Rabat’s Mohammed V University has honored intellectual and philosopher Abdallah Laroui with a Chair at the university.
Rabat – As the Faculty of Art and Humanities of Mohammed V University in Rabat awarded Moroccan historian Abdallah Laroui with a professorial chair, the renowned intellectual accepted the honor by giving a lecture on the modern world on Wednesday, January 8.
Speaking at the university, where he has taught for three and a half decades, Laroui discussed three main points in his lecture: the concept of the nation-state, the return of the oral culture, and the prevalence of virtual realities in today’s world.
The professor said that his ideas are controversial, and have never been met with unanimous approval. He affirmed that the students who he taught know that he was always clear about separating his duty as a civil servant, that is, as a history professor, and his work as an intellectual and thinker, engaged in ideological criticism. Laroui confirmed that he never promoted personal ideologies in his classroom.
The nation-state is no longer convincing
“It might be said that I talked about the nation-state, nationalism, and historicity, but in the current society, what does the nation-state mean when we see it disintegrating and losing all sovereignty?” Laroui asked, questioning whether the issues he addressed as a professor and an intellectual are still relevant in today’s society.
“Affiliation today is for ethnicity, sect, and tribe, not for the state. It seems as if the future is more likely to be for tribal authority or fragile federations,” Laroui continued.
The intellectual underlined that the goal of the chair, newly inaugurated in his name, is not to spread ideologies but rather to study current issues, including the question of the nation-state that is no longer convincing.
This, for the professor, brings up the question of an alternative, “Is it statelessness? Is it the international state that European philosophers of the 18th century imagined?”
Laroui highlighted that today’s problems are not those of the last century. The new problems were generated within the framework of the nation-state, industrial production, and rationality.
A literacy crisis
The historian pointed out that in today’s world, where oral culture prevails, and books are viewed as less and less important, perhaps we will face deeper problems than the problems of the past. The only way to overcome these problems is by learning how to distinguish reality from the virtual world, and that is through reading.
However, Laroui explained that we do not have, until now, a sense that can help us distinguish between the two. Additionally, today, we prefer fiction and illusions and we relate to them. In this case, “what is the point of realism that has been called for in thought, behavior, expression, and creativity?”
He added, “It is said that I highly praised Ibn Khaldoun, and this is due to the fact that he attached great importance to writing; transferring oral culture to a written one. However, our problem is that we stopped at this point and did not follow what happened in Europe after the invention of printing.”
The intellectual also emphasized that digital illiteracy is worse than regular illiteracy; the inability to read and write. However, “we must think about the relationship between the two illiteracies, and does eradicating the former mean erasing the second? Or is the opposite of erasing the second a prerequisite for erasing the first?” he asked, stressing that answering this question is not easy.
Another issue, according to Laroui, is virtual reality: “Is it a result of the experimental practical mind? Or is it the work of Moses’ magicians? Is it really unreasonable?”
The intellectual asked: “How can a non-modern society imagine a virtual reality? It is true that it previously invented stories of magic and adventure, but under the shadow of modernity, it did not establish science fiction stories.”
A chair for translation and interpretation
Laroui concluded his lecture on the importance of translation and interpretation. The intellectual practiced translation and understands its implications and its pitfalls, he said, adding that the translator is keen not to involve himself in what he translates, and to remain as faithful as possible to the style of the author in order to transfer the meaning as stated in the original text.
He continued: “Our big mistake in the past and the present, and what calls me to some pessimism, is the belief that the transfer takes place once. Translation, in order to be fruitful, is an ongoing process.”
“There is no serious and deep thinking without interpretation and translation,” he added, indicating that, for this reason, every decade the West issues a new translation for Aristotle and other ancient thinkers.
Laroui mentioned that concepts such as “god, religion, nation, homeland, freedom,” relate to specific cultural and societal developments, and their transfer from one language to another requires a degree of interpretation before translation; this is something very difficult, as the Romans discovered when translating Greek philosophy.
We, however, “are satisfied with translating books once, without reviewing them, despite the passage of decades.” Laroui emphasized that if we continue to make this mistake, we will find ourselves in the same situation after a century or two.
The linguistic debate deviated from its proper course
Laroui reminded his audience that he was one of the first to call for comprehensive reform in the educational field, led by a linguistic reform. He also stressed that the linguistic debate in Morocco deviated from its proper course.
Laroui concluded his intervention by stressing that there is no serious and deep thinking without interpretation and translation, calling for changing the name of his chair to “the chair for translation and interpretation.”
The “Abdallah Laroui Chair”
The Abdallah Laroui Chair is an initiative from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities in Rabat in cooperation with the Arab World Institute in Paris. It represents a scientific platform for organizing academic forums that attract all those interested in the study of philosophy and anthropology.
The chair also represents a scientific beacon to express the intellectual extension of Abdallah Laroui’s theses and projects and to ensure their continuity in the fields of philosophy, language, humanities, and social sciences.
Jamal Eddine El Hani, the faculty’s dean, said that the establishment of the Abdallah Laroui Chair is in recognition of the intellectual’s contribution to his country. He also expressed his hopes that the chair represents an “intellectual lighthouse” for philosophical discussions.
El Hani stressed that Laroui “is not only a university professor, researcher, or theorist, but he is also a linguist, historian, and writer.” He then added: “This is not a compliment. Rather, this is what intellectual honesty imposes.”
The dean underlined that Laroui has “marked contemporary Morocco with his modern scientific production.”
He also described the opening of the chair as an “important cultural event,” and called Laroui “a Moroccan symbol.”
Mojeb Al Zahrani, general director of the Arab World Institute in Paris, said that the chair was set up to “honor all of us,” and placed great hope in the president of Rabat’s Mohammed V University to “support this chair with all he can.”
Al Zahrani also expressed his happiness seeing the hall full of Laroui’s fans and disciples.
The chair is part of the “Arab World Chair” project, which started with the chair of French philosopher Edgar Morin, and now continues with Abdallah Laroui.