Islam, Orientalism and Intellectual History
ISLAM ORIENTALISM AND INTELLECTUAL HISTORY – Book Sample
Contents – ISLAM ORIENTALISM AND INTELLECTUAL HISTORY
- Prologue: Thinking about Islam and the West 1
- Fact or Fiction? How the Writing of History Became a Discourse of Conquest 39
- Postcolonial Battles over Ibn Khaldūn: Intellectual History and the Politics of Exclusion 77
- How did Islam make it into Hegel’s Philosophy of World History? 103
- The Emergence of Islam as a Historical Category in British Colonial Thought 123
- Disciplining Islam: Colonial Egypt, A Case Study 147
- Epilogue: Historicizing the Global, Politicizing Islam, Giving Violence a New Name 189
- Notes 215
- Bibliography 253
- Index 267
FACT or Fiction?
How the Writing of History Became a Discourse of Conquest
It is not because they don’t know [faute de savoir] that Europeans do not read their history as a history of responsibility.
Jacques Derrida, “Secrets of European Responsibility,”
The Gift of Death, 1995
In recent years a range of disciplines has been concerned with the question of the exclusion and the representation of Islam as the other of the West.
My discussion of the foundations of intellectual thought in Europe (self versus other, Christendom versus Islam) reflects the way in which today’s global politics maintains such a palpable polarization between Muslims and the rest of the world. For a better understanding of the historical specificity of anti-Islamic rhetoric in the West, we need to acknowledge that many forms of Western thought – colonial, scientific, revolutionary, secularist – have also participated in forming this antipathy.
Without a proper understanding of such forms of thought, we are at risk of losing the sense of how much these “ideas” of modernity both formed and continue to inform the present. “Il y a de l’abîme,”1 says Jacques Derrida, an “abyss” located in the very nature of history and resisting any attempt towards confirmation, totalization, and naturalization.2
This very abyss is what makes history fundamentally un-representational and fundamentally non-narrative. If European modernity misunderstood history, according to Derrida, it is not because modernity “emplotted” history, but because even
if history must be admitted, history can never be acknowledged and remains a problem that cannot be resolved. If there has been such a crisis, then this very crisis will engender a practical need that can only be satisfied by rethinking the basic conceptual elements of modernity and its relation to history, or history and its relation to modernity both in Europe and outside if it.
For all these reasons, what must be registered ‘historically’ is the fact that the confining of modernity exclusively to a Western tradition did exist and still exists now.
If recent and contemporary anti-Enlightenment theories like “the death of the subject” (Roland Barthes) or “the death of man” (Michel Foucault) have any value to this particular moment in intellectual history, it is that they signal the end of a specific conceptualization of history with its transcendental individualism, inherent subjectivity, and telos-oriented categorical imperatives. one could suggest that recent revisionist theories of historical thinking, especially in the case of France, may not be so much a reaction to a rigid structuralism as they are a response to external factors like Islam, the Third World and the war with Algeria.
In fact, many of these theories developed in an atmosphere conscious of the relationship of ‘self ’ to ‘other.’ These theories provide the hope that (European) reason is still alive, that after reason there still comes a changed reason.
What conclusions does all of this have for the place of Islam in modern European thought? If modernity, as Timothy Mitchell shrewdly puts it, “is not so much a stage of history but rather its staging,” then modernity is not just “a world particularly vulnerable to a certain kind of disruption or displacement.”3 In fact it is not even a “world” at all, but rather a condition that the West has carefully employed to serve its own purposes. one is also left with the impression that if history includes an inevitable fictivity that makes it an unreliable linguistic artifact in the vicious circle of knowledge and power, one’s understanding of history has to change; the travelogue which was usually regarded as an eyewitness historical document runs the risk of being a suspicious genre or a kind of writing which works as if one had been there.4
Ethnography too is in danger of becoming historical writing that operates in the same way, as if one had been there, but for a longer time (Lévi-Strauss); and finally universal history is in jeopardy of being exposed as ambitious writing produced as if one had not just been there, but everywhere, anonymously and omnisciently (Foucault, Ibn Khaldūn). This proto-scientific analogical notion of history is what constitutes the domain of positivism. This ascribed scientificity to the discourse of history is crucial…
Postcolonial BATTLE over IBN Khaldun
Intellectual History and the Politics of Exclusion
Learn that the art of history is one of great pursuits, enormous benefits, and honorable ends. Ibn Khaldūn, Muqaddima
What happened to Ibn Khaldūn between the fourteenth and twentieth centuries? How does his reputation grow? How is his theory used in the ArabMuslim world? Is there any tension between assessments of Ibn Khaldūn in the pre-colonial period and the ones in the heydays of European imperialism? Has orientalism transformed the translation, reception, and understanding of Ibn Khaldūn? It has been widely accepted that imperial expansion was deeply implicated in the reconfiguration of European culture and science in the colonial era.
