Khaldun Alnaqib, the Free Thinker

Khaldun Alnaqib, the Free Thinker

The sad news of the passing away of the Kuwaiti researcher and writer Khaldun Alnaqib last April filled me and all his friends, acquaintances and students with an overwhelming sense of loss, for to all those who knew him well, Alnaqib was a model of gentleness, nobility and modesty, as well as an example of a serious thinker and researcher in sociology, particularly political sociology. He was an eminent thinker who occupied a prominent position in the map of contemporary Arab thought and made a considerable contribution to the Arabic library in the area of analysis of the complex relationships between politics, economics and society and the impact of their interaction on movements in Arab societies in general and Gulf societies in particular.

However, this article is not intended to be a eulogy of a noble man, as words fail to express his high status and reputation, but it is rather an attempt to shed light on his criticism, research, academic and intellectual effort and introduce some features of his intellectual project to the Arab reader, including a call to revive his ideas which reread, investigated and analysed history and the implications of its events on the Arab region in particular and considered the ways and means of achieving Arab progress in the future.

The position of Arab society

In many of his research and intellectual works, Alnaqib was concerned with an endeavour to pinpoint the position of Arab society in a historical context and its position in the midst of conflicting civilizations. In most of his academic works he adopted an approach which mixes sociology with historical analysis, regardless of boundaries between the social sciences, thus broadening the scope of research and overall analysis of the issues discussed, especially those related to social developments in the Arab world and their relationships with local and international economic and social factors.

Reading Alnaqib s works reveals a number of the characteristics of his style as an encyclopaedic researcher. He never addresses an issue unless he reads all relevant literature by Western and Arab scholars. These characteristics include a rigorous academic methodology, clarity of ideas in the context of the key issue under investigation, in addition to a modern approach to the ideas discussed. He stresses the modern civil state instead of the tribal state, full support for the values of social justice and the rights of the poor and marginalized as part of his interest in state-society relationship, which is one of the ideas focused on in this article.

Furthermore, his books and articles reflect his deep interest in the issue of development in all Arab societies and the reverse relationship between the signs of development and those of backwardness and economic decline in the context of his firm adherence to pan-Arabism and utter rejection of imperialist exploitation of the Arab region.

As part of his interest in the relationship between state and society in the Arab world, Alnaqib gave special considerable importance to the Gulf region on the basis that most of the studies on it were carried out by Westerners who knew little about the region and its people. These writings are superficial , as he put it, or depended only on documents and archives. Economists writings about Arabia focused on a single aspect: the impact of the oil wealth on Arabia s society and economics, reducing history to the pre-oil-post-oil dichotomy. He discussed this issue in an attempt to bridge the gap in the state-society relationship in the region taking a different approach to the socio-economic structures which he called an approach to the natural state in the region.

With the natural state , he means the overall dynamics of the socio-economic structures, the action of political forces and the distinguishing features of the social relationships in the Gulf and Arabia within a specific period of time.

Different concepts

He suggested a fact which differs from all previous ideas about the Arabian economic structure, namely trade being the main means of generating the social surplus, representing an old extensive network of relations and activities moving in two directions: outward, developing coastal commercial towns, and inward, creating the main tribal alliances round strategic towns and villages.

This historical fact, Alnaqib maintains, plays down the importance of the gross allegations that pasture and invasion of Arabian tribal society made it self-sufficient and viable for centuries. This extensive network of activities and socio-economic relation-ships cannot be understood and explained in the context of Gulf and Arabian society alone but as part of a network which includes west Indian, Persian and east African coasts, i.e. the western part of the Indian Ocean, he said. That wide commercial network which stretched from the western Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean secured the Arabian and Gulf region a strategic position, he added.

In addition, this fact shows that the spirit of capitalism prevailed in Arabia, in the 16th century in particular, before it appeared in the West. Trade was generally based on lending by capitalists to investors and traders and sharing profit and loss with them, as well as on speculation according to a rational calculation of cost and benefit and expected profit, i.e. governed by the spirit of capitalism , as Max Weber put it.

Alnaqib believed that trade generated a vast wealth particularly in the coastal centres, such as Hormuz, Aden, Mocha (Mukka), Jizan and Jeddah, which made the region flourish, but declined from 1622 with the fall of Hormuz to the Portuguese. It was that decline, he said, that helped imperialism dominate the economy of the region then divide it in the pre-oil era. In the post-oil era, the revenue state stage started and it continued to the 1960s. He addressed the concept of the authoritarian sate , a term he discussed in a special book carrying the same title, arguing that authoritarian rule is a 20th century sign that can only be understood through grasping the term state and its relationship with society.

