The anniversary of Lebanon’s former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, falls on Valentine’s Day, celebrated annually on 14 February. The celebration of love is only two days after the anniversary of Hassan al Banna, who politicized Islam in the 20th century and was killed on 12 February 1949.
More than two days separated the two men. Al Banna entered politics as a fighter and was concerned about religion and identity while Hariri was preoccupied with development and reconstruction without exhibiting much anxiety about identity, which the Muslim Brotherhood was created to defend and protect from those who sought to “destroy it” or “invade it”.
According to official documents that discuss the Brotherhood’s ultimate goal, after liberating society from all that is foreign, a free Islamic government should be established, one that rules “according to Islam and carries out its social structure.”
In a letter entitled “Between yesterday and today”, written from the perspective of someone concerned with entrenchment, break up, and “cultural invasion” al Banni said, “The Europeans aim to overwhelm the Muslim world with materialism and its corrupt and deadly manifestations. They brought to these lands their semi-naked women, their alcohol, their dance halls, their newspapers, their novels…and if this was not enough, they also set up schools and scientific and cultural institutes in the heart of the Muslim lands to spread agnosticism and atheism amongst Muslims and teach them to despise their religion and country, as well as abandon their traditions and revere all that is western.”
This was the message al Banna sought to spread from the beginning of the century until his death. Of course, such a perspective and education will reject intercultural dialogue. By that I do not mean flattering international public opinion, as is currently taking place in Iran, by certain intellectuals who reiterate the names of Enlightenment philosophers and the western lexicon while, in reality they dare not rise above the teaching of Ayatollah Khomeini.
Hassan Al Banna epitomized a break with the past, conflict, a bloodied dream seeking to recapture what was no longer there and what never existed in the first place. The dream then developed into an organization and a mobilizing factor, benefiting from the backwardness across the Arab world. It is important to point out that it is not al Banna or his ideology that are solely responsible for preventing modernity from developing in our societies. According to Burhan Ghalioun, a prominent Arab intellectual, “Modernity is not a question of emulation, simulation, following, borrowing or even understanding and observing. Rather, it is a historical clash between internal and external forces in order to own material and non-material resources… In this sense, modernity is not bestowed but the product of a conflict where multiple parties compete in an attempt to seize a wealth that different parties are competing for.”
In an interview with Ibrahim al Aris in the London-based al Hayat newspaper, Ghalioun said it was intellectual and culturally possible to establish modernity in the Arab world but added that, at present, this potential was obstructed by forces that a vested interest in preventing modernity from taking a foothold in the region. While these statements are certainly frustrating, they are also hopeful. The Arab world is not inherently opposed to modernity as some orientalists and Arab pessimists claim. However, even if we agree with Ghalioun, al Banna’s ideology and social mobilization is one of the most important reasons why modernity has yet to develop in the Arab world.
Hariri promised hope and a new political model as well as new priorities, beyond identity and struggle. Hariri represented reconstruction and supported peace.
The former premier was a Lebanese nationalist who sought to achieve Lebanon’s second independence from Syria, allying himself with Christian forces, just as his Sunni predecessor Riyadh al Solh had done with Beshara al Khoury. He represented the state against the militias and, above all, he stood for an Islam that was not overstated.
In Islam, the core conflict is between those who follow Hariri and those who choose to follow Al Banna, or the model of integration and cultural communication the former Lebanese PM symbolized through his network of international relations which stretched from the Kremlin to the White House, the Elysées, Riyadh and Cairo.
History has willed that Hariri and al Banna were killed around St. Valentine’s day, who himself was executed on 14 February 270 A.D after disobeying the orders of Roman Emperor Claudius II who forbade soldiers from getting married. The monk defied the imperial decree and married several soldiers. St. Valentine sacrificed his life for love.
Are there still individuals who would give up their souls for love, even if this love was hurtful and fatal, as was Hariri’s for Lebanon?