Attention to the ways in which European investment in the Arab world has at once cancelled out the ottoman Empire and been shaped by it is at the heart of Europe’s reception of Islam in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The historian Róbert Simon acknowledges that “the refusal of the knowledge of the other [Islam] has not been loosened by the two hundred years of Crusades and the European presence of the ottoman Empire, but it was even more enhanced.”1
Many scholars, including Monneret de Villard, Johann Fück, Norman Daniel, R.W. Southern, Maxime Rodinson, Benjamin Kedar, Albert Hourani, and Edward Said have written extensively on the image of Islam in Western Europe over the last century.
Therefore, a focus on the reception of only one Arab-Muslim intellectual’s work may not do justice to the scopic dimensions of such a vast field. While one does not seek to repeat the varied concerns of all those studies, it is useful to confront them by examining recent and contemporary debates over Ibn Khaldūn’s intellectual legacy. I
argue that the account of Ibn Khaldūn’s reception in recent and contemporary scholarship in the West is not simply shaped by implacable monolithic Eurocentric hegemony over Islam; it is just as much a story of multifaceted engagements with an outstanding Islamic historian that also becomes a story of various engagements with the history of Islam and with intellectual history at large.
My argument thus is not centered on the merits and drawbacks of universalizing or particularizing Ibn Khaldūn, but on the ways in which he has been harnessed and mobilized for particular colonial and postcolonial projects. In fact, there have been many rival claims on Ibn Khaldūn. First, there are writers like M. Kamil ‘Ayyād and E. Rosenthal who emphasize his secular thinking and modern ideas on history.
A second group, represented by H.A.R. Gibb, Franz Rosenthal, Mustafā al-Shak‘a, and Sa‘īd al-Ghānimī, study Ibn Khaldūn in a Muslim context, stressing his faith, historical setting, and judiciary career. A third group, notably H. Simon, M. Mahdi, and F. Gale, emphasizes the influence of ancient Greek philosophy on Ibn Khaldūn.
A fourth one, represented by Wlad Godzich and Hayden White, deals with Ibn Khaldūn exclusionally, underscoring his difference from European modes of thought; and a fifth group, including Ḥasan Ḥanafī, Muḥammad Jābir al-Anṣārī, and Sa‘īd al-Ghānimī, looks at Ibn Khaldūn with nationalistic eyes and regards him as an inspirational restorative figure of lost Arab glory and a memory of the future.3 Each of these schools of thought faces critical challenges.
The first group of secular thinking ignores Ibn Khaldūn’s profound and genuine religious convictions; the second “faith” group fails to explain the incomparably structured rationality of his theory and how it was able to conceive of historical thought differently from his orthodox Muslim predecessors such as al-Baghdādī, al-Māwardī, and Ibn Taymīya.
The “Aristotelian thesis” group faces the challenge that Ibn Khaldūn decidedly divorced himself from Greek philosophy, harshly disapproving of the Muslim Aristotelism and neo-Platonism of al-Fārābī, Ibn Sīnā, Ibn Bājja, and others. Those who compare his philosophy of history to the Western one(s) tend to de-emphasize both the context and the content of Ibn Khaldūn’s work. Arab nationalists as well ignore the universal and transnational implications of his theory.
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