Tuesday, November 19, 2019

If I do not drink wine, God’s knowledge was ignorance

The humor of Omar Khayyam.

by Michael Isenberg.

When we think of the great figures of history, one trait that we tend not to think of is humor. After all, they were busy waging war, handing down laws, writing philosophical tomes, and making world-altering scientific discoveries. Surely these things are no laughing matter.

But of course that’s not true. They were human beings, and like all human beings, some are stiffs, others will have you rolling on the floor laughing. Abraham Lincoln was constantly telling jokes (There was a good one in the 2012 movie about him, starring Daniel Day Lewis, although I don't know if it's one of the jokes Lincoln told in real life. It involved Ethan Allen and a picture of George Washington in an English privy.). Churchill’s rejoinders against various antagonists, mostly female, are world-famous (“Winston, you’re drunk.” “Bessie, you’re ugly. And tomorrow morning, I’ll be sober.”) Ronald Reagan made the age issue in his re-election campaign completely go away with a well-timed zinger (“I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience”). Even his opponent was laughing.

Certainly humor is not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of Omar Khayyam (1048-1131). For westerners, that would be his poetry, The Rubaiyat. Omar was a scientist at a time when the Muslim world was in the throes of turning its back on science. So it’s no surprise that The Rubaiyat is a world-weary collection of verses. Among the themes are the futility of knowledge and the inevitability of death:

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
          About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door as in I went.

With them the seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with my own hand wrought to make it grow:
          And this was all the Harvest that I reap'd—
“I came like Water, and like Wind I go.” (1)

And yet, amid these grim sentiments, there are flashes of humor, no doubt Omar's way of dealing. Omar generally marshalled it in the service of rationalizing his wine-drinking, another way of dealing. Wine, of course, is prohibited in Islam.

I drink Wine; my Enemies, high and low,
Say—“Do not drink it; ’tis Religion’s Foe.”
          When I learned wine was a Foe, I answered—
“’Tis permitted to drink the Foe’s Blood, though.” (2)

In another bit of twisted logic, Omar argues that God doesn’t mind, and anyway, if Omar doesn’t imbibe, God would be diminished:

I drink wine, and every one drinks who like me is worthy of it;
My wine-drinking is but a small thing to Him;
          God knew, on the Day of Creation, that I should drink wine;
If I do not drink wine, God’s knowledge was ignorance. (3)

Besides, how can wine be a sin? God created it. It’s blasphemous to say it’s sinful! And if it is a sin, well, it’s God’s fault if we drink. He put temptation in our path.

Why, be this Juice the growth of God, who dare
Blaspheme the twisted tendril as a Snare?
          A Blessing, we should use it, should we not?
And if a Curse—why, then, Who set it there? (4)

In any case, Omar has no intention of repenting:

They say to me, “May God give thee repentance!”
He himself will not give it; I will none of it; let it be far off! (5)

For more about Omar and wine, see my recent post, “A Loaf of Bread, a Jug of Wine, and Thou.”

Omar’s humor spilled over from his poetry into his real life. He perpetrated the only practical joke I’ve come across in my studies of the medieval Muslim world (which, as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, are extensive). According to Zakariya Qazwini, who lived about a century and a half after Omar,

It was reported that a jurist went to him every day before sunrise, and he studied philosophy with him, but then if he mentioned Omar to other people, he spoke evil of him. Then Omar asked two drummers and the two trumpeters to come and he hid them in his house. Then when the jurist came as normal to read his lessons, Omar commanded them to beat the drums and blow the trumpets. Then the people came from every direction. Then Omar said, “O people of Nishapur, this scholar of yours comes to me every day at this time, and he takes lessons from me. He takes my knowledge when I’m there, and speaks of me as evil when I’m not.” (6)

In another, slightly earlier version of the story (7), the jurist was none other than Abu Hamid Ghazali, the era’s foremost scholar of shari’a, and a key figure in the eradication of science in the Muslim world. As we have other stories about Ghazali studying with Omar, and treating him dismissively, this is plausible. Ghazali’s sense of humor, BTW, tended toward insults.

This last story is from a somewhat later source, the Tarikh-i-Alfi, History of the Millennium, written in the 1580s to commemorate the year one thousand in the Muslim calendar.

