Ahmad Fuad Rahmat January 25th 2010 Fall 2009 – Spring 2010 Independent Study on Decolonization and Philosophy

A Critique of Enrique Dussel’s Project of Transmodernity Objective Enrique Dussel’s project of transmodernity is in essence a call to reconstruct modernity from “below”, that is to say, from the perspective of those who, as victims of colonialism, have had their voices silenced and historical significance cast aside by the dominant Eurocentric narrative of modernity’s emergence. This is conceived by Dussel as a crucial and necessary agenda for any measure to attain genuine decolonization: transmodernity would provide an alternative discourse to European thought which, at its current postmodern stage, can no longer speak to the colonized’s desire for emancipation. The transmodern project strives to reach a stage whereby the terms and content of anticolonial liberation would no longer be dependent on European canons and contexts and instead would be determined from within the spaces and resources of the colonized themselves. My analysis is interested in exploring the cultural limits of this conception, namely, in Dussel’s steadfast commitment to an expressly modern agenda of decolonization despite his incessantly proclaimed inclusivity, and despite awareness that much of the contexts where decolonization discourse is occurring lies outside the sphere of modernity’s historical developments. For this, I will closely consider Dussel’s engagement with Arab-Islamic thought, particularly, his upholding of Moroccan

philosopher Muhammed ‘Abed Al-Jabri’s Islamic modernism as a model interlocutor for Dussel’s transmodern discourse. 1 It needs to be stated from the onset, however, that my reading of Dussel here will not be concerned with his understanding of political Islam. My interest, rather, is in underscoring the problems in the ways in which a non-modern context is understood and valued by Dussel for its modern potential. It is indeed curious that Dussel, in his persistent commitment to the modern provided little explanation for why exactly a vision of decolonization should be articulated in modern terms. Dussel seems to assume that the necessity and value of the modern for emancipatory thought is always already selfevident. My analysis will underscore the implications of that assumption for intercultural dialogue. Specifically, this will entail a close consideration of one Muslim counterdiscourse to the modern concept of liberation. That discourse has intellectual decolonization as its objective and is known as the Islamization of Knowledge. The goal of this comparison, to be clear, is not to provide a clarification of decolonization in political Islam to counter that of Al-Jabri’s. Rather it is to suggest, for Dussel’s project, insights into why modernity, even with its purported “good” in mind, has been viewed as problematic for many others engaged in decolonization struggles. The absence of any sustained consideration of the latent wisdom in “anti-modern” positions, for lack of a better term, renders Dussel’s call for a reconstruction of modernity from below somewhat lacking in depth.

It is peculiar that Dussel misspells many of the Muslim intellectuals he cites in his paper. Al-Jabri, which is how his name would be transliterated to from Arabic to English, is spelled by Dussel as Al-Yabri. For the purpose of accuracy, I shall use the correct spelling for my paper. It is also the same spelling that is used n the English translation of Al-Jabri’s book, Arab-Islamic Philosophy: A Contemporary Critique.


Specifically, the problem that my brief comparison of transmodernity with the Islamization of Knowledge will bring to light is the way in which Dussel’s project ultimately rests on a rather robust commitment to the subject’s emancipatory capacities based on an assumption that history can ultimately be made progressive. This consequently has implications on our understanding of the challenge that the transmodern project would have to grapple with to be properly intercultural: it would have to explain, and argue for, a latent emancipatory value in the way in which European history has developed. The fact that this consideration is wholly absent in Dussel’s explications of transmodernity places its intercultural credentials into serious question. My paper will begin with an account of the transmodern project’s objectives with emphasis on two things: First, how history is understood therein and second, how and with whom transmodern dialogue ought to occur. The second part is where I will discuss Dussel’s engagement with Muhammed ‘Abed Al-Jabri’s thought. Particular emphasis will be given to how Al-Jabri is held as an exemplar for what Dussel views to be the ideal theoretical task of the modernist in the periphery. I will then proceed with a discussion of the Islamization of Knowledge, to outline the negative assumptions about modernity, as a narrative of history, which motivates the Islamization of Knowledge’s own goals of decolonization. My account of Islamization of Knowledge will be brief and descriptive, proceeding insofar as it will sufficiently problematize Dussel’s project. I should note here that my inclusion of the Islamization of knowledge into the discussion does not assume that its assumptions about modernity are not problematic. I do not include the Islamization of Knowledge in this discussion as an alternative. In fact, let me state here from the onset that, for the most part, my allegiances lie with Dussel’s

