Following are excerpts from an interview with Syrian-French researcher Burhan Ghalioun, which aired on Al-Jazeera TV on January 22, 2007.
Burhan Ghalioun: The main problem that prevents us from trying to overcome the crisis is that the clerics have become the leading shapers of public opinion. These clerics have no true knowledge of society or politics. Whoever turns on Al-Jazeera TV or any other channel see that the clerics control everything. It is not true that they are the minority. Today, the intellectuals and the politicians have no role. Arab societies are held hostage by two authorities: The authority of political dictatorship - arrogant dictators, who are inhuman in their oppression of liberties, and in their crushing and humiliation of the individual. [The other] authority is that of the clerics - even those opposing these regimes - who tyrannize Arab public opinion nowadays. Arab public opinion is held hostage by the clerics of all types, Muslim clerics and Islamists from all groups. There is a kind of undeclared, practical alliance between the political dictatorship and the dictatorship of the religious authority from all groups, who do the impossible in order to remove all the people who hold different views – politicians, thinkers, and intellectuals – whether by accusing them of secularism, which means heresy, or by accusing them of modernism, of having ties with the West, or of collaborating with colonialism. In their conduct, they do not really differ from the Arab dictatorial regimes.
The leaders of the Islamic movements they are, without a doubt, the ones winning the war. Whoever watches Arab media realizes that they have won the war of culture. The slogan "Islam is the solution" – in my opinion, 90% of Arab public opinion believes nothing else.
Al-Jazeera, which is the most important TV channel viewed by the Arab public today, is an example of the alliance between the political leaders, who are all dictators and who appear [on TV] every day, and the Islamic movements and thinkers. It is as if there is nobody else – there are no thinkers, intellectuals, authors, or anybody. Sometimes they bring commentators and give them three minutes on the air. We cannot rebuild our society through this struggle.