The British edition of my book Heaven on Earth has just been launched, and the last few days have been busy. The week began with an interview in the Guardian, in which I proposed that there was nothing wrong with Muslims choosing to have their domestic and property disputes resolved by religious arbitrators, so long as it was entirely voluntary. Given that such tribunals are used by other British religious communities and are subject to all the ordinary laws of the land, it seems to me that it’s to everyone’s benefit that they operate openly – not least because that encourages the scholars concerned to promote Islamic approaches to mediation that are consistent with human-rights legislation. Not everyone agreed, and quite a few critics instantly assumed that I was a dissembling fanatic who secretly favours misogyny and violent punishments all round. For the record, I’m not and I don’t.
Anyway, the original article is posted here, and a follow-up interview with Julian Worricker on the BBC World Service is about 40 minutes into this file. On a similar theme, I’ve also written a blog post for the London Review of Books about the recent decision of a US federal court to injunct Oklahoma’s absurd attempt to ban state judges from acknowledging the shari’a.
Meanwhile, the first reviews of the new book have appeared, and all of them so far have been pretty favourable. You can read them in full via the relevant link near the top of this page.
In a world racked by wars and revolutions, it’s almost possible on occasion to lose sight of the insignificant issues. Almost, but not quite – because there are always some bloggers vigilant to spread absurdities that the MSM can’t be bothered to publish. And one of the most ludicrous of them all, right-wing pundit Pamela Geller (best known for her tireless efforts to call President Obama a lying, terroristic, un-American Muslim) has just excelled herself. As Americans were settling in to celebrate Thanksgiving, she published a warning that patriots risk serving up birds which have been slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law – ‘stealth halal turkeys’, as she called them.
Geller’s capacity to make sense of the world surrounding her is limited, admittedly. Her political views on the Yugoslavian civil war and post-apartheid South Africa are peculiar enough for even some Islamophobes to find her embarrassing, and her support for the English Defence League gives a good indication of where she stands on the political spectrum more generally. And though she portrays herself as a champion of ‘Judeo-Christian’ orthodoxy, no thoughtful observant Jew would happily accept her claim that it is ‘torturous’ for Muslims to slit animals’ throats, given that kosher meat relies on precisely the same method of ritual slaughter. All in all, it seems fair to assume that her terror of halal turkeys is now gaining expression simply because she is hawking the book mentioned at the beginning of her blogpost.
But there is one odd detail that is worth flagging up, all the same – namely, that Geller is not alone in her concerns. Three years ago, a similar turkey-phobia was attributed to Anjem Choudary, the former solicitor whose loudmouthed extremism has long made him the go-to guy for anti-Muslims in search of a straw man. But as far as Choudary was concerned, turkey were anything but a stealthy way of submitting to Islam. Christmas turkey dinners were, in fact, a step down ‘the pathway to hellfire’. Coincidence or conspiracy? Given Choudary’s many similarities to Geller – not just the fear of Trojan turkeys, but also a common hatred of Barack Obama and a commitment to a civilisational clash without end – it would be unfair not to speculate. But only Geller and Choudary can know for sure . . .
Following on from my last post, Rachel Aspden’s blog included a detail which set off an interesting, if virtual, mission of my own. Her account of Tahrir Square on 22 November mentioned that at least some of gas canisters being fired there carry blue ‘Made in U.S.A.’ stamps and are manufactured by a Jamestown, Pennsylvania-based company. Curiosity led me to a recently posted twitpic of a similar shell here, to Combined Tactical Systems Inc.’s website, and thence to a blogpost for the London Review of Books.
Just when it seemed as though all the talk was about Euro crises, things kick off big time down Araby way again. As Syria tumbles towards civil war, Bashar al-Assad has vowed to fight and die there. Saif al-Islam Qaddafi has been detained and subjected to passive smoking, with the possibility of even worse to come. And Egyptians have finally decided that trusting a corrupt military leadership to run bicameral elections over six stages and four months is no sensible way to secure a transparent and representative government. In respect of the latter country, you could do a lot worse than read the despatches of former New Statesman literary editor Rachel Aspden, who’s over in Egypt researching a book at the moment. She’s a friend, admittedly, but personal connections notwithstanding she writes perceptively and elegantly. She’s blogging for Prospect, and posting more here.
Stricken by a pre-emptive anxiety that I’ll miss the Occupy movement after its eviction, I spent a couple of hours at St Paul’s today. It was rather pleasant. Although critics often accuse the protesters of incoherence or obsessiveness, the complaint seems either disingenuous or dull. It applies potentially to all collective action – because groups of activists invariably attract some nutters and back goals which conflict in part – but political demonstrations have a value over and above the discord. Occupy has done a great job keeping questions about regulation and market corruption on the agenda – and the fact that it doesn’t make unrealistic promises or demands does nothing to damage that achievement.
What’s more, although the site was home to a few ranters and at least one dancing leprechaun, critical faculties and intelligence weren’t lacking. While I was there, the crowd was addressed by a guy called Nicholas Shaxson, author of a book called Treasure Islands, who delivered a lucid introduction to the history and contemporary significance of offshore tax havens, explaining how they were fuelling a competition to deregulate among states that was driving down tax bases and welfare provision everywhere. That’s probably obvious to some people, but I hadn’t previously thought about the subject of tax havens at all, beyond my vague and lazy sense that they help very rich people get richer.
Then, in the evening, I went to a party where someone who’s making it her business to find out about such things told me that the United Kingdom is about to take over aspects of the drone campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That came as news to me, but it turns out that it’s been relatively public knowledge since at least May 2011, when the BBC reported here that a squadron of ‘Reapers’ were soon going to be flying out of Lincolnshire’s RAF Waddington. Given that British citizens are now being targeted as alleged insurgents on a fairly regular basis – e.g. these two men – that raises some intriguing issues. Insofar as the government has previously felt the need to comment on such operations at all, it’s suggested that America’s in charge, but if it now turns out that British officials on British soil are identifying British citizens for assassination, that won’t wash as easily. Whatever expediency might support, homicides require justification as a matter of law in this country. More to come.
Just watched a documentary by al-Jazeera-English called Letters from Iran, about the political discontent that’s still seething inside the Islamic Republic. The station’s been accused of pandering to hidden Arab agendas for a long time now – see e.g. this post-Wikileaks report – and it’s sensible these days to regard all coverage of Iran with a scrutinous eye, but the programme was a credit to the channel. Almost a year on from Tunisia and Tahrir Square, it’s a reminder that Iranians were demonstrating and dying back in 2009 – and that the opposition has only been eclipsed, not snuffed out. At the risk of damning with the faintest of praise, it put the stooges of Press TV to shame.
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.
. . . while I compose my thoughts. This is all so shiny and puzzling.