project. To be clear, my consideration of the Islamization of Knowledge is motivated only by the need to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of the transmodern project. My critique should be seen as a friendly amendment rather than a direct challenge to Dussel. Enrique Dussel and Transmodernity To understand Enrique Dussel’s project of transmodernity, it will be necessary to firstly outline how Dussel defines modernity. Given the great range of historical developments that “the modern” insinuates, it is understandable that Dussel’s definition is an all-embracing one: Modernity is a phenomenon originally European – and it is evident that its sources date back to Egyptian, Babylonian, Semitic, Greek world but that only in the 15th century it reached worldly implementation; and that it constitutes and reconstitutes itself simultaneously by a dialectical articulation of Europe (as center) with the peripheral world (as dominated sub-system) within the first and only “world system”. Modernity originates in the Europe of free cities (within the context of the feudal world) from the 10th century on, approximately, but is born when Europe constitutes itself as the center of the world system, of world history, that is inaugurated (at least as a center of the world system, of world history, that is inaugurated (at least as a limit date with 1492) … Only modern European culture, from 1492 onwards, was a center of a world system, of a universal history that confronts (with diverse types of subsumption and exteriority) as all other culture of the earth: cultures that will be militarily dominated as its periphery. (Dussel 1996, 132. Italics in original.) Modernity for Dussel is the collection of circumstances that shaped the moment of European colonialism. It is material and economic, in that it is generated by concurrent European conquests for natural resources. It is cultural because the conquests led to violent contact between Europe and the areas of the world that soon became its periphery.

The transmodern is what Dussel takes to be the intercultural philosophical and theoretical implications of those developments: the colonial encounter between Europe and its colonized also led to the European realization of modern subjectivity A great part of the achievements of modernity were not exclusively European but grows from a continuous dialectic of impact and counter-impact, effect and counter-effect, between modern Europe and its periphery, even in that which we could call the constitution of modern subjectivity. (Dussel 1996, 133. Italics in original.) To illustrate this point further, Dussel uses the Cartesian ego, which inaugurated philosophical discourses on the modern subject, as an example: “The ego cogito also already betrays a relation to proto-history, of the 16th century, that is expressed in the ontology of Descartes but does not emerge from nothing. The ego conquiro (I conquer), as a practical self, antedates it. Hernan Cortes (1521) preceded the Discours de la method 1636) by more than a century. Descartes studied at La Fleche, a Jesuit college, a religious order with great roots in America, Africa and Asia at that moment. The “barbarian” was the obligatory context of all reflection on subjectivity, reason, the cogito” (Dussel 1996, 133. Italics in original.) This is what Dussel meant by the continuous dialectic of effect and counter effect” between Europe and the periphery (Ibid). It was through the European colonial encounter with Others deemed “barbaric” that the notion of “civilization” that has been claimed and upheld by the West was imagined. This in turn became the mainstay of colonial justifications to exploit and destroy the natural resources and social structures of the colonized. There is a clear Marxist influence to this analysis in that it takes the expansion of European capitalism as the efficient cause of this

narrative. 2The rapid development of technology in the West was concurrent with the realization of the region’s natural scarcity, which then necessitates its outward venture. By this definition Spain would be the “the first modern nation” given that it heralded the moment of Western colonialism in its so called “discovery” of the Americas (Dussel 2004, 14). This was followed by the ascendancy of other European powers followed by the Dutch, English, the French and Belgians. In all cases, the cause of civilization and progress was intermingled with the apparent material destruction it wrought. At any rate, the fact that this very barbarism remained largely invisible to the ensuing European interpretations of modernity not only renders our understanding of it incomplete but that modernity can only be thought about through the conquest of the West over others. The fact that this encounter of ideas has remained unacknowledged in much of philosophical scholarship is evoked by Dussel to make his larger point about the assumptions and goal of transmodernity: The colonized thus far have remained in what Dussel describes as the “exteriority” of the European narrative. While accepting modernity as a significant world event, the transmodern project argues that our understanding of its promises and potential remain flawed and incomplete, given the absence of any consideration towards the effects of colonialism in the construction of that event. The point here to be sure is not to merely incorporate or harmonize the colonized into the European fold but to upset the limited way in which the narrative has been determined by Europe in its destruction of the voices and worldviews that have hitherto remained invisible. That, in turn, will be invested towards constructing a new vision of modernity. There is then a larger story about modernity that has yet to be


Much more can be said of Marx’s influence on Dussel although I will refrain from any further commentary here given that most of the literature on the subject is in Spanish.

