Monday, 26 May 2014

The New Statesman's Sholto Byrnes Embraces Sharia Law

First posted: 12th June, 2010


i) Introduction
ii) Sharia Brutality
iii) Hamas and Sharia Law
iv) Islamic States and Muslim Countries
v) Sholto Byrnes on Tariq Ramadan
vi) What is Justice? What is Islamic Justice?
vii) The Fluffy Case of Malaysia


It will not come as that much of a surprise that the New Statesman has published an article in defence of sharia law. (Indeed it is an article almost in favour of sharia law.) That lack of surprise will be a result of the general fashion for all things Islamic and Muslim displayed in many Leftist, especially Far Leftist, circles. These people have a lot of time for Islam and Muslims. This is primarily because they are quantifiably non-white, non-Western, non-capitalist and all the rest. And how can any Leftist ask for more than that from another group?

However, most Leftists simply ‘defend’ Islam and Muslims, or at least they think and say they do. Sholto Byrnes, in his article, goes further than that. He ‘embraces the diversity’ which is sharia law.

Sharia Brutality

Sholto Byrnes says it’s wrong to pick out the extreme examples of sharia law, such as "beheadings, floggings and amputations for crimes such as theft and adultery’" He says that it is

"akin to holding up a vision of Torquemada’s Inquisition and concluding that this was what real Christianity was."

What a terrible analogy. What a terrible example. For a start, the Catholic Inquisition occurred over four hundred years ago. Islamic or sharia beheadings, floggings, amputations and much more are happening this very day in many Muslim or Islamic countries. Not only that: even a non-Christian would be hard pressed to find justifications of - and theological rationales for - the later Inquisition in the New Testament - or even in the Old Testament. The Koran, on the other hand, is jam-packed with brutality. More importantly than that: it is jam-packed with rationales of - and encouragements to – brutality - and not just in the case of sharia law. That’s forgetting the hadith, which are even worse in this respect.

More particularly, Mohammed was a warrior and thus ‘a great role model’ for killers and brutalists over the last 1,400 years. Jesus, on the other hand… well, do I need to spell it out? No doubt there are select passages in the New Testament which could be used, and have been used, to rationalise and encourage brutality and such like. However, brutality and religious militancy are not the messages and almost the be-all-and-end-alls of the New Testament, as they are in the Koran. At least that’s what very many non-Muslims conclude both when they first read the Koran and then when they read it again.

Sharia and Hamas

After all this talk about sharia, Byrnes mentions Hamas. What he says about Hamas is very odd and is almost a non-sequitur. He mentions a publication which says that "understanding sharia is the key to a peaceful coexistence with Hamas" – that is, Israel’s "coexistence with Hamas". Eh? Why doesn’t Byrnes go into further detail on this? In any case, I would say that the Israelis, as a whole, probably know more about sharia than any other non-Muslim group. After all, as Byrnes suggests, they live under the dark shadows of both Hamas and Hezbollah, who both implement sharia law. (Hamas has recently introduced crucifixion in law, if not in practice.) How will such knowledge help the Israelis ‘peacefully coexist’ with Hamas? I don’t get it. If anything, knowledge of sharia law, or Hamas’s sharia law, should make them more cynical and less friendly towards Hamas. After all, it is part of Islamic law, stated in Hamas’s charter of 1987, that infidel states, such as Israel, should be annihilated. In addition, Israelis, as infidels and ‘transgressors’, must also be punished according to sharia and Islamic law. So what the hell does Byrnes mean by his enigmatic or elliptical statement? Is it just a case of knowledge for knowledge’s sake? That is, if one understands something, one can deal with it better? So if I get to know more about the new Bradford ‘ripper’, will that enable me to leave peacefully with him or ‘coexist’ side-by-side with him? How does knowledge alone, of sharia or anything else, give us grounds for peace and coexistence? It doesn’t.

