AnalysisCulture +Society

Critique of Arab Intellectuals – Roles and Responsibilities

Critique of Arab Intellectuals – Roles and Responsibilities, Critique of Arab Intellectuals – Roles and Responsibilities


[/ezcol_1fifth] [ezcol_3fifth]Critique of Arab Intellectuals – Roles and Responsibilities, Critique of Arab Intellectuals – Roles and Responsibilities

Working on the topic of Arab intellectuals represents a considerable challenge because the level of uncertainty is great and the dangers are greater. Doing a study about Arab intellectuals resembles working in a minefield that could unexpectedly lead to an explosion anytime and anywhere. While few Arab intellectuals (residing in Arab countries or abroad) responded to the study and cooperated with me, the majority, with whom I worked over the past year, made me think of cancelling the study. Based on my constant communication with the study sample over the past year, I discovered that intellectuals in the Arab world are complicated (sick) beings, suspicious, eccentric and aggressive. The Arab intellectual has generally become dangerous for himself/herself and the others. This significantly contributed to widening the chasm between intellectuals and society. Arab intellectuals remained trapped in their illusions reflecting in the paradox between their conduct and what they call for.

One of the most important results of the study is the chasm between intellectual elites and their society. This chasm stems from the ill relationship between the intellectual elite and society, the difficulty and weakness of Arab intellectuals to deal with their own society and their inability to perceive the challenges and transformations the society is going through. In many cases, we find the intellectual elites in the Arab world discrepant from the public. This discrepancy manifests in the kind of attitudes they show towards sensitive and essential issues in their societies. Arab intellectuals failed to play the role they should and take the responsibility towards what is going on in their societies, especially in this sensitive phase, which is changing the whole region. On the contrary, Arab intellectuals have become followers rather than leaders. This desperate situation pushed several analysts to hold intellectual elites accountable for all the failures and conflicts in the region.


On the one hand, the scope of contribution of Arab intellectuals in the era of globalization is clearly minimal and manifests in their failure to make their voices heard over the world in comparison to western intellectuals. On the other hand, Arab intellectuals found themselves helpless against the spread of the culture of globalization and consumerism. Arab intellectuals have no concrete contribution compared to the dominance of globalization. This owes to the ineffectiveness of the goals and methods of Arab intellectuals in facing the power of globalization and the prevalence of consumerist culture. This is accompanied with their inability to contribute to reviving the Islamic and Arab culture and turn it into a factor towards positive development and benefaction (through new ideas and creative concepts) to change the reality and add to human civilization as a whole.

There is a significant segment of Arab intellectuals who fear ideational reviews of their cultural heritance because of their ideological narcissism. Therefore, Islamic and Arabic societies turned into what Mouhamed Arkoun called “the closed dogmatic fence”.

Thus, it is vital to review this national and Islamic heritance without contradicting the general prevailing values. This requires subduing the Arab history to a conclusive critical reading especially what concerns the false conventional ideas. We need an ideational movement, which establishes a positive debate with all other different human civilizations – eastern or western.

Many Arab intellectuals became involved in media at the expense of culture. But the paradox resides in their inability to hold by free critical thinking to confront the strategies of media networks, the authority of their managers and the strength of their capital. This forced public media outlets to focus on unguided and superficial programs, while giving very limited space for serious and cultural ones. One of the most important reasons of why Arab intellectuals turn to media instead of writing and researching is that media offers high compensations and income in addition to a good status and fame in society.

The study found many gaps between the responsibilities and roles of Arab intellectuals. One of these gaps is the one between intellectual elites and authority. Under this gap we find the problem of authority-intellectuals or the opportunist intellectuals who follow their interests at the expense of the ideas and values they believe in. All what matters for these intellectuals is the spoils received for their support to the authority and the implementation of what it lays down. These intellectuals are dependent and have no fixed position. They function as a means to market ideological programs for incumbent regimes, even though these ideologies might contradict what Arab intellectuals believe in.

Many historical examples show authority in the Arab world often doesn’t acknowledge the value, attitude and roles of intellectuals. Therefore, the authority used the “carrot-and-stick” principle when dealing with Arab intellectuals. Loyalists to the authority will be protected and rewarded while oppositionists will be cracked down. This principle motivated a significant number of Arab intellectuals to turn from opposition to authority (which didn’t recognise them) because they have suffered from the authority’s terrorism, torture and imprisonment.

Translated into English by Hakim Khatib


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