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Mission of a Free Thinker - Ali Shariati

Mission of a Free Thinker - Ali Shariati

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Mission of a Free Thinker - Ali Shariati
Mission of a Free Thinker - Ali Shariati

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01/02/2013

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Mission of a Free Thinker
"Man and Islam"by: Dr. Ali Shariati
Question: Assuming we are the real free-thinkers, what must our relationship be with the society? What route should we choose?
 Answer:I think before we talk about the relationship between free-thinkers and people, we must first start with the free-thinker himself. That is, we mustunderstand the free-thinking in its true sense. Can we be sure that we canlet our hair down with the free-thinkers of our society and share withthem what we have?I believe we have not yet reached the second stage (the relationship between free-thinkers and people). But assuming that we have, when weget together with the masses, do we know how to talk to them? Whathave we got to share with them? What message have we for them? This is a difficult problemindeed. Should we, considering the fact that our society is a religious one, reject the opinions andthe thoughts of the masses? Must we dictate to the masses? If so, are we not strengthening andmaking the masses the more determined in their religious stupor? If we denied their thoughts,have we not become estranged from them and relegated them into the lap of the reactionarieswho are fighting us? We notice that in both cases the problem has remained unsolved. On theother hand, we arc essen- tially still feeding upon the European intellectuals' thoughts of the lastcouple of centuries. To what extent can such thoughts, designs, and ideas illuminate our atmosphere as well as our responsibilities?First, the European intellectual is dealing with a worker who has gone through three centuries of the Middle Ages and two centuries of Renaissance. Second, this worker lives in an atmospherenot domi- nated by a religious spirit. Third, he has reached the industrial proletariat stage. Fourth,he lives in a well-developed industrial bourgeois system in which the relationships are of anindustrial type, and finally, the worker has attained a higher stage of growth, and self-consciousness. More important, the European intellectual listen- ers (the industrial proletariat),have formed a layer-a distinct and independent class in society which has developed a specialcultures concession, and form in the foundation of the Western European economy. Now supposeas a free-thinker, (who wants to imitate the ideas of the 19th century intellectuals). I try to speak to an Iranian worker who does not have any of the characteristics of the 19th century intellectuallistener. I live in a society in which the bourgeoi- sie, except in big cities, is in its nascent stageThe comprador bourgeoisie is a middle-man, not a bourgeoisie of the genuine producing system.Apart from this we still do not have a workers' class in our society. What we have are justgroups.There are groups of workers in the most primitive as well as corrupt societies. For instance, inSaudi Arabia (where there are industrial resources and western production), about 500-2000work- ers live in the top echelon, but the country as a whole lacks the workers' foundation; it hasa tribal, agricultural, or feudalistic base.Further, we are not living in the 19th century. When we compare the characteristics of our societies in Asia and Africa with a European society we notice that we are living in the thirteenth
 
century. Therefore, we must first discover in what century we live, and then understand our ownideas and teach them. To use 19th century ideas on a 13th century society not only leaves ushanging in the air, but it is also useless when we are unable to find any listener-the same thingsthat our free-thinkers are faced with now.Our free-thinkers are living in the 13th century but their words, thoughts, and ideas are borrowedfrom the Western European intellectuals of the 19th and 20th Centuries. And as such, they cannotfind any listener. Our listeners are "classic" bourgeoisie who have nothing in common with theEuropean bourgeoisie. Our bazaars bourgeoisie is 100 % religious, while the European one is100 % non-religious. The European bourgeoisie is so progressive that it created the Frenchrevolution while ours just huddle in the bazaars-a base for seeking tradition.From our masses' point of view, the average citizenry is a villager. They are our listeners and youcannot talk to them the same way. John Moore talked to the British workers in 1864. And so, it isa mistake to think that we are living in the 19th or 20th century, as well as it is a mistake tofollow the European intellectuals of these two centuries as our models. Therefore, we must firstthrow the 10th century European "contents" out of our heads and for the first time discover our own century.There are nations in the world now which are living in a pre-historic stage, namely, they have notentered the historic period yet. Therefore, to be in the 20th century is different than living in it.Accordingly, we must first discover our own century, and then learn from identical free-thinkersof Europe who are sympathetic to our ideas of our centuries. We are now living in the 13 th or 14th centuries (the end of the Middle Ages, or the onset of the modern age). In Europe, these werethe periods of transition from feudalism and traditional religion to a bourgeoisie which signifiesan open world- vision, revolutionary bourgeoisie, and protest against religion. At the present wehave all these conditions in our society. However, we have to find out what Europe did in the 13th and 14 th centuries. And what were the reasons that European free-thinkers played their roleso well that they changed the frozen and the stagnant Middle Ages to a new Europe?The basic factors that helped to bring about the new civilization in Europe were economical andintellectual in nature. Economically feudalism changed to bourgeoisie. In place of the reactionaryand lowly aristocrats, bourgeoisie emerged. This was due to East-West relations, the crusaders,the discovery of America and Australia, mercantilism, and the exploitation of Africa, Asia, LatinAmerica, and even North America. Intellectually, the change was from Catholicism toProtestantism. The 14th century free-thinker did not negate religion, he transformed hisinclination from the hereafter to this world; from tendency towards spirit, nature, ethics, andascetism to work and effort; from sufism to objection and from self- centeredness to society-centeredness. In short, the same powerful cultural and religious resources which lay dormant inthe heart of Europe were changed to moving, emerging, creative, and constructive forces by thefree-thinkers.Therefore, we must depend upon this fact, rather than what Sartre, Marx, and Rousseau say.What these people say has to do with our next two centuries. We must work for the society inwhich we live now rather than for our own sole mental and physical satisfaction. What isimportant to us now are Luther's and Calvin's works, since they transformed the Catholic ethics(which had impris- oned Europe in tradition from centuries) to a moving and creative force. For instance, Max Weber discussed the relationship between capitalism to the Protestant ethic. Heargued that those predomi- nantly Catholic Countries such as Spain, France, and Italy were less progressive than England, Germany, and the United States which were predominantly Protestant.
 
