Trust State as the Third Way in the Arab World: A Concise Commentary on Hashas’s Treatise
Sonja Hegasy 28 September 2017

This treatise by Mohammed Hashas is timely since it is crucial to current debates on the condition of the contemporary Arab world. It comes at a time when specialists, too, have been following the destruction and demise of a number of countries in the region with disbelief and shock; but only a few have been ready to address their mistaken expectations. Mohammed Hashas makes no secret of his personal consternation. And it is my conviction that only by experiencing an existential question in relation to the current state of affairs is one able to find a position that seriously engages with antithetical viewpoints and thereby carries the potential to overcome deadlocks. It is this existential involvement that, as I believe, is necessary to endow contributors to the debate on the future of the Arab world with an ability to effectively transcend existing social rifts.

The revolts and opposition we have seen in the Arab world since 2010/11 are addressed against states that have deprived, misrepresented, and harmed their own citizens. With their negligence of intellectual production and their clamp-down on disciplines like philosophy and sociology, these states have also been dystopian. While the post-colonial pendulum once equipped these states with revolutionary legitimacy, this legitimacy has now come to an end. Tainted by a history of unfulfilled promises, the state now has to reinvent itself or find proponents of a reinvention. In this sense we find ourselves in the post-postcolonial era.

For the necessary powers to come together, the author reverts to the Gramscian term “historical block” to designate an alliance beyond ideological divides. The “historical block” refers to a dialectical activity rendering people aware of their condition. It also designates a united base as a condition for revolutionary praxis. Hashas’s project of plurality and diversity refuses any form of intellectual coercion. His text fulfills two important desiderata: on the one hand, it reveals the contaminated relationship between the US/Europe and the Arab world. This is (still) important. Despite numerous pledges to change perspectives, Westerners outside the field of area studies rarely seem to realize what the West looks like from the outside. On the other hand, Mohammed Hashas searches for a way to overcome current ideational standstills by introducing a new concept. The “Trust State as a political model of governance” is a term that is smoother in Arabic than in English. But Hashas rightly leaves it to non-Arab readers to translate this term into their own realm. After more than 200 years of unequal encounter with “the West”, changing terminology plays a crucial role for Hashas, following the contemporary philosopher Taha Abderrahmane. Therefore, it is not only acceptable, as he discusses with his readers, but a sine qua non to introduce a new “name”. Following 19th– and 20th-century intellectual debates in the Middle East till today, I see a number of secular intellectuals who, after a long period of intellectual production and interaction with Western ideology, have come to the conclusion that change in the region will come about only when it is organic and tied to historically rooted concepts and practices. Only then will their work be able to address and make itself understandable to a wider stratum of society.

For believers and many sympathizers, the religion of Islam and Muslim societies have saved a social and spiritual dimension that many feel has gone missing in modern globalization and materialism. Over the last two centuries, the Western history of ideas has been marked by the regular reemergence of positions that bewail lost notions of community and morality and the decline of social capital. What has indeed sustained Arab states in the long and brutal 20th century was social ties that compensated for the lack of “bread, dignity, and social justice”. (I write here in the past tense, because like the author I fear that current violence will destroy also this last resort of Arab social culture). In his conception of the Trust State, Hashas brings in this dimension as an asset that the Islamicate world has retained. On the other hand, he defines the achievements of modernity that he posits as important part of his project: plurality, gender equality, intergeneration fairness.

Not only are we witnessing new wars and failing states in the Arab world, but the degree of trust within families and neighborhoods, between religious and ethnic groups, between citizens and the state is breaking apart as a consequence and surely for decades to come: a development that has not yet been addressed adequately with a view to current changes around the Mediterranean. Therefore, it makes sense to choose trust as the focal point for a “new Arab world”. The antipode of trust is fear, suspicion, scapegoating, and demonization, as Hashas points out, an aspect we see expanding around the Mediterranean, too. It is important to address these fears in Europe as well as in the Middle East and North Africa.