Islamic States and Muslim Countries

Sholto Byrnes makes a clear logical mistake. A mistake which you would think Islamophiles would ordinarily accuse non-Muslims of making. That is, he does not distinguish ‘Muslim countries’, as he puts it, from Islamic states. Muslim countries are, basically, countries with Muslim majorities, such as Egypt. Islamic states are states which are Islamic - that is, they implement part or full sharia law (amongst other things). This would include Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other states. Thus it is no surprise that most Muslim countries, not Islamic states, do not practice flogging, stoning, etc., as Sholto claims. What about Islamic states? Is it not the case that all Islamic states carry out punishments which fall under ‘the hudud laws’? That is, all Islamic states do flog, stone, amputate and whatnot. Indeed Hamas has recently called for the introduction (or re-introduction) of Islamic crucifixion, as I said ealier.

So when Byrnes says that the hudud laws, which call for such punishments, "are the exception, not the rule, in most Muslim countries", he may well be correct. However, they are the rule in all Islamic states. And that is the important point in that the merely ‘Muslim countries’ may not practice such barbarisms in spite of Islam and the Koran, not because of them. Islam itself cannot take the praise for these Muslim countries not practising harsh sharia law. When Saudi Arabia and Pakistan (under General Zia ul-Haq in 1979) introduced hudud laws, they did so specifically as Islamic states, not Muslim countries. We can now very easily say that Muslim countries did not introduce brutal hudud laws precisely because they were not Islamic states. This quite simply means that these countries are more liberal and less brutal to the extent that they are not Islamic and thus don’t live day-to-day by the Koran and later teachings. Thus, in the end, Byrnes actually scores points against Islam, not for it. He scores points for ‘Muslim countries’ and not for Islamic states. The Muslim countries are praised to the extent that they are not (really) that Islamic at all.

Sholto Byrnes on Tariq Ramadan

Byrnes quotes the Grand Master of Taqiyya, Tariq Ramadan, in full Taqiyya flow. He quotes the Swiss ‘intellectual’ thus:

"[T]he fundamental distinction that should be established between timeless principles…and contingent models."

That’s very theoretical and even post-modern in timbre. What does it mean? Well, it means that the ‘timeless principles’ of Islam should not be tampered with. However, despite the fact that they are timeless, and should never be tampered with, they are expressed or instantiated in what Ramadan calls ‘contingent models’. Doesn’t this simply mean that when a ‘timeless principle’ is made concrete in a ‘contingent model’, then it is no longer a timeless principle at all? How does Ramadan fuse the timeless with the contingent in each case? How can the contingent model legitimately express the timeless principle with losing the latter’s a-temporality? I don’t know because Ramadan does not explain this pseudo-philosophical claptrap. But Ramadan does oblige us by giving us the example of sharia law.

It is sharia law which is a ‘timeless principle’. More specifically, sharia law seen as "a way towards justice". The phrase "a way towards justice" could mean anything! Not only that: the word ‘justice’ could mean anything. More specifically, justice does mean something very different to a Muslim than it does to the average non-Muslim. Thus it is no wonder that something vague or non-specific can’t help but be concretised in ‘contingent models’. The timeless and the vague may not really pass over into the contingent. More precisely, how does ‘a way towards justice’ pass over into a ‘contingent model’? How does sharia law as ‘a way towards justice’ pass over into a contingent example of sharia law? The point is that it can’t. So despite the post-modern jargon, I will not allow Ramadan to have his cake and eat it. I will not allow him to fuse the timeless with the contingent and thus please both Muslim modernisers and Muslim traditionalists.

Let’s be even more specific as to what happens to the timeless aspect of sharia law. Here Byrnes admits that it is

"reduced… to a detailed and specific set of laws".

This proves to be problematic for Byrnes. It is problematic because such a reduction of the timeless to the contingent may, or does, not

"leave room for interpretation or reform".

