Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The first intervention of President Ali RASTBEEN, concerns Najaf’s geopolitics. First of all, the President presents Iraq’s geographic and geopolitical characteristics in their original dimensions, by insisting on the country’s ethnic and religious diversity. He affirms to us that Najaf City is undoubtedly Shia’s “home”, not only because one finds there the mausoleum of the First Chia Imam Ali, but further because this city is also a refuge for the schools of this faction of Islam. Parallely, it was a starting point for the radiating of this religion. This is and was the case, even as Iran was radiating particularly strongly in the religious domain. It’s true that Najaf had to undergo Persian influence if not competition. From time to time, on the other hand, Najaf had to be the succor of an Iranian Shia that seemed in difficulty. This was precisely the case after the disappearance of the Sublime Gateway at the time the Arab countries acceded to independence after the Sevres Treaty and at the time of their struggle against British domination. President Rastbeen finally compares Najaf to Athens and to Rome and adds that these are without a doubt three cities of incomparable radiation.

In the second intervention, Rector Gérard-François DUMONT treats the subject “Najaf, emerging world city”. He tackles the question theoretically in the measure in which he invokes different definitions that we geographers give to “world city”, “world class city”. But Fernand Braudel interests him the most, because of his particular studies of Antwerp, Venice, London and New York. The question is posed to know how Nadjaf can be a world city, whilst the enclosing of Iraq has been constant since the 70s. It’s true that certain economic criteria that define a “world class city” are not particularly favorable to Najaf whose radiating is above and all and especially cultural. It’s the third most sacred location of Islam; it’s at the same time a school and a library of Shia. It’s true that since Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, Najaf has had difficulty fulfilling its role. Many of the clerics have had to go into exile since 2003, and Rector Dumont considers that since that date one can distinguish two periods: the first from 2003 till 2006 marked by mass assassinations. Then after 2006 Najaf has tried but alas not entirely succeeded in refilling totally its role of very sacred city. Two million pilgrims, a city of only seven hundred thousand inhabitants, but with successive emigrations that have imbued it with global connections: these shall without a doubt help it become a “world class city” whereas for the instant, it remains a library city, a qualitatively cultural city. It is further true that all the same it has some extraordinary trumps: Ali’s mausoleum, an immense cemetery – without a doubt the largest of the Moslem world (fifteen million inhumed). Finally, it is, without discussing any urban network or homogenous infrastructure, an important network centre for the entire region and sub-region. By region, one must understand of course the Middle East. Finally, this city is objectively and relatively poor in comparison to certain Western consumer standards, but once again, it possesses two unique trumps: first of all, it is a Moslem city which, contrarily to Mecca is open to non Moslems. Then, its geographic position in the Mesopotamian interior confers upon it in the matter of radiating, certain possibilities at least continental if not universal.

As far as the third contribution is concerned, Mr. François RUBIO explains to us first of all that the “Médecins du Monde” (Third World Medical Network) missions and the emblematic efforts developed by this NGO in Kurdistan, have brought about its interest in Iraq. There, its members have been confronted with very difficult work. From 1991 to 2003, this was explained by the fact of the embargo context. Thereafter, the second Iraq war made it impossible for them to accept money coming from countries actively engaged in the war. Furthermore, the humanitarian action has been suspected numerous times by the Iraqi population of being too “westernized” and even of being a pro-West pro-American operation. Finally, it’s not completely false to say that the humanitarian-military complex resembles closely a military-industrial complex. Iraq at this level has served as a revelation and as a crystallization pole for these concepts.

The fourth intervention of the Professor Aissa Hassan Al-HAKIM, evokes the main transitions in the history of Najaf City. It’s a very rich history and of which certain elements shall be reviewed across the participation of several of today’s speakers. The originality of Najaf City is of course attached to the construction of the mausoleum in memory of Imam Ali’s martyrdom. Besides, one notes there a considerable number of mausoleums, palaces, and of religious edifices. The city has a dual identity in its profoundness: it is primarily religious, but presents also the urban functions that one normally expects in a traditional city. It’s in year 408 after the Hegira, that there was a veritable launching of a religious movement, according to many observers. Others claim, on the contrary, that Najaf’s function is all the same more ancient. Whatever, it presents two major characteristics: first, it is enclosed by walls and, if one believes Ibn Battûta, there have been five. Second originality: it’s its vast international cemetery that confers upon it a religious and social depth that anyone can understand. It’s without a doubt under the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent, that Najaf took its rapid expansion. For others, it would seem that in 1743 the Persian Sultan Nader Shah brought about some important reconstruction. Not only they embellish the city, but they have also allowed it to attract a maximum number of Moslem pilgrims. What is equally interesting in the history of the city, it’s that politically speaking, it would seem that it has remained quite ambivalent with regards the powers that be. However, and in any case, in the XXth Century it has played the role of a political motor. First of all in 1914 with the anti-British jihad, then in 1918 during the urban revolution, then again in 1920 at the time of Iraq’s Great Revolution against the British. This city when in rebellion, shows well that it is composed of two categories of citizenry. On the one hand, men of science and of religion, priests, poets and men of literature. On the other hand, soldiers. More precisely, it has always expressed its independence of spirit as its bad character in 1921 by systematically opposing itself as from this date against “what has been decided and done” by the Iraqi royal family. Between 1958 and 2003, it even maintained an extremely progressive discourse on social matters. Since 2003, it has been demographically disaster-struck, and one still does not know precisely enough the number of dead, disappeared and departed concerning the citizens of that city.

