Flawed argument on Muslim condition
By Reuel S. Amdur - The Arab American News | Friday, 07.18.2008, 05:43 PM

In this book, Razack argues that Muslims are being "evicted" from Western law and politics.  We are given the myth, she says, of the dangerous Muslim man, the imperiled Muslim woman, and the civilized European.  The myth includes the idea that the Muslim is benighted and pre-civilized and the European enlightened and secular. 

 

To begin, she discusses the 9/11 aftermath, with specific reference to the five Muslim men in Canada subjected to serious constraints under Immigration and Refugee Protection Act security certificates.  Their treatment, she says, is evidence of Muslims being subjected to "law without law," as the law permits their treatment in ways that would be illegal for "Europeans."


Her argument puts me in an awkward spot.  I have been opposed to the use of security certificates.  Yet, her treatment of the implications of peddling forged documents by one of the men and of a large number of unexplained questionable phone calls overseas by another is rather cavalier.  Is it all just because they are Muslims?  Furthermore, we are talking about five men, in the aftermath of 9/11, and a "war on terror" which the Canadian government has willingly joined.


Five men.  During World War II, in addition to the large-scale round-up of Japanese, Canada also put 700 Italians into internment camps.  About the same number of Jewish refugees was also relocated to camps because of fears that there might be German agents in their midst.  The property of the Japanese was also confiscated.  By comparison, five Muslims hardly make the case.    

 

Then there is the matter of the European enlightened, secular West, where all are uniform subjects of the sovereign state.  She posits an ideal type as if it were a reality.  To speak of the United States as secular is a stretch indeed.  83% of Americans claim to be Christian, and 46% of Americans have been "born again," including the president.  While Canadians are much more "secular," when Premier Dalton McGuinty of Ontario raised the possibility of eliminating the Lord's Prayer at the opening of the legislature, the legislature unanimously voted him down. 

 

Rasack makes particular reference to France and the legislation against the hijab in schools and government employment.  The law applies to all large religious symbols.  The hijab, the yarmulke, and the turban are "large," but many Christian women wear a small cross.  What we have here is not secularism.  Rather, the law indicates what non-secular public expression will be tolerated Christian.


Just as I feel uncomfortable arguing against her interpretation of the meaning of the security certificates, she is uncomfortable with her own opposition to unbridled male-controlled sharia.  After all, she is. . . secular.  On the one hand, the opposition to the proposal to allow sharia tribunals as an option in Ontario family law is seen by her as heavily influenced by the image of the enlightened European and the benighted Muslim, of the Muslim male brute and the Muslim woman in need of protection.  On the other hand, she shares the opposition concern that religious conservative control of such tribunals would be to the disadvantage of women.  She ends up with the view that the appropriate resolution to the conflict would have been to allow sharia tribunals, under appropriate controls.  I had written an article proposing just such a solution, but the matter became mute when Premier McGuinty opted instead to forbid all religious tribunals for family conflict resolution.  Unfortunately, leaving these matters solely to the courts makes them costly, as lawyers have become too expensive for many people.


This turgid book is interesting, even if the argument is overblown, as her discussion of the Canadian certificate cases illustrates.  She says that "race thinking undergirds the making of empire, and . . . the world is increasingly governed by the logic of the exception.  Here there is the beginning of an important point.  American exceptionalism allows the U.S. to violate all the rules, to make pre-emptive war, to dictate that Israel can have the bomb but Iran cannot, etc.  But the behavior of the world's superpower cannot be laid to racism.


What we are dealing with is anxiety and fear, features of world affairs because states are not constrained and hence protected by an overweening power.  The West was afraid of the Soviet Union and vice versa.  With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the explosion onto the scene of Islamic extremism, the same irrational, rigid behavior exhibited in the Cold War is now aimed at a more ephemeral enemy.  That, not racism, is the root of current imperial behavior.  Of course, racist behavior flows from this fear and anxiety.


Ironically, the United States built up bin Laden and the Taliban in order to drive the Russians and the Communists out of Afghanistan. The move was successful, beyond Washington's wildest dreams. One enemy at a time, please.


By Reuel S. Amdur - The Arab American News

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