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February 14, 2006

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» Moderate? from Political Animal
MODERATE?....From Marc Lynch:I haven't seen this reported anywhere in English (nothing shows up on Google News), but Al-Arabiya is featuring a report on a new petition issued by 41 leading Islamist personalities on February 13 calling for a resolution ... [Read More]

» Too Far from Minipundit
Okay, I'm convinced that the reaction to the cartoons is now, officially, ridiculous. First there was the outrage over this cartoon, which isn't even mocking Mohammed, but those who refuse to cover the story adequately. Then, via Marc Lynch, there's [Read More]

Comments

theAmericanist

I can't read Arabic: did Tariq Ramadan sign it?

the aardvark

I didn't see his name on the list of signatories published by al-Arabiya.

Martin Kramer

Also note that the signatories include the official and state-recognized muftis of Egypt, Oman, Jordan, Lebanon (Sunni), and Syria. This is as good as it's going to get, and it's lamentable. It's an "exit strategy" from the Enlightenment. I come back to my earlier proposal: let Sheikh Qaradawi and Christopher Hitchens slug it out in a medieval-style disputation in Copenhagen.

Collounsbury

Eh, it's a meaningless little sop that allows the pre-offended on all sides to trot out their pre-fabricated rhetoric and everyone has fun engaging in pot-shots while the utterly illogical prosition of petition sinks into the sands of time.

At a loss to see what "Enlightenment" has to do with the idiocy of the peition, however. The UK, for example, managed to host leading lights of the "Enlightenment" and prosecute 'Papists' and others under blasphemy laws right through the early 20th century. I suppose the UK could be excluded from the Enlightenment on grounds of taste alone, but it does seem rather special.

Rather suppose it is a nice way to engage in pointless sweeping insults and a bit of bigotry in a dressed up sort of fashion, however.

Collounsbury

Actually come to think of it, it's moderately intriguing that these Ulema are plumping for an entirely secular law and one that, given their frame of reference(*), actually engages other religions.

(*: granting their frame of reference is, to say the least, restricted)

Martin Kramer

It's rather optimistic, if not naive, to think that this idea will "sink into the sands of time," especially on a day when an Iranian foundation has reiterated Khomeini's death edict against Salman Rushdie. The petition's proposal is in fact advocated by Sheikh Qaradawi as well, even though he did not sign on to this version of it. And I am surprised that my colleagues in Middle Eastern/Islamic studies aren't rather more alarmed by the proposition. After all, almost anything serious done by Western scholars on early Islam might constitute an insult to the Prophet, in defense of whose honor only a properly constituted Muslim panel could be engaged. The same people who denounce every critical blog as "new McCarthyism" seem unperturbed by the prospect of their research being reviewed by various UN-authorized muftis in Damascus and Cairo, to determine whether they constitute an insult to PBUH, and presumably, if so, whether their books should be banned and their travels in Muslim lands be prohibited. Sound far-fetched? You "enlighten" me.

the aardvark

Well, I said I thought it was a terrible idea, so I'm not sure where that puts me!

Martin Kramer

Indeed you did. Now perhaps you should write to MESA president Juan Cole, suggesting that MESA's Academic Freedom Committee take an unequivocal stand.... ;-)

diana

"I come back to my earlier proposal: let Sheikh Qaradawi and Christopher Hitchens slug it out in a medieval-style disputation in Copenhagen."

Nope, let's keep offending religious prigs with cartoons, books, humor and scholarship.

Let's support scholarship which introduces skepticism into the Muslim world so that they can enter the 20th century. :)

And let's buy Danish products.

Collounsbury

Well, since this eplies to me.

It's rather optimistic, if not naive, to think that this idea will "sink into the sands of time," especially on a day when an Iranian foundation has reiterated Khomeini's death edict against Salman Rushdie.

Naive? If you wish, you're the alarmist. I rather doubt, given the lack of a real institutional weight to this, that the petition will live much longer than the controversy. The Iranians are institionalised, different game.


The petition's proposal is in fact advocated by Sheikh Qaradawi as well, even though he did not sign on to this version of it. And I am surprised that my colleagues in Middle Eastern/Islamic studies aren't rather more alarmed by the proposition.

