From the every first paragraph of a lengthy New York Times Magazine article about Sharia law, you know you’re in for an intellectually dishonest voyage through the multi-culti mindset of the New York Times, this time as put forward by Noah Feldman who is, unsurprisingly, a law professor at that bastion of liberal think, Harvard. It’s a long article, so I won’t Fisk the whole thing, but I can’t resist tackling at least the first few paragraphs:
Last month, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, gave a nuanced, scholarly lecture in London about whether the British legal system should allow non-Christian courts to decide certain matters of family law. [Well, not really. He gave a muddled, incomprehensible lecture that vaguely waffled about Sharia, without actually giving anyone a clear sense of what he was talking about — although, maybe, at Harvard, that passes for nuance. It was in a contemporaneous TV interview, though, that Williams let the cat out of the bag, and admitted that he wasn’t talking about private judicial systems with voluntary participation — assuming the beleaguered Pakistani women, forced into marriages and killed for “honor,” can voluntarily participate in anything. Instead, he admitted that he thought Britain would actually have to accept Sharia law.] Britain has no constitutional separation of church and state. The archbishop noted that “the law of the Church of England is the law of the land” there; indeed, ecclesiastical courts that once handled marriage and divorce are still integrated into the British legal system, deciding matters of church property and doctrine. His tentative suggestion was that, subject to the agreement of all parties and the strict requirement of protecting equal rights for women, it might be a good idea to consider allowing Islamic and Orthodox Jewish courts to handle marriage and divorce. [As I noted in an earlier post on the subject, that’s not what he was proposing in his “nuanced” speech. While it’s absolutely true that we in America allow people to resolve disputes privately, whether through arbitration, mediation, rabbinical courts, working with their minister, or confiding to the bartender, these are optional systems. People can avoid these systems, however, and instead choose to go use the ordinary civil and criminal laws of America. These American courts will not apply rabbi-made law, or sharia-law, or bartender’s wisdom. Williams, however, stated that sharia law should be, and I quote, “incorporated into the British legal system” — in other words, there’s no escape. And even worse, while it may first be applied only to Muslims, one can well imagine some PC judge thinking it would be useful to apply it to other Brits, as well.]
Then all hell broke loose. [No surprise there since people seem to have understood what Williams actually said rather than having listened to some PC channel, as Feldman did, where he heard what he wishes Williams had said, rather than what Williams actually said.] From politicians across the spectrum to senior church figures and the ubiquitous British tabloids came calls for the leader of the world’s second largest Christian denomination to issue a retraction or even resign. [Yeah, ’cause he showed himself to be a dupe, a dhimmi and an idiot.] Williams has spent the last couple of years trying to hold together the global Anglican Communion in the face of continuing controversies about ordaining gay priests and recognizing same-sex marriages. [One wonders, in this regard if Feldman or Williams have given any consideration to the fact that, under sharia law, homosexuality is a hanging offense, or at least one deserving of torture (and we know that the torture the sharia clerics contemplate goes beyond have rock music blasted at you or even waterboarding).] Yet little in that contentious battle subjected him to the kind of outcry that his reference to religious courts unleashed. Needless to say, the outrage was not occasioned by Williams’s mention of Orthodox Jewish law. For the purposes of public discussion, it was the word “Shariah” that was radioactive. [Yeah, it was radioactive, because Williams didn’t mention incorporating Orthodox Jewish law into the British system, but he did say, and I quote, that sharia law should be “incorporated into the British legal system.” Does Feldman really think everybody is either as credulous or dishonest about this as he is?]
In some sense, the outrage about according a degree of official status to Shariah in a Western country should come as no surprise. No legal system has ever had worse press. To many, the word “Shariah” conjures horrors of hands cut off, adulterers stoned and women oppressed. [Surprise! Surprise! as Gomer Pyle would say. It’s funny how that happens, although it might be tied to all those silly little news stories about homosexuality being illegal in Muslim countries, with homosexuals routinely tortured and hanged; women killed because they were prevented from leaving burning buildings wrongly clad; women stoned to death for adultery; rape victims executed; women prevented from driving or being seen with men; school teachers arrested and threatened with whipping for naming teddy bears after toddlers; forced marriages; thieves’ hands cut off; slavery; etc. I could fill dozens of lines in this post describing the horrors of life under sharia law, but I think you get the idea.] By contrast, who today remembers that the much-loved English common law called for execution as punishment for hundreds of crimes, including theft of any object worth five shillings or more? How many know that until the 18th century, the laws of most European countries authorized torture as an official component of the criminal-justice system? As for sexism, the common law long denied married women any property rights or indeed legal personality apart from their husbands. When the British applied their law to Muslims in place of Shariah, as they did in some colonies, the result was to strip married women of the property that Islamic law had always granted them — hardly progress toward equality of the sexes. [Is this a stupid argument or what? What he’s saying is that, because in pre-modern times we in the West were just as bad as Islam is today, we are not allowed to judge Islam by modern standards. This is what happens when multi-culturalism takes over. When your country’s current legal system is manifestly superior to another country’s current legal, you’re flogged with your country’s far distant past as a way to shut you up. Last I looked, we in the West don’t have slavery, women have property rights, thieves aren’t hanged, torture isn’t routine, etc. Indeed, I think we can comfortably separate ourselves by more than 150 years from these types of punishments. In strict Muslim countries, they can only separate themselves by a few minutes under the next horror comes along.]
