Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

‘Intellect of Revolt’ or ‘Revolt of Intellect’? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The French Revolution was among one of the few examples of revolutions in modern history.

“Intellect of revolt” and the “revolt of intellect” are two concepts that we often come across when tackling the paths of societies through history.

The first concept is primarily linked to changing the governing system of a state, while the second is often linked to changing some aspects of the governing cultural and intellectual system. This is achieved either through conceptual renewal or through introducing new concepts to society that are fitting of the circumstances it is passing through.

Unfortunately however we often mix the two concepts together and their impact within societies. In fact, in some instances “intellect of revolt” is given much more importance than the “revolt of intellect” given that revolutions change the means of governance. This pushes society to seek a different path, believing that it will have the greater and longer impact on them. The contrary may be true on many occasions.

In wake of the waves of the Arab Spring, some have grown more convinced that the political revolutions in societies and countries through history have yielded the desired political changes, whether they are positive or negative. This is especially true if the intellect of revolt was linked to an intellectual system that is capable of sweeping the path that these societies have tread over the centuries.

What is historically certain however, and contrary to what is believed, examples of these revolutions are few, such as the French Revolution in 1789, the Bolshevik one in 1917 and the Chinese one in 1949. These revolutions were ideological ones at heart and they were not only limited to changing the system of rule, but altering the map of society and its intellectual and political beliefs. This has led them to seek to alter the concept of legitimacy in itself and with it the way of life of these societies.

There are examples of revolutions, that represent the majority in my belief, that have had limited impact and have changed the names of the rulers without establishing constant foundations for the concept of legitimacy. They have changed political systems, but not the political, cultural and intellectual creed of the society itself. This is where the major difference between the two concepts emerges.

In this light then, we are faced with an issue far greater than changing the means of rule, the state institutions, and replacing their rulers in a game of political musical chairs that we have long heard of and have become fed up with its outcomes. It is better to focus on the concept of the “revolt of intellect” that should precede the concept of the revolution in general. In fact, societies may disregard it in favor of intellectual development that often brings with it behavioral change and development among the citizens. The goal could then be linked to changing some important prevalent patterns in how a society tackles some of its issues, especially the culture itself. More importantly, it could tackle the legitimate system as a whole from within.

This brings me to two very important examples. The first is monk Martin Luther in 1517 and the second is Sheikh Ali Abdulrazek and his famous book, “Islam and the Foundations of Governance,” released in 1924.

The first changed the concept of political legitimacy and the practice of doctrine in Europe. He paved the way for a cultural, intellectual and doctrinal revolution that was enough to alter the course of the entire continent, sparking a social revolt.

Sheikh Abdulrazek presented a reality that most Muslim-majority countries rejected. I mean here the concept of mandating the caliphate as a means for governing. This led to Islamic societies to accept that the line of the caliphs has actually disappeared from the political map and accept other political structures to rule Arab lands.

The real purpose of placing importance on the concept of “revolt of intellect” here is working on renewing intellect in general, whether through the concept of the revolution, or through what sociologists call “shock therapy”, which is introducing new unfamiliar intellectual elements that contradict with the current reality.

This pushes the cultural thinkers, society and the state institutions to review current intellectual concepts with the backdrop of these changes so that society avoids, on the one hand, a clash of alterable concepts and the desired development on the other. This therefore preserves the identity and the assimilation with the present, which often individuals do not find a reference point for in the intellectual, cultural and political system.

Societies often need an intellectual revolt to exit the stagnant intellectual lake without altering its borders. The intellectual revolt does not mean a separation from the nation’s past with its cultural, doctrinal and historic principles. But it is a process or renewal or introducing alterable concepts.