told by those who were oppressed and excluded in its construction. Thus, against the common narrative, transmodernity does not view modernity temporally as a succession of historical moments inherent to Europe but spatially, borne out of encounters outside Europe. It is both geographical and epistemological. It is geographical in that it takes the modern potential in the sites considered Other to Europe. It is epistemological insofar as the voices and worldviews of those who suffered in that process remain excluded from the common narrative on how that history came to be. The engagement and formulation of an alternative modernity then cannot proceed without a consideration of the effects of colonialism, without first inquiring into how the exclusion occurred and was entrenched. Ignoring this would only risk a replication of the dominant narrative. Indeed, for Walter Mignolo, one of the main presumptions of the transmodern approach is that “the expansion of Western capitalism implied the expansion of Western epistemology in all its ramifications” (Mignolo 2008, 227). That is, Western hegemony, reached the global south not only in the form of physical, material destruction under the guise of “civilization” but that the cultural transformations therein were also subtle: it exported, however indirectly, the salience of a European way of looking and understanding the world. My paper is not the setting to get into details of how that epistemology was transported so widely. This at any rate was a general conclusion the transmodern discourse drew from researches in dependency theory. What we should note here, specifically, is how the ramifications of export of European epistemology are far reaching, spanning to include “the instrumental reason that went along with capitalism and the industrial revolution, to the theories of the state, to the criticism of both capitalism and the state” (Mignolo 2008, 227).

The fact that the West has been so embedded in the self understanding of the colonized is not only evident among the more conservative or reactionary elements of the colonized: it is also discernable among progressives and the left. Mignolo reminds us that “intellectual colonization remains in effect, even if such colonization is well intended, comes from the Left and supports decolonization” (Mignolo 2008, 232). The effects then are far reaching: “it is no longer possible, or it is not unproblematic, to think from the canon of Western philosophy, even when part of the canon is critical of modernity. To do so means to reproduce the blind epistemic ethnocentrism that makes difficult, if not impossible, any political philosophy of inclusion (Mignolo 2008, 234). The project of actual decolonization then must even be cautious of blindly accepting solutions and terminologies from the European experience. This also includes descriptive terms such as liberal, conservative and socialist, given their origins in “the political-ideological tripartite distribution of the late nineteenth century North Atlantic political and ideological spectrum” (Mignolo 2008, 235). The solution to this would be to firstly, be attentive to what Dussel labels as “the geopolitics of knowledge” (Mignolo 2008, 233). That is, decolonization motivated towards actual liberation, must be aware of the sources of philosophy with which he or she engages, the colonial imprints therein and its overall suitability to addressing concerns of those silenced and alienated in the periphery. What needs to occur here then is proper engagement with local efforts that are already at work towards constructing alternative modernities against the hegemony of the Western colonial order. The transmodern indicates the response to modernity “from another place, another location” (Dussel 2004, 18). They respond from the perspective of their own cultural experiences,

which are distinct from those of Europeans / North Americans, and therefore have the capacity to respond with solutions which would be absolutely impossible for an exclusively modern culture” (Dussel 2004, 18). The point here, however, is not merely an appropriation of modernity for particular contexts. Rather, the transmodern project conceives this as a necessary first step towards realizing more inclusive conceptions of the virtues underlying modernity. This Dussel labels as “the pluriversal”: the transmodern project aims to construct a discourse whereby “we will have a rich pluriversity” that is an outcome of an “authentic intercultural dialogue” affirming “the positive moment of modernity” although this will be “evaluated through criteria distinct from the perspective of the other ancient cultures” (Ibid.). The transmodern project then should not be conceived as a dialogue between anyone and everyone. Dussel is clear that the colonial legacy that has for long silenced indigenous voices should be excluded from the onset, given the already established presence of its culture in the periphery. This is not to suggest that Western thought can never, by default, play a role in the project. It is just that a consideration of its overwhelming dominance throughout history necessitates the imperative to prioritize those who have been most negatively affected in that process of domination: Thus “it must be an intercultural South-South dialogue before it can become a South-North dialogue”: it is the voices of those who have not been able to speak or engage with modernity on their own terms that must be prioritized (Dussel 2004, 24). The colonized in the global South then can turn to one another as resources and partners in political dialogue.

Another implication to this acute sensitivity to colonial history and actual decolonization is that some segment of the voices in the South will also have to be left out in the process. Thus while Dussel is clear on the fact that Transmodernity must necessarily entail south-south cooperation, he is explicit that the project is ultimately most suitable for those committed to emancipatory politics and thought. The dialogue “is neither only nor principally a dialogue between cultural apologists that attempt to demonstrate to others the virtues and values of their own culture” nor is it a dialogue “among those who merely defend their cultures from its enemies” (Ibid).It is, ideally, a dialogue between those who aim to reconstruct modernity, those who depart “from the critical assumptions found in their own cultural tradition and in that of globalizing modernity” (Ibid). Thus this is how we can understand the transmodern project as an intercultural South-South dialogue that is committed towards the creative rebuilding of modernity in light of the material damages and epistemological hegemony of Western colonial history: it is a conversation “between the critical cultural innovators”, between those who, while located outside modernity, is nonetheless seeking to creatively appropriate it for his or her own context (Dussel 2004, 25). Transmodernity, Arab-Islamic Thought and Muhammed ‘Abed Al-Jabri Arab-Islamic thought figures rather prominently in Dussel’s account of what the practice of transmodern discourse might look like. We find this not only in the names that are suggested but also in actual works. For Dussel he expressed a keen interest in the works of Muhammed ‘Abed Al-Jabri, in particular, Arab-Islamic Philosophy: A Contemporary Critique. This is taken, by Dussel as an example of critical cultural innovation worthy of transmodern dialogue. Al-Jabri is a philosopher native to the