The fifth intervention, that of Mrs Sabrina MERVIN, concerning the “Najaf Hawza, between past and future”, promises to be of much interest. She returns to certain elements of History that we have just invoked. For her, the religious school of Najaf is truly ancient and therefore Cheikh Al-Tusi isn’t the main person responsible for the influence of that city. This is not to refute the fact that the launching of Najaf’s cultural and religious role corresponds all the same to a renewal, a revival and a rationalization of Shia coupled with a process of institutionalization of religion. Mrs Mervin further invokes a system of teaching that remained free with regards the political authorities, and she further evokes its elitist character. In effect, this system maintains liberty, by playing on the student’s personal engagement, on the simplicity of the teachers’ and students’ lifestyle, on an organization into three terms (cycles) that goes from the simple transmission of knowledge, to begin with,  to the apprehension of a religious and intellectual methodology during the third. Reading plays an important role but oral transmission even more. What is very interesting is that religious science has a priority, but within these “religion sciences”, law has a clearly important if not imperial role. It is to be noted that since the 1920s, and even more so since the 1930s, there has been a schism between certain partisans of a transformation of this pedagogy, and others, more conservative who wanted to avoid the changes. Nevertheless, between 1958 and 1963, one has noted the opening of many colleges who were sensitive to the attraction of Western-style human sciences with the advent of sociology, psychology and foreign languages. At that level, Shiite Islam appears as a third pathway between Marxism and liberalism. But in 1970, Saddam Hussein had unleashed a struggle against the clerics which resulted in the clerics integrated the universities, and the Universities became religious. However, nothing has really changed in the Hawza since the beginning of the XXth Century. So is this city in rivalry or in association with the Persian city of Qom? Does she remain more attached than other Shiite major sites, to law? Will the Professors who teach there accept to simplify written language because it is no longer accessible today to many students who speak Arabic influenced by mediocre radio and television? For certain people, the answer is “no”. For others, it is indispensable to study more languages and open up more to the outside world.

The sixth intervention treats “successful coexistence – by dialogue or by the sword?” Mrs. Siham AL-KAWWAZ.
Indeed the question is to know how a fighter such as Imam Ali managed to become the supreme paragon of peace. A rather difficult question. Coexistence of multiple concepts in one policy composes a very important element of response capacity. These concepts can be based on the Unity of the Creation and the diversity of religions. Imam Ali’s thinking equally has appear other qualities: to know how to admit that one might eventually be in the wrong, to maintain a conciliatory demeanor, the sense of dialogue – virtues without which peace could become more than just difficult.

The seventh intervention presented by Mr. Faris HARRAM, involves the impact of international embargo on cultural reality, and is all the more complex for insisting on financial and economic and therefore moral, political and culture failure of the Iraqi middle class, in the wake of the famous clause n°661 that everyone knows. That is what brought about the fall of the dollar/dinar exchange rate by at least 500%, which thereupon generated misery among the middle class and brought about the tragic needs of double employment and above all an extremely nefarious impact on the culture, and, in brief provoked a veritable “cultural coma” the term is appropriate, because today Iraqi culture lacks consumers, whereas in parallel the educational system has collapsed. It’s true that Najaf City has been particularly affected at this level, all the more so since censorship established by Saddam Hussein was particularly strong and underlined. Military infrastructure and weapons industry cost have all of course damaged the cultural sector, as has the disappearance in the cities of the buildings consecrated to culture, thereby leading into a particularly preoccupying “cultural drought”.

The intervention by Mr. Abas Ali Al-FAHHAM, relative to Najaf Al-Ashraf and the challenges of the contemporary world, can indeed be resumed in three parts: the first is globalization, the second is the maintenance of tradition and of the attitude to adopt in the face of modern science, and the third concerns the foundations of growth and urban development which must be mastered.  The six fundamental characteristics that mark the originality and richness of this city are: Imam Ali’s mausoleum, the Hawza, the presence of the cemetery in the Valley of Peace, the cultural forum, the spirit of tolerance, and finally the durability of the religious transmission to be maintained and assumed. Optimism must reign. Najaf has three trumps: tolerance of religious discourse, valid response to the challenges synthesized above, and finally this project of capital of Islamic culture – which must be launched this year. This last element is a big supplementary timely chance whereas the first two are structural.

The spiritual and temporal space has been invoked by Mrs Latéfa BOUTAHAR in the 9th intervention. According to her, Imam Ali has considerable importance because it is through him that God reveals himself to mankind. He is equally the messenger of esotericism. But one must note that the notion of Imam does not just correspond to religious doctrine, but far more: the Marjeiya (post-imamate institution), the Hawza, in fact all that emanates from the richness of the thinking of Najaf’s masters and students, even if some are quite old, constitute pillars that support Shia Islam’s force through Najaf.

The tenth and final intervention is by Mr. Mohammed Larbi HAOUAT who evokes “Najaf, the City of Education”. The speaker cites Ibn Khaldoun and inquires what can be done for Najaf to be a city of education: without doubt one must respect the common values of humanity, in particular those related to the environment, one must open up to modernity with regards men’s needs today, and one must adopt new sciences. Najaf must continue to be a place of diversity of expression and of opinions, and must favour by all means the teaching of creativity which is evidently the source of all thought.
So, is Cheikh Al-Tusi responsible for Najaf’s essence and the expansion?
The question is pertinent, and remains.
Professor Jacques BARRAT 

Retired diplomat
Member of the Overseas Academy of Science


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