It is related that there was in Nishapur an old College, for the repairing of which donkeys were bringing bricks. One day, while the Sage (i.e. Omar) was walking with a group of students, one of the donkeys would on no account enter the College. When Omar saw this, he smiled, went up to the donkey, and extemporized:

“O lost and now returned ‘yet more astray,’
They name from men’s remembrance passed away,
          Thy nails have now combined to form thy hoofs,
Thy tail’s a beard turned round the other way!”

The donkey then entered, and they asked Omar the reason of this. He replied, “The spirit which has now attached itself to the body of the ass formerly inhabited the body of a lecturer in this college, therefore it would not come in until now, when, perceiving that its colleagues had recognised it, it was obliged to step inside (8).

The author Tarikh-i-Alfi, Ahmad Tatavi, cited the story as evidence that Omar believed in reincarnation. This was a rather serious accusation, since most Muslims consider reincarnation to be heresy.

Sounds like Tatavi needed to get a sense of humor.

Michael Isenberg drinks bourbon and writes novels. His latest book, The Thread of Reason, featuring Omar Khayyam, is a murder mystery that takes place in Baghdad in the year 1092, and tells the story of the conflict between science and shari’ah in medieval Islam. It is available on Amazon.com

Please follow Mike on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo credit(s): Pinterest

(1) Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, 2nd Edition, London: Bernard Quaritch (1868), translated by Edward Fitzgerald, verses xxx-xxxi.

(2) The Ruba’iyat of Omar Khayyam, Boston: L.C. Page and Company (1898), translated by Edward Heron-Allen, verse 38, adapted by me for rhyme and meter.

(3) Ibid, verse 75.

(4) Fitzgerald, op. cit., verse lxiii.

(5) Heron-Allen, op. cit., verse 64.

(6) Shams Tabrizi, Maqalat (Discourses), Tehran (1377 S.H.), 2nd ed., pp. 301-302.

(7) Qazwini, Zakariya ibn Muhammad, Athar al-bilad wa-akhbar al-‘ibad (Monument of Places and History of God’s Bondmen), Beirut:Dar Sadur, 1960, p. 475. Translation mine.

(8) Zhukovski, V., "Al-Musaffariyé: Containing a Recent Contribution to the Study of 'Omar Khayyām" (a translation of "Umar Khayyam and his 'Wandering' Quatrains"), Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. 30 (April, 1898), pp. 349-366.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Should Sharia be banned in the US?

It’s complicated.

by Michael Isenberg.

In 2009, a New Jersey woman went to family court to seek a restraining order against her husband. Both were Muslims, originally from Morocco. It had been an arranged marriage; the woman was still in her teens.

The details of the case are spelled out in court documents (Superior Court of New Jersey,Appellate Division. S.D., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. M.J.R., Defendant-Respondent. Decided: July 23, 2010) and they’re horrific. The woman accused her husband of assaulting and raping her on numerous occasions. Photographs were introduced in evidence. “They depict bruising to both of plaintiff's breasts and to both of her thighs, as well as her swollen, bruised and abraded lips. Testimony of Detective Johanna Rak, the person who took the photographs, established that the remaining photographs disclosed injuries to plaintiff's left eye and right cheek. She testified that bruising appeared on plaintiff's breasts, thighs, and forearm. Additional police testimony established that there were stains on the pillow and sheets of plaintiff's and defendant's bed that appeared to be blood.” The wife “testified that defendant always told her ‘this is according to our religion. You are my wife, I c[an] do anything to you. The woman, she should submit and do anything I ask her to do.’”

The judge, Joseph Charles, found that the woman “had proven by a preponderance of the evidence that defendant had engaged in harassment…and assault.” Nevertheless, the judge refused to issue the restraining order. The ruling was overturned on appeal about a year later, but not before igniting a firestorm of public opinion because of the reason he gave for his decision: “The court believes that [defendant] was operating under his belief that it is, as the husband, his desire to have sex when and whether he wanted to, was something that was consistent with his practices and it was something that was not prohibited.”

In other words—as many outraged people interpreted it—the court gave the husband a pass for raping his wife, because doing so was permitted under Muslim law, known as shari’a. [For the record, Islam prohibits rape, but frowns on a woman refusing sex to her husband. “The angels send their curses on her till she comes back.” (Bukhari Vol 7, Book 62, No. 122)]

A movement to ban shari’a in the United States had been simmering for some time—David Yerushalmi’s Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE) posted draft legislation on its website in 2007. The New Jersey episode brought things to a boil. Further fuel was added to the fire by a Breitbart article about an Islamic Tribunal established in Texas in 2013 or 14.

