Blogs > Liberty and Power > Juan Cole on the British Boycott of Israeli Universities

May 4, 2005 11:05 am

Juan Cole on the British Boycott of Israeli Universities

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David T. Beito - 5/6/2005

I agree with you on the Jews. Robertson was perfectly within his rights to say that the president has a right to make a distinction between conservative Jews, who share his views, and those who do not.

While the Koran has more to say about politics that the NT, it is not quite the political document that it is often made out to be.

When I read it recently, I took the good advice of an informed friend from the Middle East who recommended that I read it from the back forward.

He said that the later, more political verses, were in the front. It was good advice. The oldest verses were entirely consistent with a kind of mystic otherworldly Christianity. They focused heavily on hell fire and personal behavior and virtually nothing to say about politics. They form the bulk of the Koran. The more political verses at the front are more ambigous but in my reading generally have a tolerant (at least as far as politics) tone. It is in other non-Koranic writings, that intolerant political language is most in evidence.

David T. Beito - 5/6/2005

In the answer to the first question, not necessarily. However, I think that the boycott is a bad idea if we want to encourage the goals of free and open debate in universities in colleges.

Your second point is well taken. I use this language primarily in an effort to encourage people on the left and right (who are far more numerous and powerful than libertarians) to show mutual respect for these values.

Jason Pappas - 5/6/2005

Some good points, Mr. Woolsey.

As an atheist, I have no axe to grind with respect to one religion vs. another. However, when it comes to the potential for liberty, there are distinct challenges for Islam. As you point out, Islam was inherently political from the outset and the example Mohammad set in Medina is problematic for a libertarian. Christians, on the other hand, were a persecuted minority who didn’t achieve power for three hundred years. Before my point is misunderstood, evolution (for better or worse) is possible for both religions. However, a literalist fundamentalist depiction of the life, deeds, and sayings of the central prophetic figure adds significant challenges to the Islamic religion that can’t be ignored.

That being said let me say the obvious: no individual Muslim should be judged by anything but his/her character and acts – a universal standard applicable to all. I reiterate that mainly for the occasional web-surfer who stumbles across this site.

Bill Woolsey - 5/5/2005

I read Cole religiously and have next to no respect for Pat Robertson. Still, I thought that Cole went too far.

Robertson didn't say that Jews shouldn't serve on the Supreme Court because some Jews belong to the ACLU. He was rather asked about two Jewish members of the Supreme Court. Robertson replied that they were involved in the ACLU and shouldn't be on the Supreme Court because the ACLU was founded by Communists. It wasn't their ethnic or religious background that was a problem. Jews who aren't involved in the ACLU would be O.K. Robertson actually stated a criterion for Supreme Court membership that sounded pretty good--devoted to the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, etc. )Naturally, I don't see involvement in the ACLU an appropriate bar to public service.)

Of course, the thrust of the article was about Robertson's claim that Muslims shouldn't be in the Cabinet. My own view is that there are surely some Muslims who would be better than the current bunch, but I can only think of one Muslim who I would like to see in the Cabinet--though I'm sure there are many more.

Generally, I do think that Islamic fundamentalists would be poor choices for political leadership. And while I think that Christian fundamentalists of Robertson's stripe are equally bad, I believe that a fundamentalist conception of Christianity is more consistent with libertarianism than is a fundamentalist conception of Islam. The Koran has more to say about politics than the New Testament.

In my opinion, Christian libertarians have as much right to claim a "fundamentalist" title as conservatives. Some do. Admittedly, I'm not a fundamentalist at all, but the notion that Christians should seek to have the state enforce something like the rules enforced upon Jews by ancient Israel seems like a stretch--something that Christians constantly lean towards because the New Testament is written in a way that give no hint that Christians would eventually rule states. I sometimes wonder if the implication is that there is an inherent inconsistency between true Christianity and rule. It's that turn the other cheek and give up the cloak business.

Mark Brady - 5/4/2005

"Perhaps this is a rare issue [where] people of good will on left and right can agree."

Are you suggesting that those who support an academic boycott necessarily manifest ill will? And why subscribe to the left-right dichotomy that libertarians and classical libertarians rightly seek to transcend?

Jason Pappas - 5/4/2005

Wait a second. Locke accepted limitations on the toleration of Catholics due to Papal allegiance (not religious doctrine). What did Locke know about the political nature of Islam’s founding? Had he known more, and had there been sizable number of Muslims as there were Catholics, it is doubtful that Locke would have been as tolerant of Muslims as Cole would suggest.

Now, we’ve advanced the state of toleration since Locke path-breaking essay. But let’s not assume philosophy – religious or otherwise – shouldn’t be taken into consideration in the evaluation of character. Let just not be stupid about inferring too much from a label that is more a nominal demographic designation than narrow doctrinal religious/political creed.