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Chapter Ten: The Idea-Idol Duel

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Chapter Ten: The Idea-Idol Duel

We have shown in the previous chapters that the world of people is embedded in the cultural universe of the society independently of both the stage of its development and its psychological age at that stage. This is a universal situation. However, it becomes the particular case of a society at a certain stage or as a result of a cultural accident, when such a society starts elaborating its thought and formulating its judgments according to certain criteria by means of which the idea-person relationship becomes increasingly inclined towards the person at the expense of the idea.

In such a case, it is a question of a cultural imbalance the excess of which generates a kind of despotism whose sociological consequences for some Muslim countries we have already pointed out. This imbalance may even be more radical when the cultural activities are not only polarized around the world of human beings in general, but around one particular person and in a particular manner.

It is here a question of a radical imbalance in which the idea-person rapport is alienated to a person who captivates, for his own benefit, all the sacred bonds in the cultural universe. In fact, the relationship becomes mythic and mystifying when it takes the extreme form of idea-idol relationship. This is a matter of cultural accident the occurrence of which is quite usual. Twentieth-century culture has experienced two such accidents: one in Italy with Mussolini, and the other in Germany with Hitler.

The Qur'an has called jahiliyyah the paganism that had been prevailing in pre-lslamic Arabia. The jahiliyyah, however, was not lacking in literary production; the greatest names of Arabic letters belong to that era. Yet, it has remained jahiliyyah or ignorance because its sacred bonds were not with ideas, but with the idols of the Ka'bah. Lacking any creative germs, the Arabic discourse at that time consisted only of sparkling phrases.

If paganism is ignorance, then reciprocally, ignorance is necessarily pagan. Thus, it is by no means a matter of chance that primitive people would embrace every kind of fetishism. This dialectic determines the nature of the idea-person relationship which, carried to the extremes, becomes an idea-idol relationship. It was on the basis of such a carried-to-extremes relationship that the Algerian people had founded the pantheon of its marabouts and maintained its cult and service throughout the post-Almohad centuries. Until 1925, the idol had been reigning in the shadow of the zawiya where our idle souls would go to seek costly blessings (barakas) and miraculous talismans.

Each time the idea disappears, the idol prevails anew and vice versa. In 1925, it was the opposite that took place: the idea of islah which had just appeared shook the old pantheon whose idols collapsed in a manner that deeply agitated our ants who seen the extinction of the fires of the customary noisy charity feasts offered in memory of a saint. The maraboutic fever thus fell allowing the Algerian conscience to capture once again the notion of duty. The gratuitous paradise once assured by the sheikh then gave way to the notion of a paradise that one can win only by the sweat of one's brow.

The islah could still hold in its hands the destiny of the renaissance by putting at its service the spiritual forces of Muslim society just pulled out of its lethargy. It was a privileged moment in which the idea-person relationship was instituted in favor of the idea of Blah, which experienced its Archimedean moment, its apotheosis, in the Algerian Popular Muslim Congress in 1936. But was that victory of the idea a decisive one?

The 'ulema' needed just a disturbing agent in their cultural universe so that the idea-person relationship would be transformed anew into an idea-idol relationship. They were unfortunately carrying within themselves an inferiority complex toward the intellectomaniac politicians whom they considered as their protectors. In fact, the 'ulema' themselves were not sufficiently immune so as to prevent the return of the idol now masquerading in the character of a zaim, the maker of political miracles, and with him, the return of the amulets in the form of ballot papers as well as the return of the maraboutic kermesses in the form of electoral zerdas to which the 'ulema' themselves were inviting the people to offer sacrifices! The dizzy heights struck them when they reached the peak of successfully leading the islah movement by launching the Popular Algerian Muslim Congress in 1936.

On those heights, the idea-person relationship escaped from their control and fell into a political morass in which the idol had taken the place of the idea. Thus, the islah sunk into the gutter in which was flowing the champagne of the electoral feasts, sometimes mixed with the people's pure blood that is shed many a time for the sake of unclean causes.

