Nemo, “Qu’est-ce que l’Occident?”

I’ve recently been enjoying a gem of a little book by Philippe Nemo (ESCP Europe) , Qu’est-ce que l’Occident? (“What is the West?”) (puf 2004).  The book is an attempt to describe in what “the West” consists, arriving at 5 distinct contributions: the invention of the city and of science by the Greeks; law and humanism by Rome; the prophetic ethics and eschatological time of the Bible; the Papal Revolution of the 11th to 13th centuries (here there is reliance on Harold Berman); and finally the great liberal democratic revolutions of Europe and the United States. 

Here’s a passage from the beginning (6-7) which sets the terms of the project (please forgive the bumpy translation):

What is the West?  Does this civilization or this culture — let us not try to distinguish the two terms — have a unity that is deeper than its geopolitical divisions?  Does it have common values and institutions which make it one and the same world, distinguishing it for yet some time from the Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Arab-Muslim, or African worlds, or from worlds reputed to be close such as the East-European and Russian Orthodox, Latin America, or Israel?  If yes, does a deep solidarity exist within the countries of the West which would justify the political unification, of one kind or another, of this ensemble (the European Union and the American empire being, in this respect, two false good ideas)?  And if, in this civilization, certain features of the universal had once been achieved, of which the disappearance or the weakening would affect humanity in its ensemble, should one defend that civilization, not only against military threats but also against the risks of distintegration by the rapid expansion of communitarianisms or cultural blending?   

Tunisia: Second Republic or Sixth Caliphate?

Of all the revolutions of the Arab Spring, the overthrow of Ben Ali in Tunisia gave western observers the most reason for optimism. Tunisia, they said, is a secular place with strong cultural ties to Europe; one can legitimately hope that a moderate democracy will take root there, now that the dictator is gone. Maybe that’s a reasonable prediction. This week, however, a  leader of the moderate Islamist party that took first place in last month’s elections for a new national assembly raised eyebrows by invoking the revival of the caliphate, the Islamic superstate that  Ataturk abolished in 1923. Hamadi Jbeli,  likely to be Tunisia’s next Prime Minister, told supporters at a rally that they were living in “a new cycle of civilization,” a “sixth caliphate, God willing.” A party spokesman says Jbeli was merely referring to an end to government corruption, but a secularist party that has been working with the Islamists to form a coalition government has suspended cooperation in protest.  “We thought we were going to build a second republic,” a representative of the secular Ettakatol party told Reuters, “not a sixth caliphate.”

NYC Bar Program: Shariah Law and Islamic Finance (Nov. 29)

The NYC Bar Association will host a program, “Shariah Law and Islamic Finance — A Threat to America?,” on Tuesday, November 29, at the Association’s headquarters at 42 W. 44th Street in New York. Speakers include Bernard J. Apperson, Abed Awad, Bernard K. Freamon, Robert E. Michael, and Maria M. Patterson.  Details are here.