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David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

The Liam O’Flahertys of Today



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Time was when intelligent men and women in all countries and all walks of life used to write books and articles in praise of Soviet Communism. The phenomenon is well known by now, but it is still an abiding example of how easily wishful thinking triumphs over rationality. Those testimonies are perpetual reminders of the frailty of civilization, and the latest example that I have come across is I Went to Russia, by Liam O’Flaherty, published in 1931. Quite a decent vaguely free-thinking fellow, O’Flaherty had knocked about the world a bit. He didn’t lose all sense of reality in Russia but nonetheless without apparent irony could let drop phrases like “this great headquarters of the world revolution.” The book ends with an account of meeting Walter Duranty of the New York Times, who spouted, “Bolshevism is real religious antidote to the materialism of the twentieth century.” The Five Year Plan was going to make Russia “exceedingly prosperous.” They do not discuss Gulag.

Today, praise for sharia or Islamic law has the same function of surrendering to wishful thinking at the expense of rationality. If only non-Muslims were to allow sharia for Muslims living in their midst, according to this line, all would be well. In England, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the head of the Supreme Court have both recommended sharia. Quite a number of Muslims in European countries have obliged by proclaiming the areas where they live as enclaves under sharia, with punishments for those who infringe the code. So honour killings, female genital mutilation, polygamy, a ban on alcohol, and other dietary taboos are normalized. Extremist Muslims openly proclaim that this is the way to install the rule of Islam, predicting that they will be colonizing non-Muslim countries by the middle of the century.

“Why Sharia deserves a fairer hearing” is the title of an article published on the News page of the London Times by Ziauddin Sardar, a university professor in Britain. Why the newspaper of record should give over this space to a opinion piece is as mysterious as the Archbishop’s endorsement of Islamic law. Sardar takes up what he considers “a captivating book,” by one Sadakat Kadri. In the manner of those who once sympathized with Communism, he glosses over the facts. Sharia law is made to seem universal — the euphemism he uses is “interconnected.” Just as the wrongs committed under Communism had nothing to do with the ideology, so whatever is wrong in Islam has nothing to do with sharia. And just as there were always progressive aspects of Communism to be found somewhere, so Ziauddin Sardar holds up Morocco and Malaysia as countries with “new and exciting” changes in sharia. In Indonesia, he says, “humanistic principles” are replacing the politics of sharia. He does not discuss the regular killings of Christians there, or the firing of churches.

Exam question. Describe in your own words what unites the Liam O’Flahertys and Ziauddin Sardars of this world, and draw your conclusions.



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