Well, I am not in MENA studies at all, merely a lowly financier who speaks the languages. A practical pragmatist with little interest in alarmism, sweeping statements w respect to 'Enlightenment' (although given my passing interest in history, I did find it amusing).

After all, almost anything serious done by Western scholars on early Islam might constitute an insult to the Prophet, in defense of whose honor only a properly constituted Muslim panel could be engaged.

Should there be a sign of traction in the UN, well then there might be a reason to be something more than bemused.

The same people who denounce every critical blog as "new McCarthyism" seem unperturbed by the prospect of their research being reviewed by various UN-authorized muftis in Damascus and Cairo, to determine whether they constitute an insult to PBUH, and presumably, if so, whether their books should be banned and their travels in Muslim lands be prohibited. Sound far-fetched? You "enlighten" me.

Sure, how's this: it's alarmist bollocks very much in keeping with your usual party-political drum-beating. Insofar as there is zero chance such a thing would ever, in the end, see the light of day given UN power-dynamics, there's really no reason to get one's diapers in a twist unless of course one wants to play, for partisan political reasons, the alarmist chicken little game.

But again, as I am mere businessman dealing in filthy lucre, perhaps I have missed a vast resurgence in the capacity of the UN and some loophole by which such a piece of illogical frippery could actually be enforced were it even be able to be somehow gain legal status (itself something so hard to conceive in practical operational terms as to stagger my perhaps limited practical imagination).

In the meantime, I shall be merely amused by both Dr Kramer's posturing, and the idiocy that is the Ulemas' proposition.

John

Yes, this proposal is unacceptable and implausible; but why can't it be the beginning of a dialogue with Muslim leaders about how to deal with such controversies?

I'm not sure why Mr. Kramer preempts the possiblity of a better result, or an improved set of proposals, through debate; yet he does by arguing that this is "as good as it's going to get". Why is that a foregone conclusion? With all due respect to Mr. Kramer, how does he or anyone else know that leading opinion in the Muslim world is static, or will continue to be so? (Of course, it is _not_ static.)

Maybe instead of mocking this proposal, and insinuating how medieval it is and how reflective of a horrific culture it is, intellectuals in the West could point out its deficiencies in a respectful manner. Would that hurt?

diana

"Maybe instead of mocking this proposal, and insinuating how medieval it is and how reflective of a horrific culture it is, intellectuals in the West could point out its deficiencies in a respectful manner. Would that hurt?"

It wouldn't hurt us at all. It would hurt them, and then they would go on a riot.

Stacey

I'm with Marc quite completely that criminalization is a big mistake, and I'm surprised to see Fadlallah on the list, given his staunch rejection of any kind of international "intervention" in the form of a tribunal for Hariri's assassins.

That irony aside, let me raise another, related to the characterization of Muslim audiences and media consumers as blind, uncritical masses: Last night, I attended a concert at a well-known cultural center in Cairo. In their gallery space, they were featuring an exhibit of caricatures, designed to address the "role of women in Egyptian society." The cartoons were mainly in Egyptian Arabic, or were without text, though a few were in French. All were subtitled in English, French, and Modern Standard Arabic, making it a widely accessible exhibit. With an entry fee of only 10LE, it was very well attended.

Here's the point: nearly every caricature in one way or another ridiculed some aspect of religion, including Shari'a. Explicitly. While none depicted the prophet, several took on laws based on records of his practices - and drawn from the sacred/immutable text of the Quran. Many of these were, in my estimation, even more critical of Islam than some (not all) of the Danish cartoon. These were done by Arabs for Arabs, and - contra Diana's point - were proof positive that criticism has long since been introduced here and we need not do the Arab world any favors in this regard.

This cartoon controversy is an example of rabble-rousing, on both sides (and are there really only two?). Every single day in the course of my research I encounter critics of religion, Muslim and Christian, writing in Arabic to Arab audiences. Do I think that the religious establishment has a kind of de facto upper hand in these struggles? Yes, without question. But let's stop micharacterizing Muslims as uncritical followers.

Lastly, lest there be any doubt, the lead singer of one of the bands performing last night introduced a song that she said would capture her feelings about religion and men. The chorus: "Yes, I'm making fun of you, I'm ridiculing you, for all the pain you put me through." Poetry, not so much. Criticism, yes.

diana

Stacey,

The criticism you cite is by Arabs of Islam. May their tribe increase.

