Reviewed by Amin Makram Ebeid
Tarek Heggy is a world renown liberal thinker, author and an international petroleum strategist. He has been invited to lecture in universities around the world and has recently been honored by the
I have just finished reading his “selected works” published in three neat volumes and I enthusiastically encourage all those who value progress to read these books. They will discover that Heggy offers the readers not only the philosophical foundations of the said progress but also a very practical blue print to make it a reality.
The books in question consist of a collection of works which often overlap in two or more volumes. This is why this review of individual volumes, as if distinct from the others, is done for practical reasons and is somewhat artificial.
He used the better part of volume I, titled The Fall of Socialism (200 pp.), to demonstrate how little or no science is found in Marxism or socialism and further demonstrated how both failed to fulfill their utopian promises.
An illustration of the fallacious basis on which communism is built has to do with the Marxist view of the inevitability of the course of history which is dictated by economic and materialistic conditions and not by specific individuals that are ‘pivotal in determining the course of history’. In this way heroes are downgraded to ‘roles dictated by economic necessity.’ Heggy rejects this assumption and notes that the pages of history are rich with heroes who were primarily responsible for changing the world – for better or for worse – such as Napoleon, Ataturk, Nasser & king Abdul Aziz Al Saud.
In chapter eight he exposes the communist technique of indoctrination in order to spread gigantic lies. I have retained two quotations that Haggy took from André Gide as a summary of this chapter:-
1. Before his visit to the Soviet Union, Gide made the following remark: “My faith in communism is like my faith in religion; it is a promise of salvation for mankind. If I have to lay my life down that it may succeed, I would do so without hesitation.”
2. On his return home he articulated his cruel disabuse with the following remarks: “It is impermissible for morals to sink as low as communism has done. No one can begin to imagine the tragedy of humanity, of religion, of freedom in the land of communism, where man has been debased beyond belief.”
In Volume II, titled the Arab Culture Enchained (430 pp.); Heggy’s study of political Islam introduces us to the heroes of Islamic thought. He found the relatively recent tragic ascendance of Ibn Hanbal over the great Islamic Jurist Abu Hanifah rather tragic. And yet Abou Hanifah – known as the Supreme Imam – was, by far, the greatest jurist. Moreover as a concerned Muslim he was careful to restrict his acceptance of over one hundred ‘Hadiths’ only – as apostolic precept, while, notes Heggy, Ibn Hanbal accepted over ten thousands. This is why the followers of Abou Hanifah relied on Istihsan, a technique that ‘uses few traditions and extract from the Qur’an the ruling that fits their idea.’ In addition, notes Heggy, Islamic judicial rulings utilize deductive reasoning from the ‘available legal proofs.’ It is therefore not surprising that Abu Hanifah declared that since ‘Islamic Jurisprudence is a science of opinions, (thus) if someone comes forward with a better opinion, we accept it.’
The reader is also guided in the middle of the battle of ideas between the strict traditionalist Al- Ghazali and the great Ibn Rushd who championed the primacy of reason. But, notes Heggy, the outcome of the battle was clearly in Ghazali’s favor and Islamic Jurisprudence was henceforth dominated by the Mutakallimun who followed tradition (naql) in preference to reason (aql) as advocated by Ibn Rushd.
Heggy then demonstrates how both reason and theology were undermined by the ideas of Ibn Taymiyiah who adhered to the Hadiths as authoritative source of all spiritual and temporal matters. He also laid down strict guidelines to govern every aspect of daily life.
Later in history, Ibn Taymiyiah views fecundated the mind of Mohamed Abdel Wahab whose religious views continue to destabilize the Arab-Muslim world. Yet, it is possible that Wahabism would have remained an obscurantist and obscure sect – of central Arabia – were it not for the discovery of Oil in the Arabian Peninsula. As it happened, as a result of the huge fortunes amassed in Saudi Arabia; Wahabism was soon made to spread all over the Muslim World. Beginning in the sixties ‘Wahabi influence infiltrated the venerable institution of the Azhar’. Moreover the defeat of 1967 rendered the new Saudi understanding of Islam attractive to some Egyptian groups who ‘translated their radical views into political action, often at gun point.’ Tragically, the West saw in these fanatical groups, ideal enemies to communism. As a result the West occasionally supported those Wahabi indoctrinated radical to ‘achieve their own political ends, such as in ending the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
Volume III, titled The Arab Cocoon (330 pp.), starts by examining the values that unite all men and women. This led Tarek Heggy to reflect on civilization (to which he gave his very own personal understanding), as that which gathers the achievements of many cultures and made a lasting contribution to the patrimony of the human family. This is why Heggy believes that civilization has more to do ethics and values than with monuments and scientific achievements. This is also why he crowns civilization with the following six achievements:
2) Freedom, and 3) the remaining human rights;
4) Respect of the “other,” and 5) A better knowledge of the “other”. And this may give globalization a more humane face.
6) Optimal education.
Heggy then calls for a proper response by Egypt to the challenge of modernity by insisting that progress does not depend on natural resources but on the value system to which the citizens subscribe; the most important being ‘a respect for time, a strong work ethic, a belief in the effectiveness of team work, an emphasis on the development of human resources, the adoption of an educational system promoting initiative and creativity -rather than teaching by rote- and by instilling the notion of the universality of knowledge’.
This volume may also be seen as a guideline of political and economic reforms. It also includes an excellent exposition of the science of management and the obstacles that it has encountered in Egypt.
In this context, I would like to retain Heggy’s critique of the prevailing culture of people rather than institutions. To illustrate this point he quoted a professor from California Institute of Technology who told him: ‘Ahmed Zewail is by any standard a prodigious scientist. But we should remember that seventeen people working in the same institute won Nobel prizes for their contributions to science.’ This view, adds Heggy, ‘has been echoed by Ahmed Zewail himself, who never tired of praising the team without which he could not have achieved what he did.’
In many passages Heggy becomes the College Professor teaching – for instance – the difference between management and administration (both translated as ‘idara’ in Arabic), or exposing the dangers of command economics as opposed to modern scientific management.
I hope that I have given a ‘flavor’ of what Heggy achieved in his books, enough for the potential reader to obtain the three volumes and discover how much precious information, scholarship and wisdom I left out for lack of space.
Tarek Heggy’s books were published by Merit Publishing, 6-b, Kasr el-Nile Street, Cairo. Dr. Amin Makram Ebeid, (FRCS, FACS), is a Diplomat of the American Board of Surgery. Retired in 2003, he is author recently of “Towards a Culture of Progress.”