A RECENT book by the Saudi renowned author and critic Abdullah Al-Ghathami, titled “Neo-liberalism: Questions on Freedom and Cultural Dialogue,” is aiming to raise some intellectual conflict back into the cultural scene. The book, published in Arabic, will be part of the Riyadh International Book Fair 2013 taking place this week at the Riyadh Exhibition Center.
Al-Ghathami was famous for his hard critique of the Saudi liberal movement in the past couple of years. He claimed that the label “liberal” came from Western scholars who didn’t know how to describe a growing class of Saudi society that neither belonged to the ruling class nor the conservative religious class.
The new book attempts to tackle the liberal labeling problem on a functional level rather than just a philosophical and theoretical phenomenon; which means that liberalism since its inception had abandoned the realm of theory and philosophy to became a political and economic program adapted by many free trade country members.
It seems that the new values of liberalism is pervading strongly through liberal market practices and open globalization commodity exchange, that will carry with it by default new ideals which will have its gradual affect on the daily lives of the local culture.
The strong take on the current Saudi liberal discourse is that it shows itself with a narrow view in demanding the rights and freedom of expression just for themselves, and denying it to other factions in the community.
It is the view of Al-Ghathami that in order to understand the true concept of liberalism in the modern age, people should be ready to sacrifice some of their freedoms to be able to share it with others. That is, you will be free to the extent that you give others their freedom.
So we can say that if the liberals wanted to present themselves as a pro-reform and pro-democratic leading group in the Saudi community, they should get more involved in the social, political, economical practices of the community; while showing support to public and private freedoms to all sides of society.
I hope that this year’s Riyadh book fair will not be short of excitement and controversial issues that can bring back the thrill of such intellectual events.
The controversy caused by this annual exhibition between various local intellectual trends in our country is part of the enrichment to the cognitive act of the Saudi cultural climate.
A tweet: “Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear.” — William E. Gladstone.
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