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Waves in Grass

I've been thinking again about reorganising my blog - splitting the personal content from the political/philosophical, perhaps having the sciency and linky things also elsewhere. I loke writing it all in one place, so my ideas about how to automatically segment it might come into play (although they're kind of complex and don't well fit the current abstraction I'm using. If you're not interested in me personally but like hearing about philosophy/politics (or vice versa), I'll likely be making some changes over the next month or two towards making your life easier.

Some time back, I mentioned that I started on Wael Hallaq's 「Sharia: Theory, Practice, Transformations」 and that I didn't much like the intro. The rest so far has been quite good - while I don't like the idea of religious law (it being based on false premises and poor roots), I admire the structures in Islamic and Judaist philosophy. Centuries of debate on logic and meaning in the context of human nature and evolving human challenges - if there were some way for me to devote my life to this pursuit (philosophy of jurisprudence? legal philosophy? if only there were secular mujtahids or secular rabbis), I would do it. The book does not disappoint, and some of the topics that come up are really interesting. Two in particular:

  • (p68) The founders of schools of thought in early Sharia frequently were ordinary jurist-philosophers who made a few novel contributions but were still continuing the intuitions of their teachers, similarly inspiring the next generation of legal scholars. Later, it became prudent to both minimise recognition of their ties to those they learned from and to assign the innovation of their followers directly to them. This was not done by them - it usually happened after they were dead for some time. In this way (my analysis here), a stronger identity and thought lineage was created fo these schools; given the need to justify opinions in terms of lines of mimetic descent, there must've been enormous pressure to push something into the past as received wisdom rather than claim it oneself. Likewise, the more a historical figure can be aggrandised and set apart from others, the easier it is to feel proud of the school that claims to operate in their name. Does this justify a little dishonesty? It at least explains it. I admire that Hallaq discusses the topic - I would expect it to be a potentially touchy one. He takes the history of these ideas seriously.
  • (p85) He claims that the function of law in Islam is closer to that of morality than in modern western society - Islam has a comprehensive notion of human good into which Islamic Jurisprudence fits, and even in areas where it does not attach penalty, it commonly has an opinion - silence on a topic is more often a conscious decision to mark a topic as truly morally neutral than as undecided. He places this in contrast to Western Law, where prohibition is the only tool and only some immoral acts fall under the competence of the government. I think this is an oversimplification - our governmental system does have more tools than the court system, and paths are paved (broadly, at least) for certain notions of the good that are not mandatory (marriage) or brambles are put up to discourage acts (tax disencentives). Additionally, there is some amount of judicial flexibility built into common law that disqualifies the practice of law in western societies (that use common law, at least) from being entirely mechanistic. Rather than being categorically different, I'd suggest that the difference between these systems is more one of several gradations with a few conceptual divides rather than large categorical differences.
Right now I'm working through the early history of the development of Islamic legal philosophy - I'm looking forward to the coverage of transitional and modern times on that topic.

A few weeks back, I had a good conversation at Taza 21 on the topic of Pakistani politics - this was with a Pakistani person at CMU (I've acquainted myself with a surprising number of those). We talked a bit about his life plans, then the recent assassination, then broader challenges facing the country. I talked a bit about the problems of centralising government in areas used to the more bottom-up governance for which Sharia was designed; he talked about resentment about the US presence in the area, and then he explained (new to me) how the conflict with India figures in - that by portraying India as Pakistan's enemy, the military was able to cement its importance to the Pakistani public, and the teeter-totter relation between private and military-institutional power in Pakistan is responsible for preventing the public from removing dynastic political families (like the Bhuttos, who I've long felt have done little but harm to the nation); when the government was not democratic, the Bhuttos managed to paint themselves as saving it in its reinstitution, each time making it a crony government. Each time the people began to realise how terrible these families are, they lacked the opportunity to bury them forever because they somehow provoked the military to step in. This oscillation prevents the development of the nation and keeps the government and society too weak to develop past the point where theocratic movements are viable. On the upside, he pointed out that in modern times, the military no longer effectively controls school curricula or media, and the previous constant propoganda against India is now very mild. What interests me is that what the military was doing is the same pattern that prevents some hawkish elements in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from every accepting peace (it would make them unimportant), and that in theory, one kind of peace may make a very different (and more imporant) peace possible - by reaching a comprehensive peace between India and Pakistan, Pakistan may be able to fix its democracy and then develop as a state enough to civilise the tribal areas, greatly limiting the militancy-potential of the area.

I note again that except in the very long term, I don't consider peace to always be a good thing, but at least one constraint I would place right now is that any war based on deceptive or manufactured premises should never be accepted. If a conflict cannot be justified honestly based on publicly visible values, it should not be pursued.

Also, except temporarily in very rare circumstances, no socialist should accept too many political figures coming from any one family. Obvious cases like the effective monarchy in North Korea are the most worrying, but even relatively mild versions like the Kennedys and Bushs damage both the populist ideals on which our educational and political systems should be built and have a danger of a private continuity of thought that does not need to pass through the skeptical ear of a stranger.