I wrote earlier today about the conference I attended on Tony Judt. Last week I also attended part of a two-day conference entitled “Retour sur les révoltes dans le monde arabe,” at the office of the intellectual journal Esprit. It was more of a round-table, in fact, with some 20-25 in attendance. Like the CERI-Tony Judt conference, the collective brain power at this one was very high. It always is at Esprit events. It’s French intellectualism at its best. People are just very smart, erudite, and well-spoken. And the political orientation and general world-view of Esprit and friends of the journal conform almost perfectly to my own.
The conference speakers—among them the always interesting never boring Olivier Roy—were very good but there was one in particular who stood out: Abdelwahab Meddeb. First time I’d ever seen him in person. Listening to him talk, it was one of those times when I say to myself “this person is quite simply brilliant.” His erudition on Islamic thought, past and present, plus his analyses and commentary of what’s happening today in Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, and elsewhere in the region, are simply on another level. I’ve never read his books but will find the time to do so.