My partner is not an islamophile, is simply a Muslim and I am not an islamophobe, I am simply an atheist. The space of understanding that we have created, free of stereotypes, comes from the mutual conviction that I am not an arrogant colonialist and he is perfectly capable of understanding an open-minded culture or the fundamental freedoms of democratic societies. Culturally, I strive to translate and understand the complex lyrics of Fairuz or the libertine poems of Abou Nawas and he enjoys when we go to an opera by Donizetti and when I read Neruda’s poems out loud.
Our relationship is based on the mutual respect of our differences and we have managed to create a space for peaceful coexistence, although – I must admit – we often argue who have to do the dishes tonight or what movie to watch in the cinema. When we hear about the clash of civilizations, we think that it refers to others, not to us. Nor do we believe that they refer to Khalil Gibran, T. E. Lawrence or Naguib Mahfouz but possibly to characters such as Ernest Renan, Sayid Quttub or Marine Le Pen.
We are not so naïve as to think that our way of thinking does not imply some contradictions, but we know that the mutual respect we profess each other and the desire to be together are well above them. Despite the differences, we continue to share a common life project -hopefully some political speeches started from these same premises-, embracing the cultural, historical and social differences of both worlds and combating the profound ignorance that we, the Westerners, have of theirs, stereotyped to the point of being sated with false secular bigotry.
George Corm said in his monumental work “Pensée et politique dans le monde arabe” that the first usual confusion of European orientalism is to consider that there is an Arab-Islamic civilization when the Arab world is only about 300 million people (compared to more than 2,000 million heterogeneous Muslims in all 5 continents) and exists long before the Holy Qur’an. The masterpiece and landmark for arabists, “A history of the Arab peoples” by Albert Hourani, begins from that erroneous premise but develops a deep and crucial knowledge of arabs from an islamic perspective which must be also taken into account to understand arabic culture. The classical Islamic civilization -of arab origin- is framed between the 8th and 14th centuries (700 a.C. – 1300 a.C.) of our era and makes up the “golden age” of the arab-islamic past with unparalleled developments and discoveries in all sciences from medicine, to philosophy and political science that have shaped our world forever. However, it no longer exists as such anymore. In fact, there is a fascination for an idealized past, a desire to re-establish a past glory caused by the lack of vision and future that afflicts Arab countries since their decolonization and, adding up a new affront to their pride, since the creation of Israel. in 1948. This idealization seems to be finally coming to an end after a long period of suffering and frustration. Instead, the pragmatism that some Gulf countries are willing to embrace in the name of progress (whatever the meaning of it) seems based on a basic premise: in the era of social, political, economic and technological globalization, we can live with religions but we cannot achieve any development with medieval interpetations that divide our world into Islamophobes and Islamophiles, nor in the West or in the Arab world.