoming of modernity
in the Arab context, or the overcoming of modernity
through authenticity, for example. So what I’m trying to
get at with Scott’s romanitc narrativization
of change is this heroic overcoming,
leaving behind, making a cut with the past. And that has also a history
in the modern imagination of history– this imagination
of a cut between the past and the present. And it is connected to
these heroic narratives of overcoming. And Derrida and others in this
debate on the politics of time, but also others,
I think that they break with this identification
of history, with time. And that’s what
Scott, in my readings was getting at,
that they developed this sensibility that this can
no longer be taken as a given. But we have to reckon with it. That’s what I’m trying
to do with Scott, always to think with you
have to reckon with. It’s not that [INAUDIBLE]
our past and beyond. You know we are beyond that. That would be another strangely
romantic, heroic story of post-modern
overcoming of the modern. They’re still with us
and there are always renewed attempts and practices
of grounding the social in such romantic narratives. An Laroui’s take disrupts
exactly this identification of history and time, this
Hegelian form of dialectic. So you have different
forms of that. So either you do
it the dialectics in a way that involves the
difference as a problem and conflict,
dissenters, or it brings out conflict and dissenters. So, for example, in the
way how people define certain word [INAUDIBLE],,
when they speak when they say the word
“Islam” and they have a different understanding. And I think this is precisely
where Laroui gets at in terms of conflict in this very point. And then I think then the
tragic is a way of saying– in my reading of Scott– that when you in times of
joined or thought of as joined, and you don’t– you resist
this identification of history and time, and how to think
actually about historicity. What kind of
narratives [INAUDIBLE] should we work with and ways
of measuring a certain past. What past with what
present, with what future, build on which models. And then the problem
of using models came up in a number of papers. So I think this problem
is more generally. And so and the tragic mode
is resisting a quick answer, to say, yeah, we have
ready to hand here the given models directly
ready to hand my inspiration or this model. But this thinking with. And thinking with means
not overcoming the enemy, like Western hegemony,
but thinking with, like, how Laroui
at one point says, well, it is difficult to
talk about your own tradition in words of a former colonizer,
but we have to do it. There is no way around it. And it’s hard. But if you don’t do it we lose– then our defeat
will be even deeper. So in order to cope
with our situation we have to do it anyways. So it’s like [INAUDIBLE]
Moroccan intellectual once called a “catastrophic
optimism.” And I think this is
captured by the [INAUDIBLE].. This is just a small thing. I’m trying to understand
what you’re saying, Nils. But I think my
problem is I can’t see what you mean when you
say identification of history with time. Is that temporization of
history or is it something– and what time is
history identified– I just don’t– and that makes
it harder for me to understand what you’re arguing, just
because I don’t see what identification is, basically. OK, so this, I take that
from relation from Scott, but how I understand it is that
if your account of the social, for example, relies on the
classical modernization theory, which is still
influential, like you know, building democracy in Iraq. And then you a certain
way of establishing a relation between the past,
present, and the future, like the model of Western
history that serves as a model, there’s a point, a foundation
point, to read history. From there you read then the
Moroccan present as past, as a present that
is lagging behind. This is the classical
story, and the critique of modernization theory. So in there, that implies a
certain way of historicizing the world around you, right? When you look from Berlin or New
York to the south the this way, you identify history,
the course of things, with a certain way
of relating the past with present and with future. And that is– so
you can in a way, when you really stick to
this model of historicizing, it is difficult to imagine
other ways of historicizing. [INAUDIBLE] makes this
point that this vision of a certain mode of
historicizing the world is a crucial element of
the conceptual effort in the face of modernity. So it it’s very
difficult to escape from this language of
spread of modernity, from the ontological
for not yet, the waiting room of history of
the non-West, it’s very– because it’s
material practices that inform our everyday
academic speech practices. Funding practices. Yeah, as well. The new. The normative, and so on. So what would a way to
historicize differently? So when you don’t buy
into modernization theory but reckoned with the fact
that modernization theory is a powerful way of
historicizing the world, then you distance yourself from
that mode of historicizing, of a certain way of establishing
the developments between past, present, and future, and try
to imagine other ways of making these connections. And then I think, you
know, history and time get this identified in that sense. Because time is not locked into
a certain way of historicizing. Is that a bit clearer? But that means that
you relate history only to a very particular way of
historicizing as it happens in modernization theory. So even within the
Western theory, you marginalize
quite a lot of ways of thinking about the past. [INAUDIBLE] Identifying history,
historicization, and modernization theory. Well I was just
making an example, and I would say with [INAUDIBLE]
that this certain what he calls historicism, Lowry has