Maghreb, the frontier between Africa and Europe which was once continuous but now broken because of colonialism. In the book he discusses the history of classical Islamic philosophy (sometimes referred to the rationalist period) with particular emphasis on Averroes, the philosopher whose commentaries on Aristotle were instrumental in the development of European philosophy in the Middle Ages, and by extension, European philosophy in general. It is a work located at a particular geographical and intellectual crossroads. 3 The particular insight that Dussel views to be valuable here is how Al-Jabri provides an alternative reading of Islamic intellectual history. Writing against both the traditionalists and modernists, Al-Jabri all at once denies the simple valorization of the classical age of Islamic rationalism by latter and the rejection of it by the former. Both, in any event, are not only by and large scholastic but can be also read as conclusions drawn from Eurocentric discourse. The traditionalists are reading history with an agenda of post-independence cultural retrieval while the modernists sidestep, if not underestimate, the colonial question altogether. Ultimately their “relations with the European cultural legacy seems to be more narrow than those that they maintain with the Arab-Islamic legacy, who pose the problem of contemporary Arab thought in these terms: How can this thought assimilate the experience of liberalism before or without the Arab world going through the stage of liberalism? (Dussel 2004, 23). By assuming liberalism as the primary challenge, Arab intellectual work affords a primacy to a historical moment that is borne out of a particularly European experience. Instead, for Al-Jabri the question should be about the reconstruction of a progressive society: “How can Arab thought recuperate
Dussel, however, does not seem to find the fact that much of Al-Jabri’s most well known works were written in French to be relevant to further questions on the colonial relationship between authorship and readership. The fact that Europeans will read Al-Jabri first, before Arabs, is curious.

and assimilate the rationalist experience of its own cultural legacy and bring it to life again, with a perspective similar to that of our ancestors: to struggle against feudalism, against Gnosticism, against fatalism, and to install the city of reason and justice, a free Arab city, democratic and socialist” (Dussel 2004, 24). Indeed, Al-Jabri turns the question towards a distinct agenda of decolonization. Al-Jabri begins by describing the concrete cultural exchanges that are often overlooked in much of the discussions on the classical rationalist period. He briefly leaves the particulars of the text towards underscoring the interactions between Muslims and their cultural others at the time. Here Al-Jabri draws a distinction between eastern Islamic thought, marked by the work of the Mu’tazilites, Avicenna and Al-Farabi on one hand, and western Islamic thought, marked by the philosophy produced in Andalucia on the other. The intellectual milieu of the former was marked by a multiplicity of cultural influences from Persian Gnosticism coming from Iran, to Greek Byzantine theology and Greek Neo-Platonism. This, inevitably, informed their approach on harmonizing philosophy with Islamic theology. Muslims in the western frontier of the Islamic world engaged with Islamic philosophy at a later time, and more importantly a greater distance, from the center of Islamic learning which for centuries was located in the east. Thus, western Muslims had no choice but to inherit the flurry of cultural mixing that was latent in the canon by then. Given that the cultures were mostly foreign to Muslims in the west, their reading of philosophy underwent gradual although consistent attempt towards deconstructing and in turn reconstructing the relationship between philosophy and theology (a “purge” of sorts as Dussel describes it) (Dussel 2004, 22). This project eventually culminated into the work of Averroes who, with the use of Islamic sources,

formulated the distinct, although not incompatible, realms of operation between faith and reason. Jabri describes how for Averroes, philosophy signifies a break with the gnostic, obscurantist, and eastern spirit” of Islamic thought” (Dussel 2004, 23). This however did not mean that it was opposed to religion but that the method with which religion and philosophy are made to interact must be carefully determined. It was from that process that Averroes came with the conclusion that since in reality the ancient philosophers already studied, and with greater care, the rules of reason (logic, method), it would be useful for us to lay our hands on the books of those philosophers, so that, if we find everything they say therein to be reasonable, we accept it, but if there is something unreasonable, it can serve us as a precaution and warning” (Ibid). All this reveals to Dussel an intellectual history of engagement with reason that is apart from the traditional Eurocentric narrative. The Arab-Islamic intellectual tradition “remained faithful to its tradition but it subsumed the best elements of the other culture (as determined according to its own criteria), which were in some aspects more highly developed (for example, in the elaboration of logical science)” (Dussel 2004, 23). Jabri’s work is anti-colonial for its presentation of a hermeneutic that is not locked by a binary that is ultimately Eurocentric, however implicitly. Jabri’s work is critical, indeed modernist, in its writing against fatalism for a socialist future based on reason. More valuably for Dussel, it reveals the possibility of critique from a “creative bicultural space” of a modernist writing from within a location that has been removed from the mainstream narrative of modernity (Ibid). We find the same themes of reason and progress articulated from a source foreign to Europe but is still nonetheless rich with alternative insights: “the

