Classic Revisited: Maalouf, “The Crusades Through Arab Eyes”

This is not a book everyone will find satisfying. It is not a scholarly history; it focuses on great personalities rather than wider social, military, or intellectual movements. It is not particularly analytic; the author attempts to explain the Crusades and their impact in a brief concluding chapter. And, as the title suggests, it is essentially one-sided. Amin Maalouf, a Lebanese Catholic writer who lives in France – and is a member of the Académie Française – presents things very much from the point of view of Arab Muslim chroniclers who lived through the Crusades, who wrote of the Franj as barbarous, unwashed, promiscuous brutes who had invaded the House of Islam without provocation and who must be expelled, no matter how long it took. (One irony Maalouf notes: although the chroniclers were Arabs, the leaders of the Muslim party were, virtually to a man,  Kurds and Turks).

Why, then, is this book, first published almost thirty years ago and recently re-released in a new edition, a “classic”? Because Maalouf is a vivid writer who brings the past alive and who offers insights on the two-hundred year clash of civilizations the Crusades represented. He details the kaleidoscopic pattern of alliances that formed and dissolved: Christian against Muslim, of course, but also Sunni against Shia and Western Christian against Eastern Christian. Allegiances could shift rapidly: a Shia caliph in Egypt might seek the aid of the Franj against his Read more

Joas, “The Sacredness of the Person: A New Genealogy of Human Rights”

This March, Georgetown University Press will publish The Sacredness of the Person: A New Genealogy of Human Rights by Hans Joas (University of Chicago). The publisher’s description follows.

What are the origins of the idea of human rights and universal human dignity? How can we most fully understand—and realize—these rights going into the future? In The Sacredness of the Person, internationally renowned sociologist and social theorist Hans Joas tells a story that differs from conventional narratives by tracing the concept of human rights back to the Judeo-Christian tradition or, alternately, to the secular French Enlightenment. While drawing on sociologists such as Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Ernst Troeltsch, Joas sets out a new path, proposing an affirmative genealogy in which human rights are the result of a process of the “sacralization” of every human being.

According to Joas, every single human being has increasingly been viewed as sacred. He discusses the abolition of torture and slavery, once common practice in the pre-18th century west, as two milestones in modern human history. The author concludes by portraying the emergence of the UN Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 as a successful process of value generalization. Joas demonstrates that the history of human rights cannot adequately be described as a history of ideas or as legal history, but a complex transformation in which diverse cultural traditions had to be articulated, legally codified, and assimilated into practices of everyday life. The sacralization of the person and universal human rights will only be secure in the future, warns Joas, through continued support by institutions and society, vigorous discourse in their defense, and their incarnation in everyday life and practice.

Joppke & Torpey, “Legal Integration of Islam: A Transatlantic Comparison”

In April, Harvard University Press will publish Legal Integration of Islam: A Transatlantic Comparison by Christian Joppke (University of Bern) & John Torpey (Graduate Center, City University of New York). The publisher’s description follows.

The status of Islam in Western societies remains deeply contentious. Countering strident claims on both the right and left, Legal Integration of Islam offers an empirically informed analysis of how four liberal democracies—France, Germany, Canada, and the United States—have responded to the challenge of integrating Islam and Muslim populations. Demonstrating the centrality of the legal system to this process, Christian Joppke and John Torpey reject the widely held notion that Europe is incapable of accommodating Islam and argue that institutional barriers to Muslim integration are no greater on one side of the Atlantic than the other.

While Muslims have achieved a substantial degree of equality working through the courts, political dynamics increasingly push back against these gains, particularly in Europe. From a classical liberal viewpoint, religion can either be driven out of public space, as in France, or included without sectarian preference, as in Germany. But both policies come at a price—religious liberty in France and full equality in Germany. Often seen as the flagship of multiculturalism, Canada has found itself responding to nativist and liberal pressures as Muslims become more assertive. And although there have been outbursts of anti-Islamic sentiment in the United States, the legal and political recognition of Islam is well established and largely uncontested.

Legal Integration of Islam brings to light the successes and the shortcomings of integrating Islam through law without denying the challenges that this religion presents for liberal societies.

Update on Conditions

Five days after Hurricane Sandy, we’re getting a better sense of its impact on our region. The damage and dislocation seem worse than initially understood. Although conditions are basically fine in my Queens neighborhood, St. John’s University has been closed since the storm because of power outages. It looks like we will reopen Monday, but, of course, there are no guarantees. Many faculty, staff, and students have been without heat and power all week. Most gas stations are not pumping, either because they lack fuel or power or both, and only a couple of subway lines are operating. In short, it’s a mess — and, for many people in the greater metropolitan area, who have lost loved ones, homes, and belongings, it’s a true disaster. For CLR Forum readers looking for ways to help, this website provides a list of charities, religious and non-religious, that are trying to provide assistance.