another concept of historicism, is a very powerful
mode of historicizing the world in modern contexts
and in modern nation states. As you say, it informs
funding practices and informs academic
humanities, and ways of bringing up Islam within the
framework of the humanities. I’m not saying– this
is always the thing. I’m not saying that this is
then everything about modernity. But it’s powerful
ways of historicizing that an intellectual like
Lowry has to cope with. And also in my work
when I read him, that these modes of
historicizing non-Western intellectual
productions, I really had to work my
way through these, through the powerful effects
of these reading practices to actually read some
difference into Lowry’s work, because otherwise he would just
seem like a modern Westernizer, or a modernizer who says well,
liberalism is so influential, so let’s get liberalism and
that’s the end of the story. Can I say something
to follow up on that? I think that one of the
ways to keep it clearly in mind why this is so
powerful a way of thinking is that if historically
I’m well enough informed, it comes out of an early modern
period in which people were not able to maintain consensus. It comes out of a
world of religious war in which it proved impossible
to establish religious peace without changing the
terms of a debate, instituting sovereignty
and instituting the difference between the
private and the public sphere. At best that’s like a truce. But the underlying conflict
between Protestants and Catholics and everybody
who was engaged in that, that was never resolved and
the institution sovereignty is a violent act. It’s the institutionalization
and the petrification, if you like, of a religious
form of violence that was never successfully pacified. And that still hovers over
the whole modern world. And that’s why the whole modern
world so desperately needs to hang on to this
difference between public and private and
state and religion and it needs to hang onto
that because the moment you give up those
distinctions, all hell is going to break loose,
literally speaking. Religious war is
going to come back. All hell is going
to break loose. If you give up on
that, then where are human rights going to be? Where’s democracy going to be? That’s what makes this,
as far as I’m concerned, in the European context, that’s
what gives it this power. It’s an unspoken fear that
lies underneath these concepts and these distinctions. Could I answer Anne’s question? Sure, please. Anne, thank you for
that recommendation. That will be extremely useful. One of the things I
wanted to do was actually look a little bit at the
act of self ascription. Because the assumption has been
well, if it’s self ascription, then anything goes. But you know, how many– do any non-Muslims
in the room want to stand up and say,
I’m a Muslim right now? No, because we’re
socially situated, and self ascription is a
socially, contextually situated act. And so that’s very helpful. And that makes me
think, also that I’m not sure that this is about
the binary of an essence versus an anything goes,
that precisely because not anything goes when
it’s self ascription, it grows out of that competition
of sectional interest and grows out of that
re-emergence of the past as it’s been maybe frozen
and then taken up again. OK, so Sean has a
follow up question. I just wonder in terms of
the difference between self ascription and ascription, which
you kind of bring together very quickly in the conclusion by
talking about Islamic history as a category that is a
reflection of the processes of self ascription. And you know, when we start
talking about it in terms of social situations,
and we start talking about the political
stakes of these self ascriptions and
ascriptions, I wonder if it’s important to maintain
that distinction more precisely, right? So I mean when I
look at that the move that you make where you
sort of say, OK, what makes, and I’m going to totally
butcher the pronunciation of these things, you know,
what makes Hui Hui and Muslims and Xinjiang and
Islam equivalent? That’s not self ascription,
right, that’s ascription. And what are the kind of
political stakes of your making that move in the context of
the discussions about state suppression and things that
you’ve been talking about, right, which are part of
the stakes of the creating of these histories. And you know, to
somebody who’s really sympathetic with your
frustration about the Balkans to Bengal, or even
let’s say, you know, Morocco to Malaysia, hegemony. I’m also one of the
people who’s really skeptical about the
value of Islamic history, precisely because it strikes
me that it helps erase or it helps disguise precisely
these kinds of stakes, right? The stakes around
that act of ascription and all of the things that can
possibly be left out of that. So I guess I just want to know
more about when is ascription justified, and what are
the politics of that as separate from the
politics and the ability to narrate and construct
histories of self ascription. Let me just actually,
I had a quick comment, and when you asked the question,
well, who among us would say whether you are a Muslim,
are there many of us who would go walk sideways? There is not an easy question. Thank you. Yeah, well the distinction
between self ascription and ascription is
important in two ways, the one you mentioned,
and also, you know, I took Barth as
a starting point, and he’s very clear
that he’s not just talking about self ascription
but also ascription as those two things interact. And I just didn’t
want to take the time and space in that paper
to struggle with that. But there is another
kind of ascription that you’re talking about which
is more problematic, which is where did that word
equivalent come from? And that’s a tough question. Most of us would accept
that musulmán and mulsimon or something like that,