positivity rooted in a tradition distinct from the Modern” that is sought after for the transmodern dialogue (Dussel 2004, 26). Thus the stage is now set for Dussel to commence transmodern dialogue: “This sort of dialogue is essential. As a Latin American philosopher, I would like to begin a conversation with [Al-Jabri] beginning from the following question: Why did Islamic philosophical thought fall into such a profound crisis after the fourteenth century? This cannot be explained merely by the slow and growing presence of the Ottoman Empire. Why did this philosophy enter the blind alley of fundamentalist thought?” The answers are not documented in the article although Dussel does explain why Al-Jabri would be suitable to provide them for Dussel’s project as Al-Jabri represents “the affirmation and development of the cultural alterity of postcolonial communities (peoples), which subsumes within itself the best elements of Modernity” (Dussel 2004, 26). Al-Jabri is other to European modernity, but not other to modernity itself. The dialogue then is one step towards transmodern progress: it is a long and difficult journey: “a period of the
creative and accelerated cultivation and development of one's own cultural tradition, which is now on the path toward a trans-modern utopia. This represents a strategy for the growth and creativity of a renovated culture, which is not merely decolonized, but is moreover entirely new” (Dussel 2004, 25).

Enrique Dussel and the Modern What we can sufficiently discern from Dussel’s explication is that modernity marks a specific juncture in history that is unique for the human potential to attain social and political progress that it signals. In turn, modernist thought in the global periphery not only values that potential but aims to address how it ought to be engaged towards particular principles that are crucial to progressive decolonization. For example, we see

Dussel emphasize this in his discussion of Rigoberta Menchu: she is touted as an activist of freedom and equality against the prevalence of “fatalism” and “passivity” in her indigenous community (Dussel 2004, 23). Al-Jabri, as we have just seen, is the Maghrebian equivalent of Menchu. What one finds curious in Dussel’s commitment to the efforts of Al-Jabri and Menchu is how he can manage, on one hand, the need to incorporate excluded colonized voices in transmodern dialogue and, on the other, the imperative to engage only those who express a commitment to “integrate the best of modernity” (Dussel 2004, 26). In other words, while the transmodern project is steadfast in its belief that there are Others who have hitherto been omitted from the narrative of modernity’s coming to being, the project’s very design seems to only make way for those who are ultimately modernists. To Dussel’s credit, he has been very careful in articulating the kind of modernist outlook that ought to be engaged with for his project: the modernist intellectual is not one who blindly incorporates European ideas for his or her context. This cannot be liberation, given that those ideas are monocultural, limited to only within the European perspective. The modernist is a critic of both tradition and Eurocentric modernity, with the objective to develop a richer understanding of both the local in which he or she is located and the universal. The necessity of a critical appropriation of modernity against Eurocentrism and the false assumption of cultural authenticity is for Dussel the mark of an emancipatory critique that is genuinely decolonizing. Exclusion can be a virtue, given that decolonization is never a straightforward affair. Decolonization is often a struggle between competing forces, some progressive and some reactionary. There are also competing interests sometimes expressed in ethnic,

religious racial and class divides (Amilcar Cabral, once famously remarked that the African bourgeoisie should commit suicide as a class). Thus, Dussel’s straightforward profession of allegiance to one out of the many competing voices of decolonization is understandable. This is all the more so in the context of political Islam where competing ideologies for decolonization continue to proliferate along with the intensification of US imperialism in the Muslim world. If this move to commit in order to exclude is what Dussel aimed to do, which I think is the case, then the question it raises is whether or not the framework he offers in his project justifies that move. That is, is the modern / non-modern binary a salient and sufficient one to understanding progressive decolonization in the present? Who exactly are these non-modern / anti-modernists that are to be excluded? More importantly what do we lose sight of by omitting them from our consideration of transmodern discourse? This section of my paper will aim to reflect on those questions by considering one critical discourse on decolonization that assumes a role as a counter-discourse to modernity. The counter-discourse is known as the Islamization of knowledge. I have chosen this because, like Al-Jabri’s work, it emerged in the milieu of great Muslim preoccupations on the relationship between Islam and modernity. It is, in other words, part of the very context that Dussel himself engaged. The presuppositions about modernity that the discourse holds, however, are different to Dussel’s, as I stated in my introduction. As we shall see it is very critical of modernity. More strikingly for our discussion, it is not interested in any form of internationalism nor does the category “liberation” central to its goals. It is, in other words, disqualified immediately from the onset for transmodern dialogue. This, however, should not imply that it would not have

