The Nudnik File

Nudnik - n. U.S. colloq. Esp. in Jewish usage: a pestering, nagging, or irritating person

Thursday, April 28, 2005

              Arab Government reprints an article from the current issue of Foreign Affairs by Bernard Lewis entitled Freedom and Justice in the Modern Middle East. Lewis is one of the preeminent scholars of the Arab world, and is writing about the possibility of consensual government there. He points ot that the current idea that Arabs are incapable of consensual government because dictatorship is endemic to the culture is simply wrong. Consensual government did exist in the Arab world, though not in the form that we are used to.
Consultation is a central part of the traditional Islamic order, but it is not the only element that can check the ruler's authority. The traditional system of Islamic government is both consensual and contractual. The manuals of holy law generally assert that the new caliph--the head of the Islamic community and state--is to be "chosen." The Arabic term used is sometimes translated as "elected," but it does not connote a general or even sectional election. Rather, it refers to a small group of suitable, competent people choosing the ruler's successor. In principle, hereditary succession is rejected by the juristic tradition. Yet in practice, succession was always hereditary, except when broken by insurrection or civil war; it was--and in most places still is--common for a ruler, royal or otherwise, to designate his successor.

But the element of consent is still important. In theory, at times even in practice, the ruler's power--both gaining it and maintaining it--depends on the consent of the ruled. The basis of the ruler's authority is described in the classical texts by the Arabic word bay'a, a term usually translated as "homage," as in the subjects paying homage to their new ruler. But a more accurate translation of bay'a--which comes from a verb meaning "to buy and to sell"--would be "deal," in other words, a contract between the ruler and the ruled in which both have obligations.
Despotism and dictatorship were actually fairly late imports from Europe, specifically from Nazi Germany.

Lewis is cautiously optimistic that with the elections in Iraq we are seeing a reversal of the rule of despotism and the possibility of the birth of true consensual governments in the Arab world.
|| Nudnik 12:55 PM
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