Monday, July 25, 2005

Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan Corrects Thomas L. Friedman

Professor Juan R. I. Cole (right), current President-elect of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, is a professor of history at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He is a renowned expert on Islam, particularly Shi'i Islam, as well as South Asian and Middle Eastern history.

Although Professor Cole's response is a bit dated (it originally appeared on July 9), I believe that it provides an excellent summary of what op-ed columnist Thomas L. Friedman, part-time pompous windbag and part-time incisive pundit, got wrong in his editorial, "If It's a Muslim Problem, It Needs a Muslim Solution," which was published in The New York Times on July 8.

The links included with the quoted passages below appear on Professor Cole's post, which was published on his excellent blog, Informed Comment. I have made minor edits as necessary for my own blog's format.

Professor Cole writes:

A 'fatwa' is simply a considered opinion of a Muslim jurisconsult. Such opinions are numerous. First of all, almost all the major Shiite Grand Ayatollahs have condemned Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. You could say that is easy, since Shiites don't generally like Wahhabis. But they are the leaders of 120 million Muslims (some ten percent of the 1.2 billion). So that is one....So then what about the Sunni world? The leading moral authority for Sunnis is the rector or Grand Imam of the al-Azhar Seminary/ University in Cairo, Egypt. Al-Azhar is perhaps the world's oldest continuous university and has been since the time of Saladin a major center of Sunni religious authority. The current incumbent is Shaikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi. So what about Tantawi and bin Laden?" [http://www.usembassyjakarta.org/lawmaker.html]

What about Pakistan? Admittedly, it has some clerics who are fans of Bin Laden, or at least who would avoid condemning him. But the allegation Friedman is making is that no major cleric has condemned him.
[http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2001/10/17/195606.shtml]

I don't personally care for Yusuf al-Qaradawi. He is an old-time Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood preacher who fled to Qatar and now has a perch at al-Jazeera. But he does have some virtues. He is enormously popular among Muslim fundamentalists. And, he absolutely despises Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Al-Qaradawi has repeatedly condemned the latter. He even gave a fatwa that it was a duty of Muslims to fight alongside the US in Afghanistan against al-Qaeda! See also: http://www.islamfortoday.com/qaradawi02.htm

There are also substantial Muslim communities in Europe with leaderships that have explicitly condemned Bin Laden. E.g.: http://www.geocities.com/Paris/Rue/4637/terr42a.html. There are on the order of 250,000 Muslims in Spain.

High Mufti of Russian Muslims calls for Extradition of Bin Laden. The Russian Muslim community is about 20 million strong, or 15 percent of Russia's 143 million population, and is growing rapidly, so that in a century Russia may be 50 percent Muslim. So this is not a pro forma thing here.

Friedman also does refer to a major conference of Muslim clerics, thinkers and notables wound up just Wednesday that made a powerful statement about religious tolerance and condemned everything Osama Bin Laden stands for. But he seems oddly unaware of the significance of having Grand Ayatollah Sistani, Grand Imam of al-Azhar Seminary Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, and many other great Muslim authorities sign off on this epochal statement of Muslim ecumenism.The statement forbids one Muslim to declare another "not a Muslim" if the believer adheres to any of the mainstream legal rites of Sunnism and Shiism. The whole basis of al-Qaeda is to call the Muslim leaders of countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well as Shiites, "not Muslims." The statement also demands that engineers should please stop pretending to issue fatwas, which should be left to trained clerical jurisconsults. This para. is also a slam at Bin Laden.PS As for Friedman's main point, that Muslims haven't done a good job of fighting jihadi ideology and terrorism, it is bizarre. The Algerian government fought a virtual civil war to put down political Islam, in which over 100,000 persons died. The Egyptians jailed 20,000 or 30,000 radicals for thought crimes and killed 1500 in running street battles in the 1990s and early zeroes. Al-Qaeda can't easily strike in the Middle East precisely because Syria, Egypt, Algeria, etc. have their number and have undertaken massive actions against them. What does Friedman want? And, besides, he is wrong that this is only a Muslim problem. In the global age all problems are everybody's. That's part of flat world, too, Tom.

To read Professor Cole's complete blog entry, see:
http://www.juancole.com/2005/07/friedman-wrong-about-muslims-again-and.html



Professor Cole's latest monograph, Sacred Space and Holy War: The Politics, Culture and History of Shi'ite Islam, provides a detailed and scholarly overview of its subject:
http://www.palgrave-usa.com/Catalog/product.aspx?isbn=1860647367

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