Tayyeb Tizini: Use of Force Will not Work
By: Khalil Sweileh
Published Saturday, December 17, 2011
For years, Syrian philosopher Tayyeb Tizini has written about the need for Arabs to break out of their intellectual stagnation. Now the youth of the region are turning his musings into reality.
In an interview with Al-Akhbar, Syrian philosophy professor at the University of Damascus Tayyeb Tizini recalls the 1950s, linking the events of that time to what is occurring in Syria now.
He proposes that what Syria is witnessing, from violence to arrests and repression is not a new phenomenon, but one that dates back to the time of the Syrian-Egyptian unity.
“We were students at the University of Damascus when the wave of arrests, persecution, and the harm started...I believe that Abdul-Hamid al-Sarraj (security chief at the time of unity with Egypt) had laid the foundations for everything that was to come, and by that, I mean the police state,” said Tizini.
From the beginning, it was clear that the interview was going to be overshadowed by the crisis in Syria. Tizini’s phone rang.
“It’s my wife,” he said, “she is telling me that the situation is flaring up in Homs, she recommends that I remain in Damascus till things calm down a little bit,” he said as he sipped his coffee.
The philosophy professor sees only one solution to the Syrian dilemma. “For the country to avoid major turbulence and great tragedy, the regime needs to stop betting on the use of force as a way to secure its survival,” he says.
Tayyib Tizini grew up in the city of Homs. His father was a judge and a cleric, and his brother, Abdul Wadood Tizini, published the magazine, al-Younbou. The magazine covered a period of intellectual enlightenment and political independence.
But it was shut down with the advent of “unity and military coups that extend to today; granted with a different impact here and there, but nevertheless with the same general discourse,” he said.
Tizini’s studies in Germany allowed him to delve more deeply into Arab and Islamic culture and the shortcomings of Orientalist studies. He settled on a Marxist approach to understanding culture and his book From Heritage to Revolution was the fruit of that endeavor.
After further reading, research, and contemplation, he later concluded that parliamentary democracy, free from the dominance of a single party, was the missing link in the Marxist conception of revolution. This, in his view, was the profound mistake committed by many nationalist parties, and the Baath Party was no exception.
“Marxism lost, nationalism lost, and we lost the promise of parliamentary life after independence,” says Tizini.
Tizini raises another problem, one that came to his attention while researching the period of Arab renaissance and enlightenment – corruption. He considers it “the mother of all calamities,” and tackled the issue extensively in his doctoral thesis.
“When I returned from Berlin to Damascus in the early seventies, I found a society riven by corruption. The authorities had turned it into a mafia-based economy. As a result, the middle class was devastated, laws were violated, and the elite were corrupted,” Tizini declared.
He then addressed the mechanisms behind the police state. According to him the state’s goal is to “eliminate from society all that oppose the idea of tyranny, in order to monopolize power, wealth, public opinion, and the truth.”
He describes what is happening today in many parts of the Arab world as a youth rebellion. “The youth felt humiliation as result of unemployment, exclusion, and neglect. From all classes and walks of life, they rebelled and declared their demands in a way that caught us all off guard. So now we face a new discourse. It is now the turn of the new generation to pave the way.”
Asked if he was in a state of desperation before the Arab Spring, he answered “as a matter of fact I was, but I arrogantly denied it. Nevertheless I was surprised by what happened. I’ve been asked questions that were long forgotten, but here I am, witnessing new beginnings.”
He remembers how universities in the fifties and sixties were a center for demonstrations, protests, and rebellion. This was until security forces took hold of the universities and corrupted the education system.
“Today, there is a common saying in universities: ‘pay or leave.’ Educational standards have plummeted. Intellectual prostitution, drugs, and corruption is what prevailed from then on,” declared Tizini.
In an interview with the author of The Koranic Text and the Problem of Structure and Reading, the topic of political Islam is bound to come up. Tizini doesn’t seem pessimistic about the surge of Islamist politics. “There is an intolerant Islam and there is an enlightened Islam,” says Tizini, as he recounts a meeting he recently had with Islamist women in Damascus.
In that meeting, one of the women said, “we were torn between the opinions of the bearded sheiks and those who follow totalitarian ideologies. Now we discover a third option in Islam, one that reinforces a new concept we were not familiar with, that of a tolerant Islam.”
Tizini added that “in fact that’s what I seek to clarify in my upcoming book Fundamentalism: Between Obscurantism and Enlightenment. I want to clarify the confusion about Islam and secularism.”
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.