Saturday, April 26, 2008

The new book by Noah Feldman. I have written before about this fellow, and I have made it clear that I have no respect for him whatsoever. When I read people like Feldman, I feel nostalgic to the old Orientalists who--with all their flaws and biases--were largely learned, erudite, knowledgeable, and had mastery over so many languages. But I really kept an open mind to read his new book: The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State published by Princeton University Press. I kid you not: I have never EVER in my life read a whole book and found not one insight in it, like this. Not one insight. And how could one write (and teach) about Islamic law when his sources are all in English: this is like having somebody teach about Jewish law and not knowing Hebrew. It would be unimaginable, as Muhsin Mahdi once told me--and Feldman dared to dedicate the book to Mahdi. If only Mahdi was alive to protest--in his own quite way of course. There are people who write on Islamic law now: and they know the material: Cook, Hallaq, Dallal, Abu Al-Fadl, etc. Feldman would refer to important texts of Mawardi or others by citing English translations. (One article by H.A.R. Gibb on Mawardi's political theory is more informative and insightful than this whole book). Can you imagine the classic US professors of Islamic law, like Schacht at Columbia or Khadduri at SAIS doing the same? Probably the only "Arabic" source he was capable of citing was Ikhwanweb, or something like that. I really don't know what he teaches in his classes: he seems too unqualified based on his writings and interviews that I have read. I will share with you some of his pearls of wisdom: "The absence of political justice, I argue, is a results of the failure of these modern states to establish themselves as legal states." (p. 8) So there is no justice because there is no...justice? He said: "The written constitutions of both Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, guarantee equality of men and women..."(p. 11) But the apologist of the two occupations failed to mention that there were more WRITTEN guarantees of gender equality in Afghanistan under Najibullah and Iraq under Saddam. And you speak to me about written guarantees? North Korea, according to its constitution, is a democracy? And you need not brag about a state that regressed in women's rights from the times of...Saddam. Saddam, for potato's sake. He says that Khalifah is "a substitute." (p. 23). And this guy is a professor of Islamic law and can't get the meaning of khalifah right. And my colleague and friend Ahmad Dallal is correct in protesting at those who refer to Wahhabiyyah as "reform" movement, as does this dude here.(p. 93) And his account of Ibn `Abdul-Wahab is quite sympathetic (he calls him "great" and he calls Ibn Saud "great" but this is unrelated to the fact that House of Saud endowed the Islamic law program at Harvard where he teaches. House of Saud always insists that there are no strings attached to their fundings but if people who receive Saudi funding feel the need to chant: "with spirit, with blood, I shall sacrifice myself for you, o House of Saud" that is their business. And I never heard of Ibn `Abdul-Wahab referred to as "charismatic" (p. 94) unless one considers the stoning of a woman an act of charisma. The brother of Ibn `Abdul-Wahab himself denounced him, although Natana Delong-Bas makes no mention of this in apologetic her book on Wahhabiyyah. He compares the House of Saud to a political party (p. 98). On page 145 he makes his views on Iraq clear: he does not object US occupation, or any other occupation I presume. He merely objects to the "inadequacies of the US occupation", which means that they did not listen to his advise. What is amazing about his writing style is that he prepares the reader in a page or more for something important: for some brilliant insight and then...nothing. He basically is telling the reader: stay with me: I am about to dazzle you with something very deep and very sophisticated and then, something so bland and vapid, that you get the urge to turn the TV and watch Muhammad hasanayn Haykal talk. He said: "The call for an Islamic state is therefore first and foremost a call for law."(p.9) Professor Joseph Schacht: can you come back from the grave? Thanks. We need you bad.