Tuesday, November 30, 2010

good for the goose?

Quick thought: In the post-Facebook post-Google information age, modern individuals are basically being "asked" to get by with a much more limited expectation of privacy. Anybody with internet access can look you up and easily find surprising amounts of information about you. It only takes a few keystrokes to find things that, in a previous era, would have taken a private detective or a dedicated stalker hours or even days of legwork to find out. This is actually not why I'm posting... this is just a (sad and depressing) feature of modern life on the grid which I've blogged about before.

The new thought which occurs to me is that given all of the above, the current Wikileaks controversy should not be exaggerated. The governments of the world should learn to operate with greater transparency and greater public scrutiny analogously to how individuals "have to" live with less privacy today. Now, if there is a clear case of Wikileaks' actions leading to people being in actual danger for their lives then the organization should definitely be prosecuted as appropriate, but most of the revelations which have been reported on seem merely embarrassing at worst. In fact, I suspect that in the long run Wikileaks' actions will tend to be a valuable and illuminating counter-weight to government corruption and dishonesty.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

please don't bomb the suburbs

I just finished reading Upski's latest book: Please Don't Bomb The Suburbs

I've mentioned him before and I used to go to school with him many moons ago. (We went to each others birthday parties way back in elementary school.) Sadly, I've almost totally lost touch with him since high school.

In alot of ways, his latest book is more a continuation of How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office than a sequel to Bomb the Suburbs. The original Bomb the Suburbs (from what I recall) was more about hip-hop music and tagging. And while both have a role in Please Don't Bomb the Suburbs, his latest book deals more with an analysis of the current state of progressive political organizing and Upski's reflections on the pitfalls and challenges of a life of activism.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

saints, patriots, heretics and traitors (part two)

At the same time, religion is supposed to represent matters of "ultimate concern" (to borrow Tillich's phrase) and in principle should properly trump other worldly concerns (including law, family and country). Some positive and principled examples which come to mind would be the various peace churches, the Catholic Worker movement, Martin Luther King Jr. and Shane Claiborne (who wrote an interesting book I've mentioned before called Jesus for President). I normally don't think of them as extrememly political but one could also mentioned the Jehovah's Witnesses who refuse to serve in the military, pledge alleigance to flags or sing national anthems.

In the Bible, one of the more well-known proof texts which is typically used to advocate for some kind of compromise between religion and the state is Matthew 22:15-21

15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”

18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Even though the text is usually quoted to support the idea of compromise, I can't help but wonder if the usual reading is a fundamental misunderstanding. According to the Bible, whose image are we made in? Who is ultimately the Master and Owner of our lives? And in the end, what does Caesar have that God didn't give him in the first place?

In an analagous fashion, Islam tends to eye nationalism with suspicion as a form of idolatry. (Anyone remember Mahmud Abdul-Rauf?) But how can one make a distinction between negative ways of placing creed before country (e.g. Cantor) and positive ones (Martin Luther King)? To be honest, I'm still trying to articulate that for myself.

to be continued....

Planet Grenada:
saints, patriots, heretics and traitors (part one)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

saints, patriots, heretics and traitors (part one)

For the past couple of days I've been thinking about how to best process the recent flap involving Eric Cantor. For those who hadn't heard, Rep. Cantor is a Republican Congressman from Virginia who is set to become the highest ranking Jewish Congressman in history. He also had a recent one-on-one meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, where he assured the PM that "the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the Administration and what has been, up until this point, one party rule in Washington," and that "the Republican majority understands the special relationship between Israel and the United States, and that the security of each nation is reliant upon the other."

Several bloggers are pointing out that Cantor's comments could constitute a felony (a violation of the Logan Act) and in fact Cantor himself has made similar accusations against other members of Congress who have had independent interactions with foreign leaders. Others in the blogosphere are even accusing Cantor of treason and calling for his impeachment. I think he should definitely be given some sanctions for pledging to a foreign leader that he would serve as a check on the White House, but I'm not holding my breath.

The Cantor incident made me think about the general problem of how members of different religious minorities in the US (Catholics, Jews, Muslims) have often been accused of having divided loyalties. And more generally, it's made me think about how the various communities themselves view the relationship between loyalty to God (or religious community or religious principles) and loyalty to ones country and the demands of citizenship.

When minorities are said to have split loyalties (or accused of being unpatriotic or "unAmerican") it can often be rooted in ignorance and can be dismissed as an expression of prejudice or bigotry. (A good example would be how John F. Kennedy's Catholic faith was made into an issue when he was running for President.) And so I'm tempted to say that all such language is illegitimate... except that there are cases of people like Cantor who are exceptions to the rule. On the Christian side we could also point to Premillenialists who base their foreign policy on their anachronistic reading of Biblical eschatology instead of what is objectively in the best interests of the United States and its citizens.

(more later...)

