One person with a belief is a social power equal to ninety-nine who have only interests.--
JOHN STUART MILL [from REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT]
Just about a week ago now as I type this- on Friday 22 July 2011- what can only be described as a madman wearing a fake police uniform arrived on a small island within a lake (really more of an inland fjord) in Norway located not all that far from the country's capital, Oslo, and created what simply had to be sheer terror- as well as carnage- as he shot and killed scores of young persons, mostly teenagers, attending an annual youth camp conducted by the Norwegian Labor Party, currently the Government party in that country. Just hours before, a powerful car bomb- apparently planted by this same individual- exploded in the Government Quarter of Oslo, killing several and injuring several more while severely damaging the building housing many Government Ministries, including the office of the Prime Minister of the country (although Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was not present at the time and, thereby, was unhurt in what can only be described as one of two terrorist attacks [the other being the lone gunman's rampage on Utoeya Island later that day]).
When the smoke cleared- literally!- the alleged perpetrator turned out to be a 30-something Norwegian man who- if only based on the photos of him that showed up in various and sundry media in the aftermath of his deadly deeds- seems the epitome of what was meant by the Nazis of 1930s when they used the phrase "Aryan Master Race": indeed, he had posted material to the Internet that included a Manifesto of sorts declaring himself to be a Christian (if only in the cultural, as opposed to religious, sense) as well as a Twitter account and Facebook page- evidently first set up not all that long before the 22 July attacks- on which was posted a rather mangled paraphrase of the John Stuart Mills quote beginning this section of this piece: one in which he used the number 100,000 instead of Mills' 99 and, in addition, left out Mills' reference to "a social power" (telling, considering that his actions were most antisocial), instead referring to "a force of" his 100,000-- I can't be at all sure just where he might have gotten his version of the Mills quote but it doesn't sound, to me, as if he is all that familiar with Mills' Representative Government: if, in fact, he is, his actions that day certainly did not evince any respect for the concept!
The kind of Pan-Nordic, Aryan-racial, cultural Christian conservative anti-Social Democracy viewpoint that the perpetrator's screed so obviously endorsed is actually nothing new in the Scandinavian countries. Despite their image as a prime example of now-early 21st Century Progressive Modernism, the countries of Scandinavia yet remain- in many ways and within significant portions of their respective jurisdictions and populations- a "marchland" of Europe; despite real- and, at least for the most part, successful- attempts at being in the vanguard of sociocultural advance, the geographical position of Scandinavia is, after all, still the same as it was back during the Age of the Vikings that was coming to an end (largely through the adoption of mainstream Medieval Christianity) a millennium ago. Therefore, try as the citizenry might, underneath the veneer of modern Scandinavian culture and social life there ever lurks the isolated barbarian who wishes to become the quintessential Nordic hero- that Siegfried made more widely known to modern Europe through the operas of Richard Wagner, for example- doing great deeds in order to achieve his place of honor, after death, in Valhalla where he can await the signal from the great god Odin that his aid is needed upon the advent of Ragnaroek (more or less, Nordic Mythology's version of Christian 'Armageddon')...
except that this "Siegfried" (one Anders Behring Breivik) surrendered to the police, rather than allow himself to be slain, even while yet proclaiming, if only in the course of police examination of him post-arrest, that he was merely the single (as well as singular) first breaking wave of coming Revolution!...
an, in large part, anti-Islamic Revolution intended to "save" Norway- perhaps, Scandinavia as a whole- if not all of Europe and, possibly, the entirety of Western Civilization for his particular, twisted version of said Western Civilization. How ironic, then, that- in the immediate wake of the Oslo bombing and while the connection to the shootings on Utoeya was yet unclear- the gut reaction of most observers worldwide was that this had to be an act of Islamic terrorism (even a President named Barack Hussein Obama cannot well shy away from this one as, in his initial public reaction to the events of 22 July, he stressed the need for international cooperation to combat this kind of Terror: it was very clear that the President- whatever he or his Administration might say about it now- was, like most of us watching the horror in Norway unfold 'live' on television, thinking of the very kind of Terror inflicted by the likes of al-Qa'eda rather than a "lone wolf" Right-wing nutcase!).
