Recent Readings On Shari'a &Amp; Islamism

Friday, November 4th, 2011 @ 4:32AM

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The selection of readings for November 3 is really a sampling of a number of things, not just shari’a and shari’a finance.  There are, for example, pieces about Islamic politics in North Africa (i.e., Tunisia, Libya, Egypt) and the challenge of Islamic Jihad to Hamas in Gaza.  Especially thought-provoking is Lee Smith, in Tablet, making the argument that “Despite their name, the moderates are more dangerous than the extremists by a matter of magnitude. It’s no wonder the Obama Administration seeks to appease them by keeping Israel at arm’s length.” Expect to hear more about the “Muslim Brotherhood Crescent.”

I’ve been struck lately by the extent to which, after a couple of decades, the debates over shari’a and Islam generally remain the same as ever. (Pace, Bob “Closing of the Muslim Mind” Riley.) Andrew McCarthy’s debate with Robert Spencer on “Islamist” versus “Islamic” terminology takes me back to a fraught discussion at Johns Hopkins SAIS immediately after 9/11.  I suppose since there is vagueness and dispute as to what shari’a implies in the wider Muslim world, we can’t expect a building clarity in the West.  I actually think it’s there, but it won’t be acknowledged politically for a good long while.

Understandings of Islamic politics in the nations of the Arab Spring remain primitive, but are becoming more inventive.  Charles Cogan of the Belfer Center raises the idea that in places like Tunisia, Islamist political parties have “clean hands: let’s give ’em a try!” compared to secular alternatives.  Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) advances the unique theory that governing is hard work and that political compromises may make immoderates into moderates.  Both Cogan and Ellison reside somewhere in the school that holds that Iranian-style theocracies are not in the cards in North Africa.  I myself am inclined in that direction, but, in contrast to most in that school, I don’t see the United States finding political allies among the Islamist parties anywhere.  (Again, see Lee Smith.)

Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal has produced by far the the most interesting argument lately.  He posits that, since varieties of vile secular politics have failed miserably in the Middle East, Islamism is the only idea left with any viability.  This, however, is no cause for celebration.  Recalling Bernard Lewis’s reminder that justice rather than freedom is the purpose of governance in Islam, Stephens causes one to wonder if shari’a-promoting nations will find enough appetite for freedom to bring it into tension with justice. (The classical argument is that this tension is at the root of modern democracy.) Olivier Roy seemed to have believed that generational difference would make this so in Egypt after the fall of Mubarak.  I wonder what he thinks now?

Curious Afterword Department: There was an AFP piece the other day that reported that French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo had secured the Prophet Mohammed’s agreement to serve as editor-in-chief of the issue congratulating the victory of Islamist Ennahda party in Tunisia.  The piece also says that the issue will be renamed Sharia Hebdo.  Not all that funny.  The curious thing was that AFP, in the English version of the piece, got the spelling of “Hebdo” wrong throughout.  It should be “Hebdo,” not “Hedbo.”  Will the French be outraged?

Categories: Middle East Conflicts, Muslim Brotherhood

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