Byrnes believes that it should leave room for reform but it often does not (in practice, that is). It doesn’t because the fundamentalists, or the Islamists, fixate, as it were, on the timeless. Ramadan and Byrnes, on the other hand, fixate on the contingent. More particularly, they want to somehow fuse the timeless and the contingent and thus "leave room for interpretation or reform". But, as we have seen, this is impossible because the contingent models must take away the a-temporality of the timeless principles.

The fundamentalists and Islamists are on much firmer ground than Ramadan and Byrnes. But, of course, they don’t really have access to the timeless either. However, they are in a better position simply because they emphasise the timeless and say that they want to express it in sharia law(s), even if this is not possible. Byrnes and Ramadan are left with a postmodern fudge that no one will accept except Islamic postmodernists. And I doubt that there are many of them!

Ramadan actually gives us an example of this attempt to fuse the timeless and the contingent. Take the Prophet’s dress sense. Firstly, the contingent:

i) "The concern should not be to dress as the Prophet dressed."

Now take the timeless:

ii) "[one should] dress according to the principles (of decency, simplicity, aesthetics, and modesty) that underlay his choice of clothes… It really is a way, a way toward the ideal."

I can’t help thinking that if one were to dress "decently, simply, aesthetically and modestly", then one would indeed end up dressing something like Mohammed - at least this is how many Muslims will interpret Ramadan’s words, and justifiably so. One can quite easily see how the burka too would be seen as expressing what is ‘timeless’; even though the burka must surely be a contingent mode of dress. In any case, if one must dress decently, simply, aesthetically and modestly, then there will be very little room for manoeuvre, even with Ramadan’s postmodern and ‘contingent’ option.

The end result, as before, is that Ramadan doesn't in fact fuse the contingent with the timeless. This is primarily because there is no such thing as the timeless when it comes to something as unutterably contingent and mundane as a Muslim’s dress sense.

Let’s see more of Ramadan’s fusion of postmodern mumbo-jumbo and Islamism. Now he does so with a brazen, blatant and incredible feat of postmodern taqiyya. And no wonder. He is now talking about the hudud laws which result in the brutal punishments of stoning, flogging, amputation and God knows what else.

Firstly, the ‘timeless principle’ bit.

Even Ramadan himself is happy to say that ‘"hese penalties are on the whole Islamic".

Now for a piece of postmodern taqiyya – the ‘contingent model’ bit.

Although these punishments are indeed Islamic,

"the conditions under which they should be implemented are nearly impossible to re-establish".

First of all, Ramadan is definitely not saying here that he is against these gross

punishments. No. He is only saying that these punishments "are nearly impossible to re-establish" because the ‘conditions’ have changed. Repeat: he is not speaking out against these punishments. He is only stressing the difficulty of re-establishing - or re-creating - the conditions under which they were originally created and then enacted. That’s like saying:

I am in favour of holocausts. But don’t worry. In the conditions we have today, a holocaust simply could not happen.

So Ramadan secures himself a postmodern escape, or so he thinks, by claiming that the timeless principles of stoning adulterous women to death, etc. are not implementable under today’s (postmodern!) ‘conditions’. Again, this is like saying:

Yes, I’m in favour of stoning because it is a timeless principle. However, don’t worry. I am a postmodern Muslim who also believes that the postmodern conditions today will simply not allow women to be stoned to death for adultery. So I’m a pretty harmless Islamist really.

And that is why Ramadan famously called for a ‘moratorium’ on stoning women to death, as well as other delights, rather than their immediate banning. He thinks that there is no need to ban these timeless things because in today’s postmodern age the conditions aren’t right to implement or practice them. Thus a moratorium on 'corporal punishments’ (as Byrnes slimily calls them) is all that we need. That is good enough. Again, it is good enough because women won’t actually be stoned to death under present conditions. That is, in the conditions we now have in Europe and the United States! However, Ramadan is not talking about the 'conditions' in Islamic states or Muslim countries. Thus he is not calling for a ban on such barbaric practices in such countries and states! Only in the ‘enlightened’ and postmodern West. If he were speaking in an Islamic state, or a Muslim country, he would say something completely different. Indeed he does say completely different things when speaking in such places, just as he says different things to different audiences here (the Muslim and non-Muslim).

