Tarek Heggy

Mankind used to think that it had bidden farewell to the era of grand ideologies when the Soviet Union collapsed, along with it its satellites 20 years ago. But clearly this did not happen. The support given to political Islam in its various groupings (the most important being the Muslim Brotherhood and its spinoff groups,

the Shi‘ite Islamism ushered in by the return of Khomeini to Iran in 1979, and the Wahhabi establishment with its vast influence by dint of the petrodollar) indicate that mankind realises today that the era of ideologies did not really end.

In my view, progress is a human phenomenon with no links to any specific race or culture, or specific faith or denomination. It is a universal human phenomenon like one vast river whose waters are fed from various streams, which are other cultures and civilisations. At the same time progress is a human, accumulative phenomenon.

The Berlin Wall: but the era of ideologies is not over

The present writer was fortunate enough, when circumstances allowed, to see the mechanisms of progress and its terms in action on the ground over the last 20 years, while working in one of the international institutions that operate exclusively on the basis of these mechanisms and terms. This experience – which married together the products of science and study with the products of experience and practice, taught me that progress results from the availability of a number of values – which as I said, are human values – and through whose presence individuals and societies may advance.

The most important of these values are the following: The establishment of a culture, education and media climate (and, in some societies, a religious discourse) built upon a deeply rooted faith in the value of pluralism, and on a series of values resulting from this – such as diversity (the acceptance of the other), relativism in judgement, views and beliefs, religious and cultural tolerance, and the expanding conviction of man’s faith in the universality and globalism of knowledge and science. The most important of all these progressive values is the promotion of the status and value of the human intellect in general, and of the critical faculty in particular.

Any society that does not extend the same rights to men and women is a culture that is anti-progress

Similarly, one of the more important values of progressive values is the prioritisation of the human intellect, of objectivity in place of personalisation, and of viewing all opinions as the product of historical, geographical, cultural and social conditions. As such, these are able to be adjusted and superseded. Progressive values are incomplete without the raising of the status of the rights of Man and of Woman. Any society that does not extend the same rights to men and women is a culture that is anti-progress. The most crucial value is the belief that human capacities constitute the most important type of resource that there is. This accounts for the priority given to the techniques of managing these human resources, as a part of the importance given to management science as such, and the belief that management is the driver of societies towards progress.

Faith in the value of pluralism

No doubt there are other values that enable progress, but I will confine myself to the above, since these best illustrate my point. As I mentioned, the values of progress are neither eastern nor western. They are neither Jewish, Christian nor Islamic, but in the first and last place are global values developed by human experience – accumulatively – over centuries.

It would be logical in my view that there should be no differences concerning the humanity and universality of progress. Yet there are those that claim to have some special prescription for initiating this progress. This is merely a fantasy with no foundation in history or science. It would be better if they were to say that all these progress-engendering values exhibited by some societies are human values that do not present any contradiction to their beliefs. That is, that all these so-called values of progress are values that Islam itself promotes, and does not oppose. All the same, there are some who persist in believing that they are detached from the course of Man’s progress and who claim to have a special prescription that differs from the prescription of human progress which Mankind has striven to achieve over millennia.