Comments on Shariah and America

The controversy over building an Islamic cultural center and
mosque several blocks from Ground Zero continues with President Obama joining
in. Michael Gerson explains in today’s Washington
, why it is an American President’s duty to uphold the rights of all
American’s and to defend America’s core values, as President Obama has done in
this instance:

Two of you have sent rather different but interesting
comments on my Daily Caller op-ed on "Shariah and
that I am sharing with you below:


Interesting but I think you are insufficiently critical of
Islam.  The Pope forbid Catholic nuns from opening a center near a concentration
camp site because he understood that it’s existence would be insensitive to
Jews.  The insistence of the Moslems to build near the 911 site shows
massive insensitivity at the least.  It is not just a few Moslem radicals
who commit unspeakable acts but look at all the Moslem countries that deny
fundamental freedoms to women, gays, other religions, journalists, etc, etc, look
at the tens of thousands of Moslems who rioted against the Danish cartoons and
killed people and destroyed millions in property.  Look at all of those
that cheered 911.  When Moslem Americans threatened the producers of
Southpark, the Moslem establishment was largely silent as they have been with
most of the other outrages.  I think that Hirsi Ali is right when she
suggests that we all stand up and say these behaviors do not meet civilized
norms for a religion in the modern world.  We know that many Imams preach
violence and hatred and act as foreign agents.  Every religion has its
assorted violent nut cases, but every major religion other than the Moslems has
acted quickly to condemn and squelch such people.  If they want respect it
is time they started showing respect for others – a good way to start would be
by agreeing not to build at the 911 site as an act of respect to all of those
who died there.


[Richard W. Rahn – former Chief Economist of the U.S.
Chamber of Commerce, author and columnist, former fellow Director of the Cayman
Islands Monetary Authority, and currently a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute
and Chairman of Institute for Global Economic Growth]



As in the past, when spirit and time combine to permit, I am
commenting on your thoughtful piece on shariah law, mostly to highlight a few
items touched on too passingly:

1. The Cordoba House controversy is almost entirely more a
zoning issue than either a property or religious freedom issue. There are, I’ve
read, more than 100 mosques already in Manhattan. It seems unlikely all but a
very few people in the U.S. either object to these or would object to another
100 being built in New York City, by these individuals or others. If 100
mosques do not evoke controversy and one proposed "cultural center"
does, it almost certainly means it is not the area set-aside for prayer that is
at the heart of the issue.

It is, then, at bottom the location and the publicity
surrounding the intention to build so near the 9/11 site. One may well disagree
with a great many zoning laws and the attitude behind many zoning proposals (as
you and I surely do). One can understand, however, why many might, say, object
to an adult video store being located near an elementary school or a church.
One might even suspect that the intention was provocative more than commercial.
In any case, it is sure to evoke public controversy. A judgment then needs to
be made whether or not the result, including both the building of the center
and the hostile reaction to it, is close enough to the intentions of the

2. Law generally.

The late, great Harvard law scholar Harold Berman wrote
powerfully that only in the late 20th century (and now the early 21st) has the
idea developed that "law" was a single thing, namely positive,
legislated law. When Blackstone wrote his celebrated commentaries, there were
at least over half a dozen "legal systems" operating in England.
Overall, three legal themes were intertwined to form a larger understanding of
law: 1. moral/natural law – meaning the customs, including both simple
practices and those with moral meanings, that were embedded in various
communities. These were not explicit or precise and varied from village to
village in small ways, but were always part of the judgment as to "what
the law is". 2. Judge-made law or the conclusions judges, over long
periods of time, had come to decide in specific cases that were similar to an
issue before them. Call is precedent. 3. Positive law that legislatures enacted.
The notion that "LAW" now means some combination of the positive law
enacted by a legislative body and even a very narrow court decision by judges
is the only "LAW" has warped our understanding.

Thus, your larger understanding of shariah law invokes this
longer tradition of what law is and how it responds to changing times and

3. Shariah Law.

It is tendentious and misleading (or simply ignorant) to
speak of "shariah law" as if it is precise and universal. There is no
single "authoritative shariah law" that many commentators speak of.
Muslim women are instructed to be "modest" in public. Some take this
to mean simply modest dress and appearance. Some wear a scarf to cover their
hair (as St. Paul also argued for women in church; and Mother Teresa always
adhered to in public). Some argue for a burka or complete covering. Which is
"authoritative shariah law"?