 Namely Weber maintained that there was a direct relationship between Protestant ethic andcapital- ism.We notice that those countries which have changed the Catholic religion from its reactionaryform to a creative and protesting force have made headway. On the other hand, those countrieswhich have kept Catholicism have remained in the condition of the Middle Ages.Geographically, Spain and historically, Italy were in a position to have been the most progressivecountries in Europe. First, Spain had the brightest past in Europe and Rome was the center of Christian civilization (before Islam). Second, the Renaissance movement of the 15 th and the 16th centuries originated in Italy with such great art- ists and thinkers as De Vinci, Michaelangelo,and Galileo.Although in the past Spain was not like Rome, from the 8 th to 12 th centuries she had thegreatest Islamic civilization, and thereafter she played the role of transmitter of Islamic Cultureto Europe. Ironically, these two vanguards of civilization are the two most backwards in Europenow. While America, England, and Germany, which were the last ones caught up withcivilization, are the most advanced. In these, civilization, industry, capitalism, and materialstrength are explainable only in light of religious factors and religious differences. And so, at this point we reach the conclusion that the flee-thinkers of the 14 th through 17 th centuries foundtheir new destiny by destroy- ing their old faith, and transforming traditional Catholicism to a protesting, world-minded, political, and materialist Protestanism.Such a mission is also available to the religious East which is living at the end of the Medieval period. But it is not fitting that we mimic the European flee-thinkers of the 19 th and 20 thcenturies and reject religion. In a society like Iran, whose foundation is a religious one, we mustnot turn ourselves into a so-called free-thinker cadre (that gathers in coffee houses, cabarets, and parties to "talk big," and show off by reciting new personalities), while our average citizens arestill living in the Middle Ages, having no access to our talents, religion, ideology, and writing.Any school which is not based upon the cultural foundations of a society looks like a good book in a library which is used only by a small group of students and professors. Even if thousands of such books are printed, they will have no effect upon the masses. The greatest danger, however,is self-separation of the free-thinker from the society's context. If a free-thinker separates himself from his society, no matter where he goes or what he does, his society will remain in everlastingcorruption. For example, in the 5 th and 6 th centuries A.H., thinkers such as Avicenna, Ghazali(two of history's great teachers) died in a society which was wallowing in the corruption in theSeljuk and Ghaznavi periods. Why? Because these free-thinkers stayed away from the society(consequently, we would have been better off if, in place of Avicenna, Ghazali, Fakhr, andZakaria Razi, we had one Abu Zar; all the Islamic societies would have been saved from thegrips of Seljuk, Ghaznavi, and the Mongols.In ancient Greece too, there were free-thinkers like Aristotle. But throughout Aristotle's lifetime,the Athenian people were suffering from corruption, aristocracy, and slavery. On the other hand,there was not one single philosopher in Sparta, but here people were sportsmen and brave. InAthens, hundreds of writers, philosophers and so forth could not change and organize the society,their pres- enec and absence did not make a bit of difference.Our problem in the East, (e.g. Iran), is that we have created a platonic garden out of our countries. For example, if you go to Tehran and visit a few cafes you will meet many free-thinkers, socialists, existentialists, and so forth. They have a super market of ideas along withtheir own special publications. But unfortunately, the average man in the street does not knowwho these "idealists" are and what they are doing,

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