insights that Dussel’s project would not benefit from considering. Indeed, we shall find rather broad overlaps: the Islamization of Knowledge is not passive or fatalistic. In fact, it appears to be committed to the value of self-determination and governance. It is this interplay between similarity and incompatibility that is worth considering, given that a view of transmodernity from the perspective of the Islamization of Knowledge might just accentuate further some of the assumptions about modernity that the transmodern may need to consider in its outreach to other contexts. The Islamization of Knowledge is a philosophical project initiated by Palestinian philosopher Ismail Al-Faruqi and Malaysian philosopher Syed Muhammad Naquib AlAttas. Its main goal is to recover Islamic epistemology from the corruption of Westernization, which it views as the domination of modern epistemology in the Muslim world. Muslims, it is argued, are “already being unduly influenced by the modern Western secular scientific conception of the world” (Al-Attas 1996, 25). This includes everything from materialism (“a conception of the world that is restricted to the realm of sense and sensible experience) to the dialectic (“a worldview based on a system of thought that is originally God-centered, then gradually became God-world centered and is now world centered and perhaps shifting to form a new thesis) (Al-Attas 1996, 25-27). The reason for this wholesale denial is because of the purported end of metaphysic that modern Western philosophy is assumed to represent. In this “no true worldview can come into focus when a grand scale ontological system to project it is denied and when there is a separation between truth and reality and truth and value” (Al-Attas 1996, 30). What follows such criticism is an assertion of what Islamic epistemology can achieve:

Islam affirms the possibility of knowledge; that knowledge of the reality of things and their ultimate nature can be established with certainty by means of our external and internal senses and faculties, reason and intuition, and true reports of scientific and religious nature, transmitted by their authentic authorities. Islam has never accepted, nor has ever been affected by ethical and epistemological relativism that made man the measure of all things, nor has it ever created the situation of the rise of skepticism, agnosticism, and subjectivism, all of which in one way or another describe aspects of the secularizing process which have contributed to the birth of modernism and postmodernism. (Al-Attas 1996, 36) This commitment to attaining knowledge of total reality is followed by the expected affirmation of God’s existence and the need to be loyal to the purity of revelation. Caution is repeatedly expressed towards secular thought which basic assumptions run counter to the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith. What is interesting for our discussion here is that this denial of the supposed philosophical degeneracy that led to modernism and postmodernism also equates to a denial of the progression of Western historical periodization. For Al-Attas, Islam has no reason to recognize: “historical periods that can be characterized as classical, then medieval, then modern and now purportedly shifting again to postmodern; nor critical events between the medieval and the modern experienced as a renaissance and an enlightenment” (Al-Attas 1996, 28). That is to say, if the progression of Western history is taken as a story of epistemic alienation from metaphysics to the isolation of the human from the categories it would need to spiritually flourish in this world (such as angels), then the Islamization of Knowledge sees no need to find itself a place in that narrative. Given that its commitment to decolonization is motivated towards reclaiming the possibility of a genuine spiritual experience lost by the dominance of Western science in the Islamic world, the Islamization of Knowledge would have no interest in continuing the story of the Cogito

for example, who assumes the subject as the foundation of all metaphysics. Against all this, Al-Attas makes even a bolder claim that the essence of Islam, because it is a religion of perfect design, can be easily extracted from superficial cultural and historicist effects, and that the task of the Muslim intellectual is to pursue that process of extraction and preservation. In fact, if there is a historical story that the Islamization of Knowledge can tell is that of its apparent descend into total loss of culture and civilization. Indeed, much of the need to reclaim a philosophical culture that has been lost due to the ascendancy of Western hegemony is because of the fact that human existence at this juncture of late modernity is rather bleak: “the crisis of truth pertains to true knowledge, and the crisis of truth has perhaps never been so acute in our age. Modern philosophy and science are unable to give a conclusive answer to the permanent question about truth. Their representatives attempt to clarify only the truth perspective’ of the age in which the crisis of truth occurs, thus divesting truth of its objectivity” (Al-Attas 1996, 44). “Change, development and progress” that can sufficiently address the concerns of Islamic thought, for Al-Attas, must entail “a conscious and deliberate movement towards genuine Islam” (Al-Attas 1996, 68). Our consideration of such claims should be careful to assume that the Islamization of knowledge is somehow incapable of, or uninterested in, any critical filtering of Western culture. Al-Attas concedes, despite his steadfast and problematic call for authenticity that a lot of good has come out of Western science. But that this does not mean that Western science can be regarded as the ultimate bearer of truth, which is how its value has been assumed in much of the Islamic world still recovering from the legacy

