Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

considérations sur le malheur arabe

Posted by worriedlebanese on 08/10/2006

This book has been on my reading list for two years now, slipping out every now and then and bouncing back in again as a result of recent political events. I finally decided to read it, hoping to find a definition of arab identity in it. Needless to say I didn’t find it. Samir Kassir takes this identity for granted, as something that simply is. He defines himself as an Arab secular intellectual, albeit a westernised one.

And so he never questions Arab national identity. It’s his premise, his starting point. He doesn’t even really historicise it, even though he does turn to history on several occasions. But these historical forays are used as elements in his general argument, and this argument isn’t centred on identity, but to some extent on adversity, political adversity with the west, with hegemony on one side and impotence or powerlessness on the other. His essay is not anthropological (though he says he prefers Levi-Strauss to Huntington), so that could explain the reason why identity is never really tackled although it seems so central. It is not even historical, although the author was trained as a historian and he has an extensif use of historical arguments. His approach is political, and to be more specific geo-political.

The book’s sturcture reminded me of Rousseau’s Discours sur l’origine et les fondements de l’inégalité parmi les Hommes. The reference to the enlightenment is quite apparent from the book’s title to that of its different chapters. And one does see similarities with the XVIIth century french thinkers in the way he argues. But his approach is even less philosophical than theirs and more journalistic. It’s not a general interrogation but a very constructed demonstration based on a wide interpretation of events.

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