It was claimed that, in this way, the colonial authorities would be forced to grant some reforms to the people. This may be a good intention were it not, however, to be judged by means of scientific criteria. Moreover, any administration is but an organ that may or may not adapt to his environment. If it does not adapt, it will then disappear as Bever-Bridje reminds us by quoting in his book Le Monde est Une (The World is One) the following enlightening passage of Edmund Burke: "The government which is not able to guarantee real changes cannot have the means to preserve its very existence either".

The 'ulema' who were ignorant of this fundamental law implicitly exchanged, without realizing it, the politics that would impose upon the colonial Administration the qualifying round of Burke's law for a claiming politics which endowed colonialism with a moratorium and left the initiative for it. Similarly, the 'ulema' went further as they broke the salutary balance which they had themselves struck in the Algerian cultural universe in favor of the islah. Thus, the idea was banished and the idol seized power in Algerian public life. Consequently, the reformist current broke down and a demagogic, noisy, foaming and sterile current that prevented the country from hearing the clock striking the decisive hours of 1939, soon captivated the popular convictions.

Accordingly, the politics that ignores the fundamental laws of sociology, being the biology of social organisms, is nothing but sentimental verbiage, wordplay and demagogic claims. However, the betrayed ideas always take revenge. The nemesis of the islah, betrayed in 1936, was therefore impeccable. As a result, the machinery started running backwards and the country started going back over the stages it had already left behind. Once again, Algeria revived the zerdas the day its "elite" invited it to bum its remaining incense (jaws) in the zerdas organized after the death of the Muslim Congress. The ceremonials were not this time to commemorate a saint but to celebrate a political idol.

On that very day, there started the new maraboutism, a maraboutism that was not selling amulets, barakas, paradise, and its delights, but one that was buying rights, citizenship and ... the moon with the ballot papers. Similarly, it was forgotten that right is but a corollary of duty and that a society can create its charter and its new social statutes only by changing its "spiritual attitude".

What a sublime law! ... Change that which is within yourself (ame) and you will change your history! But in 1936, as the 'ulema' had transgressed this, the transformation already begun was thus halted and then vanished in political mirage. No one ever spoke of "duties"; only "rights" were being spoken of. There is no need to pursue the consequences of such a begging politics (revindication). Those consequences were clearly manifested in the stubborn silence of the nationalist parties in the decisive hours of 1939 and November 1942.

Instead of remaining a workshop for our humble and efficacious efforts for recovery as it had been since 1925, the country became, right from 1936, a forum and an electoral fair in which each cafe became an auditorium and each pedestal was converted into a rostrum! The people became a mere audience, an electoral herd, a blind caravan which deviated from its path paved by the idea but lost in the wake of idols. What a swindle that is still going on! If the idol is something short-lived because of its inefficacy, it is, however, a sort of chrysalis that is renewed in multiple forms in the suitable climate where maraboutism, the generator of idols, reaches maturity.

This phenomenon manifested itself during the Algerian revolution. The Algerian intellectual elite was not "ideologically' centered on the idea of revolution, but rather on those idols. This meant that we were not yet cured of our ailment. At the level of the elite, the disease was not as simple as it was at the level of the common people, the reason being that our intellectuals were ready to eat at every manger. Sadly, nothing is worse than ignorance when it comes dressed as science and comes to the forefront! Indeed, the simple ignorance of common people is clear; like an open wound it can easily be cured. On the contrary, 'learned ignorance' is incurable because it is unintelligent, insidious, deaf and pretentious.

In 1936, therefore, when the 'ulema' surrendered our cultural universe to the power of the idol, this was but the movement backwards, the return to darkness. The machinery then started running upside down, thus reflecting the new aspect of the problem as the idea gave way to the idol. A long time ago, al-'lzz b. 'Abd alSalam already used to blame the jurists of his time for succumbing to taqlid which constitutes for Islamic thought the first manifestation of substituting the idol for the idea, that is to say, the manifestation which marked the end of ijtehad.


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