ZenPundit
Friday, January 07, 2005
 
ANDREW POSTS UP ON THE PERSIAN PROBLEM

Following the boisterous commentary on Iran that emerged here in the wake of the CPD paper on Iran, Andrew offers some extended analysis.
 
Comments:
Mate:

Let me say this.

Both you and Andrew, if... if you really want to understand MENA need to learn a lot more.

This statement from his blog is just... weak: Homa Katouzain, a noted scholar on Iran, argues that Iran has historically been a short-term society, lacking any legal tradition and characterized by arbitrary rule.I have not read Katouzian (Armenian name by the way, I'd guess Arman Armenian or possibly from Iran or Lebanon) but I suspect Andrew is badly misreading the argument... or Katouzian is making a bad argument.

The phrase "lacking any legal tradition" is simply.... well stupid, although arbitrary rule is another matter. No one who knows anything about Islamic political law would write such a thing.

One can criticize the quietism of the ulema versus the abuses of secular authority... see Bernard Lewis (and you know I am not his greatest fan) ... but to write that phrase says you understand NOTHING.

Mates, if you want to seriously understand this region, you have to get serious.

This kind of commentary is wasting electrons.

But it's free.

collounsbury
 
Hi Col-

It will take quite some time for me to be even fairly conversant in MENA subjects - they are *far* outside my area of expertise ( American diplomatic/econ history, Soviet studies primarily) unfortunately and then there's the language issue. I'm reading steadily though so if you have book recommendations for me I'd be appreciative ( read a lot of Lewis already, some Grousset - need somebody else).

This of course is the crux of the problem here in the States - the country is short on analysts and policy makers with real MENA backgrounds who are not also:

a) native speakers and thus ineligible for a lot of sensitive positions on national security grounds. Even the Sephardic Jews with Israeli ties who are fluent are kept at arms length by FBI-CIA-NSA etc. etc.

b) Academics holding cartoonishly extreme political positions and/or expertise in relatively esoteric MENA subfields that have little bearing on questions of immediate import for foreign policy.

Andrew, I believe, is quite young, a good fifteen years or so than we are ( I think we're around the same age) so he has time.

I'm not familiar with Andrew's guy - talking about strictly the *political* aspect of regimes in the very recent history of Iran - basically the Pahlavis after Reza Shah got rid of Sharia courts, then the statement makes some sense - but that is admittedly a pretty narrow frame of time in Iranian history. I know less about Iran than I do about a number of other countries and systems and often that knowledge is coming in context from another historical perspective ( Tsarist to Stalinist Russia, America, Britain)

If you ever pass through Chicago we'll have to sit down and have an extended discussion on the ME
 
Collounsbury,

The point is not that there haven't been legal traditions in Iran, there have been(Constitutional Rev in 1911 for example), but that the legal frameworks were usually arbitrary and constantly in flux. In effect, there have been too many, too often, and they end up getting abused and leading to some sort of overthrow of government. Although you have issues with the argument (not having read the article), you offer little other than your own disagreement with it.

If you are arguing that Iran has had an established legal tradition because of Islamic law I would say that you are wrong. Dating back to the Median Empire (characterized by Zoroastrianism and polytheism) in the 7th century, there have been Islamic (both Sunni and Shi'ite) and non-Islamic legal frameworks, as well as indigenous and foreign ones. If you actually read Katouzian's work (incidentally he's an Iranian), he argues that the current Islamic framework is but one of many, mostly arbitrary legal framework's that Iran has went through. The version of "Islamic law" we see today is of questioned legitimacy even within Iran. The key difference between previous regimes and this one is that since the revolution in 79 the Iranian government has transferred the basis of legitimacy from how they relate to their people (law) to how they relate to the rest of the world. In other MENA societies Islamic law does have a long and established tradition, but I would find it difficult to apply that characterization to Iran.
 
