Rationality and Affectivity in Religious and Extremist Discourse: The Model of Fraternity

A closed seminar al-Azhar University and the IDEO

 Saturday March 25ᵗʰ, 2017

On March 25th, the second meeting between the IDEO and the DEIF (Department of Islamic Studies in French) in the School of Languages and Translation (for Men) at Al-Azhar University was held. The meeting focused on “Rationality and Affectivity in Religious and Extremist Discourses: The Model of Fraternity,” which meant to delve deeper into topic launched at the first meeting, “extremism,” by discussing the specific religious value of “fraternity.”

The first lecture, given by Hazem al-Rahmany, a student of DEIF, began by giving an overview of the call to a universal fraternity as found in the fundamental texts of Judaism, Christianism, and Islam. He compared this “cosmic call” to the current institutional dialogues. If those of Vatican (John Paul II, Pope Francis) or the sheikh’s of Al-Azhar (Aḥmad al-Ṭayyib, Muṣṭafā al-Marāġī) were to pursue this perspective, extremist organizations such as Daesh would be characterized as in contradiction to this “call”, as they represent a restrictive fraternity which excludes non-believers, even members of the same biological family.

The second lecture was given by Hind Amin, a teaching assistant in the faculty of Human Sciences, and holds Master’s Degree in Translation after her translation of the book Le Terrorisme, by Arnaud Blin. Hind concentrated on the question, “Does Religious Discourse Lead to Extremism?” She presented four mechanisms of religious discourse: (1) the mix between religion and thought, (2) the return to a primary universal principle, (3) foundations based on sacred ancestors and (4) peremptory statements or authoritative arguments. She then proposed an argument: extremist discourse has its origins in the revolutionary ideologies of the twentieth century as taken up by decolonization movements. Islamism is situated in this general historical continuity, and has been strengthened through specific causes found the Arabic world (The question of Palestine, the Iranian Revolution, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan).

The third lecture was given by Rémi, a member of IDEO. He presented a historical study of “fraternity” and its uses in the West since its Greek origins, which already contained a duality between limitations on a community (the “city”) and universalism (first the Stoics, then the Neo-Pythagoreans). In the developments of Christianity, where relations were rooted in the “home of Spirit” and calls for a “new creation”, saw the sense of the fraternity shrinking from Christian communities to congregations only. The idea of “fraternity” then underwent the criticism of Luther who, however, failed to re-universalize it, confining it to a “holy fraternity in baptism”. It is the pietism of Johan Arndt which, in the seventieth century, returns to a spiritual fraternity, and in the end be secularized by the Freemasons and the French Revolution. Rémi then proposed a Christian theology of fraternity. By distinguishing an original “fraternal love,” he used the fratricidal quarrels of the Bible to show that this love is not original, but rather must always to be built. It is a reality of the Kingdom of Heaven of which is necessary to be prepared for and to build. Rémi was then finally able to make a climactic point which showed how fraternity was negated in nationalist thinking: religious discourse affirms fraternity as a Divine grace which must be realized everywhere; extremist discourse hoards it and distributes it selectively.

The discussion that followed was very rich, thorough, critical, and by the admission of all, was a sign of the creation of a truly common reflection. One of the points of departure was if “siblings” could be utilized as a model of fraternity: Is fraternal love an origin to be found, or is it an eschatological aim? Is Cain imprinted, by nature, with envious hate, or is it a disfigurement of an original purity of siblings? Are the brothers in a relationship of love or necessity? Should fraternity really be used as the model of the universal love-relationship? Is there not a paradox in the pretense to a universal fraternity, knowing that the solidarity it demands risks being totally dissolved? Is not the reference to an original family (implied in the idea of “fraternity”), like the concept of heritage, simply a conservatism that fears a confrontation with modernity which promotes the contrary: the self-determination of the thinking subject and of the political community?