In his general intellectual project, Alnaqib directs attention to the role played by imperialism in dividing Arabia and the Arab world at large arbitrarily into entities, which led to the rise of tribal trends in each entity. He referred to the role of imperialism in exporting sectarian strife to the region in the early 20th century through a number of axes, including the Persian one, represented by Reza Shah, who led a coup against Ahmad Shah in Iran and proclaimed himself shah as Reza Shah Pahlavi in 1923,and expelled Iran s Arabs to Basra and thence to other countries in the region.

What delayed development?

After an extensive review of the development of the form of modern state in the region, he writes, In the absence of societal organizations like political parties, trade unions and social movements which promote national integration, citizens determine their relationship with the state not through citizenship but rather through sectarian, tribal or ethnic solidarity on a purely utilitarian basis, similar to Lebanon s sectarian system . Such a system, he adds, is so fragile that as soon as it falls the state breaks down rapidly, and the prevalent education and media systems, unfortunately, reinforce this trend.

One reason behind the delay of development is the weak local market and consequently the flight of funds from the region which deprived the Arabian and east Arab countries of considerable rewarding investment opportunities in human, natural and technological resources and fostered these countries technological domination by the West. Another reason is governments attempts to employ all citizens as part of public expenditure plans. He refers here to the human role in the Gulf region and manpower distribution in the labour market, as the overall nature of the revenue state reduces citizens positive contribution to the country s economy.

In his intellectual project Alnaqib considers a number of significant factors relating to the issue of building the future of the region and developing human resources and employing them in such investment projects that contribute to real development. He also tackles the impediments to development in terms of the rise of sectarianism and Islamist movements as well as bureaucratic inefficiency in the areas of development, and the shift from tribe to modern state. This requires a careful reading of his works, particularly in view of the fact that his review of the past to explain present events and developments does not neglect the future, affirming that Gulf and Arabian countries with their enormous financial resources are in a better position than any other Arab country to adopt an alternative pan-Arab development project involving the nation s key causes.

The main characteristic of Alnaqib s research and analytical works is following a new approach to the study of political history not based on the stories of rulers and sultans in chronological order but rather on an analysis of social realities and political economic interactions. This approach singles him out among other Arab writers in this area, particularly in view of the effort he made in investigating the position of the Arab world at large in many studies as part of his discussion of the concept of the authoritarian state and analysis of backwardness and the related current mindset and political and social development in Arab societies in general.

A further characteristic of his works is not limiting himself to the discussion of holistic ideas. He presented a number of detailed studies based on statistics and samples of Kuwait society and elsewhere. These studies covered the relationship between development and higher education policy in Kuwaiti and current children s social education curricula in turbulent times or in the welfare age and its relationship to the current signs of extremism, intellectual contradictions or conspiracies. This is one of the trends which Alnaqib focused on as the natural product of national or religious fanaticism. He called for objective and realistic analysis rather than exaggeration of Arabs and Muslims exclusivity and other negative attitudes in many Arab societies.

The tribal intellectual

In this connection, Alnaqib discussed the weaknesses of the Arab intellectual himself according to a model he called the tribal intellectual . The alarming element in all this is the issue of historical continuity. Can we imagine that the contemporary Arab intellectual expresses a deeply-rooted tribe in his feeling and social collective subconscious? he wrote. The intellectual s tribal mentality reveals the fallacy of civilization, modernity, human inclination and of the belief that civilized democratic diversity can save the Arabs from backwardness. When the intellectual is single-minded, or driven by interest or a plot he becomes a tribal intellectual .

Alnaqib attributes this trend to the present turbulent times and the West s attempt to use its technical and technological superiority to keep conflict with the Arabs at its current level. The only solution to this problem, he says, is rationalism and a continuous critical rational movement as the last possible resort to defend Arab culture, Arab societies, objectivity and rationalism.

As a matter of fact, all this comes in the context of his endeavour to promote rationalism and the values of enlightenment and objectivity which singled out this eminent scholar among other prominent Arab thinkers and symbols of enlightenment, such as Abdullah Alarawi and Muhammad Abed Aljabri.

The call to explore Khaldun Alnaqib s ideas is not only a call to celebrate the life story and academic project of an eminent thinker and sociologist but also to identify a rational intellectual set of ideas which discusses many social and political ills and weaknesses in Arab societies. He puts forward such alternatives that he believes can realize real development in Arab societies through the rationalization of the relationship among official political institutions and reactivation of the role of the civil society in creating the necessary political and social movement to achieve development and progress.


Sulaiman Al-Askary

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