Dec
08

Shaykh Ahmadou Bamba

Shaykh Ahmadou Bamba lived from 1853 to 1927 in Senegal (excepting periods of exile), who was a religious leader and leader who opposed French colonization. His resistance took non-violent means and was a constant threat to the French. Kimball wrote a biography of Bamba, subtitled "A Peacemaker of Our Time" (2018). The book is not an academic work, for this post I highlight some of the notes on the colonial mindset in Senegal:

"The French believed that a vibrant Islam Would work against their "civilizing mission" [la mission civilisatrice} of spreading French culture in Senegal. Domination of the Senegalese people, therefore, became essential. Thus, a primary aim of Governor Faidherbe was to "pacify" Senegal and create "more enlightened and humane" institutions in the colony". (p. 43-44)

"... a major component of the French agenda was the assimilation of colonialized people via French language and culture through the creation of French schools. Other tenets of the agenda mandated the closing of pre-existing Muslim schools; undermining "primitive" cultures and dialects; controlling the land, the native manpower and political power; and alienating the local people culturally and linguistically." (p. 46)

"In trying to complete the French "civilizing work," Ponty, too, had, in 1908, made a directive to his lieutenant governors to prohibit further importation of Islamic chromo-lithographs. He was concerned with the spread of Islamic books and popular forms of artwork … Ponty thought that the publications and engravings might inspire maraboutic uprisings should be destroyed. He recognized the artwork as a "marvelous instrument of propaganda these thousands of rough engravings constitute here, [that are so] vivid in color and that present the defendants of the only true religion in the most favorable light." (p. 243-244)

Dec
03

Black Rights / White Wrongs - Critique of Racial Liberalism

In 2017 Charles W. Mills brought together past work with more recent additions and reflections into the book "Black Rights / While Wrongs: The Critique of Radical Liberalism". For readers of The Racial Contract (1997), many of the key arguments will be familiar in this book. The author passed away in 2021, this book brings together much of his critical political and philosophical thought for those unfamiliar with his work. A few notes from the book:

"... the hope of redeeming liberalism by self-consciously taking this history into account: recognizing the historic racialization of liberalism so as better to deracialize it - thereby producing a color-conscious, racially reflexive, anti-racist liberalism on the alert for it's own inherited racial distortions. Abstract Platonized liberalism erases actual liberalism's racist history, a blinding white Form that, in pretending a colorlessness that it did not and does not achieve, obfuscates more that it illuminates. The problem is not abstraction as such but a problematic mode of idealizing abstraction that abstracts away from social oppression, and in that way both conceals its extent and inhibits the development of the conceptual tools necessary for understanding and dealing with its workings." (p. xv)

"The promise of liberalism was famously the granting of equal rights to all individuals, destroying the old social hierarchies and establishing a new social order where everybody, as an individual, could flourish, free of "estate" membership. But the reality turned out to be the preservation, albeit on a new theoretical foundation, of old hierarchies of gender and the establishment of new hierarchies of race. Thus the struggle to realize the liberal ideal for everybody and not just a privileged minority still continues today, centuries later. If this struggle is to ever be successful, a prerequisite must be the acknowledgement of the extent to which dominant varieties of liberalism have developed so as to be complicit with rather that in opposition to social oppression." (p. xxi)

"Racial liberalism, or white liberalism, is the actual liberalism that has been historically dominant since modernity: a liberal theory whose terms originally restricted full personhood to whites (or, more accurately, white men) and relegated nonwhites to an inferior category, so that it's schedule of rights and prescriptions of justice were all color-coded. Ascriptive hierarchy is abolished for white men but not for white women or people of color." (p. 31)

"Kant believed in a natural racial hierarchy, with whites at the top, and blacks and Native Americans ("savages") at the bottom. He saw the last two races as natural slaves incapable of cultural achievement, and accordingly (like an old time southern segregationist) he opposed intermarriage as leading to the degradation of whites. Ultimately, he thought, the planet would become all white." (p. 97)

