Friday, April 19, 2013

Islamic Justice

What destroyed previous nations was, when the elite perpetrated injustices they were not punished but when the weak did it, they were.

--Ismail Menk

To me, the one really admirable thing about Islamic fundamentalists is their thirst for justice. My idea of justice is not quite the same as Ismail Menk's -- a Lebanese mufti now in the news because one of the Boston bombers was a fan -- but he and other fundamentalist imams are genuinely angry about the way the rich cheat and oppress the poor.

As I said, I admire this. But it also makes me nervous.

Imagine a character possessed of a raging thirst for justice. Did you just imagine someone you would want to have dinner with? That you would want teaching your children?

Me neither.

I have been trying to sort out my thoughts on this, and I find that they are all over the place. On the one hand, I am suspicious of anger in any context, and I abhor any sort of desire for revenge. Nietzsche's aphorism, "Mistrust all in whom the urge to punish is strong," is on one of the first pages of my commonplace book. And if anger is dubious, perpetual, unquenchable anger is soul destroying. (If you are really angry about injustice, won't you be angry always and forever? The perfect kingdom of justice is not coming, no matter how hard we work at it.) Anger as a political principle has been the fuel of catastrophe, the motive power of revolutionaries whose zeal far outran their wisdom. Righteous rage sent the priests to the guillotine, starved the kulaks, put bullets in the Tsar's children. When a man like Ismail Menk calls for justice, how many people is he planning to kill?

And yet. Is the untroubled march of corruption through our world not helped along by the shrugs of people like me? Is my refusal to be angry, my live-and-let-live attitude, what makes it possible for the bastards at Goldman Sachs to get rich by conjuring up worthless securities, selling them to saps and then betting against them? Is, maybe, easygoing tolerance the water through which the real sharks swim, counting on our lazy reluctance to challenge and condemn to hide their approach and ease their escape? Is it our duty to call out injustice wherever we see it? and is our failure in this duty the fertile loam where corruption takes root?

Do I dislike rigorous justice because I don't want to be judged by any such harsh standard myself?

I admire Ismail Menk's desire for justice. But I have no desire to be ruled by him.

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