April 26, 2010 1 Comment
As was proven by Sigmund Freud, in his final book on Moses, the best way to undercut someone’s argument is by repositioning that which their critique rests upon; for example Freud had a clear choice when the Nazi’s went from intimidating Jewish households to eliminating them – he could hurl abuse at Nazism, or radically rearticulate the grounds on which Judaism were built upon.
He chose the latter; the writing of one psychoanalyst could not take down a whole army, so he decided to turn the pen on himself, and his race, in order to knock off balance the understanding of Jewish history that the Nazi’s thought they had nailed.
Moses, Freud mentions in his book, written while exiled in Britain before he died, was an Egyptian priest of Akhenaten, and not, as is erroneously assumed, originally Hebrew. As such, he told Arnold Zweig in a letter, “Moses created the Jews” as well as noting that “it was not God who chose the Jews … but Moses.”
Instead of writing antagonistic polemic towards the fascists, like many other exiled Jews had, he aimed to show that everything the Nazi’s thought they knew about the Jews was wrong, instead of accepting the Nazi’s knowledge and arguing from the perspective of justice alone (if there was anyone who could attack the psyche in such a way, it was Freud).
It is one thing simply to put up a defense to someone’s crazy ideas; but the real way in which to throw their argument off course is to show that everything they know is wrong, even by searching from within the tradition that they ascribe themselves to, in order to show that everything they know even about themselves is wrong.
This is what I aimed to do on the subject of the far right within Islam – and what I continue to do with Freud’s method as my mentoring method – throw off the enemy’s argument by creating conditions where they doubt their knowledge, and furthermore their self-knowledge.
But this time it is on sharia law, and how Muslims interact with it in so-called non-Muslim jurisdictions (such as the UK).
In February 2008, in response to Rowan Williams’ comment on the (“unavoidable”) role sharia law has in UK law, Professor Shaheen Ali of Warwick university commented on the “current debate around the place of ‘Islamic Law’ within the UK legal framework“. She noted some very interesting things which I will outline here, but still recommend following the above link and listening to for yourself.
In her introduction to what Sharia law is, to put the argument in its correct context, she pointed out that:
- sharia by defintion is a code of life; but not legally enforceable rules and principles
- there are 7 denominations from where the so-called Islamic law can be ascertained; 4 on the Sunni side, as well as the many sets and subsets that exist within the Shia strain of though – and they very much fail to find convergence between themselves
- there are 57 muslim jurisdictions in the world that appeal to different legal precepts – varying significantly from schools of thought from in Iran to Malaysia to Saudi Arabia
- to try and introduce all those different perspectives in to the UK legal system by the 10% + of Muslims in UK would be very problematic indeed
And with regard to what the laws have to say about how a Muslim is to conduct oneself in a non-Muslim country, Shaheen Ali contests that:
- there is already a code of practice on how a Muslim conducts themselves and what their obligations viz-a-viz the country to which they now call home
- Britain affords a legal system to all its habitants and is therefore congruent with Islam and social justice
- Britain does not put a curb on the practice of the 5 pillars of Islam (Shahada – the professing of oneself to be a Muslim; Salat – prayer; Zakat – to give to charity; Sawm – the ritual fasting; Hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca), therefore the laws here must be respected by Muslims, stipulated, Professor Ali states, by “Islamic law”.
Bridget Prentice, Justic Minister, at a Westminster Hall debate, said on the subject:
Nothing in the law in England and Wales prevents people from abiding by sharia principles if they wish to do so, provided that it does not conflict with the law in England and Wales. If it did, the law in England and Wales would prevail.
For Professor Ali sharia principles are personal codes regarding religious codes, but the stereotypes of cutting limbs off as punishment, and the social exclusion of women is what is thought of by sharia – a point she blames the media for.
But that is not to say these stereotypes are not perpetuated by some Muslims themselves; only Professor Ali is doing as Freud did and formulating an argument that questions the foundations of the enemy’s knowledge. For those to whom sharia law means Islamicising Europe should have their argument stunted significantly by the words of Shaheen Ali.
Another marker we might also like to look out for is what counts as official Islamophobia (a term subject to much debate and confusion). To want to do damage to one who insults Islam is wrong beyond comprehension and inadvertently suggests the inability of such a person to debate on intellectual terms (it is no coincidence that sentiments such as this one shortly follow views that sharia law replace all existing forms of law – like a pluralistic law which is able to inhabit sharia law closer to how Ali terms it, and how Prentice, above, noted it). For Ali the only time when a Muslim should feel they can’t be a Muslim and respect the law of the country in which they inhabit is when they are unable to practice the 5 pillars as mentioned above.
Although what Ali has said won’t stop unpalatable views from far right elements within Islam that the UK is un-Islamic and that “soldiers of Islam” should rise up, it does show how wrong they are, not simply from one meeker opinion to theirs, but is even wrong within the context of Islam, which they are supposedly voicing.
Freud did not simply say to the Nazi’s that they were wrong in his opinion; he showed how the grounds for their knowledge were obscured, and it is precisely this which Professor Shaheen Ali has done to dangerous voices on the conservative and fascistic schools of thought within Islam; for which we on the side of democracy and justice should be grateful.