Mark,

Without shame, I would recommend a guy by the name of Eric Davis, director at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University. I've worked with/for him for a couple of years and can attest to his expertise, particulary on Iraq and Egypt. He is a bit on the left, but very pragmatic and intelligent. He recently published a book called Memories of State: Politics, History and Collective Identity in Modern Iraq. If you are interested here is a link to his some of his publications. http://mideast.rutgers.edu/FACULTY/BIOS/CV/CV-Davis.pdf
 
Andrew,

Thanks ! Much appreciated ! I'm sure Col will be responding soon too.

I'll read anyone in terms of ideology BTW - you often have first rate scholars unearthing valuable insights who then ignore what they've discovered when they retrofit their ideological prism onto their analysis. Bruce Cummings(sp?) and the Korean War comes to mind as an example. Somewhat left of center often composes the Right-Wing in a lot of universities anyway ;o)
 
Mark

First, on the intel issue and native speakers, yes. Believe me, I am accutely aware of these issues. Dubious personages like myself also seem unwelcome, but white bread stick out like sore thumb types....

Second, books. I like the two French analysts on political Islam, Olivier Roy and Gilles Keppel. Their arguments are... a bit on the subtle side (e.g. Roy argues that Sunni political Islam is a failure bec. it can't sustain itself as it can not generate long term institutions. Taken as a sound byte it sounds stupid, like someone writing in 1950 Soviet Communism is a failure... correct but not immediate). I note this as guys like Pipes (who I spit on) have scapegoated them, incorrectly in my opinion.

Have to give more thought, I lot of what I read is in French so English sources don't leap to mind.

A good useful ref. text you should definately get is Lapidus History of Islamic Civilizations. Excellent if a bit dated reference. Often a good cross check to Lewis, who as I said I like, but he really reads too much into his very official sources.

Now, as to Andrew (and yes I think we're about the same age, you and I)

Let me take this:
The point is not that there haven't been legal traditions in Iran, there have been(Constitutional Rev in 1911 for example), but that the legal frameworks were usually arbitrary and constantly in flux.And?

I don't see this as justifying lack of legal tradition. I know what you're saying, but I think you're overreading.


In effect, there have been too many, too often, and they end up getting abused and leading to some sort of overthrow of government. Although you have issues with the argument (not having read the article), you offer little other than your own disagreement with it.Well, if you want to compensate me for my time....

I offer what I offer.

If you are arguing that Iran has had an established legal tradition because of Islamic law I would say that you are wrong. Dating back to the Median Empire (characterized by Zoroastrianism and polytheism) in the 7th century, there have been Islamic (both Sunni and Shi'ite) and non-Islamic legal frameworks, as well as indigenous and foreign ones.Islamic law is clearly a tradition or traditions, and it had Iranian roots even. That there were pre Islamic traditions and there was a transition to Shia from Sunni is historicla detial, not a statement of lack of tradition.


If you actually read Katouzian's work (incidentally he's an Iranian), he argues that the current Islamic framework is but one of many, mostly arbitrary legal framework's that Iran has went through.Iranian Arman.

Arbitrary legal frameworks.... versus what?


The version of "Islamic law" we see today is of questioned legitimacy even within Iran. True enough, that does not make it not a legal tradition, it makes it a legal tradition in question (and newly overturned I suppose).

The key difference between previous regimes and this one is that since the revolution in 79 the Iranian government has transferred the basis of legitimacy from how they relate to their people (law) to how they relate to the rest of the world.I am sorry, I have no motherfucking clue as to what the fuck this means. Excuse me, I am a cynical pragmatist, I don't see the relevance.

In other MENA societies Islamic law does have a long and established tradition, but I would find it difficult to apply that characterization to Iran.Then you have either not read very much Islamic history, do not understand Islamic history or have read too much quasi secular Irano-Persian reactionary revisionist shit history.

Islamic law has a thousand years of history in Iran. Iranian thinkers were in fact key to the formalization of Islamic law (and Arabic grammar, etc.).

The statement remains absurd.
 
Hey Col-

Thanks for the recommended authors. I'll add them to my pile of books on my next run to Border's ( or if out of print, Bookman's Alley, one of the finest used and rare bookstores in the nation BTW)
 
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