"Unlike the current, more fashionable "white privilege," "white supremacy" implies the existence of a system that does not just privilege whites but is also run by whites for white benefit. As such it is a global conception, including not just the socio-economic but also the juridical, political, cultural, and ideational realms." (p. 117)

"... if a single textural (non-)reference could be chosen to summarize and epitomize Rawls' lack of concern about race it is the following startling fact: nowhere in these 2,000 pages on justice penned over five decades by the American philosopher most celebrated for his work on social justice is the most important American postwar measure of corrective racial justice - affirmative action - even mentioned. It is not merely that the concept is not discussed - even the term itself never appears. Such is the whiteness of Rawls' dikailogical world." (p. 147)


Nov
28

Dignity & Rights: An Islamic Perspective

In seeking to democratize thinking about ethics, recent posts have covered Islamic perspectives on justice and equity, this book covers the Islamic perspective of dignity, from the book "The Dignity of Man: An Islamic Perspective" (1999) by Mohammed Hashim Kamali. A few notes:

"Islam's perception of human rights is not premised on the individual verses nation-state framework. The nation-state itself represents a superimposition which has little claim to authenticity in the authoritative sources of Islam, namely the Qur'an and Sunnah. The Qur'an and Sunnah lend support to the creation of a political order and leadership that takes charge of community affairs and administers justice. But the main actor and audience in all this is the individual, not the state." (p. xii)

"World cultures and traditions tend to differ not only in the value-content of human rights but in regard to many other variables that influence the place and priority that is given to those rights. The western tradition posits freedom in order mainly to avoid the outcome of a despotic of government, while Islam emphases virtue as a goal for both the individual and society. The west emphases individual rights and interests, while Islam gives priority to collective good in the event which the latter conflicts with the interest of the individual." (p. xv)

"Dignity in other words is not earned by meritorious conduct; it is an expression of God's favour and grace. Mustafa al-Sibai and Hasan al-Ili have similarly remarked that dignity is a proven right of every human being regardless of color, race or religion. Ahmad Yusri has drawn the conclusion that 'dignity is established for every human being at the moment of birth'. Sayyid Qutb has similarly stated that dignity is the natural light of every individual. The children of Adam have been honored not only for their personal attributes or status in society, but for the fact that they are human beings." (p. 1-2)

"It is a basic right of all human beings to live a life of dignity, complemented by peace and comfort and the freedom to pursue what brings them happiness and perfection through all lawful means. A Muslim only worships God as his sole creator and sovereign and humbles himself to no one else. The creation and enjoyment of beauty, good health and a clean environment are seen as complementary to the defined lifestyle of Islam." (p. 8)

"Another manifestation of the dignity of man in Islam is its insistence on the essential equality of every member of the human race. All are equal in the eyes of God regardless of race, color and religion. No man has a claim to superiority over another, and there is no recognition in Islam of a class or caste system, a superior race, or a chosen people or any related concept. Man's inherent dignity is sacrosanct and the only ground of superiority is recognized in the Qur'an is God-consciousness [taqwa]" (p. 45)

"Islam's perception of human dignity is predicated on the unity of the origin of mankind, and its basic quality in regard to the essence of humanity, rights and obligations." (p. 102)

Nov
25

Sustainable Qatar

New OPEN ACCESS book

Sustainable Qatar: Social, Political and Environmental Perspectives

Abstract: This open access book provides a topical overview of the key sustainability issues in Qatar, focusing on environmental sustainability from a socio-political perspective. The transition to a sustainable Qatar requires engagement with diverse areas of social-political, human, and environmental development. On the environmental aspects, the contributors address climate change, food security, water reuse and desalination, energy, and biodiversity. The socio-political section examines state strategy and regulation, the place of environmental law and geopolitics and sustainability innovators and catalysts. The human section considers economics, sustainability education, the knowledge economy, and waste management. In doing so, the book demarcates the ways in which the country encounters and grapples with significant challenges and delves into the range of options for future pathways to sustainability in Qatar. Relevant to policymakers and scholars in energy and environment, urban and developmental studies, as well as the arenas of politics, climate change and policy, this book is a landmark collection on environmental policy in the Gulf and beyond.