In addition, statements had surfaced from various Muslim figures advocating replacing the laws of the United States with shari’a, including a 1998 quote from Omar Ahmad, founding chairman of the Council for American Islamic Relations: “Islam isn't in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Koran, the Muslim book of scripture, should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on earth.” Although the statement was reported in the San Ramon Valley Herald at the time, Mr. Ahmad denies saying it.

The anti-shari’a movement had an effect. According to Wikipedia, thirty-four states have considered shari’a bans, some based on the SANE draft; nine states had gone so far as to pass one.

So are the proponents of these bans right? Should shari’a be banned in the United States?

Well, it’s complicated.

What complicates it is that shari’a--like the Jewish halakha--is a vast body of law covering every aspect of life, developed over hundreds of years by some of the greatest minds in the faith. Muslims often disagree among themselves as to what its provisions are. As Will Coley, former imam and director of the MALIC Center in Keene, NH, explained on one of my recent Facebook threads, “The differences of opinion within shari’a cover everything from what animals are allowed to eat, to when and how you should pray and how to hold your hands and how many times you should bow and all these things are shari’a.”

Some provisions of shari’a are innocuous, such as the directives about praying that Mr. Coley mentioned. Others are arguably beneficial. For example, in his book, Skin in the Game, Nassim Nicholas Taleb praised the restrictions in shari’a against undertaking excessively risky contracts, which he contrasted with the dangerous financial instruments that starred in the 2008 financial crisis. And some provisions of shari'a are just plain evil—like the so-called “Ordinance of Omar” which lay down the restrictions that make Jews and Christians living in the Muslim world second class citizens, or the laws concerning the treatment of enemies in wartime, which are literally medieval.

To complicate things further, what does “Ban shari’a” even mean? A wide range of measures have been proposed. Some may have some merit to them. Others are frankly un-American prohibitions on the free exercise of religion. A 2010 constitutional amendment in Oklahoma focused mainly on use of shari’a by the courts: the relevant section read, “The courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures. Specifically, the courts shall not consider international or Sharia Law.” The amendment passed, but was subsequently overturned by a federal court.

A Tennessee law was more wide-ranging. Quoting Mr. Coley again, “I actually testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee during Tennessee's first go-around attempting to pass one of these bills. I also read the original bills that were floated around to different state legislators and the original bills that were accepted offered everything from banning the sale, purchase, and ownership of Qurans in the United States. Banning of the practice of shari’a means no prayer, no fasting, no marriage, no divorce. All of these things are covered by shari’a…the tea parties in East Tennessee actually opposed the anti-sharia bill in Tennessee because they read the bill.”

In its final form, the Tennessee law asserts “Jihad and sharia are inextricably linked, with sharia formulating and commanding jihad, and jihad being waged for the purpose of imposing and instituting sharia…Any person who knowingly provides material support or resources to a designated sharia organization, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall commit an offense.” In response to the public outcry against the bill, language was added to clarify that it “neither targets, nor incidentally prohibits or inhibits, the peaceful practice of any religion, and in particular, the practice of Islam by its adherents. Rather, this part criminalizes only the knowing provision of material support or resources…to designated sharia organizations…or to known sharia-jihad organizations with the intent of furthering their criminal behavior.”

IMHO, our guide for approaching questions of Muslim Law vs. US law should be the same guide we should use for every other question of whether to ban something: the Non-aggression Principle (NAP). The NAP is the notion that in a free society, everything is permissible so long as it doesn’t aggress against the rights of other people. It’s closely related to voluntarism, the idea any voluntary relationships among consenting adults should alway be permitted.

Some examples illustrate how this works in practice.

In Islam, an enormous amount of jurisprudence has gone into the subject of inheritance. Indeed, there are even examples in the literature of people posing inheritance puzzles to each other for fun. Among these laws is that “the male is the equal of the portion of two females (Quran 4:11).” So a son inherits twice what is sister gets.

In America, our law gives wide latitude to the deceased to spell out their bequests in a will. If a Muslim man, living in the US, writes a will, and he says in the will that his son gets twice what his daughter gets, then, we might not like the sexism of that (although bear in mind that the son is required to maintain his unmarried sisters financially), but the will should still be upheld by the court. Not because it’s shari’a, but because our own law respects wills—and it’s consistent with the NAP.