of colonialism. “We know no science is free of value” and ultimately, a true complete science must speak to the human condition, and this includes its internal spiritual faculties as much as its physical health” (Al-Attas 1996, 69). We shall, for the purpose of this paper, bracket our concerns on above the claims of cultural authenticity, the possibility of knowing ultimate reality and the like. What needs to be underscored at this stage is what we can discern of the overlap and divergences between transmodernity and the Islamization of knowledge. Indeed much of the concerns expressed in the above paragraph, in a broad sense, overlap with Dussel’s own. The Islamization of Knowledge is suspicious of Western hegemony. It is also suspicious of the normative claims in the Western story of how history developed. Furthermore, the desire for it to reconstruct its epistemology in light of Western hegemony towards reclaiming an authentic essence of Islam indicates that it is not fatalistic, and that it has a bold vision that one may even consider utopian, however much the particulars of that vision may be foreign and unsettling to us. The crucial difference here, which I take to be where all the other differences stem, is Dussel’s acceptance of the Western story of historical progress and Al-Attas’ apparent incredulity that given the epistemic crises it has yielded that it can be construed as progress at all. For Dussel, the story of historical progress has yet to be told, since it is still dominated by a hegemonic European narrative. Thus it must be claimed and restored by its rightful, and thus far unacknowledged, contributors. That Europe has a debt to the colonized for its achievements, which is the fundamental assumption of transmodern discourse, is recognition of the validity of the form of those achievements, however wrong the manifestations of those achievements are. This also informs the assertion the

repayment of this debt is necessary for the next stage of modernity’s development, so that a better world can be realized. For Al-Attas, the question is far deeper than that, and it entails the problem of epistemic alienation: “the term progress refers to a definite direction that is aligned to a final purpose that is meant to be achieved in worldly life. If the direction sought is still vague, still coming into being as it were, and the purpose aligned to it is not final, then how can involvement in it truly mean progress? People who grope in the dark cannot be referred to as progressing” (Al-Attas 1996, 69-70). As I mentioned earlier, Al-Attas is not against any commitment to progress. But whether it should entail an engagement with a European narrative of history, with colonialism as a necessary moment for the maturation of that history, is something he would have to deny from the onset. The question that may be posed indirectly from this position is what reason do we have to believe that the history of the West, which is as Dussel acknowledges, a history of brutal destruction of the colonized, paves the way for human salvation? What proof has there been that the assumption that liberation is a human capacity that is actually pursuable within the development of European history? Now this need not be a Muslim concern so much as a general and empirical one. Consider for example, the kind of Heideggerian technological alienation from Being that is felt in all modern communities. Or for a clearer problem, we can pose how the destruction of the environment that has proliferated in the past two decades (for which even a Marxist analysis cannot provide satisfactory critiques) can be read as marks of progress. There are of course problems in Al-Attas’ own presupposition of progress, in his desire for a terminus and simplified metaphysics. But the concern that underlines this is

what he views the eventual state of liberation from intellectual hegemony to be: humans must be able to find meaning in this existence, and this necessarily entails an ability to know and be certain of his or her purpose. Specifically, according to the Islamization of Knowledge, for a Muslim this must entail an ability to reflect on God and revelation, experiences which have been obscured by the rise of technological knowledge, fueled by Western hegemony in the West. Dussel on the other hand, envisions decolonization as a struggle: “this means a long period of resistance, of maturation, and of the accumulation of
forces” (Dussel 2004, 25). What exactly the attainment of either state of liberation will look like is something neither provides in their respective works I’ve turned to for my analysis. Indeed, it seems as if Al-Attas would have more of an answer than Dussel. It does, however, indicate a crucial difference between them and a crucial question for Dussel’s transmodern discourse.

