- Published on Tuesday, 07 August 2012 06:47
This article, written by Alex Thurston, appeared on The Christian Science Monitor on August 01,2012
Reporting on shari’a law and groups who attempt to impose their version of it often leans toward the sensational. This tendency appears to reflect the views of many Western journalists, and much of their audience, that shari’a is barbaric, violent, and misogynist, and its application trivial and arbitrary. Negative Western views on Islamic law have, to put it mildly, a long history; for just one example, take Max Weber’s notion of “kadijustiz,” whichThe Max Weber Dictionary defines (p. 136) as “an irrational type of justice focused on the single case.” Kadi/qadi is Arabic for judge.
I mention this tendency in the media not because I want to make an apology for those who impose shari’a but because I believe that news coverage can blur our sense of context and cause us to misread the political relationships between those who apply a version of shari’a and those to whom it is applied. Reading coverage of shari’a in the news – coverage that tends to follow a model established in reports on Afghanistan, and extended to Somalia – one might easily get the impression that shari’a is simply an alternation of cruel acts and ridiculous ones. One moment the Islamists are stoning a woman, the next they are banning soccer. What this kind of coverage misses is how shari’a fits into the systematic attempts at state-building that groups like the Taliban in Afghanistan, al Shabab in Somalia, and Ansar Dine in Mali pursue. (Comparing such groups is fraught with peril, but we can at least establish these commonalities between them: they are all interested in shari’a and state-building, and the media has emphasized the brutality of shari’a when discussing all of them. Indeed the comparison may be most apt when we are talking about the media, rather than about events on the ground.)
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