He died today, following a “terrible illness” so it was reported. Triste nouvelle. I didn’t know him personally and only saw him speak once—at a small conference here in Paris three years ago—, which was enough for me to decide that he was one of the smartest and, from my standpoint, most politically sympathetic Arab intellectuals I had encountered in a very long time. As I wrote after the event
The conference speakers…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 appreciated his public declarations over the past few years, e.g. the one he initiated during the early months of Tunisia’s post-Ben Ali political transition, “Pour la responsabilité civile” (here, scroll down), and his call to create a “global network of liberal Muslims.” In last month’s Tunisian election he announced that he would be voting for Nidaa Tounes—a perfectly understandable choice IMO—and explained why here (and he took pains to respond to his numerous, mainly gauchiste detractors). And then there was his 2011 televised debate with that overrated bloviator Tariq Ramadan (no need to say whose side I took in that one).
Meddeb published numerous books, a few that were translated into English, including The Malady of Islam and Islam and the Challenge of Civilization, plus the edited volume (with Benjamin Stora) A History of Jewish-Muslim Relations: From the Origins to the Present Day. In his memory I think I will finally read at least the first one.