Other examples may be found in contract law. I actually had a dispute about this with Aynaz Anni Cyrus of the American Truth Project. She proposed banning shari’a in a speech to the Worcester Tea Party, and during the question period I asked, “I just want to understand what you have in mind when you say, ‘ban shari’a.’ For example, if two Muslims voluntarily make a contract with each other, and they write in the contract that, in the event of a dispute, it would be adjudicated according to shari’a, is that something you would ban?”

Again, the NAP would say that it’s a voluntary contract, of course it should be upheld. Indeed, that’s exactly the sort of thing that shari’a “courts” like Islamic Tribunal do—arbitration.

But Ms. Cyrus had a different point of view. “Yes, that needs to be banned,” she replied.

When pressed she changed the subject to child marriage.

You can see the exchange near the end of the video, at 45:45, but I recommend you watch the entire thing. Despite my disagreement with Ms. Cyrus on this point, I have a great deal of respect for her and she had a fascinating story to tell. She suffered tragically growing up in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a place where the worst provisions of shari’a are strictly enforced. Her suffering was in many ways similar to that of the New Jersey woman I mentioned earlier. Ms. Cyrus eventually escaped and obtained American citizenship, which she appreciates in a way that only someone who lived under tyranny elsewhere can.

Which brings me back to the case of the New Jersey woman. Again, the course of action comes into sharp focus when viewed through the lens of the NAP. Clearly the scumbag who was her husband had violated her rights, in a most despicable way. She was entitled to the protection of the State of New Jersey, regardless of anything that may or may not be in the shari’a. The judge clearly erred in not issuing the restraining order.

Still, the case does not establish a need for a ban on the courts substituting shari’a for duly passed legislation—because it is already banned--which is why the appeals court overturned the decision. This has been the case since 1878, when SCOTUS upheld the conviction of a Mormon man for polygamy (Reynolds vs. United States). In the New Jersey case, the appeals court stated this in no uncertain terms: the trial judge’s “perception that, although defendant's sexual acts violated applicable criminal statutes, they were culturally acceptable and thus not actionable” was “a view that we have soundly rejected.”

If you’ve followed my writing for a while, you know that I have no illusions about the dangers of jihadism and political Islam, and I speak out against them frequently. But I do not support a shari’a ban. At best it’s a solution to a problem whose solution is already in place. At worst, it’s a violation of the freedom of religion of the millions of Muslims who merely want to practice their faith peacefully. If we did that, we’d be guilty of the very attacks on our freedom that we accuse the jihadists of. Let’s not destroy the village in order to save it.

Michael Isenberg drinks bourbon and writes novels. His latest book, The Thread of Reason, is a murder mystery that takes place in Baghdad in the year 1092, and tells the story of the conflict between science and shari’ah in medieval Islam. It is available on Amazon.com

Please follow Mike on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo credit(s): Reuters

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Other Mideast Story

Protests are raging in Lebanon and Iraq. Here are the basics.

By Michael Isenberg.

The gruesome suicide of ISIS “caliph” Abu Bakr Baghdadi as he fled US forces and detonated his suicide vest was a richly deserved and I hope painful end for the bastard. The world is a better place without him, and the story has rightly dominated the headlines from the Middle East during the past week.

But Baghdadi’s death has overshadowed another story, unnoticed by many in the West. Massive protests have virtually shut down two Middle Eastern countries: Lebanon and Iraq. The story is still unfolding, but as with any unrest in that part of the world, there is the potential for the consequences to echo across the globe. (There are other reasons that this story has received so little attention. I’ll come to that later).

The protest in Iraq had been planned for some months. But a couple events in the days leading up to the scheduled October 1 demonstration gave new urgency to it. On September 25 there was a protest outside the office of Prime Minister Adil Abd’ al-Mahdi to highlight the plight of the many Iraqis with advanced degrees who are unable to get jobs. The protest was brutally broken up by authorities. Then on the 27th, al-Mahdi announced his intention to transfer Lieutenant General Abd’ al-Waheb as-Saedi from the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Force to the defense ministry. As-Saedi is a hero of the liberation of Mosul from ISIS terrorists; the decision sparked a firestorm of backlash on social media.

In the wake of these events, the planned demonstration mushroomed beyond all expectation, with demonstrators in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square numbering in the hundreds of thousands and protests spreading to eleven other cities.