Nov
23

23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism

Ha-Joon Chang has written a number of excellent books, I've only covered one (Kicking Away the Ladder) on this blog so far. Another of his books – also very accessible and clearly written for non-specialists, is "23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism" (2010). This argument has become more mainstream since Chang started to provide counter narratives a couple of decades ago (Kicking Away the Ladder came out in 2003). A few quotes:

"what we are told by the free-marketers - or, as they are often called, neo-liberal economists - was at best only particularly true and at worst plain wrong. As I will show you throughout this book, the 'truths' peddled by free-market ideologies are based on lazy assumptions and blinkered visions, if not necessarily self-serving notions. My aim in this book is to tell you some essential truths about capitalism that the free-marketers won't." (p. xv)

"The free market doesn't exist. Every market has some rules and boundaries that restrict freedom of choice. A market looks free only because we so unconditionally accept its underlying restrictions that we fail to see them. How 'free' a market is cannot be objectively defined. It is a political definition. The usual claim by free-market economists that they are trying to different the market from politicly motivated interference by the government is false government is always involved and those free-marketeers are as politicly motivated as anyone." (p. 1)

"The wage gaps between rich and poor countries exist not mainly because of differences in individual productivity but mainly because of immigration control. If there were free migration, most workers in rich countries could be, and would be, replaced by workers from poor countries. In other words, wages are largely politically determined." (p. 23)

"When reminded of the protection past of the US, free-market economists usually retort that the country succeeded despite, rather than because of, protectionism. They say that the country was destined to grow fast anyway, because it had been exceptionally well endowed with natural resources and received a lot of highly motivated and hard-working immigrants. It is also said the countries large internal market somewhat mitigated the negative effects of protectionism, by allowing a degree of competition among the domestic firms. But the problem with this response is that, dramatic as it may be, the US is not the only country that has succeeded with policies that go against the free market doctrine. In fact, as I shall elaborate bellow, most of today's rich countries have succeeded with such policies" (p. 69)

"Even when it comes to higher education, which is supposed to matter more in the knowledge economy, there is no simple relationship between it and economic growth. What really matters in the determination of national prosperity is not the educational levels of individuals but the nation's ability to organize individuals into enterprises with high productivity." (p. 179)

"Capitalist economies are in large part planned. Governments in capitalist economies practice planning too, albeit on a more limited basis than under communist central planning. All of them finance a significant share of investment in R&D and infrastructure. Most of them plan a significant chunk of the economy through the planning of the activities of state-owned enterprises. Many capitalist governments plan the future shape of individual industrial sectors through sectoral industrial policy of even that of the national economy through indicative planning. More importantly, modern capitalist economies are made up of large, hierarchical corporations that plan their activities in great detail, even across national borders. Therefore, the question is not whether you plan or not. it is about planning the right things at the right levels." (p. 199-200) 

Nov
18

The Just Society

An earlier post, on Equity and Fairness in Islam, added to conversations in ethics about the balance between equity and equality. Similarly, in ethics classes we look at questions of justice, which usually takes us to Rawls and Pogge. What else might we consider when thinking about these broader justice issues? And, what other traditions, peoples, and cultures could inform that conversation? In 2017, Ramon Harvey published "The Qur'an and the Just Society" (with Edinburgh University Press), providing a useful addition. The book is an academic work (building on a PhD thesis). However, it is largely accessible (maybe for a university audience), with the aim making this ethical perspective more readily available in English. The author concludes by saying: "It is my hope that through sustained careful work of this kind, a distinctive Qur'anic vision of the just society can be adequately represented in the complexity of the contemporary world." (p. 194). A few notes from the book:

"I produce a thematic reading of the Qur'anic blueprint for the just society. That the Quran could contain such an ethical structure beneath the surface of the scripture's language, and encoded within the dynamic reshaping of lives in its first audience, has been a fundamental assumption in writing this book. Angelika Neuwirth seems to have a similar idea in mind when she states, 'There was a vivid image in the Qur'an of the Ideal City - the City of God - long before al Farabi's famous reworking of Plato's Politeia.' I read the Qur'an as an intensely moral text, continuously and repeatedly hailing the reader, or listener, as a responsible agent who must make choices with deep spiritual implications." (p. 2)

