Christopher de Bellaigue Meet the Author


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Christopher de Bellaigue

Jim Naughtie speaks to Christopher de Bellaigue about his book The Islamic Enlightenment, in which history meets one of our great contemporary crises.


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Vauxhall plant in Luton and elsewhere. Now it is time for Meet

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The Author. Christopher de Bellaigue wants to challenge our understanding

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or our miss understanding of Islam. Who is to say that that is not one

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of the most important questions of our time. The Islamic Enlightenment,

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the modern struggle of faith and reason is his book. He presents the

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other side of the story of faith. He charts the progress of intellectual

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and scientific ideas and presents an issue of the real struggle that is

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going on. Between those would deny it and set it back. Welcome.

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Your account of Enlightenment in the Islamic world through the 19th

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century and into the 20th, will be too many people unknown. Why? The

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reason why it is unknown is partly because people will think Islamic

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Enlightenment, is that a contradiction in terms? The idea of

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a movement towards enlightenment values in the Islamic world has been

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included in the west because of natural ignorance in the west -- not

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been included. We have been so involved in the Islamic world that

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we have needed a kind of justification for being there. One

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of those is that the Islamic world has not got its act together and we

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need to be there. That's go back to the beginning of your story. You

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take this to a period just after the Napoleonic War. You argue that there

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was an interaction between what we might call the west, just for sake

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of shorthand, and the Islamic world that was profound and its effect.

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What was the effect that happened intellectually, scientifically and

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so on? Is started with a militarily. Everybody wanted a strong military

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and technology and ideas entered through structures that were sent

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out from Western countries in order to instruct new armies of the Middle

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East. It very quickly spread because you cannot quarantine ideas of that

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kind. Spread into society, it spread into the nature of the relationship

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between the ruler and the rules, democratic ideas began to bubble up.

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Science began to evolve, theatres of anatomy were opened, the novel

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entered the consciousness of the Middle East. All sorts of ideas,

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along with technologies, where telescoped into a matter of a few

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decades and suddenly by the end of the 19th century, the Middle East

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looked radically different from how it had looked at the beginning. Many

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people looking at this would save that is all very good and well, but

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we look to the Middle East now and what we see in some places is

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autocracy that look suspiciously medieval, they will argue about the

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activities of the Islamic State as being barbaric and they will say if

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all this is true in the 19th century, what went wrong? What

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happened is that the high watermark of liberalism and what I would

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consider Enlightenment values in the Middle East really was about the

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beginning of the First World War. There had been revolutions in

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Turkey, Iran to introduce limits to the monarch's rule and his

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prerogatives. A move towards democracy and representative

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Government and a lot of other things that we would represent with that.

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The autonomy of the individual. After the world war, the region was

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obliterating. The hole changed. That's right. The hole. The French

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and the British could not stop themselves from coming in and

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carving it up. Moving toward independence and self-determination,

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the movement was on the other direction. The reaction took two

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forms. The first was what we would call Islamist and the other was a

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kind of emulation of the west, but in its almost fascist it formed.

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This is the struggle that is still going on today. It is the essence of

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your argument. It can be boiled down to the struggle between a man in a

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uniform supported by the west who is keeping the country in some ways

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secular, in some ways preserving the outward appearances of Western

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modernity against various forms of Islamists Government, Islamists

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movements from the authoritarian to the much more anarchic and we see

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this conflict playing out right now. You know the countries that you talk

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about very now. You lived in a run for quite a long period in your own

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life. What you are describing as your account as it is really a

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tragedy of civilisation. When a coloniser comes in, it doesn't

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matter how good the idea he brings in is, the fact that he is a

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coloniser and he is holding a bed net at your neck means that you are

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naturally going to be resistant. From your perspective, how do you

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think people should go about trying to heal that divide? People in the

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Middle Ages now have experienced many interactions with the east and

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the west. The first was the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan which

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essentially tried to export an ideology, an idea of liberal

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democracy and in some ways was optimistic because it argued that

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you can share ideas and that ideas don't belong with you or me, they

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are the common heritage of humanity. From that stage, that the disaster,

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we are now at position where there is a clash. They are making the most

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amount of noise and wielding power. What about leadership in the Islamic

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world? Why if you are right, had there not been figures who have

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emerged in very powerful positions who have said, look, we can find a

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way through this. We can cross this divide. I have seen many leaders

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rise in the Islamic world rise. Mr edge one in Turkey is someone who at

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one stage and have that potential. The potential to act as a bridge

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between one culture and civilisation and another. For various reasons,

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the relationship with the rest has soured. He has been in power for too

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long and has become authoritarian. That hopeful mission he prepared to

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-- appeared to be on has fallen to dust. You are saying that we are in

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in the early 19th century has been reversed and that now in the

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21st-century with all the technical and intellectual advances that we

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have, we are set on a backward path. Do you think there is any

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alternative to that as you look into the next two or three decades? The

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first thing is that I would concur that a lot has been reversed. It is

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one of the extraordinary facts that I have been confronted with is that

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at the turn of the 20th century, it was easier to express your religious

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and sceptical views in Cairo for example then it is today. That is an

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extraordinary thing if you think about a view of history that

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involves steps and progression. The alternative? It is simply for people

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like me and other people to think like me on all sides to continue to

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make our voices heard. At the moment, we are going into a position

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where we are becoming a minority. Those who call for accommodation,

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those who call for dialogue, those who insist that people can meet. We

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are falling into a minority and we need to make sure that our voices

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will be heard. There will be a return to that way of thinking and

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we need to be there to catch it. Christopher de Bellaigue, author of

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The Islamic Enlightenment thank you very much.

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Here is loyal latest live weather update. Some rain this evening. Here

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is the view earlier today

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Jim Naughtie speaks to Christopher de Bellaigue about his book The Islamic Enlightenment, a modern struggle between faith and reason in which history meets one of our great contemporary crises.