Interview with Rachid Benaissa
Born in Algeria and mostly known as the former international official at UNESCO (1978-2002), Professor Rachid Benaissa is a significant Muslim intellectual who has influenced generations with his ideas and seminars since the 1960s. Benaissa attended more than 200 international conferences on different subjects, mostly educational, cultural, religious and political. Benaissa can speak Berber, Arabic, French, English, Persian, Hebrew, Russian and Bosnian and still continues his academical research.
|Now a new hope is coming, it is appearing in Turkey. Turkey is again regaining the role it should have, the role it played before and the role it can play today.|
How do you evaluate the recent situation in the Islamic world?
We, Algerians and Turks have worked together for more than three centuries. We Algerian people are among the few who chose to be Ottoman; we asked the Ottoman Empire to come to help us and you sent people, you sent Barbaros Hayreddin to help us, to fight and to defend the frontier of Islam in Algeria against the Spaniards. For three centuries you were fighting with us to defend the land of Islam. This creates a great emotion for me whenever I come to Turkey; I feel history has been revived. Now a new hope is coming, it is appearing in Turkey. Turkey is again regaining the role it should have, the role it played before and the role it can play today, that is, in living together with other Muslims countries and defending their just causes. I pray for Erdoğan; millions of Muslims are praying for this man, a man full of dignity, a man who stood up at the Davos Forum and asked for "one minute". This is a message to the whole world; we are here to defend our dignity, we are here to defend our rights, we are not going to submit to hegemony. This is the message delivered to free people. Defend your home! When we talk about Palestine, we are talking about people who have been expelled from their homes, deprived of their homes. It is not a religious matter. If any people were to come to me and oust me from my home, I would fight them, even if they were Muslims. It is a just cause; people who are expelled from their land, deprived of their homes should fight. To defend them doesn't create any so-called fundamentalism. We should have the courage to denounce Israeli arrogance; I congratulate the Turkish nation for this unprecedented achievement. No country has succeeded in getting a quick apology from Israel - in 24 hours. But Turkey has received an apology from this arrogant and criminal state, which is killing thousands of people in Gaza and committing war crimes every day, enjoying the full impunity of the so-called international bodies; these latter should be analyzed and approached to understand that there is nothing international about them. They are Western bodies which care for Western interests and do not care for the weak or the wretched of the earth.
|When we talk about Palestine, we are talking about people who have been expelled their homes, deprived of their homes. It is not a religious matter. If any people were to come to me and oust me my home, I would fight them, even if they were Muslims.|
What are the main obstacles in front of Muslim countries in collaborating against Islamophobia?
Unfortunately, if you don't have respect in your own countries you cannot expect to have respect in Western countries. In our own countries we are subjected to the dictators; the only thing they care about is nominating their son to succeed them. This is a betrayal of leadership. We have betraying leaders in many countries as well as some oppressors. We have leaders who don't know how to read. There is a king who cannot read two or three lines; how can you be a king of a great country and yet be illiterate? How can you talk to Obama; which language will you use if you are illiterate? But the grass roots are still very healthy; they share the vision of a new Muslim reunited community, just as happened in Europe. Muslims cannot avoid returning to the frontiers. Turkey is not like Somalia, but we shouldn't make a war of words, but should enlarge our countries for a better and bigger gathering. What we share is greater than our differences. The rapprochement that happened between Syria and Turkey is so strategic. Arabism failed to unit Arabs, so stop it; turn the page. This rapprochement is geographical, cultural and historical between Syria and Turkey. Inshallah tomorrow it will occur between Algeria and Turkey and then between all Muslim states. We can improve our cooperation. We have a vision, Erdoğan has a vision. We need visionary leaders.
|But the grass roots are still very healthy; they share the vision of a new Muslim reunited community. What we share is greater than our differences.|
What about Islamophobia?
As for Islamophobia, it is a conjunction of internal and cultural factors; we are not educated people, so unavoidably people are not happy with you if you do not behave properly. This is globalization. Islam is new in Canada. I was there for thirty years and they know nothing about Islam. They are cautious, even hostile, because they are afraid. The church is a long-established institution; we came and said that there is not just the one church, there are other churches or religions; no one wants to become smaller. In spite of all this, Islam is gaining ground in France. However, there is no reciprocity. The French are coming to teach French in Arab countries, but no country, no leader asks the French why they don't allow the teaching of Arabic in France. There are six million Muslims in France who want Arabic to be taught alongside of French. This is a legitimate cultural right but there is no pressure from Arab countries.
How can this situation be overcome?
We can do this by fighting against all this leadership, by putting questions to the right place, by making correct analyses, and also by not laying all the blame on the other side. Also we have to share our responsibilities - even our leaders in Europe are fragile and need courage.