"...the Qur'an's story of the human condition holistically can furnish us with key aspects of its moral theology that are lost when considering verses in isolation. The leitmotif of this narrative is God's wisdom to create life as a debt owed and ultimately repaid as a test of morality. Although this notion of wisdom makes human life purposeful and intelligible, there remains an element of ineffability in its application as a quality to characterise the divine. Within the created world, it is represented by the Scale, read here as a Qur'anic analog to natural law. This interpretation, combined with the Qur'an's general discourse and specific notion of fitra, leads to a moral realist metaethics, corresponding to the knowability of at least basic ethical norms before the descent of revelation. The justice that the Qur'an calls upon its audience to establish, then, is predicated on realizing the wisdom of God's revealed Law such that it builds upon His natural law." (p. 25)

"The Qur'an sets the establishment of justice within society as a central goal of human life, yet inextricably links it with the inward quest to be true to the spiritual covenant with one's Creator. Here, then, is a moral teleology to which the normative function of the shariah, the divine law and moral code, is directed. If human beings, by virtue of their intelligence and free will, are able to despoil the world, so too are they called to act as stewards. The guidance delivered through revelation, whether in the form of commandments, prohibition, or recommendations, is not merely to test the obedience of moral agents, but to embed wise purposes [hikmas] within the life of the wider community. Based on this understanding, societal justice [qist] is the condition of society realized by the Wisdom [hikma] of God's Writ [kitab], which matches the scale [mizan] of moral value." (p. 191) 

Nov
13

The Ethiopia Book of Travels

In many of my critiques of books written about Qatar I have focused on the almost exclusive reliance upon the British colonial record for history making, despite other sources being available (notably Ottoman records in that case). I was directed to an interesting translation of a travel dairy of an Ottoman dignitary, sent by the Sultan, to meet with Menelik II to explore anti-colonialist alliances in Ethiopia in the years following the Ethiopian defeat of Italy in their attempted colonization of the country. The travel took place in 1904, and draws on Turkish and Arabic source material, and was translated in 2021 as "The Ethiopia Book of Travels". The book is largely a record of travel logistics and experiences along the road. Nonetheless, this is one of many examples where source material democratization can help with the decolonization of history making.

A contextual note about the book: "The Ethiopia Book of Travels takes you to June 1904 to accompany Sadik Pasha on a mission for sultan Abdulhamid II to go before emperor Menelik II, the ruler of Ethiopia. One of the three missions to Africa by Sadik Pasha to counter the scramble for Africa by West European powers, this volume should be considered a companion to Journey in the Grand Sahara of Africa, republished with contributions from his descendants in Journey in the Grand Sahara of Africa and Through Time." (p. vii)

An interesting reflection on modernity, as it was in 1904: "While we were watching and observing the paradise like surroundings and the sunrise from the hill that we were on, numerous young [] girls were passing, singing with a high voice all at once. The mixture of their voice with the echo was creating a nice harmony. Apparently, they were going from the village to the fields. Rising from behind the hill at this moment, the sun combined its rays with the zephyr and dampness of the morning. The song that the girls were singing happily in this way, the charm of the surroundings emerald like hills were forming such a beautiful scenery that only a skilled painter, a skilled poet would be capable of describing this. It can be seen that the health of these girls wearing a tunic each, walking bare feet over the meadows is much better than those of prosperous girls with the pampering and abundance of civilization." (p. 78) 

Nov
08

Delinking

In 1985 Samir Amin wrote La Deconnexion, which was translated in 1990 as "Delinking: Towards a Polycentric World" and published by Zed. Parts of the book are dated (e.g. discussions of the USSR). My main interest in this book was Chapter 2, on The Problem of Delinking, which sets out some of the theory of delinking. Chapters focusing on capitalism and Marxism (Chapters 1, 3, 4) will be familiar for those who have read Amin's other work. Chapters 5 (Green Movements) and 6 (Islamic Fundamentalism) offer some different perspectives from the author in this book (that are not found elsewhere, as far as I know).