But, more to the point of this piece, is how closely the rhetoric of Breivik's rantings mirrored- where it did not, in fact, outright mimic- anti-Islamic drivel read, heard and seen on this side of the Atlantic in recent weeks, months and years: unreasoning rhetoric that has been ratcheted up quite a bit of late by the coincidental, yet significant, duality of the coming 10th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the first salvos being fired in the political campaign that will culminate in the 2012 American Presidential Election.
Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, then by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest--
JOHN STUART MILL [from ON LIBERTY]
For instance, earlier this month of July 2011, we had the specter of Herman Cain, an African-American (thus, he would- or so I would assume!- have no truck with Anders Breivik's Pan-Nordicism) businessman (a former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, a successful restaurant chain: thus, he can't possibly be that stupid!) who is an announced candidate for the 2012 Republican Presidential Nomination (however quixotic his current bid for that prize might, ultimately, prove to be), pandering to the basest Common Denominator within the populist wing of the Grand Old Party by emphatically declaring his support for those opposed to the building of an Islamic Center in the vicinity of Murfreesboro, Tennessee (this issue has been a controversial one going back to before the 2010 Midterm Elections and, indeed, I myself mentioned it in passing in my own Commentary of last 15 August).
Cain was quoted as saying "I think [the building of the Murfreesboro Islamic Center] is an infringement and abuse of our freedom of religion... [t]his is another way to sneak Shariah law into our laws, and I absolutely object to that". Then, as if this weren't bad enough, Cain went all dumb-ass and said the following while being interviewed on national television but a few days thereafter: when asked if "the community" could prohibit the building of a mosque, he answered "They have the right to do that: that's not discriminating" before later adding that there was "the fact that Islam is both a religion and a set of laws: Shariah law-- that's the difference between any one of our other traditional religions."
To be most fair, Cain has recently backed off the above comments- stating that "[w]hile I stand by my opposition to the interference of Shariah law into the American legal system, I remain humble and contrite for any statements I have made that might have caused offense to Muslim Americans and their friends... Muslims, like all Americans, have the right to practice their faith freely and peacefully." I leave it to the reader of this piece to decide just how much weight to give to Cain's "contrit[ion]" but the fact remains that Cain's original comments parrot views widely held to the right of the center of the American political spectrum, views that appear within Anders Breivik's own tortured Manifesto.
Let us look at these views through the prism of that for which Herman Cain has lately (if not also too late!) apologized:
The first fallacy within these is that Shari'ah is, somehow, being 'snuck' "into our laws"- or, rather, "interfer[ing]... into the American legal system", to use the formulation of same Cain used even in his recent apology (so, while he is no longer intending to offend Muslims, he still holds to something that is altogether unreasonable, as well as illogical).
To begin with (as well as most obviously), the American Federal Constitution- in its 1st Amendment- states, most emphatically, that Congress shall make no law respecting an Establishment of Religion, or prohibiting the Free Exercise thereof... and the Federal Courts have, since at least the 1940s, ruled that- via provisions within Section 1 of the 14th Amendment to that document- the same admonition is applicable to the constituent States of the American Union (even though every American State- in its own Constitution- has some provision for what has come to be called Freedom of Religion: for example, the Constitution of the State of New York provides that [t]he free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed in this State to all mankind-- a clearly far-reaching provision through its embracing "all mankind", not just those professing the predominant religion of American society, which happens to be Christianity; the Constitution of my own State of New Jersey provides that [n]o person shall be deprived of the inestimable privilege of worshiping Almighty God in a manner agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience; nor under any pretense whatever be compelled to attend any place of worship contrary to his faith and judgment; nor shall any person be obliged to pay tithes, taxes, or other rates for building or repairing any church or churches, place or places of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry, contrary to what he believes to be right or has deliberately and voluntarily engaged to perform and, in addition, [t]here shall be no establishment of one religious sect in preference to another. While the New Jersey verbiage- although longer- is not, at first glance, as inclusive as that of neighboring New York (indeed, the Christian milieu of the American Revolutionary era pervades the text, as it goes- unchanged- all the way back to New Jersey's first Constitution upon Independence in 1776), the admonition against Religious Establishment is clear enough..,
simply put: it is part and parcel of American Constitutional Jurisprudence- on both the Federal and State levels- that one is, in the United States of America, free to worship God as one pleases... or worship gods... or, for that matter, not worship at all!
