Monday, December 10, 2007

Where All The Xs Are

Jill of Feministe picks a nit on Ayaan Hirsi Ali's recent NYT editorial asking where all the "moderate Muslims" are. Ali used the recent example of the Qatif case (where a woman was sentenced to be lashed after being raped) and asks why there hasn't been an outcry from these so-called moderates.

While professing great respect for Ms. Ali (and noting she has excellent reason to not be a big fan of Islam), Jill notes that this is really an unfair charge. How, Jill asks, does Ali think this case came to our attention? The answer is through the efforts of the woman's Muslim Arab attorney, the coverage of the Arab press, and the general outrage the case sparked in Saudi Arabia and around the world. I see this sort of argument all the time, particularly conservatives asking why feminists "aren't talking about women's rights violations" in the enemy of the day, and it's almost always bogus there too -- most women's rights bloggers and activists are quite concerned with the issue globally (in fact, generally they're the first on the scene), they just don't think the solution always comes at the end of a bombing run. While extremists always get more attention than moderates, Muslim moderates have presented themselves quite well, all things considered.

As Jill says (and I concur), Ali is in many respects an incredible woman, and her voice deserves to be heard. But this column levied an unfair charge, and she deserves to be called out on it.


Cycle Cyril said...

The problem with Islamic moderates (whose existence is acknowledged by Ali) is several fold. First there are too few of them. Second except for a literal handful none of them are attempting to eliminate the current interpretation of such verses as Ali mentioned or others such as the verse of the sword 9:29. Third there are damn many who might be called radicals. A recent poll of British Moslems indicated that 40% want Islamic law to be the supreme law of the land. And they enjoy the fruits of Western Civilization. For comparison British Hindus, who I expect have a similar socio-economic status as Moslems (predominantly Pakistani), do not want a Hindu theocracy.

One of the major problems of Islam is the almost universal belief, by any Moslem willing to express an opinion, that the Quran is the literal word of god and is immutable. While perhaps for a few hundred years or so there was interpretation of the Quran this was banned, with the penalty being death of course, at the turn of the first millennium.

All of the current, accepted and acknowledged schools of Islamic thought and theology adhere to the literal interpretation of the Quran. This is totally unlike Judaism or Christianity.

Once moderates begin the process of reinterpretating the Quran, admittedly at the peril of keeping their heads, will you then and only then see true movement.

But because moderates tend to have shorten careers I fear that will not see this for a long time to come.

As for the moderates presently they are threatened and chased out of their countries if not killed outright. The lawyer in the rape case by the way is the focus of not just disciplinary hearings by the Saudi judiciary but the focus of threats to his life.

Anonymous said...

Could we have some links which support your position that moderate Muslims brought this case to our attention?

David Schraub said...

Follow the link to Jill's place, she points to nine.

Cycle Cyril said...

One additional comment with regards to moderates. They unfortunately do not write in Arabic as they often as they do in English. And in Arabic they are outshouted by the literalists.

If you read some of the translations from you will get a sense of what Arab says to Arab in Arabic, which is more important than what they say in English or in private to our politicians. Of note if anything over reports the moderate voice in the Middle East.

As Thomas Friedman once said with respect to Arafat (paraphrasing) "I don't care what he says in English, I only care what he says in Arabic."

PG said...

For comparison British Hindus, who I expect have a similar socio-economic status as Moslems (predominantly Pakistani), do not want a Hindu theocracy.

Hinduism is a rotten comparison point to Islam because unlike the major Western religions, it wasn't founded and has no central text. It just sort of grew organically out of the beliefs of people on the subcontinent, long before there was even Judaism, much less upstarts such as Christianity and Islam. You can have a law based on the Christian text or the Jewish one or the Muslim one. Good luck finding a set of laws to draw upon from Hinduism.

The Hindu theocrats in India actually aren't theocrats so much as culture-crats -- they don't refer to a particular Vedic text as an authority against what they're decrying, but instead simply say that the problematic practice is foreign to Indian culture. Hence the rampages against Valentine's Day or police beating couples cuddling in public. These aren't perceived as evil because there's a line in the Bhagavad Gita or the Ramayana that condemns the activities. Rather, they are perceived as imports from Western culture that traditionalists want to prevent from becoming widespread in Indian society.

I don't claim even the shallow familiarity with the Koran that those who condemn its contents do. So I don't know to what extent the various laws one sees in Muslim countries are genuinely inherent to Islam, and to what extent they are, like India's decency standards forbidding kissing in Bollywood films, cultural rather than religious.

All that said, I don't entirely agree with Jill's take.

Cycle Cyril said...


Here is a site detailing some of the origins of Hindu law. It apparently evolved over many years, has contradictions and thus a variety of interpretations. Not that much different from Judaism or most forms of Christianity.

But this is a side issue to my point that the major schools of Islamic thought and theology do not interpret the Quran beyond what was done about a thousand years ago and silence those who attempt to interpret it and bring it from a 7th century religion to a 21st century religion.

With regards to Islamic nations whenever you hear a reference to Sharia it is a reference to Islamic law and not to culture. On a side note word in Arabic for religion 'deen' is the same as for law.

PG said...

Cycle Cyril,

The mildly ignorant person who wrote the website you cited seems to be confused between
Hindu personal law, which is the family law currently governing marriage, divorce and inheritance for Hindu Indians (Christians, Muslims, et al. have their own personal laws) and grew out of the different rules the British set for different groups based on the Brits' vague conception of what the religious law for those groups was;
and older Hindu legal theory as reflected in the Dharmaśāstra, which is not a statement of Hindu law in practice but theories on how people ought to treat one another. If the Dharmaśāstra is law, so is Rawls's Theory of Justice. Again, the law in practice was largely a matter of custom and tradition; it was not based on references to text. (Nowadays it might be labeled as a common law as opposed to civil law tradition.)

Seriously, can you explain what a Hindu theocracy would look like? What is the "Hindu law" response to fornication or adultery, for example?

There is a strong cultural component to sharia law that is reflected in the variation of interpretation from one place to another. As in Islam itself, there is a divide between Sunni and Shia Muslims on what the proper sources of sharia are, and then even within Sunni Islam, the different schools have some relation to different geographic areas and cultures. (E.g., Hanafi predominating in Central and South Asia, Maliki in Africa, Shafi'i in Southeast Asia, Hanbali among Arabs.)

Quite possibly the interest in sharia would be weakened if it were uniform, because then Muslims who currently believe their version to be reasonable would have to be following the harsher version. (Or if vice versa and the more reasonable version predominated, sharia law would be slightly less objectionable.)

As for the need for new interpretation of existing legal texts to bring them in line with modern mores, I am all for it, but I had thought conservatives were opposed to such interpreting. Or are originalism and textualism ideal interpretive theories only for the U.S. Constitution?

Anonymous said...

Most of the Western Muslim establishment is comprised of Islamist groups claiming to be moderates. True moderate Muslims reject Islamic supremacy and Sharia; embrace religious equality and democracy.

Poll: Who is a moderate Muslim?