OpEd News: Cantor, Thy Name is Traitor by Saman Mohammadi
Salon: Eric Cantor's Pledge of Alleigance
Laura Rozen: Before Clinton meeting, Cantor's one-on-one with Bibi

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

islam and the secular state (part two)

So I finally finished reading Abdullahi Ahmed An-Naim's Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari'a. To be honest, I was a little disappointed with the book. That isn't to say that An-Naim's ideas weren't provocative or intriguing or worth further contemplation. But I was more impressed by him as a speaker and as a thinker (based on various clips of lectures and interviews available online) than as a writer per se. In the earlier chapters of the book he tended to sound a bit repetitive and I found him a little abstract for my taste.

But he does get particularly eloquent when he is laying out his central premise in the very last chapter:
As a Muslim, I need a secular state in order to live in accordance with Shari'a out of my own genuine conviction and free choice, personally and in community with other Muslims, which is the only valid and legitimate way of being a Muslim. Belief in Islam, or any other religion, logically requires the possibility of disbelief, because belief has no value if it is coerced. If I am unable to disbelieve, I will not be able to believe. Maintaining institutional separation between Islam and the state while regulating the permanent connection of Islam and politics is a necessary condition for achieving the positive role of Shari'a now and in the future.

In many ways, the above paragraph is the heart of the book and the rest of the text is an elaboration and an unpacking of his words here.

I almost want to say that I wish he were more opinionated. I was left wondering how he concretely imagines the "separation of Islam and the state" on the one hand, and the "permanent connection of Islam and politics" on the other. He was at his most engaging when describing the interplay between Islam, the state and politics in particular settings; the caliphate of Abu Bakr (ra) and then more recently in India, Turkey and Indonesia. But I would have liked to hear him share his views on Islam and secularism in other locations; for example, Saudi Arabia, Iran, France, the US and especially his own native Sudan. I also would have liked to see him engage a bit more with the religious arguments of those who advocate for some form of "Islamic government". Maybe that's for the next book?

islam and the secular state
the postcolonial condition of muslim states
conversations with history: abdullahi ahmed an-naim

Monday, November 08, 2010

keith ellison on the tea party, anti-muslim bigotry, yemen and juan williams

Democracy Now!: Rep. Keith Ellison on Tea Party, Anti-Muslim Bigotry, US-backed Assassinations in Yemen, and the Firing of Juan Williams

It is worth noting that one of the few bright spots of this past Election Day is the fact that this brother is staying in congress for another term.

keith ellison and the tea party's view of sharia

Keith Ellison and the Tea Party's View of Sharia by Sumbul Ali-Karamali

oklahoma and the sharia

As you may have heard, 70% of Oklahoma voters recently approved a measure to ban the use of sharia law in Oklahoma courts. I've been thinking about this for a couple of days now and I'm still not sure what the measure really means.

Most of the examples which come to mind when I even try to imagine what "applying the sharia" would mean in the U.S. context are either things which are already clearly prohibited by the First Amendment or things which are clearly protected by the First Amendment. So the Oklahoma referendum fundamentally seems either redundant or unconstitutional.

The U.S. Constitution already protects non-Muslim from having "the sharia" imposed on them, while Muslims should be free to follow the sharia in matters such as marriage, inheritance, business contracts and financial arrangements. And if the terms of such agreements were drawn up in a sufficiently clear manner, why couldn't or shouldn't they be adjudicated by a U.S. court? In fact, Jews and Christians in the US already have established several institutions which allow for alternative conflict resolution according to their own religious principles but with a certain amoutn of legal validity as well. Why couldn't Muslims set up similar "courts" in the U.S.? I've never been to law school but I find it hard to imagine that a referendum which actually singles out a specific religion for special exclusion could pass constitutional muster.

Here is what appeared on the ballot in Oklahoma:

This measure amends the State Constitution. It changes a section that deals with the courts of this state. It would amend Article 7, Section 1. It makes courts rely on federal and state law when deciding cases. It forbids courts from considering or using international law. It forbids courts from considering or using Sharia Law.

International law is also known as the law of nations. It deals with the conduct of international organizations and independent nations, such as countries, states and tribes. It deals with their relationship with each other. It also deals with some of their relationships with persons. The law of nations is formed by the general assent of civilized nations. Sources of international law also include international agreements, as well as treaties.

So in addition to the sharia, the Oklahoma courts apparently can not consider the Sharia Law is Islamic law. It is based on two principal sources, the Koran and the teaching of Mohammed.

The only thing clear about the law is that it loudly says: "We hate Muslims and want to give them a hard time."

But even apart from its impact on Muslims, it seems like the proposal opens up a whole can of worms. It doesn't just try to exclude the use of the shaira but international law as well. Maybe they can start building Black site prisons in Oklahoma to replace Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo since the Geneva Convention apparently doesn't apply there? Or maybe Oklahoma will become a resort for international criminals if extradition treaties are no longer valid there? How does the referendum effect Indian casinos if Oklahoma courts refuse to respect tribal law?

CAIR has already made some legal moves against the referendum (An initial hearing is set for today.) InshaAllah sooner heads will prevail.

Ballotpedia: Oklahoma "Sharia Law Amendment", State Question 755 (2010)
Huff Post: Caliphate on the Range? The Shariah Precedent in American Courts
The American Muslim: Islamic Sharia and Jewish Halakha Arbitration Courts - updated 5/21/10