At a Conference in Ontario, Canada, Mr. Ahmed Benchemsi, Moroccan Journalist and Stanford Visiting Scholar, spoke about the challenges the people and the secularist movements confront in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).He appealed for what he called “secularism from within” to replace the hypocrisy and doublethink that defines what people across the Arab world understand themselves to be.
He described how Muslims who live by modern secular values are an under-discussed reality in the MENA region, where people are compelled to mentally divorce how they actually live from how they believe people ought to live.
Across the MENA region - despite laws prohibiting everything from premarital sex to alcohol consumption - a powerful sub-culture practices these activities while suffering from a overwhelming sense of guilt for not living up to the ideals encoded in their laws.
So how does a culture live with these contradictions? Benchemsi answered that it is done through an “insane internal dialogue by which Islam is not the defining paradigm of these societies - hypocrisy is.”
From Benchemsi’s experience, the best way this region can overcome this schizophrenic internal monologue is by authentically describing the present - he describes this concept as “secularism from within.” In other words, they should describe the lives they live, expunge the guilt felt for breaking and disobeying unrealistic rules, and adopt the label of secularism to cultivate the individual freedom that is inextricable from democracy.
He concluded that secularism from within is really honesty from within. He believes that is what young seculars should begin practicing, for “a society based on lying and cheating is not sustainable in the long term”. Honesty is a revolutionary force. If secularists can label and practice honesty, who knows? They might win.
Article and Video previously posted at ahmedbenchemsi.com.