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Culture & Religion

From post-modernism to post-secularism

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After more than a century of secuarlisation, Egypt's cultural life is set to revolve again around the Quran. "The Quran is our Constitution" exhorted President Mohamed Morsi during the cliff-hanger presidential election, Egypt’s first ever bona fide presidential election, in which he trounced the old guard's representative. But what does this arresting image really mean, asks Eric Walberg

This Ramadan is a historic one, celebrating the triumph of the political vision of Egypt's legendary Muslim Brotherhood (MB): to take inspiration from the Quran to regenerate Egyptian society. Gamal Abdel-Nasser's socialist vision lies in ruins, dismantled in the 40 years since his death, replaced by a neoliberal nightmare dreamed up in American thinktanks.
The vision will not be realised by sticking to the political and economic policies of the past 40 years, policies which turned Egypt into a poor imitation of Western societies, with shocking disparities of income and extreme poverty, environmental degradation and human degradation. Egypt was shattered into fragments -- gated communities for the super-rich, sprawling slums for the poor, traffic-choked streets for everyone, crowded jail cells for thousands of innocent, devout people caught in the treadmill of a justice system that produced little justice.

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Islam and Europe: An equal and opposite reaction

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So goes one of the fundamental laws of physics. In the face of recent “actions” in the West -- economic crisis and rampant Islamophobia, there is an inexorable “reaction”, as the eternal values of Islam continue to manifest themselves, notes Eric Walberg 

Ramadan exemplifies the powerful spiritual calling of Islam. Dry fasting is more a test of the spirit, the will, proof of devotion, than just some health gimmick. And it is precisely this cultivation of mass “mind over matter” that frustrates Western secularists, so used to indulging every consumer fetish on a whim. Why are Muslims so stubborn in nurturing ancient beliefs and rituals when they fly in the face of modern capitalist society? Secular critics dismiss Islam as a harmful, even dangerous anachronism. Why disrupt one’s busy day five times to pray, slow down the whole economic order for an entire month every year, ban alcohol and interest -- the bedrock of Western society?

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Turkish summit: ‘Meeting to Change’

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The Leaders of Change summit 13-14 March in Istanbul was hosted by the Turkish Futures Researches Foundation (TUGAV) founded in 1987. The theme was “Changing to meet, meeting to change”, emphasising the radical changes in policymakers’ thinking now taking place and the importance of sharing new ideas to address the urgent problems facing particularly the Middle East.

The summit was the first of what TUGAV President Ahmet Eyup Ozguc plans to be an annual forum supported by the Turkish government and Istanbul University. Just as the G8 is losing out to a more representative G20 in global economic decision-making, the Turkish organisers intend that such summits can shift attention away from gatherings such as the elitist World Economic Forum (WEF) and provide a more democratic platform for voices of change.

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Ecology and Islam: review of Abdul-Matin's "Green Deen" (2010)

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Muslim Americans are slowly beginning to make their mark on their conflicted society. There are more Muslims than Jews in the US now --approximately 5 million. They are the most diverse of all American believers, 35 per cent born in the US (25 per cent Afro-American), the rest -- immigrants from southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Traditionally they have voted Republican, but have shifted to Democrat and Green parties in recent years.

Ibrahim Abdul-Matin is the son of black converts, raised in New York, a community organiser now environmental adviser to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His book about Islam and the environment -- Green Deen -- is a stimulating overview of both the US environmental movement and how American Muslims are becoming part of it, bringing their own unique perspective.

Abdul-Matin sees the weakness of the environmental movement today in its secular, legalist approach to problems: pass enough laws and you can curb the negative practices of business and consumers, and push them along an environmentally-friendly path.

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Against culture: review of Al-Azmeh's "Islam and Modernities" (2009)

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Islam and Modernities by Aziz Al-Azmeh, 3rd edition,London:Verso , 2009

In this collection of essays by the Syrian historian Aziz Al-Azmeh, based at the Central European University in Budapest, the author provides a searing critique of both postmodernism and (multi)culturalism and of the radical Islamism that has arisen over the past 30 years in response to the Western onslaught on the Muslim world. In the preface to the third edition, Al-Azmeh attacks "culturalism and its correlative postmodernist and postcolonialist cant that betokens the ideological and conceptual hegemony of the Right over the Left, and the domestication of the latter by the former, most especially in Europe and North America since 1989." Not that he has any use for the "right-wing, fascist and hyper-nationalist ideology" of the Islamic reaction. On the contrary, he defends the Western Enlightenment – the chicken to the postmodern egg – against critics who trace today's intellectual and politic quagmire to that same Enlightenment, insisting that any progress must derive from it.

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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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