Does Yusuf al-Qaradawi Qualify as an Intellectual?

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The May/June issue of Foreign Policy lists its picks for the world's top 100 public intellectuals. It's a pretty predictable group—Noam Chomsky, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Thomas Friedman, Alain Finkielkraut, Orhan Pamuk, etc. The list includes, FP says, the "world's most introspective philosophers and rabble-rousing clerics. A few write searing works of fiction and uncover the mysteries of the human mind. Others are at the forefront of modern finance, politics, and human rights." It was rather surprising, then, to see that the rabble-rousing cleric referenced is the extremist Egyptian preacher and Al-Jazeera host Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Now I understand that by including al-Qaradawi on its list Foreign Policy isn't endorsing the preacher's views anymore than Time Magazine's Man of the Year gongs qualify as endorsements of Stalinism, Nazism, or, more recently, Putinism. It is, of course, merely an acknowledgement of his considerable influence in the Middle East. And while al-Qaradawi is undeniably an influental public figure, is he in any sense an "intellectual"? Because if he qualifies, I'm afraid that the folks at FP will have to start considering people like John Hagee (or the late, unlamented Jerry Falwell) on future lists.

FP describes al-Qaradawi accurately as "Perhaps the most influential preacher in Sunni Islam [and the host of] the weekly show Sharia and Life on the Al Jazeera satellite channel," but should perhaps mention that, in his capacity as "influential preacher," he advises the death penalty for gays and apostates and recommends that husbands beat disobedient wives. On suicide bombings, the Sheik is unequivocal: "It's not suicide, it is martyrdom in the name of God," and "I consider this type of martyrdom operation [suicide bombing] as an evidence of God's justice." On Muslims that have committed the sin of apostasy: "'He is no more than a traitor to his religion and his people and thus deserves killing." On wife beating: "If the husband senses that feelings of disobedience and rebelliousness are rising against him in his wife, he should try his best to rectify her attitude by kind words, gentle persuasion, and reasoning with her… If this approach fails, it is permissible for him to admonish her lightly with his hands, avoiding her face and other sensitive areas.'" In other words, try to punch her in the stomach, where the brusies won't show. After rumors surfaced that the Crown Prince of Qatar was spotted in a London gay bar, al-Qaradawi recommended that he be executed by stoning, "whether he is married or unmarried." Lionel Trilling, this guy is not.

Incidentally, all of this was known to former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who famously invited al-Qaradawi to London, claiming that the he was "a powerfully progressive force for change" in the Middle East. But in February, the British government refused to grant al-Qaradawi a visa, stating that "The UK will not tolerate the presence of those who seek to justify any act of terrorist violence."

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  1. Just checked the definition of “intellectual” in the dictionary.

    It does not, in fact, contain the words “opposite of a bad guy.”

  2. Foreign Policy is just trying to attract attention with this, nothing more.

    Wouldn’t tolerating the presence of someone justifying terrorist violence be a pretty convincing sign of strength? I mean, no one would seriously argue that letting Ahminejad visit Ground Zero would be a sign of weakness, would they? Oh, wait.

  3. joe,

    So Falwell and Hagee were intellectuals?

  4. All ‘dis time, I been an intellectual?

    A pointy-headed, effete, latte-sippin’ member of the cognoscenti?

    I’m gonna heave a brick at my head.

  5. Doesn’t the term “intellectual” also imply that said person is bringing something new to the table? The oppressive sharia law is old, and I don’t think this guy is an original intellectual just because he’s beaming it into satellite dishes.

  6. If he is smart enough he is one. Here is what the Oxford Dictionary says:

    intellectual
    /intlektyool/

    ? adjective 1 relating or appealing to the intellect. 2 having a highly developed intellect.

    ? noun a person with a highly developed intellect.

    – DERIVATIVES intellectuality noun intellectually adverb.

    http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/intellectual?view=uk

  7. The heck with Falwell and Hagee. They are both minor league.

    Pat Robertson
    Billy Graham

    To be honest, I don’t have the experience, or temperment, to declare somebody’s musing about superstition as intellectual or claptrap nonsense. What would the criteria be?

    Continuing in the honesty vein, I’ll break out the good stuff when Yusuf al-Qaradawi departs this plane of existence. That ignorant intolerant and evil bastard can kiss my royal atheist ass.

  8. It does not, in fact, contain the words “opposite of a bad guy.”

    Tom Metzger is one smart dude, too.

  9. “If the husband senses that feelings of disobedience and rebelliousness are rising against him in his wife, he should try his best to rectify her attitude by kind words, gentle persuasion, and reasoning with her… If this approach fails, it is permissible for him to admonish her lightly with his hands, avoiding her face and other sensitive areas.'”

    Is there any doubt that he wouldn’t even crack a “Top 5-Billion Intellectuals” list had these same comments been made about how to treat someone of a different race, rather than sex, and if he openly viewed another race as a lower class of humanity? It’s disgusting that these misogynists are afforded any more respect than racists.

  10. So does “intellectual” merely mean “influential” or “powerful”?

    What does, in fact, joe’s made-up fucking phony dictionary say?

