Interpretation from French
The subject of this afternoon’s theme is religion in contemporary society, although not much has actually been said about that. That is to be expected, because we have only 12 minutes each. Indeed, I myself hesitate to begin addressing the subject.
For example, we met in this House, the United Nations, in March 2003 to discuss whether or not we should make war in Iraq. If, in trying answer to that question before the United Nations debate, the representatives of States present here had listened to a historian of religions, an anthropologist, a sociologist specializing in the study of cultures, a linguist who dealt with the subject of fundamental religious texts, all of whom had focused on Iraqi society, the history of Iraqi society and the religions which for centuries have coexisted within that society, as well as the living, collective memories and very ancient languages of that society; and if, at the same time, a legal historian – a historian of the law – had been present reminding members representing States of the historical conditions under which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was made in 1948 and of the state of knowledge of those who met here to make that Declaration, as well as of the state of knowledge of the societies represented by the various members represented here, the state of religions and what religions were doing in the first half of the twentieth century, on the eve of the national colonial liberation movements that were to begin immediately after that Declaration, then I think we can imagine to some extent the absolute areas of ignorance that would have been addressed.
Those absolute forms of ignorance still exist today. We know virtually nothing at all about the functions of what we call religion. We are still fighting to try to find an operational decision – a definition that would help us to reflect on this and to make studies of the religious phenomenon and the complexity of the religious phenomenon. We have still not got such a definition – we are fighting about it. We still need a historian to find out why we are still today in that state of ignorance – ignorance that I would describe as institutionalized, because it is being spread by teachers in primary schools, secondary schools and colleges and being maintained by decision-makers in universities and scientific research centres who take decisions, just as political decisions are taken here. University professors take decisions to divide up subjects of study – which subject of study should be given priority in order to receive a budget from the State or from the university so that I can undertake a study of a certain social or religious reality, and so forth.
Then there is something else: the intellectual history of religion and the religious issue. The intellectual history of the religious issue has been monopolized by the managers of the sacred, as Max Weber has called them – those who are specialized in managing the sacred: rabbis, imams, Buddhist wise men and so forth. And that specialization still exists. One very eloquent example is that of France, because, as you know, the French Republic is distinguished from all other Western regimes by the idea of the secular State. I do not have time to go into that issue, although I would like to do so in the United States of America. I would like to explain what exactly is meant in the intellectual advance of European thinking by the secular posture of reason, as opposed to, and as distinguished from, the secularizing attitude, as that term is used in English: we do not speak the same language. It is true that, from the standpoint of the reality that I am studying – that is, the philosophy of knowledge itself – we cannot just continue to teach the religious phenomenon in a society such as France where we have the problem that everybody is aware of: the massive presence of Islam in a contemporary society.
How have Islamic societies – Muslim societies – been managed by the post-colonial States since 1960? All of the Muslim countries have emerged from colonization. They did so after the Second World War, and thus they set up new States, which have recently emerged. How can a modern State be formed to manage a society in a modern perspective? Immense problems arise in that respect. How, in fact, have those societies been managed? This is an important issue, and we should take stock of the cultural, political and scientific, as well as of the religious management, of societies since they have become independent. Stock has not been taken. There is ignorance there – complete ignorance.
So there is institutionalized ignorance. What is going to save us? There will be ideological discourse – nationalistic ideological discourse. After what has been called the Islamic revolution of Khomeini in Iran, Islamist fundamentalist discourse is going to replace the former one. In other words, we are going to move from one ideology to another that is less well intentioned, because it is going to involve the sacred – it will replace the management of the sacred by the political management of the sacred. So we are therefore in complete semantic and conceptual disorder.
It is under those conditions that we are going to trace out the geopolitical map of the world, and it is in that state of ignorance that we are going to write tons of books on fundamentalist Islam, taking absolutely no account of the voices of Muslims in Islamic societies, who are, in fact, struggling to introduce into that complete semantic disorder and total absence of conception a minimum of critical reflection. They are trying to introduce a minimum of critical reflection, a minimum of reason. They are trying to give the right to researchers to speak and to have themselves listened to. But it is impossible to get the ear of any State or of any political figure, including in the Western democracies. And I can bear witness here to the failure to listen to what has been happening in the so-called Muslim societies since the end of the Second World War. It is a slice of history, a minimum slice of history that absolutely must be explored – one that is absolutely not in the heads of young people who were born in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, who are going to find their way through to an intellectual, cultural and moral void.
The West therefore does what it does, accompanied by armies, by professors who are experts in Islam, who are going to write about fundamentalism while never taking any care to establish conceptual distinctions in the exercise of reason or to seek the foundations upon which such scientific reasoning should be based. This is the activity that I would describe as “foundational” – ussouli in Arabic, whereas “fundamentalist” would be ussoulawi. I use the Arabic words because this is a terrible linguistic tragedy. We are involved in a linguistic tragedy. We are talking, for instance, about populist religion or, rather, populist religiosity, which accounts for why, in a society such as that of the United States of America, which has so many professors, universities and libraries – everything you like – religiosity, the religious attitude, sociologically speaking, is dominant. We should be aware of that reality. It is that religiosity that is been imitated by Koranic specialists in Muslim countries through television to reinforce Islamic religiosity, under conditions about which we are all are aware.
This is an enormous issue, and here I would like to make an appeal - it is not very often that a modest teacher and historian can speak from the rostrum at the United Nations - that United Nations debates leading to political decisions, especially when the decision is very important, should, as I said earlier, be preceded by the bearers of critical science – I do not want to say “experts” or “historians”. We have to find these pearls, we have to find people who will cast a critical eye on the political discourse that is being conducted here – people who observe, people who listen to everything that is being said and who can then take the floor at the end of the debate, before the vote, to say, “This is what is being said and underpins all the statements that we have heard”. We see so much ignorance in these statements, we see so many manipulations of reality that underpin the statements, and it is therefore necessary to return to the start of the debate to throw some light on things. Of course, I am being naive. But even so, it is a good thing to say this, and I feel good about saying it here in the United Nations.