CH-07 - 7. Muslim Attitudes Toward the State: An...

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A perceptive British diplomat whose long service in the Middle East began early in this century captured the cultural counterpart to the Muslim theological tradition of political quietism in writing: The Egyptian man in the street is very quick to recognize the facts of power; he does not have to be blown out of cannons, or even harshly treated to conform. He will support long years of humiliation and, indeed, of ill treatment, buoyed by the golden certainty that some- where along the road lies a banana-skin on which the object of his dis- like is bound one day to put his heel. 1 Another evocative illustration comes from the great Egyptian nationalist leader, Sa’d Zaghlul ( 1857 1927 ), who in a public speech before a huge crowd expressed the hope that the day would come when the Egyptian ceased regarding government the way the bird views the hunter. The sense of impotence before authority is also well expressed in the story of village notables who had decided to send a delegation to the Ottoman capital requesting the removal of an oppressive governor. When the governor got wind of the plan, he summoned the group to his house, took them to an inner room, pointed out a chest and told them to open it. It was almost Flled with coins and precious metals. The governor then said, “When I arrived in this province I brought with me that trunk empty. Now it is almost full. My successor will arrive with his empty trunk.” The nota- bles canceled their plans to protest. 2 7. Muslim Attitudes Toward the State: An Impressionist Sketch
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Equally, the visual evidence of traditional Muslim residential architec- ture, which offers the outside world windowless walls at street level, shut- tered windows above, and entrances that provide no view of the living quar- ters within, attests to a turning of one’s back to the public world. That such architecture shelters a family—and especially the women—from the curi- ous eyes of outsiders is clearly an important consideration, but it should not be overlooked that such “introverted” architecture serves as well to obscure from the state one’s wealth and one’s lifestyle. 3 Lest the image conveyed here appear too much the outsider’s view with all the distortions and prejudices that suggests, note the following charge from an important contemporary Arab nationalist: The truth of the matter is that we (Arabs) have inherited from the past a feeling that the state is separated from us; that it is imposed upon us; and that we have no inFuence upon it or interest in it. . . . The simple individual in our Arab society feels that the state is a powerful and dis- tant thing and that he must accept its rulings without hesitation, pay taxes without argument, and not ask anything in return . . . that he has a duty toward it, but no rights forthcoming from it.
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This note was uploaded on 07/12/2008 for the course MC 441 taught by Professor Ayoob during the Spring '08 term at Michigan State University.

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CH-07 - 7. Muslim Attitudes Toward the State: An...

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