Research

2013
Hoda Nehmé, Laïcité et réformes, de Nassif Al Yazigi à Nassif Nassar

Hoda Nehmé 
Laïcité et réformes, de Nassif Al Yazigi à Nassif Nassar


As of the first half of the 19th century, it did not take long for the Ottoman Empire, which was then five centuries old, to unveil a deplorable sociopolitical and political and economic situation.
The Ottoman Empire was based on a political system that failed to include the idea of a territorial state linked to a community, national or ethno-national identity, and was unable to integrate the concepts of territoriality and nationality based on ethnicity. It thus disappeared in the early 20th century.

As the cradle of a pluralistic, disparate and multi-ethnic society, the Near East found itself, in the aftermath of Napoleon Bonaparte’s campaign in Egypt (1798), faced with the conundrum of questioning its own identity and destiny. Following such an unprecedented confrontation, which had not taken place since the time of the Crusades, with the clash of civilizations triggered by the scientific power of the West, a revolution tore through the Near East covering the axiomatic privacy of its identity up until the present time.

This book focuses on this historic encounter with the West, at the crossroads of the 19th century, leading to the emergence of a civilizational dialectic. In other words, this shock of mutual understanding and agreement did not promote the establishment of a peaceful convivium for a possible being, “being with” or “know how to be” for oneself and for others.

Despite the collective and individual awareness that has taken shape, and the challenge to all social and political values that has emerged, a feeling of threat is expressed in the intense mobility of identity. Profound changes agitate Empire and post-Empire times, challengingly revealing that this awakening, which was caused by the confrontation with the European world, takes conflicting, pathological and narcissistic identity shapes. One just has to look at what is happening, on the threshold of the 21st century, in the big cities of the Near and Middle East.
However, the question that is asked in this book is: How have nations, which are so fragile, withstood the adverse effects of time?

For some, this resistance is due to the “millet” system, the subject, non-citizen populations who viewed the Caliph in Istanbul as the distant authorizing officer of civil and religious liberties. For others, it would be attributed to the origins of the movement of philosophical identity, born in the 9th century with the infiltration of Greek philosophy and the emergence of thought, which promoted reason and called for the establishment of the Ideal City governed by reason and the law. This movement was later taken up by the entrepreneurs of the first and second “Nahda”.

These two points of view justifying resistance, whether genuine or not, highlight the main subject of this book: religious affiliation cannot be defined as a sense of belonging.

This book shows how Non-Muslims, i.e. Christians and Jews, have not failed the task that was theirs in the Muslim city, which is to grapple with a passion for adventure in the quest for identity, constantly promoting the need and the search for a sense of belonging.

At a time when the Middle Eastern Arab Christian community was showing that it could better assess and take a certain critical distance vis-à-vis modernity, the broad Sunni Arab community in general, which shared this axiomatic fullness of Near Eastern identity without recourse to any anchor point in this allogeneic modernity, would see the wave of shock so profound that it reached straight into the heart of the matter.

The expression of the Arabs’ reaction took divergent paths. Contemplating their past, Arab Christians chose the construction of citizenship based on the Arabic linguistic heritage as a vehicle of Arab history and culture. Muslims, in contrast, chose a Muslim religious affiliation as the cement of national cohesion and also of the inter-Muslim cohesion in a wider sense, thus transcending geographical space and the concept of State or Nation.

This book addresses the issue of identity as perceived by Christian and Muslim Arabs from the moment they realized that the Ottoman Empire could no longer ensure the survival of minorities or the supremacy of Sunni Islam. This was a gap, which was hard to fill in following the introduction of new ideas that led to the advent of a new way of thinking.

Promoting Arabic as the source of Arab cultural legacy and a sign of belonging, as conveyed in the writings of Nassif Al Yazigi; answering Ibrahim Al Yazigi’s call : “Arise, ye Arabs, and awake, it is time to be free.” (Diwan Ibrahim Al Yazigi, 1883); becoming attuned to the astonishingly unexpected call of Negib Azouri, inciting the Arabs to separate from the Ottoman Empire and assert their autonomy and freedom; venturing into the path of nationalism with Adib Ishac, father of the slogan "Vive la nation" (the concept was used for the first time by Adib Ishac as a reaction to the traditionalist conservative movement of refusing to establish a nation outside the Sharia); seeking to achieve the longtime dream of Arab unity (Antoun Saadeh); working to restore a long-coveted sense of national identity; assuming a sense of belonging as a free act and holding identity as the very essence of the human being in his/her existence (Youssef Al Sawda); carving out a place for oneself on the map of nations, “The sovereign and free homeland”; writing much about restoring citizenship, which was long frozen under the label of Ottoman “subject”; and establishing a political philosophy that would awake the Arab and Islamic world in keeping with the times (Nassif Nassar)... All these efforts, which were expressed in verse, prose, articles, philosophy, political strategies, plays, musical concerts, slogans, and writings centered on the human person in both its autonomy and universality (the writers of the Mahjar, or the diaspora), provide the backdrop for the book entitled Laïcité et Réformes, de Nassif Al Yazigi à Nassif Nassar (Secularism and Reform, from Nassif Al Yazigi to Nassif Nassar).
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