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Monthly Archives: June 2013

This piece by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair just gets under my skin. The argument is that there is a problem ‘within’ Islam: modern pluralistic societies are per se incompatible with the Islamic faith. Islam, as it is practiced now, can never lead to tolerant pluralistic societies.

But don’t worry about finding a reason for this black and white portrayal of the faith of billions: there’s no reason given by Mr. Blair for this view.  It’s not explained why theologically, culturally or dogmatically Islam (whatever monolithic Islam that Mr. Blair is writing about: I can’t tell) is incompatible with pluralistic societies.  Even though you might think some few words of explanation could be spared for such a sweeping generalisation.

In Blair’s view, the fundamental incompatibility does not leave room for a solution.  There is no scope for this problem – this irreconcilable difference – to be resolved by addressing the underlying issues of youthful populations, lack of opportunity, unemployment, under-development and a lack of access to education.

Never mind that everyone regards these as the potent driving forces of the Arab Spring – the most significant transformation of the Arab world – the heartland of the Islamic world – that we have seen in the last 50 years. Never mind that functioning Muslim majority democracies have existed in Malaysia and Indonesia.  Or that nearly 300 million Indian Muslims have the right to vote. Their actions can never bridge the theoretical divide

Instead, in the Blairite world, there is a (clearly Western) mandate to ‘help sow the seeds of reconciliation and peace’ through the use of military intervention. The intervention is needed to clear the fields so that peace can once again be found. Examples of these fields look like Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Blair says that we shouldn’t be misled by the apparent misfiring of the western plow in those countries: we have to remember that these conflicts happened because we allowed failed states to come into being.  To cleanse these failed states, dramatic decisive intervention was needed. A price to be paid for years of neglect.

But why then, Mr. Blair, did we have failed states there in the first place? Why had these fields been abandoned to raise their poisonous harvests?

Should we not see Afghanistan as radicalised Islamists armed by the Western powers when it suited their needs to keep a dangerous Soviet Union invasion in check? A country abandoned to its own fate when the Western geopolitical goal was accomplished? It’s not impossible to find a rich vibrant Afghan society before the Soviet invasion if one goes looking for it.  Heck go watch the Kite Runner.

And then there’s Iraq. Should we not see Iraq as the country where Rumsfeld shook hands with the dictator, a bulwark backed by Western might against Iranian power in the Middle East?  Where your special relationship, Mr. Blair, with the Americans resulted in an illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq?  Where not one WMD was found despite your promises of a rich harvest? Should we not regard this as an utterly tragic misstep that destroyed the country and turned it into fertile ground for extremists to nurture their talents and cultivate their networks? Yes fields were cleared. But weeds proliferated Mr. Blair.

Should we not see Iran as the country where the Western powers decapitated a democratically elected government to impose a tyrannical despot? Should we not see it as the direct target of a pre-revolutionary post-Mossadeq attempt to cleanse a failed state and harvest a rich crop of economic opportunism for the Western world?

And why – no really why – should we forget that the predominant exporter of intolerant Islam is the Wahhabist strain of Islam primarily supported by the Saudi Arabian theocracy.  A country that seems so beloved by the Western world? The great exporter of oil and stability.  The lead exporter of intolerance is the one country that Mr. Blair sees no flaws with in his sweeping world tour citing variety of examples of instability and despondency.  

At every turn, this attempt at opinion, this phony attempt at articulating a divide that echoes (poorly) the clash of civilizations thesis without even the courtesy of offering a reason that stands up to the barest scrutiny. Shame on your Mr. Blair for printing such drivel.  For shame.

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Three things strike me as being embedded into the common law.

The first is its commitment to the past. The common law answers every question with an answer based on what it has done before. The magic of precedent is that it looks out to the past to provide a starting point to answer a present question.

The second is its aversion to replicating the past mechanically. Even when given the answer as to what has happened in the past, the common law does not regard that answer as set in stone. It asks instead whether and what principles – what general rule – can be extrapolated from the past rather than any particular answer. The common law, even when it looks at a particular example, treats all such examples as something to be abstracted into a common general rule that is synthesized from all the prior cases.

The third is its caution at applying the past to the present even when the general rule seems apt to the case before it. The common law is always alive to the possibility that an old rule is no longer a good rule. It tests such questions by reference to modern circumstances, societal norms, cultural values and local circumstances. Every general principle can be modified and every such modification finds itself into the next application of the general principle.

In contrast, the poverty of statutory law is that it fails all three tests. It is neither based on past experience (unless there is that rare thing the codifying statute) nor does it identify the key principles that ought to apply by reference to a variety of circumstances and ultimately a statutory rule cannot be changed by contemporary experience. It has to rely on politics and that fickle beast the legislative process to turn an old rule into a good rule.

To all these three deficiencies of statutory law, the common law applies its limited remedial touch through the principles of statutory interpretation. The magic of the common law is that it corrects some of the principal flaws of the system that is superior to it though its own virtues.