ISLAM AND THE WEST
By Daniel Brumberg
“We remind Hosni Mubarak that we are all Egyptians. Where does he want us to go?” Gergis Faris, a 46-year-old pig farmer in Cairo who collects garbage to feed his animals, told the Associated Press. “We are uneducated people, just living day by day… and now if our pigs are taken from us without compensation, how are we supposed to live?”
In the past two days Egyptian authorities have slaughtered some 300,000 pigs. Never mind that health officials from Atlanta to Melbourne have asserted that Swine Flu is transmitted not by pigs but from people to people. As panic sets in on a global level, pork barrel politics of a very different kind is spreading fast, and with equal madness.
Egypt’s story, of course, is not solely about pigs or disease. Partly, it is a story about the status of Christian Copts, who make up ten percent of the population, and who have long complained of political and economic discrimination. If, as the Washington Post reports, some Islamist radical Web sites have asserted that the Swine Flu is God’s revenge against “infidels,” we can’t blame Egyptian Copts for feeling that there is more to the killing of their pigs than the arbitrary actions of an arbitrary regime.
I have not as yet found the above referenced militant Islamist Web site. But I would not be surprised were some Jihadists to believe that Swine Flu is divine retribution. Totally departing from mainstream Islam, Jihadists assert that being Christian or Jewish is itself a crime. On this basis, they believe that non-Muslims are getting their just desserts.
Egypt’s Muslim Brethren have taken a religiously more palatable position. At a health symposium the other day, one of the group’s leaders asserted that while many Muslims have failed to understand why Islamic law prohibits eating pork, Swine Flu has proven “the truth of God’s words to us.”
Many devout Jews might reach a similar conclusion. The Jewish ban on pork is partly rooted in an ancient belief that pig meat carries disease. That people are dying from Swine Flu only seems to reaffirm the wisdom in Leviticus (11,7-8), which states: “And the swine…shall ye not eat, and their carcass shall ye not touch, they are unclean to you.”
Yet if not eating pork is central to Jewish orthodoxy, does it follow that the term “swine flu” is itself un-kosher, or that its uttering is somehow equivalent to eating pork?
This seems the conclusion of Israel’s acting Minister of Health. A member of the ultra-orthodox community, the minister declared that henceforth, Israel would speak only of “Mexico Flu.” When Mexico’s ambassador complained, Israel’s foreign ministry offered the somewhat tongue in cheek reassurance that the minister was “just kidding.”
Some joke! Writing in Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper, one columnist bemoaned a “system that produces a government where a party representing a community whose media cannot print the word sex, airbrushes women out of photos, and binds them into a strict second-class status, can be put in charge of the Health Ministry.”
The real problem, as this columnist goes on to note, is not religion, or even the very strict version of Judaism that Israel’s acting Minister of Health adheres to. Rather, it is the grafting of religion -and religious leaders–to politics and the state.
Faith is a wonderful remedy for an aching soul. But when its mysteries are invoked in the place of science-based public policy making, you sometimes get absolute nonsense, or what they call shtiyot in Hebrew and ha-bal in Egyptian Arabic.
Daniel Brumberg is Associate Professor of Government at Georgetown University Acting Director of U.S. Institute of Peace’s Muslim World Initiative.
By Dan Brumberg |
May 1, 2009; 3:22 PM ET
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