Islam and Democracy: Fear of the Modern World

By Fatima Mernissi | Go to book overview

9
Fear of the Present

In the eleventh century the powerful Fatimid caliph al-Hakim ordered the astronomer, optician, and mathematician Ibn al- Haytham to use his science to regulate the waters of the Nile. In an attempt to solve his political problems, the caliph commanded the astronomer to find a means of halting the Nile's disastrous fluctuations between flood and drought which brought on famine and inflation, resulting in riots and political instability. Ibn al-Haytham tackled the task but failed. His knowledge of mathematics proved inadequate to find a solution. Al-Hakim dismissed him from court, and Ibn al-Haytham finished out his days as a copyist. Nonetheless, his treatise on optics became a classic text and was used in the West in a Latin translation up to the time of Kepler. 1

Today few Arab heads of state would dream of an ecological approach on this scale as a solution to the problems of unemployment and instability; their solution would more likely be to send an army into the streets or to imprison the rioters. Facing an ecological disaster, they would turn not to an Arab scientific team but rather to an American firm, just as the emir of Kuwait did to put the oil wells back in operation. It is not that there are not enough Arab brains to recruit; some thirty thousand university graduates in engineering from Muslim countries are now living in Europe and America, where many have become responsible for research and development in their professions. 2 One finds 754 such specialists listed in the latest edition of American Men and Women of Science, among whom are 225 physicists and mathematicians. But why,

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Islam and Democracy: Fear of the Modern World
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction the Gulf War: Fear and Its Boundaries 1
  • Part I - A Mutilated Modernity 11
  • 1 - Fear of the Foreign West 13
  • 2 - Fear of the Imam 22
  • 3 - Fear of Democracy 42
  • 4 - The United Nations Charter 60
  • 5 - The Koran 75
  • Part II - Sacred Concepts and Profane Anxieties 83
  • 6 - Fear of Freedom of Thought 85
  • 7 - Fear of Individualism 104
  • 8 - Fear of the Past 114
  • 9 - Fear of the Present 130
  • 10 - Women's Song: Destination Freedom 149
  • Conclusion the Simorgh is Us! 172
  • Notes 175
  • Index 191
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