Government forces have hit back hard with an arsenal of water cannons, tear gas, and bullets (not the rubber kind). Internet service has been shut down to prevent protesters from learning the harshness of the measures and from using social media to coordinate their activities. The Green Zone, home to parliament, government offices, and foreign embassies, has been barricaded; the government has no intention of allowing a repeat of the 2016 storming of the Iraqi parliament. Unidentifed “security forces” raided the NRT and Tigris satellite channels and the Saudi al-Hadath channel, destroyed and confiscated equipment, and attacked employees, wounding at least one. The cost of the government crackdown has been high. According to The Economist, 250 people have been killed, as of the end of October,

Like the French Revolution, the protests in Lebanon were sparked by a government funding crisis. The Lebanese pound is officially pegged to US currency—1507 pounds to the dollar—and like many countries that interfere with the free market for currency, the result is disastrous. As a poor economy put downward pressure on the pound, the government drained its reserve of dollars in an effort to prop it up. Desperate for cash, the Lebanese government sought to borrow from the World Bank and other international agencies, which demanded harsh austerity measures in return. The resulting package of spending cuts and tax increases proved extremely unpopular—especially the tax imposed on VoIP telephone calls which became known as the “WhatsApp Tax.”

Although sporadic protests were held as early as September, things began in earnest following an October 17 cabinet meeting to discuss the proposals. The protests swelled. According to some estimates, a quarter of the country’s population has participated. Key roadways were blocked. A human chain stretched along the Mediterranean Coast for 100 miles, from Tripoli to Tyre. Although the violence in Lebanon has not come up to the level in Iraq, there have been some fatalities, and things have been getting worse in the last few days, as I discuss below.

Events came to a head October 29, when Prime Minster Saad Hariri declared himself at a “dead end” and resigned. He’ll stay on as a caretaker until a replacement is found. Protests, in the meantime, have shown no sign of slowing.

Commentators are at a loss to figure out what to make of it all. The BBC’s Jeremy Bowen asks, “Is the region slipping into a new Arab spring?” While hedging on the answer, he notes that the issues which led to those 2011 protests are largely unresolved. The Economist noted that Iraq and Lebanon are only two out of numerous countries that have been deluged with mass protests recently, both inside the Muslim world (Algeria, Pakistan) and beyond (Hong Kong, France, and many others). Their writers were at a loss to find common elements in all these protests. After considering and rejecting numerous theories—rising inequality, shifting demographics, foreign conspiracies—they threw up their hands and subtitled their article “Something in the Air.”

Still, there are three grievances that permeate all the reporting from Iraq and Lebanon: corruption, unemployment, and pitiful public services.

Both nations have rigid governmental structures, with certain positions set aside for Sunnis, Shiites, and in the case of Lebanon, Christians. This sectarian spoils system is laid out in agreements that the various parties made to put an end to political violence—the Taif Agreement in Lebanon near the end of its civil war in 1989, and the political settlement reached in Iraq as the Sunni insurgency wound down in 2016/2017. In practice it has yielded a system of patronage jobs under the control of political leaders, who fill them with their relatives and supporters. The protesters demand a “technocratic” government, in which job assignments are made based on skills rather than political connections. Indeed, that is what Prime Minister al-Mahdi in Iraq promised upon taking office, but failed to deliver. This is why the resignation of Prime Minister Hariri in Lebanon hasn’t satisfied the protesters there: they want the whole system replaced.

Unemployment is high in both countries, especially for the young. As of September 2019, the International Labour Organization model estimates that the overall unemployment rate is 7.9% in Iraq and 6.2% in Lebanon. For young people, ages 15-24, the news is significantly worse: 16.5% and 17.6% respectively. These numbers have been consistent for a decade or so. Unofficial numbers are even higher. Last year, Lebanese President Michel Aoun claimed a whopping 46% of the Lebanese labor force is unemployed. The Iraqi economy is burdened by the destruction of infrastructure during fifteen years of war, while Lebanon, a country of some six million people, has had to absorb a million or more refugees from the civil war in Syria.

Both countries are plagued by unreliable infrastructure, and cannot depend on services that we take for granted in the West: trash pickup, electricity, clean water.

As much as I hear my left-of-center friends blame the United States for the travails of the Middle East, that is one thing I haven’t heard from the protesters. The US just doesn’t seem to be on their radar right now. No mention of America in any of interviews I’ve read, and I haven’t seen anything along those lines from the protesters on Twitter either (usual caveat: I’m sure it can be found, but it’s clearly rare).

