Dr. Esmail Nooriala's New Secularism
سکولاریسم نو دکتر اسماعیل نوری علا
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Dr. Esmail Nooriala published an Internet-based journal in Persian called 'New Secularism' from 2007 to 2013 (full archive still available online). Three years ago in 2019, in a short article in Persian, I wrote about how 'New Secularism' started two years before Iran's Green Movement of 2009, and how it played a major role in defining Iran's Secular Democratic Movement. Iran's Secular Democrats, in contrast to Islamic Reformists who led the Green Movement, boycotted the election in 2009, nonetheless, when the Green Movement was suppressed by Islamic Regime of Iran (IRI), secular democrats supported the Islamic reformist activists who were persecuted and tortured in Iran's jails, and Dr. Esmail Nooriala created an organization called Iranian Secular Greens Network and its site is still available on the Internet, although we the secular democrats, never supported the ideology and politics of Islamic Reformists and their leftist allies! I have previously discussed extensively about Iran's secular democrats in various articles, and my intention in here is not to discuss that. Rather, I would like to have a short philosophical discussion about a futuristic outlook of 'New Secularism,' not just for Iran, rather in the world today, an outlook that was proposed by my friend Dr. Esmail Nooriala in 2007 and I supported it from day one!
Among the prominent futurists, no one has discussed ideologies more than the late Daniel Bell, and his book 'End of Ideology,' is the best presentation of the topic, although contrary to what Daniel Bell thought in 1960's about the coming of end of ideologies, and despite the fact that we witnessed the fall of Fascism, and twilight of Communism, we saw the rise of new ideologies such as Maoism, Castroism and Feminism in 60's and 70's! Nonetheless, some new ideologies like Feminism played a different role in comparison to Communist ideology of the 19th century, and was more like a self-awareness about discriminations, rather than taking power and forming an ideological state! So maybe Daniel Bell was not wrong about "End of Ideology" after all, but my intention here is not to review his book and the discussion here is about 'New Secularism!'
Basically *ideologies* of 19th Century laid the foundation for domination of totalitarian states of Fascism and Communism in 20th Century, the same way Christianity and Islam of 350AD to 650AD laid the foundation for domination of Christian and Islamic states in Middle Ages. In other words the 19th century ideologies played a key role in the political formations of the 20th Century similar to religions of the Middle Ages! Today the remnants of 19th Century ideologies, Fascism has basically died out, but the left still exists although reviving the thirst for ideologies in the former left has titled towards philosophers like Nietzsche and Heidegger! This trend is so obvious in Iran's Left that I do not really need to say much, although the Iranian Left justify their new post-modern ideology, by some kind of opposition to current religious state in Iran stating ideas of Nietzsche about Europe with statements like God is dead there as if it is defining scientific thought, whereas not only Nietzsche was never a scientific thinker, he was not even a rationalist and his thought is correctly defined as 'irrational'! In reality, atheism of Nietzsche was responded to by authors like Eric Hoffer in WWII era, and the new ideology of the Left, is another religion itself, albeit in the form of an ideology!
In fact, Secularism in the West meant in the works of founders of the United States, as separation of state and religion, and this is how modernity was formed in the U.S., and before that, in Europe, in contrast, to the Medieval Thought. Nonetheless, in the modern European societies, when people called themselves *secular*, mostly it was understood as being an atheist or agnostic, whereas in the United States, to this day, the term secular is understood as having a clear belief in the separation of state and religion, and the view is more like a Jeffersonian political stand supporting freedom of religion from state intervention (or better said as the freedom of thought); we know Jefferson himself was a deist although did not adhere to any specific religion. All this about America has extensively been discussed by authors such as Alexis de Tocqueville who was European himself. Dr. Nooriala's expounding of 'new secularism,' is closer to the American connotation of the term *secular* meaning to be not-religious, i.e. surely neither to be anti-religions nor anti-God, but also rejecting adherence to any ideology especially totalitarian ones! When I finished the 6th grade, I studied Islam, Christianity and other religions and decided to be non-religious and to this day that is how I feel. For me this is how I understand the term *secular* when I refer to myself, which does not mean to be anti-religion or anti-God. Basically 'new secularism' is a good terminology to describe how I am comfortable to refer to myself!
Dr. Nooriala has been emphasizing that, for him, it is not just separation of state and religion but also separation of state and ideology that matters, including ideological states like former Soviet Union or current Communist States of China, Vietnam, Laos, Cuba and the like. Actually religions of Far East, namely Hinduism, Buddhism or thoughts like Confucianism and Taoism, were not that doctrinaire in comparison to Abrahamic religions, and did not have such strong grip on their followers, and Communists had more luck to conquer the minds of the populations in those countries, to make their ideologies, a religion-de-facto of those regions! In Islamic and Christian areas, Communists had less success and even after a century of Communist rule in Russia, this was still true of the Russian society and this is why after the collapse of Communism, Russian Orthodox Church rose to prominence again, and also although for a shorter time period, the experience of Fascism in Germany, was very similar, and we do not see anybody to have a religious belief in Fascism or Communism in the European countries after the fall of the totalitarian Fascist and Communist states, although when the totalitarian regimes ruled in those countries, their ideological grip on people's lives was undeniable.
Let's imagine a state with an ideology totally opposite to the current Islamic theistic religions, advocating total atheism stating there is no God, no Design in the universe no possibility for having a TOE (Theory of Everything) and all theistic religions must be abandoned. In fact, some factions of Hitler's Nazi Party had ideologies like this and the influence of Nietzsche and Heidegger was vividly present in the Nazi regime. Now my question is whether it is the business of the state to make such decisions for society? These are issues that should be discussed with scientists and philosophers just as disease which is discussed with doctors and society cannot make progress dealing with these matters by decrees. This is the trap that many people in dealing with religious fundamentalism fall into and the best example are some who call themselves X-Muslims. This is a danger we cannot ignore in the way we reject Islamic Fundamentalism and in contrast, Dr. Esmail Nooriala's New Secularism is where we can keep our sanity while passing through this epoch of the rise of Islamism and the like in our world!
In Preface 2021 to my book New Human Variant, I have tried to discuss this philosophical topic in more details. I think the 'new secular' outlook of ISDP Party which has been founded by Dr. Esmail Nooriala, actually needs to be understood in the international arena, not to just separate themselves from religious thinking as defined by old religions when discussing separation of state and religion, but also to separate themselves from totalitarian ideologies such as Fascism and Communism! Separating ourselves from Communism does not mean we do not support social justice, on the contrary it means just like Karl Popper noted, we emphasize the need for freedom to achieve a lasting justice! Ideological states are not a path to human freedom whether they are capitalist or socialist and the key for this goal in our times is 'New Secularism'!
Hoping for a democratic and secular futurist
republic in Iran,
Sam Ghandchi, Editor/Publisher
August 28, 2022
For a Secular Democratic & Futurist Republican Party in Iran