Lafif Lakhdar

Dubbed variously the ‘Spinoza of the Arab world’, or the ‘Arab Thomas Paine prophet of liberty’, Lafif Lakhdar (1934-2013) was a Tunisian citizen resident in Paris who occupied a special place in the Middle East for the courage of his positions taken on the dangers of Islamic fundamentalism, positions that on several occasion placed his own life in danger. Mr. Lakhdar openly called for secularism and on October 24, 2004 was a signatory to a manifesto written by Arab liberals in which they petitioned the U.N. to establish an international tribunal for the prosecution of terrorists and people and institutions that incite to terrorism. Mr. Lakhdar was an intellectual polymath who called openly for the root-and-branch reform of education in the Arab world, and for the reform of Islam. He called for a form of positive ‘censorship’ which removed the teaching of the violent Medina verses and instead taught the universal verses of peace which can be found in the verses of the Mecca period. More than that, Lakhdar openly advocated the inculcation of rationalist disciplines. At same time he was scathing about the absurdity of much western analysis on the phenomenon of Islamism, particularly those who saw in the movement some form of progressive force with a potential for reforming Islam and bringing it closer to western liberalism. Such an approach, he explained, was evidence of thinkers having “succumbed to the comic temptation of analogy and to the lazy facility of repetition.”