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Harvard prof: Islamic State sex slavery is bad, but hey, U.S. had slavery


Noah Feldman is described as, among other things, “a professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard University” with “a doctorate in Islamic thought from the University of Oxford,” who “as an adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq…contributed to the creation of the country’s new constitution.”

Given the blood and chaos that engulfs contemporary Iraq, one might think he wouldn’t be all that proud of that particular resume item anymore, especially in light of the fact that back in 2008, he downplayed and ignored the aspects of Sharia that have made life hell for so many of the nation’s non-Muslims. In a lengthy exposition of what Sharia was all about that Feldman published in the New York Times, he never once mentioned the Sharia provisions mandating second-class status (dhimmitude) for Christians and conversion or death for non-Muslims not considered “People of the Book,” such as Yezidis.

And now in this piece, Feldman actually acknowledges that in taking sex slaves, the Islamic State is “following the practices of the era of the Prophet Muhammad” and wants “to go back in time, to the days of the earliest Muslims and the Prophet’s companions.” He does not, of course, tell his readers that sex slavery is called for in the Qur’an (in the “captives of the right hand” passages, 4:3, 4:24, 23:1-6, and 33:50), or that sex slavery doesn’t just go back to Muhammad’s era, but was practiced by Muhammad, who is the supreme model for emulation for Muslims (cf. Qur’an 33:21).

Then Feldman compounds that omission by likening “one interpretation of classical Islamic law” — as if there were any mainstream interpretations of Islamic law that forbid sex slavery (there aren’t) — to the U.S. Constitution, in the course of building an argument in praise of progress. This is a fundamentally dishonest comparison, because the U.S. Constitution is a human construct, whereas those who believe in Islamic law believe it not to be a human invention and thus able to be amended and revised, but divine law that is perfect and unchangeable. Mainstream Muslims would no more revise the Sharia than Jews or Christians would revise the Ten Commandments. “Progressive” Muslims in the U.S. who depart from normative Sharia interpretations don’t have any appreciable influence in the Islamic world.

Noah Feldman, what with his doctorate in Islamic thought from the University of Oxford, should be honest enough with his readers to tell them about that difference and its significance.

“Islamic State’s Medieval Morals,” by Noah Feldman, Bloomberg View, August 16, 2015:

It’s been 150 years since U.S. law allowed masters to rape enslaved girls and women. Almost all modern Muslim societies banned slavery in the last century. So why is Islamic State turning back the clock, actively embracing and promoting enslavement of Yazidi women, thereby enabling them to be raped under one interpretation of classical Islamic law?

Islamic State’s goal isn’t primarily about money or sex, but about sending the message that they are creating an Islamic utopia, following the practices of the era of the Prophet Muhammad. They want to go back in time, to the days of the earliest Muslims and the Prophet’s companions. The more medieval the practice, the more they like it.


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