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Ghazi al Qusaibi and the True Believer - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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I was lucky enough to finish reading a book translated by the well-known Saudi intellectual and politician Ghazi al Qusaibi, may God give him a speedy recovery, in which the author researches the causes of extremism. As I read the book, a conference was being held in Medina researching the same problem. The conference was held under the supervision of one of the religious education universities, the Islamic University.

The conference, along with its participants, sheikhs, sessions and symposiums, the nature of the discussions, and even heated criticism between lecturers and participants, were all the topics of newspaper articles and reports recently.

Numerous research papers were presented, and those who presented them should be thanked for their efforts. However, according to what we read in the press, I have not seen any critical or analytical writing that goes further beyond what has been written over the past few years.

The idea of holding the conference and devoting days to research and discussion is wonderful in itself. University Director Dr. Muhammad al Oqla is also to be praised for his open mindedness and the freedom of the press should also be praised for covering the events. As for the recommendations presented by the conference, they were just as expected due to the nature of the conference that was attended mostly by religious scholars and sponsored by a university specializing in religious education, therefore, the recommendations were suitable to this climate, and the abstracts and the do’s and don’ts were typical to the conference. However, what was really eye-catching was the new flavour to the recommendations that included the following:

“The conference urges the leaderships and governments of Islamic countries to do the following: support human rights associations and organizations, support development projects and reduce unemployment, deal with substandard housing and eliminating social isolation of the youth, and protecting the lower classes from deterioration and marginalization.”

These are all new ideas being introduced to the religious discourse that is against the Al Qaeda current and they do deserve praise and consideration. In view of such recommendations and their emphasis on aspects of development, human right and humanitarianism, I would like to return to Ghazi al Qusaibi’s book. Even though he only translated this book into Arabic, I think of it as his own because he presented it to Arab readers after taking in the ideas and adopting them. It is such a pleasant, deep and amazing book, as it “thinks outside the box.” Written by Eric Hoffer, ‘The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movement’ is co-published by Dar Kalima Publishing house affiliated to the Abu-Dhabi Cultural and Heritage Authority and the Saudi Al Obeikan Publishers.

Eric Hoffer (1902-1983) was a self-made man and worked for some time in restaurants and on farms. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Eric earned a living loading and unloading ships in San Francisco for a quarter of a century. He wrote more than ten books, including ‘The True Believer,’ which he wrote whilst working in San Francisco in the 1940s where he preoccupied himself with his own philosophical research. Of his ten books, ‘The True Believer’ was the first and the most important and was a bestseller [in the US] after President Eisenhower quoted it in a television interview.

Ghazi al Qusaibi, the translator, championed the book, and he was right to do so. In the preface, the translator set out his reasons for focusing on this book and revealed the goal of this translation. He said that even though it was written in the 1950s and it did not gain much publicity, he translated this book just because in it he “found a clear answer to a question that bewildered him from when the world first began to become preoccupied with terrorism; that question is why does a terrorist become a terrorist?”

The extent to which al Qusaibi is convinced by Hoffer’s results and analyses is apparent in his denial that there are writings that can shed light on the mind of a terrorist that might help us understand this astonishing and frightening world. Al-Qusaibi says, “I looked at a number of references and discussed the issue with a number of experts and I realised that none of the large amount of information about terrorism, its organizations, leaders, mechanisms, literatures and supporters, could shed light on the mindset of a terrorist.” However, he indicates that he found his long-sought objective in Hoffer’s book and even though the book does not tackle terrorism per se, as it is understood today, it presented a clear answer in its discussion on “extremism” and in fact terrorism is the product of extremism.

Al Qusaibi concludes his brief introduction by making two requests: there is a responsibility on researchers to present the author’s analysis of the reality of contemporary terrorism and then accurate field studies can prove whether these analyses are correct or incorrect. Al Qusaibi goes on to add “and I believe these analyses would be proven right.” The second request is more important as it sums up why the translator champions this book. He said, “Second, which is more important and serious, Arab countries should shoulder the responsibility to make opportunities available, should have flourishing and active civil societies in a way that curbs or eliminates depression among the youth. By curbing depression, terrorism would come to an end. In my opinion, this is the only successful means to end a problem that has long devastated the world.”

This is how the Saudi intellect and political expert views the situation. Having taken into account the similar conclusions drawn by Ghazi and “some” of the proposals made at the Medina conference, both of them share the common objective of raising morale among the youth and getting them to partake in the development process. In addition, Ghazi stressed the idea of activating and publicizing “civil work.”

But two remarks can be made here: firstly, even though it is his right to do so, by denying that there are studies and writings that could enlighten us on the thinking behind terrorism and the mentalities of terrorists, al Qusaibi is making a broad generalization. Suffice it to mention the book that revealed a great deal about the “Al Qaeda” organization being the engine and the largest intellectual, practical and psychological attraction for terrorism. The book I am referring to is the ‘The Looming Tower’ written by the investigative journalist Lawrence Wright. I’ve read the book, but cannot claim that I found all the answers in it. However, I found highlights and profound investigations about the character of Osama Bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri and Sayyed Qutb. A critic from the Wall Street Journal described Lawrence Wright’s book as “deeply researched, immaculately crafted.”

The second remark is that I think that Dr. Ghazi, with his intelligence, proficiency, distinguished style in translation, unique flavour and his own distinct features, opinions and objections that come through in the book, wanted us to understand something that goes further than just being in a state of terror. He wanted us to research neutrally and descriptively, rather than morally or in a preaching manner, the character of a terrorist and the incentives behind his involvement in revolutionary activity, regardless of whether this extremism is religious or not, Marxist, nationalist, or religious fundamentalist. This is necessary for us to abandon the preaching framework and to understand the concept as a prerequisite to treating it. Understand the disease as it is, not as you want to see it, and then remedy it, or even remedy your inner self. This is the lesson we can draw from the book’s translation into Arabic.

As for the book itself, it requires a long time to explain, and I have spent a wonderful time reading its 316 pages. It is exciting and unique in the way it analyzes the character of a potential terrorist who is ready to become involved in revolutionary activity. It includes unusual analyses that contradict our understanding of the natural reservoir of people who are ready to take part in mass revolutionary activity.

There is no room for further explanation, but I am satisfied with giving one example of the analysis of poverty and the poorer class and whether or not they represent potential revolutionaries just by being poor. The author does not answer in the expected manner. Eric Hoffer has delved deep into the ins and outs of poverty and considered the “nouveau poor” as the driving force behind any mass movement. Likewise, those whose economic condition has slightly improved to a level that would allow them room to think are also potential vanguards. In other words, not all poor people are supporters of revolutions but only the nouveau poor and those whose conditions have slightly improved. This does not necessarily mean that the members of this class will automatically be part of any revolutionary act. As for those who are extremely poor, they are far away from supporting revolutionary acts; rather they can be classified as conservatives owing to their permanent fear of the future, according to the author.

Therefore we may find a variety of different and new analyses [in this translation].

Ghazi has presented an excellent piece of work for Arab readers. The book is not about terrorism or extremism. Despite its old age, the book researches the crisis of the relationship between reform, religion and politics. It is the author’s analysis and the translator’s testimony to this period through the author.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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