The Split in Arab Culture

Issue Date January 2011
Volume 22
Issue 1
Page Numbers 5-16
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An aspect of Islam’s grandeur has been its ability to absorb myriad cultural influences. With the rise of Islamist movements, however, a new public norm—often characterized as “salafist,” since it is based on the narrow version of a “return” to religious orthodoxy that this word has come to imply—has taken root. This dynamic of salafization occurs even as the population continues to live among, experience, and consume a proliferation of profane and basically secular cultural products via television, videos, the Internet, and popular literature. What is occurring in the Arab and Muslim world, then, is a kind of schizophrenic lived experience: In private, one regularly consumes the culturally profane—via television, videos, the Internet, and popular literature, or in carefully segmented and reserved semipublic spaces—while in public, one is careful to proclaim his or her Muslim identity.

About the Author

Hicham Ben Abdallah El Alaoui, a visiting researcher at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford University, is the founder of the Institute for the Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia at Princeton University and the Moulay Hicham Foundation for Social Science Research on North Africa and the Middle East in Geneva. He has published widely on political and social issues in the Arab and Muslim world. A shorter version of this essay appeared in Le Monde diplomatique in August 2010.

View all work by Hicham Ben Abdallah El Alaoui