In fact, for most of its history, Islamic law offered the most liberal and humane legal principles available anywhere in the world. [Again, the same stupid argument. That Islam looked good compared to the law in the Middle Ages is a straw man argument. I’m not comparing Islamic law to medieval or even pre-Enlightenment law. I’m comparing it to 21st Century America or Europe.] Today, when we invoke the harsh punishments prescribed by Shariah for a handful of offenses [handful!? Homosexuality; driving; consorting with men; wearing anything but a tent; leaving the house alone; stealing; adultery. In what parallel universe is Feldman living?], we rarely acknowledge the high standards of proof necessary for their implementation. Before an adultery conviction can typically be obtained, for example, the accused must confess four times or four adult male witnesses of good character must testify that they directly observed the sex act. [Somehow this high level of proof hasn’t worked too well for the women standing accused, has it?] The extremes of our own legal system — like life sentences for relatively minor drug crimes, in some cases — are routinely ignored. [Again, a straw man. That our system is not perfect does not relieve the sharia system of its manifest awfulness and abuse.] We neglect to mention the recent vintage of our tentative improvements in family law. [Yeah, but Prof. Feldman — we have improved them. Sharia hasn’t.] It sometimes seems as if we need Shariah as Westerners have long needed Islam: as a canvas on which to project our ideas of the horrible, and as a foil to make us look good. [Don’t you love being psychoanalyzed by an ignorant buffoon?]
I’m exhausted. How many stupid statements and dishonest rhetoric can you pack into just four paragraphs? Feldman does go on to ask an interesting question which is why is sharia law growing in popularity. However, given his rhetorical stance in the first four paragraphs, who can trust his analysis in the rest of the article? I know I can’t. He’s established himself as a confabulator, a trickster, a con artist and an ignoramus. Why would I believe anything he says?
I do know that Islam does tend to be attractive in anarchic places, because it promises stability and tight control. (Witness the rise of the Taliban after the chaos left in the wake of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.) It’s the “strong man” syndrome, except it plays out as the “strong religion” syndrome. That sharia doesn’t deliver on its promises, that it provides a theocratic totalitarianism, coupled with hate-filled rhetoric (aimed at Jews, Israel, America, homosexuals, women, etc.), will never stop the masses from seeking something that they believe will provide them with greater safety with and control over their day to day lives. Also, sharia, unlike our Western legal system, is inextricably intertwined with salvation. If you tell people that their eternal salvation is dependent on following a certain system, no matter how dreadful, and how medieval, that system is, many will do that — as was certainly the case in the ancient world for many thousands of years.
As for Feldman’s basic argument, which is that, if everyone is doing it, it must be okay, it’s manifest that his mother, when he was a child, never asked him that most basic of parenting questions: “If everybody jumped of a cliff, would you jump too?”
Hat tip: JL
UPDATE: My friend Patrick has written a very interesting post that dovetails nicely with my attack on Feldman’s spurious comparison between pre-modern Western law and current Islamic law. In it, he both agrees with a Sister Toldjah post and disagrees with it:
My friend Sister Toldjah has a long post up arguing that it is muddle-headed for the political Left to defend Barack Obama’s cozy relationship with an anti-Semitic racialist conspiracy theorist on the grounds that there are kooky pastors on the Right as well. In that thesis, I agree with her completely. From a logical and rhetorical point of view “So’s your mother” and “everybody does it” are bankrupt defenses.
I take issue with other parts of her post, however, because I think she’s too fine a person to carry water for the ignorant likes of megachurch pastor John Hagee. Any man who believes as Hagee does that “the Roman Catholic Church…plunged the world into the Dark Ages,” and thinks Pope Piux XII “never, ever slightly criticized” Adolph Hitler is a bigoted maroon of the first order.
The rest of his post is a spirited defense of the Catholic church in times past.
I think Patrick makes an excellent point, one of which is that information needs to be examined in context. Looking back from modern times, there are things that we can’t like about the Dark Ages and Medieval church (the burnings, for one thing). However, we in the modern era stupidly forget that you cannot measure past institutions — especially institutions that flourished in the distant past — against our own times. Instead, you have to measure them against their own times. For example, much as it’s trendy now to praise Druids and other pagan religions, Christianity was light years ahead of the competition if only one for one reason: it stopped human sacrifice. To me, that’s a biggie.
In the same way, it’s utterly ludicrous for Feldman to defend the horrors of certain aspects of sharia law by saying that, once upon a time, we were just as bad. We aren’t as bad now, but sharia still is.