Soroush IS in sympathy
with Islamists

The followinf was posted on April 14, 1997 on "Gulf/2000" electronic data base for Middle Eastern academics and experts. It has been reprinted with the author's permission.

Charles Butterworth
Department of Government and Politics
University of Maryland
CEBWORTH@bss2.umd.edu

Abd al-Karim Soroush has been travelling around the US giving lectures on his new understanding of how Islam can respond to the challenge of decadent Western philosophy. Soft-spoken, scholarly, and seemingly familiar with the history of philosophy from Plato to Nato, he appeals to audiences because he readily takes positions that suggest he is not in sympathy with the Islamists of Iran or any other Islamist oriented regime.

But he is. The core of his solution to the impasse in modern Western philosophy is a return to what he calls Islamic philosophy, Mulla Sadra and Oriental philosophy of the 16th-17th centuries -- a line of thought that resembles theosophy more than philosophy. So Soroush will bring us back to a path of Islamic rule by the garden route, attempting to dismantle critical thinking as he goes.

That he is opposed to the follies of the 18th century Englightenment and to its radical historicist heirs (Nietzsche and Heidegger), as well as to their postmodern acolytes (Foucault, Derrida, and so on) is only good sense. What is not good sense is his analysis of Western philosophy. Soroush collapses whole schools of thought, mis-states thinkers as important as Plato and Aristotle, and too eagerly dismisses the philosophers of medieval Islam (Alfarabi and Averroes, above all) who tried to bridge the gap between unbridled rationalism and unbridled religious thinking.

Finally, his solution to post-modernism is more post-modernism! He does not try to show why the relativism of post-modernism is wrong or inadequate. He merely insists that it does not work, but must be understood, and then proposes a return to what he calls true Islamic philosophy -- what I label above as theosophy.

These assertions need to be pinned to things Soroush writes, of course, but I think they represent what he says. I wonder what other readers of the Gulf 2000 list think of Soroush's arguments?

Charles E. Butterworth
Department of Government and Politics
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742

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