I will not speculate on the implications of this difference although I want to suggest that given this comparison, the difference in the assumption of history between the two discourses reveal that Dussel’s emphasis on engaging with the bicultural intellectual appears more strategic than a testament of his openness. That is, by choosing to engage with third world intellectuals who are already committed to modernity Dussel is merely affirming what he already instinctively sense, albeit of course in a different context. It is intercultural insofar as we have an Argentinean discoursing with a Moroccan. This is not to reduce the value of such an encounter. The do not engage with modernity only to affirm European superiority. Nonetheless, it does highlight the absence of any significant risk in engagement on Dussel’s part, since the Other in this configuration nonetheless accept the validity of the modern as a political project worth continuing. This in turn puts into more perspective the transmodern project’s calls for an

engagement with ideas “from another place, from another location” (Dussel 2004, 18). They ultimately refer to calling for engagement with modern locations. They are distinct insofar as their experiences of modernity are distinct, but some affirmation of that experience is nonetheless necessary. What my comparison has also shown is the potential wisdom in suspicions against modernity from other decolonization projects does not warrant a mere rejection of their concerns. Recall that Dussel, in his allegiance to Al-Jabri, also adopts Al-Jabri’s assumptions. For example, fundamentalism is not defined but is regarded, however cautiously by Dussel, as “philosophical decadence”, as “isolationist” and confined to a “blind alley” of sorts (Dussel 2004, 24-25). What my comparison has shown is that even if we want to regard “fundamentalism” as embodying all those negative things (and let’s assume, for the sake of argument that the Islamization of Knowledge is all those things) such labels do not explain an understanding of why a commitment to modernity is undesirable for some, and more importantly, it closes further avenues for dialogue and co-operation between decolonization struggles. What would be the reason for an intellectual, who is acutely aware of the horrors of colonialism, to concede that the path of history of which colonialism was central must be engaged, and steered towards a direction of “liberation”? Why should this be a, if not the, central assumption for any philosophical agenda of decolonization that is truly emancipatory? This would entail the necessity to argue that the ideas that emerged in the historical period that coincided, and in fact were intertwined, with the horrors of colonialism were ultimately good and that they must be reclaimed. But to argue that those horrors were a necessary moment of a larger story of progress would first be necessary. And this may be more difficult to do

than to simply brush aside those who do not share the modern vision as “isolationists”. Dussel’s desire for the “new” cannot come at the expense of ignoring other voices (Dussel 2004, 25). Conclusion Contrary to the post-modern, the transmodern does not assume that the commitments to liberation and progress that has defined the modern project have run their course or have lost their credibility. Indeed one does not find in Dussel even the slightest suspicion towards those commitments: They are possible, their virtues are evident and thus they should be pursued. This should not be read to suggest, however, that the transmodern is by default straightforwardly “modern”. The expected referents to the defining events of the modern age such as the Enlightenment and the industrial revolution are there, although in mentioning them Dussel is often forthright against the assumption that they were uniquely European moments, as if the achievements associated with the modern age were discovered and developed by and within Europe alone. Against these two mainstream definitions of modernity, the transmodern aims to formulate a conception of the modern that would be truly planetary, whereby the significance of the colonial encounter in its constitution would be better understood. It is, in other words, an attempt at constructing a bolder vision of modernity than we have known. This paper, in essence, has been an attempt to reflect on a possible problem in the necessary intercultural direction that the transmodern project would need to take in order for its viability. I have done this by comparing the transmodern project with another project of intellectual decolonization, known as the Islamization of knowledge. Through this, we have seen more clearly the centrality of Enrique Dussel’s commitment to a

certain emancipator value in the story of modern European history for the execution of his transmodern project. This, in turn, raises important questions on how communicable the transmodern vision is. As my analysis suggests, the problem with formulating a nonEurocentric vision of modernity is that it must nonetheless affirm, however indirectly, some value in colonial destruction. This value is not simply instrumental, but metaphysical, a part of a longer story of human development towards Utopia. It is a peculiar commitment and thus cannot be taken for granted as evident, especially given the diversity inherent to decolonization discourse. To move beyond this would be to take more seriously the grievances and apprehensions that have been expressed against the story of modern history, and to incorporate whatever wisdom therein into the transmodern project. Only then, can we speak more productively of a pluriversality.

References Al-Attas, Syed Muhammad Naquib (1996) “The Worldview of Islam: An Outline.” in Islam and the Challenge of Modernity: Proceedings. ISTAC Press: Kuala Lumpur. Al-Jabri, Muhammed ‘Abed al-Jabri (1999) Arab-Islamic Philosophy: A Contemporary Critique. Translated by Aziz Abbassi. The Center for Middle Eastern Studies: Austin. Dussel, Enrique (1996) The Underside of Modernity: Apel, Ricoeur, Rorty, Taylor and the Philosophy of Liberation. Translated by Eduardo Mendieta. Humanities Press: New Jersey. Dussel, Enrique (2004) “Transmodernity and Interculturality: An Interpretation From the Perspective of Liberation.” Available at: http://www.enriquedussel.org/txt/Transmodernity%20and%20Interculturality.pdf Mignolo, Walter (2008) “The Geopolitics of Knowledge and the Colonial Difference” in Coloniality at Large: Latin America and the Postcolonial Debate. Edited by Mabel Morana, Enrique Dussel and Carlos A. Jauregui. Duke University Press: Durham and London.

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