The point I criticized was "Maybe instead of mocking this proposal... intellectuals in the West could point out its deficiencies in a respectful manner."

As soon as Western intellectuals "point out its deficiencies" Arabs/Muslims would circle the wagons and defend it.

We should stay out of intra-Muslim affairs. Their business is their business. They are entitled to their taboos.

The only thing I object to is Muslims exporting their taboos to the West.

As the much-maligned Stanley Fish just wrote in the NY Times:
(http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/12/opinion/12fish.html?_r=1&oref=slogin&pagewanted=print)

" This is why calls for "dialogue," issued so frequently of late by the pundits with an unbearable smugness — you can just see them thinking, "What's wrong with these people?" — are unlikely to fall on receptive ears. The belief in the therapeutic and redemptive force of dialogue depends on the assumption (central to liberalism's theology) that, after all, no idea is worth fighting over to the death and that we can always reach a position of accommodation if only we will sit down and talk it out.

But a firm adherent of a comprehensive religion doesn't want dialogue about his beliefs; he wants those beliefs to prevail. Dialogue is not a tenet in his creed, and invoking it is unlikely to do anything but further persuade him that you have missed the point — as, indeed, you are pledged to do, so long as liberalism is the name of your faith."

He's got a point.

My only question to Fish is: which pundits are you talking about?

Stacey

Diana - you're being disingenuous, in a very short discussion thread. I was responding specifically to:

"Nope, let's keep offending religious prigs with cartoons, books, humor and scholarship. Let's support scholarship which introduces skepticism into the Muslim world so that they can enter the 20th century."

And, by rights, if you oppose these taboos being imposed upon you, you should oppose them being imposed upon others, including liberal Muslims, so I think your claim to "live and let live" is probably a bit bogus, too.

the aardvark

I agree with John - criminalization is a terrible idea, but other parts of the petition could conceivably be the jumping off point for a serious dialogue. This group of ulema (stretching the concept of ulema, I might note, but they did it themselves in their self-presentation) rejected violence and accepted the idea of legitimate boundaries on action, and they are demanding a judicial/legal response with few liberals in the West would find acceptable. The former position echoes a pretty widely expressed middle ground in the Arab debates I've been following: yes to anger, no to violence (though this group of ulema disagrees with the Qaradawi position that boycotts fall within the realm of the non-violent, acceptable forms of expression).

I would argue very strongly against the criminalization route. But I'd also like to see dialogue aimed at developing common norms (not laws, norms) governing how a diverse society containing both the fervently religious and the fervently secular might be able to tolerate and live with each other without compromising core values. That's not what the rabble-rousers want - they want a conflict, they want escalation, they want to claim the mantle of leadership and silence the moderates - and they're not going to respond. But there's plenty of others, reasonable folks on both sides, who might.

One point to Martin: you point to the number of state-sanctioned muftis and official ulema among the signatories and conclude that this is the best we're going to get. I'd reach the opposite conclusion: state functionaries, bending to the whims of Arab regimes, are far from the best we're going to get. That this petition comes largely from them (and is being trumpeted in the Saudi media) suggests that there actually is something better out there.

diana

Stacey,

You indulging in namecalling. "Disingenuous" and "bogus." This is rude.

When I said "Nope, let's keep offending religious prigs with cartoons, books, humor and scholarship. Let's support scholarship which introduces skepticism into the Muslim world so that they can enter the 20th century."

"you should oppose them being imposed upon others, including liberal Muslims,"

Kindly do not tell me what to do. The word "should" doesn't exist in my vocabulary.

I'm not telling you what to do. Or them. Let them worship how they will, let them do what they want, let them claim that Jesus Christ was never crucified, let them claim that Muhammad received the revelation from the angel Jibreel and ascended to heaven on a horse....it's none of my affair. Their beliefs are no threat to mine.

I was referring only to the West. *Their* issues with skepticism shouldn't stop *us* from free inquiry. This petition might introduce a chilling effect on inquiry in the Muslim world. That's too bad, but it's not my problem. It shouldn't affect what goes on here.

