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


The Author. Christopher de Bellaigue wants to challenge our understanding


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


a movement towards enlightenment values in the Islamic world has been


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


What was the effect that happened intellectually, scientifically and


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


and technology and ideas entered through structures that were sent


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


autocracy that look suspiciously medieval, they will argue about the


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


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


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


consider Enlightenment values in the Middle East really was about the


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


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


prerogatives. A move towards democracy and representative


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


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


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


and the British could not stop themselves from coming in and


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


secular, in some ways preserving the outward appearances of Western


modernity against various forms of Islamists Government, Islamists


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Middle Ages now have experienced many interactions with the east and


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


essentially tried to export an ideology, an idea of liberal


democracy and in some ways was optimistic because it argued that


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


extraordinary thing if you think about a view of history that


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


The Islamic Enlightenment thank you very much.


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


is the view earlier today


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.