Thus, any "interference" of Shari'ah into the American legal system is patently- where not also plainly... well... illegal!
But- in addition, as well as even more to the point- Shari'ah itself is not at all monolithic!
The closest thing to Shari'ah in so-called "Judeo-Christian" Tradition is, most obviously, Torah in Judaism (yes: doubtless there will be many out there offended merely by the comparison, but the analogy- if only as analogy- is, indeed, a valid one-- as is about to be explained).
Torah (at its simplest, Hebrew for "the Law" [but, more literally, "Teaching" or "Doctrine"]) has a rather wide range of meaning- in the middle of this range, it signifies what Christians in particular and Biblical scholars in general know as the Pentateuch- the Books of Moses: that is, the first five books of the Bible; at its narrowest, Torah is Mosaic Law per se- the 613 Commandments the most devout Jews are expected to adhere to throughout their daily lives (the 1st- in order of appearance in the Pentateuch- being to "[b]e fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it" [Genesis 1:28]; the 613d being to "write a portion of the Torah with one's own hand" [derived from Deuteronomy 31:19: "Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach it to the children of Israel: put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the children of Israel"-- I'll come back to this notion of a Commandment having been 'derived' soon enough])- in between are all the dietary restrictions, code of dress, manner of observing Holy Days, even regulations of relationships between the sexes that have come to be associated with Orthodox and, especially, ultra-Orthodox Jews (such as the different branches of the Chasidim) in the minds of (in particular) non-Jews (as well as Jews of a more "liberal" theological/religious bent)...
but, at its broadest, Torah is the whole of Jewish Law- whether specifically codified in the Pentateuch or not- and it is here that we come to the notion of "derivation" seen in the 613d Commandment.
Note that Deuteronomy 31:19 does not specifically command a devout Jew to, at some time in his life, write a portion of Torah himself-- it was rabbis, over a long period of time, who took the concept of "writ[ing] ye this song" literally [the "song" in question is that which is known Song of Moses, which makes up the bulk of the 32d chapter of Deuteronomy and, more or less, summarizes the purposes of Mosaic Law ("My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distill as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass" [Deuteronomy 32:2])]-- Jewish rabbis took the admonition to put the song (or, rather, the "doctrine" of which it speaks- Torah itself) into the mouths of the children of Israel "that this song may be a witness for me" via writing as requiring a devout Jew to not only study, but to write, Torah... in its broadest sense. In this way, a Commandment to "write Torah one's self" was derived from (although not explicitly stated within) Deuteronomy 31:19.
The process is called "Biblical Exegesis" (Exegesis being from Greek, meaning "to explain" or "to interpret") and, in Judaism, it results in Halakhah ("the path one takes")- Jewish Jurisprudence, including rules and customs of Jewish life which are not necessarily found, nor specified, in the Pentateuch itself. Such halakhic precepts were, early in the Christian Era, codified into the Mishnah ("repetition"- since study of Torah [again, in its broadest sense] was- and, in fact, still is- based on rote learning [during which actually writing, as required by the 613d and final Commandment of the Torah (in its narrowest sense), was (and is) to be utilized]: the first extra-biblical code of Jewish Law, which forms the core of the Talmuds) and, much later (as the Medieval became the Modern era of World History), gathered into the compilation known as Shulchan Aruch ("the Prepared Table"-- the most authoritative (indeed, the standard) collection of Jewish Law- Torah via Halakhah- for Orthodox Jewry.
So, why have I brought all of the above regarding Judaic Exegesis into a discussion of Islamic legal precepts? Because, other than the fact that Shari'ah derives from a different scriptural text and, thereby, from a wholly different theological foundation, the process of divining the precepts of Sharia is generally similar to that used by Jews in discerning Torah.
For, just as- to a Jew- Torah is Divine Law, to a Muslim Shari'ah is Divine Law.