  11. Chris Potter,

    Falwell was an intellectual. I don’t know about Hagee. Hagee isn’t terribly influential, though.

    It isn’t a list of the best, smartest intellectuals, but the most important.

    Doesn’t the term “intellectual” also imply that said person is bringing something new to the table? Thomas Aquinas defended the faith, too.

    Tom Metzger is one smart dude, too. I’ve never seen any evidence of that. There certainly were intellectuals among the Nazis, though.

  12. Pre-butted, van Laue,

    ha ha.

    How ’bout more ideas, and less bile?

    Oops, a good writer knows his audience.

  13. We can agree that there were Nazi intellectuals, communist intellectuals and, heck, even bull-dyke intellectuals.
    You can hate niggers and invent stuff.
    Intellectualism ain’t influence, though. So I don’t think this “holy” sack of putrid shit qualifies.

  14. Wouldn’t tolerating the presence of someone justifying terrorist violence be a pretty convincing sign of strength?

    Terrorism is the intentional violent victimization of innocent civilians. Our own government supports governments that do just that. And not just the big perpetrators like the Israeli and Egyptian governments, but also in Uzbekistan where our government is using our tax dollars to support the savage, soviet style dictatorship of Islam Karimov, the former head of the Uzbek Communist party. As the carnage that his regime inflicts on its own people mounts, so surely does the resentment that Uzbekis harbor toward Americans. The seeds of another terror attack against us are being planted by our government’s support of regimes that commit terrorism.

  15. Yahoo Answerer,

    I think this is the relevant sense of the word:

    a person who places a high value on or pursues things of interest to the intellect or the more complex forms and fields of knowledge, as aesthetic or philosophical matters, esp. on an abstract and general level.

    Somebody whose efforts revolve around the study of a field like Koranic Law, or Rabbinical Law for that matter, would be an intellectual, regardless of our feelings about his particular take on the subject, or even of the subject in its entirety.

    Once again, judgments about good and bad don’t enter into the equation.

  16. Just checked the definition of “intellectual” in the dictionary.

    It does not, in fact, contain the words “opposite of a bad guy.”

    Exactly. As joe proves around here almost every time he sneers at one of MCM’s posts, it is entirely possible to be both a very smart person and a total prick at the same time.

    How ’bout more ideas, and less bile?

    That’s pretty rich, coming from you.

  17. In other words, try to punch her in the stomach, where the bruises won’t show.

    Note to self: Bruises don’t show on stomach…

  18. Of course “intellectual” doesn’t mean “opposite of a bad guy.” He already said that Noam Chomsky is on the list!

  19. So someone who knows an awful lot about the Harry Potter books and can relate all kinds of things through a Hogwarts-inspired lens can be counted as an intellectual?

    Fine. I have no problem with that. But just like the Cum Laude on my Bachelor’s Degree it has just lost any real meaning.

  20. In other words, try to punch her in the stomach, where the bruises won’t show.

    You’re an ameteur, Moynihan. Do as the cops do: a phone book distributes blows so that they don’t bruise but they do hurt.

  21. What about a bar of soap?

  22. He already said that Noam Chomsky is on the list!

    I know what list I would like Chomsky to be on. And it ain’t Schindler’s.

  23. Erm, a bar of soap wrapped in a towel.

  24. So someone who knows an awful lot about the Harry Potter books and can relate all kinds of things through a Hogwarts-inspired lens can be counted as an intellectual?

    Have you ever gone to Star Wars fan sites, and seen the complexity of the universes they’ve created?

  25. Jim Bob | May 22, 2008, 3:44pm | #

    What about a bar of soap?

    On behalf of the rest of humanity, YES!

    Go with that.

  26. You mean like this, Jim Bob?

  27. Have you ever gone to Star Wars fan sites

    Hehehehe. You Poindexter, joe.

  28. Hey, I’m cool. I used to have a pony tail.

    …what?

  29. Have you ever gone to Star Wars fan sites?

    Guilty

  30. Actually, joe:

    pre- means before. I don’t know when you started typing. But I stopped typing before you did. So, fail #1.

    Also, it was a real question. Does intellectual have any real meaning outside of “powerful” or “influential”? Fail #2: You didn’t -but anything.

    Now, I’m willing to be persuaded that “intellectual” is completely decoupled from the word “intelligence”. But it looks like, persuasively or not, that MM was making the case that al-Qaradawi is just a retrograde retard. If having the title of “Koranic scholar” confers intellectualism on someone, fine, go with that. Here’s your chance to -but something, and you know, contribute ideas.

    Good writers don’t usually comment on blogs all day, imagining that they win threads and get the most laughs. It’s a shame that on the internet you won’t face the embarrassed silence that a stupid braggart is normally confronted with.

  31. Sounds the guy may fit within this definition of the term.

  32. Doesn’t the term “intellectual” also imply that said person is bringing something new to the table? Thomas Aquinas defended the faith, too.

    Thomas Aquinas put forth new, rational arguments, albeit based on his faith. I would think that to be an intellectual, one must primarily be offering rational argumentation. Simply repeating dogmas is not an intellectual exercise, and it looks like that’s the extent of this guy’s arguments.