As you say, there is a general sense among many Muslims that
"interest" is not allowed (as many Catholics also believed for
centuries). That seems an unfortunate approach in the modern world of finance
(although the excess of the use of credit is also perilous). Refusing to
separate a mortgage payment as part "principle" and part
"interest" seems an easy way around the prohibition and almost a semantic
dodge. Going into a rant against shariah law is similar to condemning
Christians for not wanting to invest in companies the activities of which they

The notion that the spooky because unknown "shariah
law" will be imposed on 330 million Americans is obviously far-fetched.

4. The Unity of Islam

Muslims are proud that there are over a billion Muslims in
the world. Those most eager to incite the West, speak as well in a way to
suggest that this is a unified entity for political or terrorist purposes. In
fact they are deeply fragmented. Even the use of "radical" or
"extremist" covers over that, however broadly or narrowly defined,
these groups are also fragmented.

Even so, "radical" and "extremist" do
not fully describe those Muslims that we should oppose with military force.
They are those Muslims who are quite willing to use violence against Western
people or assets. A civil war among factions, whether religious or not, in
Afghanistan or Iraq, Somalia or the Sudan, should interest us in only a tangential
way. Every terrorist is not a Muslim, although many are. Likewise every Muslim
that uses violence, even the vilest kinds (stoning someone for adultery or
homosexuality or whatever), is not someone the US military should be trying to
kill. For one, it is an impractical goal for a 330 million population who knows
very little about various cultures in Islamic countries. We simply cannot
achieve our goals — any more so than, say, an invasion of China to root out
their system of government.

Secondly, the attempt to root out violence between the various
Muslim communities and within their communities (such as honor killings) will
turn their violence against us.

In short, a longish way of saying that I think I agree with
you — once again.



[Robert A Schadler, Senior Fellow in Public Diplomacy at the
American Foreign Policy Council, Board Member of the Center for the Study of
Islam & Democracy Secretary, former
editor of The Intercollegiate Review,
during the Reagan administration he was
the Director of the Office of
International Visitors and Chief of Staff to the Director of US Information Agency and is a fellow member
of the Philadelphia Society.]


Best wishes,


Author: Warren Coats

I specialize in advising central banks on monetary policy and the development of the capacity to formulate and implement monetary policy.  I joined the International Monetary Fund in 1975 from which I retired in 2003 as Assistant Director of the Monetary and Financial Systems Department. While at the IMF I led or participated in missions to the central banks of over twenty countries (including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgystan, Moldova, Serbia, Turkey, West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Zimbabwe) and was seconded as a visiting economist to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (1979-80), and to the World Bank's World Development Report team in 1989.  After retirement from the IMF I was a member of the Board of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority from 2003-10 and of the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review from 2010-2017.  Prior to joining the IMF I was Assistant Prof of Economics at UVa from 1970-75.  I am currently a fellow of Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise.  In March 2019 Central Banking Journal awarded me for my “Outstanding Contribution for Capacity Building.”  My recent books are One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina; My Travels in the Former Soviet Union; My Travels to Afghanistan; My Travels to Jerusalem; and My Travels to Baghdad. I have a BA in Economics from the UC Berkeley and a PhD in Economics from the University of Chicago. My dissertation committee was chaired by Milton Friedman and included Robert J. Gordon.

One thought on “Comments on Shariah and America”

  1. Islam is a complex religion. So is Christianity. Thus it is difficult to have a discussion about what they mean without acknowledging the diversity of opinion and diversity of adherents. One can find in that diversity sources of inspiration and of fear. At the root of the most reprehensible and inhumane religious opinions/beliefs lie motivations of social and political control. They find fertile ground among the illiterate and ignorant – not because they are innately cruel. Views that start off “They” and then assume “they” are representative of a religious affiliation, do not help us to understand these complexities . We do have the benefit of education, of perspective, of security, of tolerance, of informed discourse so we should challenge ourselves to understand these diversities. As for the views expressed by Afghans I have learned that they must be our guide if we are seeking to help Afghans to re-build their society and economy. They know more than we ever will how best to challenge authority figures hiding behind religious edicts. They appreciate how difficult it is to change a society whose members cannot turn to the written word to form opinion and to counter rumour. One of my favourite books is “A World Lit Only by Fire” by William Manchester in which he seeks to recreate for our minds Europe at the dawn of the Renaissance. It gives a modern reader an appreciation for the magnitude of the changes that lifted people from ignorance to one of mastery. A similar challenge to what Afghans face today.

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