Harvard’s Noah Feldman justifies ISIS sexual slavery citing America’s past

Feldman argues that because slavery was accepted in the U.S. 150 years ago, ISIS' desire to return to the Caliphate of the 7th century is justified.


CHARLOTTE, N.C., Aug. 17, 2015 — A Harvard professor of constitutional and international law has written an article for Bloomberg View in which he compares contemporary sex slavery by ISIS with 19th century slavery in the United States.

Noah Feldman, who has a doctorate in Islamic thought from Oxford, writes, “It’s been 150 years since U.S. law allowed masters to rape enslaved girls and women. Almost all modern Muslim societies banned slavery in the last century.”

He continues: “Slavery in the U.S. isn’t a distant relic. We’re still dealing with its aftereffects, in the form of persistent racial inequality and long-lived symbols of the Confederacy.”

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Feldman admits that the Islamic State is merely “following the practices of the era of the Prophet Muhammad,” but he fails to mention that sex slavery was one of those practices, practiced by the prophet himself. He ignores passages in the Koran which condone the practice of sex slavery.

Surah 4:3 – “If you fear that you cannot treat orphans with fairness, then you may marry other women who seem good to you: two, three, or four of them. But if you fear that you cannot maintain equality among them, marry only one or any slave-girls you may own.”

Surah 23:1-6 – “Blessed are the believers, who are humble in their prayers; who avoid profane talk, and give alms to the destitute who restrain their carnal desires (except with their wives and slave-girls, for these are lawful to them: transgressors are those who lust after other than these).”

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“What we in the U.S. recently sanctioned, we now find repulsive,” writes Feldman. “We develop new ideas that our ancestors would hardly have recognized – and we come to believe that our old ideas were not just wrong, but horrifyingly wrong. Modern people are prepared to say that we, and our fathers, and our fathers’ fathers, sinned. The fact that something is old and venerated isn’t a good enough reason to keep it when its immorality becomes manifest.”

What point Feldman is attempting to make? That progress is bad? That changes in American society during the past six or seven decades regarding race relations, rights for women, the environment and a host of other issues are moving too slowly?

Or is he claiming that we have no right to decry the Islamic State because we ourselves practiced slavery within the last 200 years?

Does it justify what the Islamic State is doing to say that we were guilty of the same sins? Feldman seems to believe we should “apologize” or “feel remorse” because we have evolved and they have not. “Islamic State’s goal isn’t primarily about money or sex, but sending the message that they are creating an Islamic utopia, following the practices of the era of the Prophet Muhammad. The more medieval the practice, the more they like it.”

A return to the days of the caliphate might be desirable for ISIS, but most rational people in the 21st century would completely reject the thought of traveling back 14 centuries in time. Indeed, Feldman rationalizes his opinions by saying that most modern Muslims also denounce the concept of sex slavery.

Feldman’s premise is that we, as contemporary Americans, have no right, as President Obama would say, “to sit on our high horse” when we, too, have been guilty of the same sins as ISIS within our recent history. “Begin with the sober acknowledgment that we aren’t light years ahead of Islamic State – more like a century and a half.”

According to Feldman, the fact that the United States and the Islamic State both utilized slavery means that they are equally culpable because of the proximity of our slave past to ISIS’s today in the historical timeline.

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The point is moot. It is like saying the Enlightenment is insignificant because other religions did not evolve at the same point in time that Christianity did.

The foundation of Feldman’s argument is the idea that the Islamic State knows what it wants, which is a return to the caliphate of the 7th century. Assuming ISIS were able to obtain the caliphate and resolve every grievance they are seeking today would not alter their thinking or their philosophy one iota.

They would remain as they are, a brutal medieval society, because there is no resolution or satisfaction for them in achieving their goals.

Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News. Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod

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