This is part V of the interview ‘Dialogue Between Bigots’

AR: I think you are being very liberal in your belief that European law begins with the Bible and that Islamic law begins with the Koran. To claim that Europe takes from the Bible and Morocco from the Koran is to indulge in a terrible simplicity that can only be achieved by suspending genuine intellectual engagement in the history of societies and the development of their social, legal and criminal systems. Perhaps a re-reading of Michelet’s ‘History of France’ is due or at the very least Todorov’s ‘Imperfect Garden’. Lets remember that Europe also has an Islamic/Muslim heritage. I speak not just of regions that were part of various Muslims entities, like Spain or Italy or cities like Genoa, but i mean by the centuries of relationships that have existed between Europe and the east. Anyone familiar with the history of a city like Seville, or Sicily, or Venice for example, will be hard pressed to tell me where ‘the west’ starts and ‘the east’ ends. Through commerce, trade, travel, study, administration, settlement, conquest etc. Europe and the Middle East shared and exchanged over centuries and consistently and constantly. Here is Pankaj Misra on Venice.

For me at an intellectual level these ‘religious’ civilizational divisions do not ring true nor do they reflect reality. And i would add that I think you under value European law, and Arab or other national laws, by linking them to just Bible or some other religious text. In fact, I would say that you denigrate their laws. Thank goodness for laws that allow rights for homosexuals, for abortion, for contraception, and many other liberties and humane rights we have instituted despite our religious texts instructions! One would like to believe that we have left the simplistic, inhumane, often cruel black & white simplicities of these religious texts behind. Remember, the Bible took us to the inquisition, a justice and religious institution the taliban would really have loved!

It also appears that you do not understand what ‘sharia’ is. Sharia is not laws. Sharia is a method of arriving at law. It is a judicial, legal process that also includes Ijma (consensus), Qiyas (reasoning by analogy) and centuries of debate, interpretation and precedent. Furthermore, that there are many different versions of these processes that rely, traditionally speaking, on different versions of the hadiths to execute their process. There are at least 4 recognized schools of hadiths for example. a sharia process can begin in the Koran (or not) but that is a start, not the end. It can’t be of course because the Bible, the Koran, the Torah and in fact most any religious text are very simplistic, in fact quite banal in their ideas of right and wrong and life’s complicated problems are best not handled by referring to them directly. ‘Thou shall not kill’ is not a very interesting legal precept. So, there is no one sharia because sharia is not law, it is a procedure to arrive at law. It requires legal experts, religious experts, academics, it is open to debate and challenge, it is open to review and study, it is open to interpretation and revision. As any other legal system in the world. What comes out on the other end is the judgment of men to respond to the needs of their society to best offer justice. and as all legal procedures, sometimes it is good, other times it is bad. and in the latter case can be changed – or prevented if it serves someone’s power interests.

I will add that Islam does not offer a political system. There is a great myth, very popular amongst orientalist and religious fundamentalists that Islam offers ‘a complete system’. There is no discussion what so ever in any aspect of the philosophy of the religion on ‘political systems’. Daniel Pipes loves to bring this one up all the time and it is actually quite funny because the rest of us can see how little people like him have really bothered to study and understand their demons. I think that Daniel Pipes actually claims that the political system offered in Islam includes ‘tawhid‘, ‘risalat‘ and ‘khilafat‘. Well, 2 of those concepts have nothing to do with politics – tawhid is monotheistic belief in one god (shared with Christianity and Judaism), and risalat is that this one god has sent messengers (e.g. Jesus is in Islam’s structure itself). So this is not politics.

Khilafat is simply a version of a monarchy and given divine Islamic sanction. No European king would have survived long without the claim of the divine sanction, and the support of the church. It is not defined by any religious declaration, or divine ordination. Calling it an ‘Islamic’ political system would be like calling Constantine’s dictatorship a ‘Christian’ political system! And it is not the preferred or sought after political model for any Arab or Muslim state in the world today.  For example, Iran has a parliamentary system. It is a constrained one, but nevertheless, they hold elections, they elect their representatives, and participate in the government. Pakistan has a parliamentary system designed around the British system, and is different from the Iranian.

Now, speaking of ‘Hindu’, ‘Muslim’, ‘Christian’ or other such, I have to ask where does one find ‘pure’ nations in our world? Where are these communities who have been so isolated and segmented that their collective behavior is only influenced by some ‘nation gene’? Are the Assryians so pure that their 2000+ years in the middle of a region of rich trade, artistic development, intellectual development, social development, economic progress, never affected them? Is there nothing Arab culture, traditions, values, morals, and norms that have affected them or been adopted by them? I believe that we are never just ‘Muslims’ or ‘Christians’. Nations are not just ‘Muslims’ or ‘Christians’. They are many different things. Just as an individual identity is made up of many things, and s/he stresses one or the other at certain times, but contains with him/herself all. This is of course simply Edward Said’s argument read back in an amateurish way.

To argue that my ‘Muslim’ identity is the most important or the only important part, is a choice, not a fact, and a misleading and narrow fact at that. Governments can through coercion create common actions amongst men and common opinions. But this abstraction of ‘nations’ is a very weak and poor construct. Just your language alone, and the other languages that have influenced it, reveal that falsity in this belief. Christianity is not ‘pure’. As a creed it carried over myths, rituals, structures of earlier religions and societies. And also absorbed the behaviors and values of people who lived in and around the lands in emerged in. When in fact Freud examined the life of Moses in ‘Moses and Monotheism’ he was doing precisely this – examining the various strands of culture and history and ethnicities that were absorbed/adopted by the Jews as they adopted Moses, an Egyptian, into their religion.

As for Lebanon, my point is tangential to Lebanon’s war so i will not address it here. My point was about how one understands man’s actions in this world. We do not run around trying to understand the brutalities of the Christians in Lebanon by studying the bible, or claiming to have found some verse there that justifies genocidal madness. My point was about the way to understand the behaviors of men.

Your last set of comments sadden me that because the contain in it so many false assumptions and misunderstandings about the Middle East, Muslims, Islam, modernity, democracy and such that i don’t even know where to begin.  But as I said, we are on opposite ends of the spectrum here. To me statements like ‘Islam needs to modernize’ are deeply bigoted comments. And they are simplistic as well. They paint America as a purveyor of good and justice in the world when in fact it is not that alone but something else as well. They suggest a belief in the intellectual and moral backwardness of millions of people and dozens of cultures that inhabit the Middle East, and do so without once acknowledging their real lived histories and struggles against colonialism and imperialism. They engage in sweeping generalizations about falsely concrete concepts that are in fact abstractions and contested forms (e.g. ‘Islam’), fail to point out our (American) deep economic, political and historical connections to countries like Saudi Arabia, obfuscate our role in the repression of modern democracy in the Middle East (e.g. assasination of Mossadeq in Iran for example, or the constant funding of dictators like Mubarak, the Shah, the Saudi family, the kings of Jordan etc.), its mindless unthinking support of the repression and brutality of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, its complete disregard for the human and political aspirations of the people of the lands where American claims it ‘interests’, etc. etc.

You condemn regions, cultures, peoples and societies to backwardness, barbarism, terrorism and extremism by conveniently leaving out our shared history.