To repeat: all this means that stoning, etc. are right if the conditions are right (i.e., in Islamic states or even Muslim countries). They are wrong in the West quite simply because the conditions are wrong. The end result is that Ramadan has no principled or moral position against such acts of barbarism. All he has is a postmodern fudge or a postmodern example of Islamist Taqiyya - if you can even imagine such a fusion.

No wonder no one gets Tariq Ramadan. No one is really meant to get Ramadan, if getting him means that one understands both the Islamist part of what he says and the postmodernist part. Or, more correctly, if one is required to understand the incredible and unbelievable overall fusion of the postmodern and the Islamist.

What is Justice? What is Islamic Justice?

The problem with justice, or the word ‘justice’, is twofold. Firstly, we will require a conceptual definition of [justice]. Secondly, we will need to be given examples of justice in practice, as it were. Thus, to a Muslim, or even to Ramadan,

[justice] = df. Whatever the Koran/Allah says is justice is justice (e.g., doing right is just, doing wrong is unjust).

acts of justice = whatever is taken to be an act of justice by Allah or in the Koran, is an act of justice.

Thus, according to Allah, or the Koran:

[justice] = df. the killing of non-believers because they are wrongdoers,

which is itself derived from

[justice] = df. whatever the Koran/Allah says is justice, is justice.

Now we can have:

an Islamic act of justice = stoning a infidel to death

It's clearly no big deal that Ramadan and Byrnes say that what really matters with sharia law is ‘justice’. What is meant by (Islamic) ‘justice’? What things are taken to be examples of (Islamic) justice? We have already dealt with that. Thus, in addition, when Byrnes finishes of by saying that "it is not just Islamists who are in favour of that [i.e., justice]", he is actually saying next-to-nothing!

The Fluffy Case of Malaysia

You would expect an article on the general niceness and fluffiness of sharia law to bring in the case of Malaysia. I asked the question earlier, and it is relevant again here:

Is Malaysia a ‘Muslim country’ or an Islamic state?

This makes a big difference to the argument.

However, let us say that Malaysia is relatively liberal here. How is that an argument for either sharia law or Islam itself? Byrnes says that in Malaysia

"sharia is co-equal with civil law".

That is hardly an argument for sharia law. Firstly, if sharia law is so nice and fluffy, then why do Muslim Malaysians want it only to exist co-equally with civil law? Isn’t sharia meant to be a total system according to both Islam and most Muslims? Yes it is. So why take sharia only half way, as it were, if it is so nice and fluffy? Why do Muslim Malaysians require civil, therefore secular, law at all?

Even if they do allow a place for civil law alongside sharia law, that is hardly an argument for sharia law or indeed Islam itself. We need to ask if Islam itself allows this space for civil law. It does not. The space for civil law has been allowed, in Malaysia and all other Muslim countries, in spite of Islam and not because of it. It is not part of Islam itself, or of sharia law, to allow civil law as well. It is the non-Islamic and non-Muslim aspects of Malaysian society which have enabled civil law to exist alongside sharia law. Again, this does not display the liberality of sharia law and Islam itself. It only shows us that Malaysian Muslims have been influenced by non-Muslim ideas and practices.

There is more to spoil Byrnes’ argument. Yes, Malaysia is liberal, though only relative to other Muslim countries and Islamic states. That relativity accounts for much here. For example, how liberal and democratic can a country be if it includes the following list? -

i) It has a leader who used anti-Semitic diatribes against the Jews of Israel in, of all places, the UN.
ii) It has death for apostasy.
iii) It flogs people for drinking beer.
iv) It called for the death of the cartoonists who drew the Mohammed cartoons.
v) It allows child marriages and calls them ‘Islamic’.

So Malaysia is liberal, yes, though only relative to other Muslim countries and Islamic states. That is not to say much. That is, relative to Western states and countries it is not to say much.

*) The New Statesman article:

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