Similar to calls by Ngugi on Decolonizing the Mind, and later to decenter and recenter on socio-cultural and linguistic grounds, were made around the same time (in 1986). Amin calls for polycentrism or a polycentric world, on political and economic grounds. To Amin, delinking is based on four propositions: (1) recognition and contestation of an unequal development maintained by global capitalism, (2) delinking enables space for the social advance, (3) new futures of socialism are not deterministic, those futures must be built, and (4) this is a political project. Whereas the implementation of delinking includes national direction and control of production and the diversification of it, thereby engaging in the world system of trade on self-interested terms (as opposed to those set by others).

A couple of quotes on delinking:

"Ideological and political preparation of a response to the offensive of the North against the peoples of the South requires three axes of action. First, strengthening the unity of the Third World, and of its national and regional components. The greatness of Kwame Nkrumah and his call for Pan-Africanism, which in his day made some laugh and condemn him to the ferocious hatred of others, can now more than ever before be recognized as a clear-sighted awareness of a frailty of a fragmented Africa." (p. 61)

"The question of technology must be reconsidered in the context of these options. Delinking does not imply rejection of all foreign technology, simply for being foreign, in the name of some culturalist nationalism. But it certainly does imply an awareness that technology is not neutral, either in terms of social relations of production, or in terms models of living and consumption. Priority given to the involvement of the whole country, the entire people, in the process of change dictates a mixture of technologies (possibly imported) and renovation and improvement of traditional technologies. By contrast the extraverted option most definitely encourages total alienation in the technology of advanced capitalism. Finally, delinking is in no way synonymous with a refusal to participate in world scientific and ideological currents. Nostalgic culturalist nationalism is a symptom of the crisis and not an answer to it. It indicates the powerlessness of societies at an impasse who have not yet found a way of effectively bringing together renovation and historical continuity." (p. 67) 

Nov
03

Equity and Fairness in Islam

One of the courses I have taught across three continents is ethics. Most textbooks (nearly all) are exclusively eurocentric (other than brief nods to other peoples and traditions existing). An interesting conversation we have in class is engaging with how different ethical theories consider equality and equity. In "Equity and Fairness in Islam" (2005) by Mohammad Hashim Kamali provides a useful (albeit legalistic) perspective from Islamic ethics. A lengthy set of notes for interested students in particular:

"there are basically two types of istihsan namely analogical istihsan and exceptional istihsan. The former consists of a departure from obvious analogy [qiyas jali] to a hidden analogy [qiyas khafi], whereas the latter consists of making an exception to the normal rules of Shari'ah in particular cases. In both eventualities, the jurist relies on his personal opinion [ra'y] and carries out ijtihad on that basis for the purpose of avoiding the rigidity and hardship that are feared from strict conformity to existing law." (p. 76)

"The origins of istihsan can clearly be traced back to the Companions especially the decision of the Caliph 'Umar al-Khatab to postpone the prescribed punishment of theft during the year of famine on the ground that applying the normal rules under such conditions would fail to obtain justice and may even amount to oppression. The Caliph is also on record as having made two different decisions concerning a case of inheritance, known as al-mushtarakah [discussed below], the second of which set aside the normal rules of inheritance and provided a solution that seemed equitable and just under the circumstances. The facts of these decisions leave little doubt as to the historical origins of istihsan." (p. 17)

"Another example is when someone sees a goat that is without its owner and has suffered an injury that is likely to cause its death, and with a view to prevent its loss, the observer slaughters it at his own initiative without the owner's permission. The normal rules would make him liable for consumption by the owner, but not liable under the rules of istihsan based on maslahah." (p. 41)

"The basic intent of istihsan is to ensure harmony between the letter and the spirit of law, but it's application is confined to cases and situations where a conflict arises between the letter and spirit of shariah due mainly to the factual peculiarities and circumstantial anomalies of particular cases" (p. 3-4)