In the case of Shari'ah (the term means "path" or "way"), such Islamic Law is derived principally from the Qur'an (the Holy Book of Islam: a collection of what Muslims believe to be Revelations by Allah [which is simply Arabic for "God" (after all: even Arabic-speaking Christians call God "Allah"!)] to Muhammad, whom Muslims regard as the most important- and last- Prophet of God) and the Hadith (actually plural, as the term refers to more than one collection of sayings and/or acts attributed, by tradition, to Muhammad). The closest thing to Hadith in Judaism (and here, admittedly, the analogy is not nearly as good) would be the Gemara ("that which is studied"), collections of Commentaries on the aforementioned Mishnah by several centuries of Jewish rabbis and which make up the bulk of the Talmuds (the analogy with Hadith is most inexact here because these rabbis were not seen- nor did they see themselves- as Prophets [in traditional Rabbinical Judaism, the age of Prophecy ended c. 400 BC when Ezra arrived in Jerusalem with a scroll of the Torah (here meaning the Pentateuch alone) and- with just such a document serving as, in essence, the "written Constitution" of the Jewish Community of the Second Temple period- there would, therefore, no longer be a need for Prophets], whereas Hadith purport to be traditions going all the way back to the most important Prophet in Islam; at the same time, as with the Hadith, the sayings and acts of the rabbis of the Gemara were transmitted to subsequent generations as something of "tradition" [indeed, as seen in the Talmuds today, they certainly are!] and it is in this way that here making an analogy between Gemara and Hadith might still prove useful).
But Shari'ah in its broadest sense as Islamic Law in general (as well as in the way in which those who denigrate, where not also fear, Islam seem to use the term) is not merely that which might be found in either the Qur'an or among the Hadith. Just as Jewish rabbis discerned- and continue to discern- Halakhah (precepts of Jewish Law) within Torah (in all its senses) and, thereby, have expanded the very meaning of the word Torah, Islamic legal scholars discern what they call Fiqh (meaning "understanding" or "comprehension") within Shari'ah.
Simply put: Fiqh is within Islam what Halakhah is within Judaism...
and it is Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) that the average non-Muslim (including those, like Herman Cain, so concerned with the imposition of Shari'ah on the general community) tends to think of when they use the term Shari'ah.
In Judaism, the Biblical Exegesis that is the essence of Halakhah has led to many different- where not also differing- interpretations of Torah (again, in all its senses): there are differences between the customs and traditions of Sephardic Jews (those whose ancestors, in Medieval into early Modern times, were in the countries of the Mediterranean [most notably: Spain and Portugal- where they were to become victims of the Inquisition and/or Expulsion]) and Ashkenazi Jews (those whose ancestors, in the Medieval and well into the Modern era, hailed from Germany, Eastern Europe and Russia); meanwhile, the Ashkenazi divided into the three great denominations of Modern Western Judaism- the "conservative" Orthodox, the "liberal" Reform and, in between, the Conservative Jews (not to also mention such as the Reconstructionists, the ultra-"liberal" Ethical Culturalists, the ultra-"conservative" Chasidim [themselves divided into groupings such as Lubavitch and Satmar] and even Messianic Jews [such as the well-known "Jews for Jesus"]... also, and perhaps confusingly to an outsider, Judaism is the only one of the three great Monotheistic Religions in which one can be an Atheist and still remain- in this case- a Jew! [though more devout Jews- particularly the Orthodox- would consider such an atheistic Jew to be an apostate (but, if his mother was Jewish, he remains a Jew nonetheless!)]...
the point is that deriving legal precepts from Scripture, as has been- and is still- done as regards Torah in its broadest sense, does not at all lead to a single monolithic, overarching Law (and, indeed, the differences between the aforementioned branches, denominations and schools within Judaism- however slight they might seem at first glance- are, very often, taken most seriously! [there is, for example, the oft-told story of the chazzan (a cantor: one who is professionally trained to lead the congregation in song- or, at times, chant solo- during services in the synagogue) to whom his Orthodox Jewish neighbors (some of whom would even cross the street in order to avoid sharing a sidewalk with him!) would refuse to say "Shabbat Shalom" ("peaceful Sabbath") on Friday evenings or during the day on Saturday because he would often serve as the cantor in a nearby Conservative synagogue in which women were allowed to more directly participate in the service (or even be cantors themselves!)-- something anathema to the Orthodox])...
and so it is in Islam precisely because different Islamic legal scholars will have differing precepts as Fiqh: after all, besides the two divisions of Islam into Shi'a and Sunni (and the vast majority of Muslims in the World today are Sunni), there are several schools of Shari'ah within Sunni Islam alone...
thus, the most relevant question that should be asked of the all too many Islamophobes screaming STOP SHARIAH LAW FROM COMING HERE!, is: "well... just which school of Shari'ah?"... if you, gentle reader, don't happen to know: don't worry... these fearmongers don't know either!
