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Classical liberalism in the Middle East

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Via email, Mark Bahnisch kindly points to my attention to two interesting pieces of news from the Middle East.

The first is about a project to translate canonical classical liberal works into Arabic:

Odd though it may sound, somewhere in Baghdad a man is working in secrecy to edit new Arabic versions of Liberalism, by the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, and In Defense of Global Capitalism, by the Swedish economist Johan Norberg. He is doing this at some risk of kidnap, beating, and death, because he hopes that a new Arabic-language Web site, called — in Arabic — can change the world by publishing liberal classics …

Interviewed by e-mail, he asks to be known by a pseudonym, H. Ali Kamil. A Shiite from Iraq’s south, he is an accomplished scholar, but he asks that no other personal details be revealed …

Kamil’s work is anonymous out of fear, not modesty. Translating Frederic Bastiat’s The Law, he says, took 20 days of intense labor. “I am proud of that, especially when I knew that the book has never been translated before. This is one of the works my heart is aching for not having my name in its front page.”

Asked how he began this work, he recounts meeting an American who was lecturing in Baghdad on principles of constitutional government.

The American mentioned in this article was Cato scholar and blogger Tom Palmer.

For those who can read Arabic, here is the link to the Lamp of Liberty think-tank.

A second article is about the competing influences of Heiddeger vs Popper in the early stages of the Iranian Islamic revolution:

One of the first acts of the new regime was to close all universities for two years so that textbooks could be re-written in an “Islamic way”, and the undesirable teachers and students thrown out.

To carry out the purge, Khomeini set up something called The High Council of Islamic Cultural Revolution made up of several mullahs and a number of non-clerical “thinkers.” …

One camp was labeled “the Heideggerites”, named after Martin Heidegger, the pro-Nazi German philosopher who was also claimed by existentialists as a spiritual ancestor …

The other camp was named “the Popperites”, after the British philosopher Karl Popper who devoted his life to fighting totalitarianism.

Initially, the Popperites had rallied around Murtadha Mutahhari, a mid-ranking mullah who had worked for Empress Farah’s High Council of Philosophy before the revolution. When Mutahhari was assassinated, presumably by hard-line Heideggerites, the Popperites promoted a non-cleric amateur philosopher named Abdul-Karim Sorush as chief spokesman. A British-educated chemist, Sorush had been appointed Secretary-General of the council.

Needless to say neither the Heideggerites nor the Popperites merited their labels. Both accepted Khomeini’s claim of the right to rule in the name of the “Hidden Imam”, something that neither Heidegger nor Popper would have understood.

The Heideggerites were chiefly interested in presenting any form of democracy as both anti-Islamic and anti-philosophy. Davari, for example, claimed that Socrates had been sentenced to death because of his opposition to democracy and that his disciple, Plato, had been an advocate of the “rule by the select” which, in Iran’s case, meant a government of the mullahs.

The Popperites insisted that the mullahs’ rule should be subjected to public endorsement in elections but were not prepared to go as far as allowing just any citizen to stand for election …

It might come as a surprise to outsiders but, for the past 27 years, the philosophical debate in the Islamic Republic has been over a misunderstanding of a pro-Nazi German philosopher on the one hand and an even bigger misunderstanding of a liberal British philosopher on the other.

Written by Admin

March 6, 2006 at 9:53 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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