"The juridical meaning of istihsan reflects its literal meaning in that the term refers to juristic preference, exercised by a qualified jurist and mujtahid, consisting of departure from an existing rule or principle of the law in a particular case, in favor of a different ruling that is considerably preferable." (p. 11)

"istihsan has equally strong grounds of identity with the masajid it should, in fact be evident from our discussion of istihsan throughout this presentation that the evidential basis, rational and purpose of istihsan are almost identical with those of masajid al- Shari'ah. Istihsan can thus be seen as an instrument of consolidation that can link up the major themes of the usul and the masajid into an organic unity." (p. 123-124)

"the Hanafi, Maliki and Hanbali jurists have considered istihsan a valid proof, the Shafai, Zahiri and Shi'i 'ulama' have rejected altogether and refused to give it any credibility in their formulation of the legal theory of the 'usul al fiqh'." (p. 5) 

Oct
26

Qatar and the Gulf Crisis

In 2017 the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain launched a land, sea, and air blockade of the State of Qatar. Kristian Coates Ulrichsen (author of more than ten books on the region) documents the blockade in "Qatar and the Gulf Crisis" (2019). The author notes in the text that the writing of the book took place in 2019, and it was published in 2020. Shortly thereafter, on Jan 5th 2021, the blockade (formally) ended with the Al Ula agreement. The book is a thorough documenting of the blockade. For those interested in the crisis (its origins, a detailed documenting of what happened, and the implications thereof after the Al Ula Agreement) this is a useful book. A few quotes:

"The blockade of Qatar in June 2017 originated in the infiltration of the Qatar News Agency in April, and the implantation the following month of a 'fake news' story about comments purportedly made by Emir Sheikh Tamim at a military graduation ceremony 23 May. The hack that set in motion the most severe rupture in the Gulf since Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 took place within the first six months of the Donald J. Trump presidency in the United States." (p. 67).

"Twelve days separated the hacking of the Qatar News Agency, on the night of 23/24 May 2017, and the start of the blockade on 5 June. The intensity of the online and media campaign during that period, both in English and in Arabic, suggests a plan to create an echo chamber that linked Qatar with the issues that subsequently formed the public justification for the blockade. Qatari officials catalogued a total of 1120 critical articles in Saudi, Emirati, and Bahraini media between June and October 2017 alone." (p. 71)

"Qatari policy-makers devised a set of facts- and rights-based responses that contrasted sharply with the sweepingly vague associations leveled against them by officials from the four blockading states. By breaking down the different aspects of the blockade into separate issues, and by seeking arbitration from relevant international bodies, Qatari officials followed a rule-of-law approach which gave weight to institutions of global governance that had been designed to constrain and prevent the reshaping of regional relations through brute force." (p. 6)

"Once the blockade was launched the religious establishment in the blockading states was deployed to legitimize the political action against Qatar. The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul-Aziz bin Abdullah Al ash-Sheikh, issued a fatwa stating that action was being taken against Qatar for the public welfare of all Muslims, while the former Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, claimed that Qatar's ruling Al Thani family was linked to the Khawarij, a group of dissidents from Sunni Islam whose political and theoretical views were held to be heretical." (p. 95)

"Rather more serious was an extraordinary allegation in November 2017 that a financial institution with suspected links to the UAE had considered engaging in 'financial warfare' intended to bring the Qatari economy to its knees. The outline of the planned assault was said to have been drawn up by Banque Havilland, a Luxembourg-based institution, located in a 'task folder' of an email account that belonged to the Emirati ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al Otaiba, and leaked to journalists working at the Intercept. Under the headline 'Control the yield curve, decide the future,' the document suggested establishing an offshore investment fund to hold Qatari bonds and credit default swaps, and using it to precipitate a run on Qatari debt through 'sham transactions.' This would drive down the price of the bonds and create the impression of panic selling, thereby forcing the Qatar Central Bank to bleed its foreign exchange reserves defending the currency peg." (p. 138) 

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