He who knows only his side of the case, knows little of that.--
JOHN STUART MILL [from ON LIBERTY]
In the end, the most disturbing statement of Herman Cain in his original, pre-contrition position was that in which he opined that "Islam is both a religion and a set of laws, Shariah law. That's the difference between any one of our other traditional religions."
As I have already demonstrated in the previous section of this Commentary, Judaism is both a religion and a set of laws: Torah!
So was Cain originally arguing in favor of banning synagogues as well as mosques? Jewish Community Centers as well as Islamic Centers? Shutting down yeshivas (places for the study of Jewish religious texts, such as the Torah or the Talmuds) on, or so I would have to presume, a similar premise that at least the more Orthodox within Jewry might, thereby, seek to impose Jewish Law upon the American legal system?
Truth be told, this very kind of Antisemitic drivel was once heard, and for decades (especially once mass immigration of Jews into America accelerated in the 19th going into the 20th Century), throughout America (sad to say, there yet remain parts of the United States where it still is!). It, much like the anti-Islamic drivel discussed herein, sought to justify the unjustifiable: quotas which restricted the number of Jewish students who could attend prestigious colleges and universities, to take just one glaring example (and there are many Jewish senior citizens still alive, in 2011, who can remember such awful things!)
Roman Catholicism, meanwhile, has its Canon Law- as well as the contents of centuries of, for instance, Papal Encyclicals which are intended to guide the Faithful in the application of moral and ethical Truths (as such might be discerned by the Church) to their own everyday lives...
so, what now? Ban the building of parish churches and cathedrals? Close parochial schools?
(Then again, I was already alive on this planet- breathing its atmosphere as a 4 year old- when people [with a straight face, mind you!] seriously discussed the now-seemingly bizarre notion that a Roman Catholic may not be able to serve as President of the United States on grounds that he might take orders directly from the Vatican...
But if those who may well share Mr. Cain's original views might wish to at least be consistent, instead of merely hypocritical... hmmm... maybe! ;-)
The websites intending to so "stop Shariah Law" are themselves legion (simply type "stop shariah law" [or "stop sharia law"- spelling? Your choice!] into your favorite search engine) and many, if not most, of them are quite disingenuous (where not outright intellectually dishonest) for they, rather quickly (over the course of no more than several paragraphs in many cases) yet subtly, shift their agendas: 'Stop Sharia Law' soon becomes 'prevent Sharia- that is, foreign- Law from coming into our judicial system'... then one is soon reading about "keeping our courts from unconstitutionally enforcing foreign law" (any reference to Shari'ah has, by now, gone right out the window!-- but, if you're so afraid of Shari'ah that you're just about checking for Islamic clerics underneath your bed and imams in your closets before you turn out the lights at night-- too late!: you're already sucked in) and then, next thing you know, you're reading about how Federal "activist" judges are daring to apply International Law in cases before them in violation of the Constitution
(except that it's not in violation of the Constitution... Article VI, clause 2 of the Constitution of the United States specifically includes all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States under the rubric of the Supreme Law of the Land (along with [t]his Constitution and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof) re: which the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding ... further: Article III, Section 2, clause 1 specifically states that [t]he judicial power shall extend to all cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority...
but these people won't tell you that!)
In the end, then: we have people out there who are playing on post-9/11 Islamophobia in order to gain support for getting some "anti-foreign law" legislation passed by Congress because, as things turn out, some judge wouldn't- for instance- let them shoot certain birds in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918...
how nice!... NOT!!!
Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.--
JOHN STUART MILL [from his AUTOBIOGRAPHY]