If *our* freedom of inquiry contributes to the growth of skepticism in Islam, I do think that would be great. But that's not the reason we should do it. We should do it because inquiring minds want to know. Like Einstein's thought experiments. Ya know?

the aardvark

Oh, Martin - just got this press release:
"Representatives from the Qatar-based IslamOnline.net web portal have accepted an invitation from the Danish Centre for dialogue to join in a discussion on the publication of cartoons deemed offensive to the Muslim world. Doha-based Islamic scholar Dr Yousuf Al Qaradawi has, meanwhile, emphasised the need for Muslims to only stage peaceful demonstrations against Denmark and countries that published the blasphemous cartoons."

All you need now is for Hitchens to get on board!

diana

"I would argue very strongly against the criminalization route."

This is a perfect example of what Fish is talking about. Not only does what one Western university professor not matter at all, but even considering such a thing is an conscious concession to their terms of discourse.

The true liberal response is: no arguments here. The issue of blasphemy is not on the table. We can talk about other things (for those who are inclined) but we settled the blasphemy stuff over a period of centuries here and we are not about to revive it.

the aardvark

I'm off to the airport. Carry on among yourselves, but do please try to keep it civil while I'm away.

diana

Have a safe trip.

I apologize for the grammatical errors & ommitted words only.

And, I would suggest that Stanley Fish "dialogue" with Dr. Al Qaradawi. Perhaps "commisserate" might be a better word.

John

Diana, I agreed with the general thrust of Stanley Fish's excellent essay you cite.
(Here for anyone: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/12/opinion/12fish.html?_r=1&oref=slogin )
But the essay's problematic assumption is that there are two distinct groups: the secularist nonbelievers, who "let it all hang out," and the Muslim true believers: the "firm adherent," "stong [and] insistent".

This dichotomy might be useful for argument, but it's often not true in the lives of individuals. Today's Muslims have many influences: modernist Islam, neo-traditionalist (salafi), pop culture, secularist Western thinking, etc.

The premise is that there isn't any commingling, but I'd argue most Muslims are hybrid, some mixture of influences that include strong religious beliefs and secularist viewpoints as well.

Of course there are the true, hardcore jihadis and militant salafiyya who have fully bought into "clash," and don't want to engage in debate (or "dialogue".) But there are many others whose minds are not completely closed. One can hold more than one idea in one's head at a time.

Most people don't "go on a riot" when asked to engage in debate. But they do when played by authoritarian regimes, and when these cartoons are manipulated to be a stand-in for all grievances.

D, the beginning point of how you want to engage in debate -- we "settled the blasphemy stuff" over a course of "centuries", you guys are thus centuries behind, get with our program, etc. -- is a bit of a conversation stopper, don't you think? There's an impatience and lack of openness to it that won't convince anyone on the other side of anything. How is such a bellicose tone going to change anything?

Hektor Bim

There's another clear reason why blasphemy should be off the table. Many Muslim countries already have blasphemy laws. The country I know most about is Pakistan. There the blasphemy law is a time-tested strategy for getting your non-Muslim neighbor's land and possessions and possibly life, at no cost to yourself. After all, who are the jurists going to believe - a fine upstanding Muslim or a treasonous Christian or Hindu? Works every time.

Collounsbury

Well, there is quite a lot of overdone shrieking and moaning going on over this ridiculous sop being thrown to the overwrought, but a word on this:
We can talk about other things (for those who are inclined) but we settled the blasphemy stuff over a period of centuries here and we are not about to revive it.

Not sure who "we" is, insofar as I don't go much for intellectual abstractions positing cultural hive minds, but the blasphemy stuff as it was termed was 'settled' in the past century. Whether some abstract 'we' will revive it I suppose is for the future to tell, but given blasphemy prosecutions in Europe right through the 20th centiry, overdone preening in this regard strikes me as foolish.

Collounsbury

John,

I rather agree on your observation. Both the pure secular and the pure salafi are in a way fringes.

Then there is the mass of pious ordindary folks who hold a mix of opinions and attitudes from a wide variety of sources. The kind of pious person that, taking Casablanca where I frequently do business, marched against the takfiri inspired bombings in the hundreds of thousands, but also is pissed off about Danish dissing of the Prophet - much on the basis of what one hear's about (very real) discrimination against Muslims in Europe. Same persons also love French TV....

Finally, re the Blasphemy and Enlightenment posturing, it's more than slightly rich, as I noted, such prosecutions happened in Europe right into living memory. But idealised pasts and all that.

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