or Muslim are equivalent. But why? Where does that come from? Or where does it come from
that when I say Muslim and you say Muslim, those are
considered to be equivalent? And the answer I’m trying to
explore in this paper is that it is through the
process of transmission, that I’m not saying it’s– or I’m trying not
to be the one who’s saying that it’s equivalent,
but rather that you can see that the actors themselves
see it as equivalent over time through the transmission. You can see the moment
where the man who coins Xinjiang for Islam
coins it and does so as an equivalent, and
then passes on the notion that it’s equivalent
to his children, and they pass it on from there. And let me add briefly
one other thing. I also sympathize with your
desire to just throw away the idea of Islamic history. I’m equally excited
about throwing away the idea of Chinese history. China is a super
problematic category. But we have to talk
to the outside world. And if we as
scholars who dedicate our lives to understanding
these various parts of the world want to have a voice in what
happens to the people we study or the communities we come from,
then I’m afraid we’re stuck. I mean, getting rid of the
idea of Islamic history or getting rid of the
idea of China is just– I can’t do it. So I want to find a
more reasonable way to use those terms. Emily. Oh, yeah. Hi. Thank you so much for
your presentations. Around the topic of
romance and tragedy, I just wanted to bring
out a occluded person from that conversation, which
is Northrop Frye, the old school formalist critic who was
the origin of those modes in literary thinking, and then
it migrates to Hayden White, and then it migrates
to David Scott, and then it migrates
to postcolonial theory. But when you go back
to Frye, he’s got– I mean, it’s very
schematic, which is why we’ve sort of left Frye
in the dust in a lot of ways, but you know, there’s
low mimetic tragedy. I’m just looking
at the Wikipedia. High mimetic tragedy, irony,
comedy, satire, and they all sort of revolve around
the individual’s relationship to society and how those
relationships occur. So I wonder if
actually assessing the sort of literary
critical past could help us in
thinking about the ways that these different
Islamic thinkers– yeah, so just maybe even resuscitating
more modes beyond romance and tragedy, which is
where Scott certainly is. Are there other things from
Frye that we could think with? Would anyone like to address? Yes, thank you. I think, you know,
like, I agree with you. And like for my paper this
was like the limited purpose, and I thought for
this paper just through, because this came
up, like, it made sense for me to use these two
types, but I totally agree with you that also
like the question how to– yeah, I think it’s
very useful to think with these forms of
literary criticism and to think more about this,
how also theory is always articulating a narrative, and
also a form of narrativization, as a form of grounding
one’s account of the social. If I may like, this question
time in history, like, if you– the point I was trying to get
at also from another angle is when you frame the present
within empty homogeneous time, that is the
product of what [INAUDIBLE] calls the modern
nation state and historicism. Then that supports this
romantic narrative of overcoming and disables the conflict, the
consensus within the present, because the present– modernity, or Islamic,
is this reified thing traveling and
changing through time, whereas the tragic mode
disrupts this flattening of time in theological modes of
understanding the Sunna, but also secular liberal modes
of understanding tradition. That’s what I wanted to get at. Like a very– so not like a
wholesale critique of saying, well, modernity
is that, but it’s a very definitive targets that
Lowry has, and also my paper. And so I totally agree with you. Thank you. OK, so actually I have– is it connected? So this is actually going in a
slightly different direction, but it’s just reflecting
on all the papers today. So one of the very
interesting things is that multiple
times we have talked about the relationship
between history and politics and identity and the
power structures that are completely imbued in any
kind of production of the past, right? But one of the
striking things is that when we talk
about modern contexts, like in these two papers or
in other previous ones too, and also when something
modern is brought up, such as, for example, what
is happening in Syria right now in or in Xinjiang. We are very well aware
of the weight on us as moral agents
talking about this. But when we talk
about the pre-modern, like for example
[INAUDIBLE] or if we’re talking about the [INAUDIBLE]. And this is partly
because my own work is on the pre-modern, too. There’s a way in
which the politics is completely de-fanged. We can just wish it away. So my question actually
is for someone like Lowry who actually wants to
take up the double burden, as a moral agent, as a Muslim,
and as a modern historian and a modern theoretician, when
he reads the medieval authors, is he reading them
fundamentally differently than anyone working in the kind
of American academy would do? Is that part of the
takeaway from the position he’s taking, because it then
requires an entirely different way, different type of moral
relationship to the sources that we are reading. You’re asking me whether he
is in a different relationship to these sources. I would say yes. Well, that’s always
easy to say, yes and no. But let me try. You know, his location
is definitely different because he has always been
writing, most of his time. He was shot in Los Angeles
teaching there in the late 60s, but mostly he has taught
in Britain, in Morocco, and has been concerned with
debates and discussions in Morocco and the Arab world. And I think that in terms