But there is a country who the protesters do blame for their problems. This aspect of the demonstrations has been largely overlooked in what little press coverage there has been. But it became impossible to ignore Friday night, when rioters in Karbala, Iraq attacked a foreign consulate, threw burning objects over the wall, and replaced its flag with an Iraqi one. The consulate belonged to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Iran has its Islamist tentacles deep in both Iraq and Lebanon. Iranian-backed militias operate in both countries and Iranian puppets are influential in their governments. As the American Islamic Forum for Democracy’s Zuhdi Jasser pointed out in his podcast yesterday, “The demonstrations in Baghdad this week, as they grow, are a rejection of Iranian colonization of Iraq. They’re a rejection of the corruption of the radical Shia supremacism, of their Shari’a state that they brought from Iran, into Iraq and into Lebanon as Hezbollah has been controlling Lebanon and the same demonstrations are happening.”

Dr. Jasser also opined on why the demonstrations have received so little press coverage, especially compared to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi by agents of the Saudi government a year ago. “Those demonstrations do not fit the narrative. Remember the Obama Administration was knee deep, butts and elbows as they say (there’s another term for it but I won’t say it on my podcast), knee deep with the Iranian regime. Everything at the altar of that nuclear deal. Everything. So the narrative that Iran is not as bad as we think is something that the traditional legacy media is stuck in.”

Iran is clearly feeling the heat in Iraq and Lebanon, and is seeking to deflect it. Unlike the protesters, Iranian leaders are talking about the United States. In a speech to graduating army cadets October 30, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said, “The U.S. and Western intelligence services, with the financial backing of reactionary countries in the region, are spreading turmoil,” and recommended that Iraq and Lebanon follow the example of his own country during similar protests in 2017 and 2018: unleash the rent-a-mobs and the military. “They (U.S. and Saudi Arabia) had similar plans for our dear country, but fortunately the people... came out in time and the armed forces were ready and that plot was neutralized.”

In Lebanon, Khamanei’s lap dog, Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, apparently received his barking points. In a speech on October 25, he urged his followers to stop protesting and go home, warning darkly that they were being manipulated by American and Israeli conspiracies. Since then, Hezbollah supporters have attacked and driven away other protesters, smashing chairs, pulling down tents, and violently prying phones out of the hands of anyone who tries to video them.

It appears that Iranian supporters are engaging in similar violent tactics in Iraq. Some of “security forces” firing on the protesters wear black clothing and masks, their affiliations unclear. It’s widely believed that they are members of Iran-backed militias.

I wish the protesters every success in eliminating Iranian influence in their countries and restoring their economies. It will be an uphill battle however. The political settlements that are responsible for so much corruption were hammered out with great difficulty among enemies who had until then been at each other’s throats. They wouldn’t be easy to re-negotiate under the best of circumstances, and certainly not with powerful interests vested in the status quo. And if Iraq and Lebanon really want their economies to flourish, they need to unleash the power of free markets, rather than relying on government controls like pegged currencies. Sadly, capitalism is not popular in that part of the world. The real tragedy is that in two centuries of reforms and dashed hopes, the nations of the Middle East have tried everything but freedom.

Michael Isenberg drinks bourbon and writes novels. His latest book, The Thread of Reason, is a murder mystery that takes place in Baghdad in the year 1092, and tells the story of the conflict between science and shari’ah in medieval Islam. It is available on Amazon.com

Please follow Mike on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo credit(s): Wikipedia/FPP under Creative Commons License CC BY-SA 4.0

For further reading—

  • 2019 Iraqi protests (Wikipedia). Many people look down on Wikipedia, but frankly, I thought in this case, they had some of the best coverage out there for giving the big picture.
  • 2019 Lebanese protests (Wikipedia)
  • Why are so many countries witnessing mass protests? - Something in the air (The Economist, Nov 4)
  • Iraq unrest: Protesters attack Iranian consulate in Karbala (BBC, Nov 4)
  • Protests in Iraq are met with violence (The Economist, Oct 31)
  • Pointing to Iraq, Lebanon, Khamenei recalls how Iran put down unrest (Reuters, Oct 30)
  • Amal and Hezbollah supporters overrun Beirut protesters (The National, Oct 29)
  • Is a new Arab Spring unfolding in the Middle East? (BBC, Oct 29)
  • Iraq protests: What's behind the anger? (BBC, Oct 7)
  • قوات أمنية تداهم قناتين فضائيتين في بغداد (Security forces raided two satellite channels in Baghdad, al-Hurra, Oct 5)
  • Reform This! with Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, Ep 43 | The Long War against Jihadists (Blaze Radio Network, Nov 4)