Libya, Sharia, the Rules of Civilisation, and the LRB

I’ve just written a piece for the London Review of Books on how Libya’s National Transitional Council should set about investigating the death of Colonel Qaddafi in view of their claims to be inspired by Islamic law. It’s paywall-protected, but just so’s you know, it mentions that Qaddafi himself claimed for four decades to be applying the shari’a, complete with amputations for thieves and floggings for fornicators. Instead of speculating darkly about the introduction of Islamic laws in LIbya, journalists on the ground might therefore be better off trying to find out what the NTC proposes to do about the existing ones.

Slightly off topic, but only just, said LRB is carrying on its letter’s page the second round of a dust-up between Niall Ferguson and Pankaj Mishra, viewable here. It follows on from a review of Civilisation (sic), Ferguson’s celebration of Western social, economic, political and moral genius. Mishra has a knack for over-egging puddings when he writes non-fiction, but his targets on this occasion were well-chosen, and his review was a hatchet-job of rare virtuosity. The exchange of letters is correspondingly excitable. Ferguson quiveringly strains to imply that, absent an abject apology, he’ll be consulting his learned friends; while Mishra contemptuously denies that he called Ferguson a racist, ‘in part because he lacks the steady convictions of racialist ideologues’.  Literary bloodbaths being what they are, there’ll presumably be pens at dawn for years to come, but Ferguson’s bluster isn’t likely to go anywhere. Although there are plenty of swivel-eyed right-wingers who would love to take a pop at the LRB, what with its supposed political correctness, anti-semitism and so on, Ferguson himself must realize that the High Court is no place to challenge a hostile book review. Especially because the LRB is clearly standing by its writer, and doesn’t lack for a bob or two. And yet, who knows? The smart money might say the spat ain’t going legal, but bruised egos aren’t smart. Watch this case, as they almost say.

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