of material location, it makes a difference
on his work and the audiences
to which he spoke and the languages
he has written in. Like his early work was partly
translated into English. This later work and books
and concepts in Arabic have most not been translated. So his location, for
example, is not, if you wish, postcolonial in
the sense that he is trying to decolonize
Western theory about Islam or the Middle East. So he is very explicit
in his difference from Sayid, for example. So he speaks as a Muslim and he
is addressing other audiences. He is addressing the Muslim
and Arab audience in Morocco primarily, and the
wider Arab region. And he is calling for a
rereading of the tradition by invoking this tradition. Why critiquing it? And by insisting on
the particularity of his location within Morocco
and the particular requirements that he has been
trying to work out, he has emphasized that starting
with his first book when he said, well, we have
to adapt Marxist theory to this particular location
of contemporary Arab thought after 1967. And after that, our
conceptual approaches to that. It’s not fundamentally
different in the sense, you know, when people say
post-colonial scholars, because they’re teaching in the
US, that kind of delegitimizes their project. I don’t find that
convincing because it kind of exoticizes
location, or like, you know? So when he speaks from what I
call a situated universalist perspective, of
course, he doesn’t say I’m not talking to
anyone beyond Morocco or beyond non-Muslim audiences. So it’s taking up this attitude
of [INAUDIBLE] that the effect of this relativizing of the
absolute, that he traces and that he establishes
kind of continuity through his reading
of history that goes beyond the foundational
moment of the Islamic tradition through Turkey to
the US, and so on. So he doesn’t say there
was a moment of inception of this epistemic attitude. And maybe I leave it at that? I think that helps. But I think there is a– part of the reason
I’m asking this is that thinking about
his theoretical side of his discussion of
historiography, time, et cetera, it is very
rich and is very potent and I kind of agree
with Ethan that it’s more deconstructionist,
perhaps, then certainly Hegelian dialectics. But one of the
interesting things is that when one goes
from there to reading his actual readings
of certain sources, they tend to be not as exciting. So it’s almost
like the theory is waiting for it to be taken up. But because it’s
not translated, it’s only in Arabic, and essentially
a little bit in French as well, but there is a way in
which if it can be taken up by those who do read
the Arabic sources, unlike the way he
does it, I think there is more potential there
for further exploration. Could I follow up on that
question about responsibility which I can’t address
in an Islamic context, but I certainly can address
it in a European context, because I would say
that I bristle when medieval people are
called medieval, because they didn’t call
themselves medieval, for obvious reasons. There were no Middle Ages. And because the
term medieval, even though historians, of
course, don’t tend to use it, but the term medieval has
associations with barbaric, and thank God it’s no
longer, it’s medieval. That’s what people think
in ordinary language. That’s medieval. So in speaking about
the Middle Ages, I find there is a
certain injustice that is being done to people
who are long dead and whose right to be recognized
as our equals is thereby violated. I feel that, because my
responsibility as a historian is to understand them and
to describe them fairly. That’s the one side. However, the other side is
that once I’ve understood them I also need to say what they
did when I write their history. And when I describe what they
did and write the history of what they did, I cannot
talk about it in their terms. As well as I may understand
them, I have to use my own. So I can understand
what they may have meant when they
said God wants it, and we are rescuing the
Holy Land from the infidels. There’s a sense in which
I can understand that. But I can’t repeat that. I can’t say, well, in the
Middle Ages the crusaders, they went to the Holy Land to
rescue it from the infidels. I have to describe
this differently as an unprovoked act of
aggression on Muslims, on Islam, on the Middle East,
on whatever you want to call it. And then there’s going to be
a specific debate about what you really want to call it. So I would say that the
point that Rush Rhees made in this paragraph, with
these couple of paragraphs with which I started
applies to history as well. This is how history
goes on, too. There are real disagreements
which divide the times, and what was legitimate
to say at one point is no longer
legitimate at another. And some people, I mean,
this happens in a lifetime, and some people suddenly
wake up to find out that what they used to say is
no longer quite permissible and they better learn to
speak a little differently in the present. That’s where real
disagreement occurs. And I’m not sure that
I would call this– would say that’s
where it doesn’t work. Because that’s part
of living in society. I don’t think that my
point of view, my standard is there is no such thing
as a Hegelian synthesis. And if you can’t find
one, that doesn’t mean that things don’t work. That means that you have a live
conversation in which people talk with each other and
you say this and I say that. That’s how a live
conversation works. We don’t say the same thing. Once we have reached
saying the same thing we might as well stop talking. That’s how it ends. That’s the synthesis, I
suppose, when you stop talking. But who wants to
do that, especially in an academic setting? However, on that note,
we have to stop talking. It’s almost the
end of the panel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *