Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Monday, September 27, 2010
Friday, September 24, 2010
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
The task in hand for modern Muslims is to separate the spiritual, moral and ethical message of Islam from penal laws reflecting the sensibilities of tribal society of the seventh century
Stoning to death is practised as a routine punishment for adultery in Iran and Saudi Arabia. When the Taliban ruled in Afghanistan, they too imposed it with a relish and did it with the same enthusiasm in their enclaves called Islamic emirates when they ruled in some pockets of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Swat valley. There is no doubt that the origin of this barbaric punishment is the Old Testament of the Jews. The Jewish Torah prescribes it for a host of other offences as well. It is not mentioned in the Quran. However, all the five schools of Islamic jurisprudence — Hanafi, Shafai, Maliki and Hanbali of the Sunnis and the Ja’afri of the Shias prescribe it for adultery. On this point of law, there is complete unanimity of opinion. I believe the Khawarji school of thought adheres to it as well.
How does one explain this unanimity of opinion of all historical schools of thought and schools of jurisprudence of Muslims when it is not a law derived directly from some explicit injunction in the Quran? The reply of the traditionalists and fundamentalists would be that rajam or stoning adulterers is based on the sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) to which all his pious successors adhered. Therefore, it becomes a part of the Islamic legal system and practice because the sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) is the second major source of shariah.
However, in the modern period, a host of objections have been raised against stoning of adulterers, most notably by the Ahl-e-Quran school of thought. The Ahl-e-Quran argue that if the origin of an Islamic law cannot be traced to the Quran, it is not an Islamic law. The Ahl-e-Quran do not, in principle, reject the authority of sunnah, but insist that nothing can be called Islamic law unless it is categorically mentioned in the Quran. Proceeding on such an assumption, the Ahl-e-Quran deny that stoning was practised during the time of the Prophet (PBUH) and his pious successors. They allege that it came into existence during the time of the Abbasids (750-1258), when most of the hadith literature was compiled and declared authoritative. From the Ahl-e-Quran point of view, hadith literature is not authoritative and binding if there is no direct back up for it in the Quran.
There is no doubt that a considerable portion of the hadith literature is of questionable authenticity, and indeed during the Abbasid period many innovations came into being that were perhaps not present during the time of the Prophet (PBUH) and the Khulafa-e-Rashideen (Rightly Guided Successors). However, that is no foolproof argument that existing practices in the seventh century Arabia were not continued by the Muslims even if they were not mentioned in the Quran.
Let us take the religious law and practice requiring all Muslim males to be circumcised. I would very much welcome some Ahl-e-Quran protagonist showing me where it is mentioned in the Quran. The fact is that it is not mentioned anywhere in the Quran. I doubt if the Ahl-e-Quran do not adhere to circumcision on grounds that it is not mentioned in the Quran.
It is no doubt based on Jewish law and practice, which the Muslims adopted along with many other laws and practices of the Jews, Christians and pagan Arabs. More examples can be given of Muslims incorporating practices from the Jews, Christians and pagan Arabs into their legal practice and social rules. There is nothing surprising about this. Laws reflect the conditions and culture of the society in which they are formulated.
Let me turn to another major flaw in the Ahl-e-Quran mode of reasoning. The most pervasive crime against women is rape. I would challenge any Ahl-e-Quran debater to show me if it is mentioned anywhere in the Quran. It is not. The hudood laws refer to adultery based on the assumption that two married individuals voluntarily have illicit sexual intercourse, and fornication, which is illicit sexual relations between unmarried individuals. There is absolutely no concept of rape as a crime in which an unwilling individual is subjected to sexual intercourse by one or more individuals. The later jurists did innovate and introduced the notion of zina-bil-jabr and since then rape is recognised as a crime. Previously, it did not exist even as a concept.
The problem, however, is not whether stoning to death is genuinely Islamic or not and if it is mentioned in the Quran then and then only it becomes an Islamic law. Rather the much bigger moral and philosophical question is the following: can barbaric laws of any kind be justified in the modern period? Would it be appropriate to chop off the hand of a thief or the leg and arm of a robber or to lash fornicating individuals simply because such punishments are mentioned in the Quran? The Jewish Torah has set forth the most extensive list of barbaric punishments, but modern Jews have abolished them. The Christian West has its own history of barbaric punishments, but they too abandoned them. Suttee, or wife-burning, is prohibited in India though it does take place once in a while. The task in hand for modern Muslims is to separate the spiritual, moral and ethical message of Islam from penal laws reflecting the sensibilities of tribal society of the seventh century.
The well-known English journalist Robert Fisk has presented a detailed investigative report, ‘The crimewave that shames the world’ in The Independent, September 7, 2010, about so-called honour killings. Not surprisingly, the highest incidence of such crimes is in the Muslim world, though even some non-Muslim Middle Eastern minorities and Hindus in India practise it. What I found particularly shocking was that after murdering a daughter or sister, a Muslim culprit can walk away scot-free because the Islamic law of qisas (retaliation) allows heirs to pardon the criminal. Thus, other family members can pardon the offender. All such relics of barbarism have to be done away with. Already in the 19th century, Maulvi Chiragh Ali wrote that the Quran is not a book of law. Justice Munir has also advanced similar arguments. Privately, most of the educated Muslims I talk to agree with me that hudood laws, blasphemy laws and many other such laws are anachronisms that have no place in the 21st century. More such voices need to be heard in the public space.
The writer is a Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University. He is also Honorary Senior Fellow of the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He can be reached at email@example.com
Monday, September 20, 2010
The Angry Rich
By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: September 19, 2010
Anger is sweeping America. True, this white-hot rage is a minority phenomenon, not something that characterizes most of our fellow citizens. But the angry minority is angry indeed, consisting of people who feel that things to which they are entitled are being taken away. And they’re out for revenge.
No, I’m not talking about the Tea Partiers. I’m talking about the rich.
These are terrible times for many people in this country. Poverty, especially acute poverty, has soared in the economic slump; millions of people have lost their homes. Young people can’t find jobs; laid-off 50-somethings fear that they’ll never work again.
Yet if you want to find real political rage — the kind of rage that makes people compare President Obama to Hitler, or accuse him of treason — you won’t find it among these suffering Americans. You’ll find it instead among the very privileged, people who don’t have to worry about losing their jobs, their homes, or their health insurance, but who are outraged, outraged, at the thought of paying modestly higher taxes.
The rage of the rich has been building ever since Mr. Obama took office. At first, however, it was largely confined to Wall Street. Thus when New York magazine published an article titled “The Wail Of the 1%,” it was talking about financial wheeler-dealers whose firms had been bailed out with taxpayer funds, but were furious at suggestions that the price of these bailouts should include temporary limits on bonuses. When the billionaire Stephen Schwarzman compared an Obama proposal to the Nazi invasion of Poland, the proposal in question would have closed a tax loophole that specifically benefits fund managers like him.
Now, however, as decision time looms for the fate of the Bush tax cuts — will top tax rates go back to Clinton-era levels? — the rage of the rich has broadened, and also in some ways changed its character.
For one thing, craziness has gone mainstream. It’s one thing when a billionaire rants at a dinner event. It’s another when Forbes magazine runs a cover story alleging that the president of the United States is deliberately trying to bring America down as part of his Kenyan, “anticolonialist” agenda, that “the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s.” When it comes to defending the interests of the rich, it seems, the normal rules of civilized (and rational) discourse no longer apply.
At the same time, self-pity among the privileged has become acceptable, even fashionable.
Tax-cut advocates used to pretend that they were mainly concerned about helping typical American families. Even tax breaks for the rich were justified in terms of trickle-down economics, the claim that lower taxes at the top would make the economy stronger for everyone.
These days, however, tax-cutters are hardly even trying to make the trickle-down case. Yes, Republicans are pushing the line that raising taxes at the top would hurt small businesses, but their hearts don’t really seem in it. Instead, it has become common to hear vehement denials that people making $400,000 or $500,000 a year are rich. I mean, look at the expenses of people in that income class — the property taxes they have to pay on their expensive houses, the cost of sending their kids to elite private schools, and so on. Why, they can barely make ends meet.
And among the undeniably rich, a belligerent sense of entitlement has taken hold: it’s their money, and they have the right to keep it. “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society,” said Oliver Wendell Holmes — but that was a long time ago.
The spectacle of high-income Americans, the world’s luckiest people, wallowing in self-pity and self-righteousness would be funny, except for one thing: they may well get their way. Never mind the $700 billion price tag for extending the high-end tax breaks: virtually all Republicans and some Democrats are rushing to the aid of the oppressed affluent.
You see, the rich are different from you and me: they have more influence. It’s partly a matter of campaign contributions, but it’s also a matter of social pressure, since politicians spend a lot of time hanging out with the wealthy. So when the rich face the prospect of paying an extra 3 or 4 percent of their income in taxes, politicians feel their pain — feel it much more acutely, it’s clear, than they feel the pain of families who are losing their jobs, their houses, and their hopes.
And when the tax fight is over, one way or another, you can be sure that the people currently defending the incomes of the elite will go back to demanding cuts in Social Security and aid to the unemployed. America must make hard choices, they’ll say; we all have to be willing to make sacrifices.
But when they say “we,” they mean “you.” Sacrifice is for the little people
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on September 20, 2010, on page A31 of the New York edition.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Friday, September 10, 2010
What devoured glamorous Pakistan?
I wrote, a few weeks ago, about how much the attitude to Indians had changed in the West. Once we were regarded as losers, people who inhabited a desperately poor country, continually ravaged by famine or drought, incapable of making a single world-class product, and condemned to live forever on foreign aid. Now, we have the world’s respect and, more tellingly, the West’s envy as more and more jobs are Bangalored away from their high-cost economies and handed over to Indians who perform much better for less money.That piece was prompted by a visit to London. This one too has been inspired by a trip abroad and by saturation coverage of the Pakistani cricket scandal in the press and on global TV channels. But my concern this week is not with how the West sees India.It is with the transformation of the image of the global Pakistani.I was at school and university in England in the Seventies and lived in London in the early 1980s. This was a time when Pakistan was regarded — hard as this may to believe now — as being impossibly glamorous. The star of my first term at Oxford was Benazir Bhutto. In my second term, she became president of the union and was the toast of Oxford. Her father was then prime minister of Pakistan and lucky students vied for the opportunity to visit Karachi or Islamabad as guests of the Bhuttos. They came back with stories of unbelievable hospitality and spoke knowledgeably about Pakistan’s feudal structure, about landowners like the Bhuttos, about an autocracy that had reigned for centuries etc.Even on the other side of the ideological divide, Pakistan was all too visible. He had come down from Oxford nearly eight years before, but a former president of the union, the charismatic Trotskyite Tariq Ali was still the sort of chap who made English girls swoon. For her first debate as president of the Oxford Union, Benazir asked Tariq Ali to speak. He agreed but then, rather inconveniently, he was detained by the police on a visit to Pakistan. No matter. He phoned Benazir who spoke to daddy and — hey presto! — Tariq was out of jail and on a plane to England. Pakistan was that kind of country, the British chortled delightedly.In those days, us poor Indians hardly ever got a look in. The Pakistanis were dashing, far richer (they spent in a week what we spent in the whole term), always going off to chic parties or nightclubs in London and charming the pants off the British (often, quite literally).In that era, the Arabs had just emerged on the world stage (following the massive oil-price hikes of 1973/4) and the Pakistanis were almost proprietorial about them. A Pakistani graduate student at my college, even affected Arab dress from time to time and bragged that he had taught Arabs how to fly planes.My college-mate was merely reprising Z A Bhutto’s philosophy: the Arabs were rich but they were camel drivers. They needed Pakistanis to run the world for them and to teach them Western ways. It was this sort of thinking that led to the creation of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), the first global Third World bank, run by Pakistanis with Arab money. For most of the 1980s, BCCI was staffed by sharply dressed young Pakistanis who entertained at London (and New York’s) best restaurants, hit the casinos after dinner and talked casually about multi-million dollar deals.Their flamboyant lifestyle was matched by other rich Pakistanis. In his autobiography, Marco Pierre White, the first of the British super-chefs (he was the original bad boy and Gordon Ramsay worked for him), talks about the Pakistanis who were his first regulars. Michel Roux, then England’s top chef (three Michelin stars) would fly out to Pakistan to cook at private parties thrown by wealthy individuals. In the late 1980s, a friend of mine went to dinner in Pakistan and was startled to be asked to guess the vintages of three different bottles of Mouton Rothschild, one of the world’s most expensive wines.In that era, Indians knew absolutely nothing about wine or French food and the few Indian millionaires who vacationed in London were vegetarians.Pakistanis were sex symbols too. The first international cricketing stud was Imran Khan (who finished at Oxford the term before I got there) and his sex appeal was so legendary that even Benazir joked about it. Told that Gen Zia-ul-Haq called him the ‘Lion of the Punjab,” Benazir said, “Yes but Zia pronounces “Lion as ‘Loin’ and this is appropriate.” Years later when Imran spoke about his love for Pakistan, a British columnist sneered, “His heart may be in Pakistan but his loins are in the King’s Road” referring to a trendy (and expensive) London area.Even Pakistan’s millionaires were more glamorous than ours. In the Eighties when the Hinduja brothers (“we are strictly vegetarian”) first emerged in London, the Pakistanis stole the show with such flamboyant high-profile millionaires in Mahmud Sipra who financed feature films and kept a big yacht in the South of France.So what went wrong?It’s hard to pin point any single reason but I can think of several contributing factors.First of all, much of the Pakistani profile was based on flash and fraud. BCCI collapsed amidst allegations that it was a scamster’s bank. Mahmud Sipra left England with the Fraud Squad in hot pursuit even as hedeclared his innocence from beyond Scotland Yard’s jurisdiction. Many big-spending Paksitanis turned out to be heroin smugglers.Secondly, Indian democracy came to our rescue. The Brits who bragged about Bhutto hospitality and the Pakistan aristocracy missed the obvious point: this was a deeply unequal and therefore unstable society. When Bhutto rigged an election, this led to his downfall.Thirdly, Pakistan signed its own death warrant by trying to out-Arab the Arabs with a policy of Islamisation. This reached its peak under General Zia who declared a jihad against the Russians in Afghanistan and invited Arabs such as Osama bin Laden to come to Pakistan to fight the holy war. Ultimately, fundamentalist Islam devoured what was left of glamorous Pakistan.Fourthly, the world just moved on. Flash can only get you so far. In the end it is substance that counts. And plodding, boring India came up with the substance.It is hard to think, when you look at today’s Pakistan team, that Pakistani cricketers were such sex symbols in India in the 1980s that Imran Khan was able to brag to an interviewer “Indian actresses are chickens. They just want to get laid” (In all fairness, Imran later said he had been misquoted.)Get laid by today’s team? You must be joking.Even the Pakistani playboys who are still around no longer seem exciting or glamorous. Poor Imran just looks tired. And the rest look like Asif Zardari — pretty much the archetypal glamorous Pakistani of the Eighties — though perhaps not as disgustingly sleazy.Of all these factors, two remain the most important. A nation created on the basis of Islam was destroyed by too much Islam. And a nation dedicated to democracy flourished because of too much democracy.Exclusive to TNSE. More at www.virsanghvi.com.Follow him at twitter.com/virsanghvi
Thursday, September 09, 2010
How to End the Great Recession
By ROBERT B. REICH
Published: September 2, 2010
THIS promises to be the worst Labor Day in the memory of most Americans. Organized labor is down to about 7 percent of the private work force. Members of non-organized labor — most of the rest of us — are unemployed, underemployed or underwater. The Labor Department reported on Friday that just 67,000 new private-sector jobs were created in August, while at least 125,000 are needed to keep up with the growth of the potential work force.
The national economy isn’t escaping the gravitational pull of the Great Recession. None of the standard booster rockets are working: near-zero short-term interest rates from the Fed, almost record-low borrowing costs in the bond market, a giant stimulus package and tax credits for small businesses that hire the long-term unemployed have all failed to do enough.
That’s because the real problem has to do with the structure of the economy, not the business cycle. No booster rocket can work unless consumers are able, at some point, to keep the economy moving on their own. But consumers no longer have the purchasing power to buy the goods and services they produce as workers; for some time now, their means haven’t kept up with what the growing economy could and should have been able to provide them.
This crisis began decades ago when a new wave of technology — things like satellite communications, container ships, computers and eventually the Internet — made it cheaper for American employers to use low-wage labor abroad or labor-replacing software here at home than to continue paying the typical worker a middle-class wage. Even though the American economy kept growing, hourly wages flattened. The median male worker earns less today, adjusted for inflation, than he did 30 years ago.
But for years American families kept spending as if their incomes were keeping pace with overall economic growth. And their spending fueled continued growth. How did families manage this trick? First, women streamed into the paid work force. By the late 1990s, more than 60 percent of mothers with young children worked outside the home (in 1966, only 24 percent did).
Second, everyone put in more hours. What families didn’t receive in wage increases they made up for in work increases. By the mid-2000s, the typical male worker was putting in roughly 100 hours more each year than two decades before, and the typical female worker about 200 hours more.
When American families couldn’t squeeze any more income out of these two coping mechanisms, they embarked on a third: going ever deeper into debt. This seemed painless — as long as home prices were soaring. From 2002 to 2007, American households extracted $2.3 trillion from their homes.
Eventually, of course, the debt bubble burst — and with it, the last coping mechanism. Now we’re left to deal with the underlying problem that we’ve avoided for decades. Even if nearly everyone was employed, the vast middle class still wouldn’t have enough money to buy what the economy is capable of producing.
Where have all the economic gains gone? Mostly to the top. The economists Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty examined tax returns from 1913 to 2008. They discovered an interesting pattern. In the late 1970s, the richest 1 percent of American families took in about 9 percent of the nation’s total income; by 2007, the top 1 percent took in 23.5 percent of total income.
It’s no coincidence that the last time income was this concentrated was in 1928. I do not mean to suggest that such astonishing consolidations of income at the top directly cause sharp economic declines. The connection is more subtle.
The rich spend a much smaller proportion of their incomes than the rest of us. So when they get a disproportionate share of total income, the economy is robbed of the demand it needs to keep growing and creating jobs.
What’s more, the rich don’t necessarily invest their earnings and savings in the American economy; they send them anywhere around the globe where they’ll summon the highest returns — sometimes that’s here, but often it’s the Cayman Islands, China or elsewhere. The rich also put their money into assets most likely to attract other big investors (commodities, stocks, dot-coms or real estate), which can become wildly inflated as a result.
Meanwhile, as the economy grows, the vast majority in the middle naturally want to live better. Their consequent spending fuels continued growth and creates enough jobs for almost everyone, at least for a time. But because this situation can’t be sustained, at some point — 1929 and 2008 offer ready examples — the bill comes due.
This time around, policymakers had knowledge their counterparts didn’t have in 1929; they knew they could avoid immediate financial calamity by flooding the economy with money. But, paradoxically, averting another Great Depression-like calamity removed political pressure for more fundamental reform. We’re left instead with a long and seemingly endless Great Jobs Recession.
THE Great Depression and its aftermath demonstrate that there is only one way back to full recovery: through more widely shared prosperity. In the 1930s, the American economy was completely restructured. New Deal measures — Social Security, a 40-hour work week with time-and-a-half overtime, unemployment insurance, the right to form unions and bargain collectively, the minimum wage — leveled the playing field.
In the decades after World War II, legislation like the G.I. Bill, a vast expansion of public higher education and civil rights and voting rights laws further reduced economic inequality. Much of this was paid for with a 70 percent to 90 percent marginal income tax on the highest incomes. And as America’s middle class shared more of the economy’s gains, it was able to buy more of the goods and services the economy could provide. The result: rapid growth and more jobs.
By contrast, little has been done since 2008 to widen the circle of prosperity. Health-care reform is an important step forward but it’s not nearly enough.
What else could be done to raise wages and thereby spur the economy? We might consider, for example, extending the earned income tax credit all the way up through the middle class, and paying for it with a tax on carbon. Or exempting the first $20,000 of income from payroll taxes and paying for it with a payroll tax on incomes over $250,000.
In the longer term, Americans must be better prepared to succeed in the global, high-tech economy. Early childhood education should be more widely available, paid for by a small 0.5 percent fee on all financial transactions. Public universities should be free; in return, graduates would then be required to pay back 10 percent of their first 10 years of full-time income.
Another step: workers who lose their jobs and have to settle for positions that pay less could qualify for “earnings insurance” that would pay half the salary difference for two years; such a program would probably prove less expensive than extended unemployment benefits.
These measures would not enlarge the budget deficit because they would be paid for. In fact, such moves would help reduce the long-term deficits by getting more Americans back to work and the economy growing again.
Policies that generate more widely shared prosperity lead to stronger and more sustainable economic growth — and that’s good for everyone. The rich are better off with a smaller percentage of a fast-growing economy than a larger share of an economy that’s barely moving. That’s the Labor Day lesson we learned decades ago; until we remember it again, we’ll be stuck in the Great Recession.
Robert B. Reich, a secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, is a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of the forthcoming “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future.”Note:
This piece has been updated to reflect today's news.
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