Generations of scholars have brought attention to the historical entanglement of the Northern and Southern Mediterranean. But they have failed to popularize how “clotted” this history is – a term I propose to introduce. Missing in public debates is an understanding of the futility of untangling these clotted relations. To put it in the words of one of the author’s inspirers, the Moroccan philosopher Mohammed Abed al-Jabri: “The truth is that our current culture is dominated by this other and dependent on it, just as it is dominated by and dependent on our ancient culture, i.e. our Arab/Muslim heritage. I believe that we can free ourselves from this dependency on the other only by means of working to free ourselves from our dependency on our own past. In other words, we can only liberate ourselves from the sense of being dazzled by, and from the need to constantly borrow from, the culture of the West, if we free ourselves from the dominance of the ‘heritage’. Liberating ourselves from the heritage does not mean running away from it nor throwing it in the waste paper basket; just as freeing ourselves from the West does not mean closing ourselves from it” (M. A. Al-Jabri and F. Abdel-Nour, “The Problematic of Authenticity and Contemporaneity in Modern and Contemporary Arab Thought,” (2011, 187). It is difficult to convey the continuing interdependency of the root causes of conflict without being regarded as writing from a position of either fully externalizing or fully internalizing responsibilities.

Mohammed Hashas’s (b. 1984) treatise is important, not least, to refute the idea that intellectually challenging debates are not generated from within the Arab world and not by a young generation. It is widely acknowledged that the protest movements of 2010/2011 were very strong in praxis but without visionary leadership. What will be the future ideas around which the Syrian, the Yemeni, the Egyptian, the Saudi, the Tunisian, or the Moroccan opposition will unite? From decades of intellectual tug-of-war between secular and religious intellectuals, we need to recognize that no political worldview has a chance to be effective and accepted if it is not rooted in the sociocultural heritage (turath) of the Islamic-Arab world. This is in no way unique to the Arab debate nor is it looking backward. It is indeed a debate we know from other world regions. The Korean political scientist Bee Yun (University of Seoul) recently stated, “No society in the history of human mankind abstained from the idea of collective counsel and approval.” He set out that some forms of majority decisions were common in most societies, so that one could say, “In nearly every society an innate form of democracy existed”. Bee Yun places high hopes on combining “democratic” values with “traditional values”. He presents South Korea as a successful case in which democracy was tied to existing traditions of counsel and consent. “To understand Western democracy as historically contingent precisely does not mean to give democracy up as a global project. Rather, such an understanding could be the prerequisite for an authentic renaissance of the democratic mission,” Bee Yun concludes (FAZ, 7 September 2016). No value system is immobile. Only in relation to the Arab world do such theories in which past and present merge strike us as awkward. In a world of rising Islamophobia, such talk does not resonate well, whereas with Confucianism it sounds more persuasive. But it is this dichotomy setting homegrown democracy against modernity and rationality that Hashas targets. It is only consequential that Arab citizens, including the author himself, have concluded that despite all talk, Europe and the US do not want the Arab world to democratize.

“The silent Arab majority must speak up” has been a recurring demand addressed to the Islamo-Arab world. Hashas has started to do so for his generation. Whether it will be possible to overcome the traps of the modern nation state in any foreseeable future is highly questionable, but he makes a good case why this is as important for Europe as it is for the Arab world now. You could call this treatise a Third Way. Hashas proposes a proper development process. I would like to better understand how Arab nationhood in the Trust State “is not ethnic, racial or linguistic, but rather geopolitical”. Greater Kurdistan might be a test case for balancing the plural arena of demands and visions that Hashas sets out.

By no means does he want to reproduce the failures Western modernity went through. This, of course, does not mean that a future course of event will not produce its own failures and dilemmas, but Hashas has stepped forward with a proposal to regain trust and find an open, value-driven common denominator. At a time when Arab states explicitly target their own citizens, this young academic and intellectual reloads the currency of the state with new meaning.

It is time to propose well-grounded normative and ethical visions for the Arab world. Hashas has provided a very dense and rewarding contribution in this respect. His text now needs to be disseminated in Arabic and English, discussed as well as popularized.

Photo Credit Marwan Naamani / AFP



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