  33. Colin,

    I’d say you’re right, in the sense that the guy has cultural authority (whatever that means, and however that was conferred) and speaks publically about cultural issues, however repulsive it all is. I’m not sure yet if he falls into the first two classes — is he part of the occupational class of intellectuals? I’m not sure, since I haven’t seen his Mullah diploma yet. He might be!

    Again, this intellectual class is pretty goddamned expansive, and could well include anyone who gets quoted in a newspaper or got a master’s degree.

  34. Chris Potter,

    You know Aquinas argued that heretics deserve the death penalty.

  35. To change the subject, if Malcolm Gladwell is an intellectual, then the retarded boy down the street is doing advanced calculus in between masturbation sessions.


  36. Is there any doubt that he wouldn’t even crack a “Top 5-Billion Intellectuals” list had these same comments been made about how to treat someone of a different race, rather than sex, and if he openly viewed another race as a lower class of humanity?

    Muslims frequently (I would go so far as to say “most”) view blacks as a lower class of humanity, including black Muslims.

  37. Brian Courts,

    There are a number of writers from the 18th and 19th centuries who were racists (e.g., Edward Long, Arthur Gobineau) who I consider both proponents of folly as well as intellectuals. Admittedly I know a lot more about them than I do this guy.

  38. Marcvs – that reminded me of the Black Sabbath song “After Forever” – Would you like to see the Pope on the end of a rope – do you think he’s a fool?”

  39. Hey! I wasn’t implying that having a deep knowledge of the Harry Potterverse wasn’t an intellectual exercise, I was equating the Koran (or the Bible, the Simarilion, whatever magic book) with the Chamber of Secrets!

  40. Baked Penguin –

    Glad you’re here. Your namesakes from Pittsburgh are about to get their clocks cleaned by the Red Wings.

    😉

  41. So what about Bobby Henderson? Is he not an intelectual?

    If you don’t know who he is check out this site:
    http://www.venganza.org/about

  42. That’s the way to bet, J sub. But it was also the way to bet in 2003, IIRC.

  43. I should also point out that under the “a person who places a high value on or pursues things of interest to the intellect or the more complex forms and fields of knowledge, as aesthetic or philosophical matters, esp. on an abstract and general level” definition of intellectual, Dondero is arguably an intellectual.

  44. Wouldn’t tolerating the presence of someone justifying terrorist violence be a pretty convincing sign of strength?

    Or a pretty convincing sign of weakness.

    The inability to evict terrorists is generally touted as a sign of weakness, after all, in Iraq and Lebanon.

    it is entirely possible to be both a very smart person and a total prick at the same time.

    Hey, I resemble that remark!

  45. If they are including fiction writers in this list perhaps he could be qualified as a very ironic writer of fiction. His main character is an invisible and cruel despot.

  46. Friedman, possibly the dumbest fucker in Christendom, at least wrote a spectacularly shitty book or two. In fact, all of the objectionable dipshits on this list grabbed a crayon and made some marks. Perhaps al-Qaradawi is an intellectual, and Moynihan is unfairly focusing on the stomach-punching pronouncements while ignoring the book-writing or thought-making.

    Anyone want to make that argument? I’m seriously listening.

  47. You know Aquinas argued that heretics deserve the death penalty.

    Yeah, just being an intellectual doesn’t mean you’re right about everything. He also put forth a very intricate argument that said that the fetus (or whatever word was then used for a fetus) did not have a soul until 40 days after the intercourse that produced it, and thus abortions before that time were not sinful. Of course, the Church repudiated that reasoning in the 1700s when it became clear that the process of conception was very different from what Aquinas had thought it was. Of course, in Roe V. Wade, the SCOTUS still made reference to Aquinas’ opinions as evidence that the Catholic Church really didn’t think life began at conception.

    In short, an intellectual arguing from false principles is going to be wrong. But if all you have is principles, with no argument, then you aren’t an intellectual, whether you’re right or not.

  48. “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?

    Then he is not omnipotent.

    Is he able, but not willing?

    Then he is malevolent.

    Is he both able and willing?

    Then whence commeth evil?

    Is he neither able nor willing?

    Then why call him god?”

  49. Chris Potter,

    Well, following for the sake of argument your reasoning, so far, and I won’t defend his remarks, we haven’t seen any of this guy’s reasoning, just a few quotations. So we don’t know either way if we use your criteria.

    Bonus point: Aquinas also very stupidly fell in line with the usury was immoral because it violated natural law. Of course, he was in good company with Aristotle, etc. Thus illustrating once again how easy it is to make just about any human activity a violation of natural law.

  50. The inability to evict terrorists is generally touted as a sign of weakness, after all, in Iraq and Lebanon.

    The difference is that we have reason to evict the terrorists in Iraq and Lebanon — they’re doing actual harm to actual people. If we’re not able to prevent that, that’s a problem (though given the situation, preventing it might require us to adopt distinctly un-American tactics).

    I don’t see how letting a terrorist-supporting nutcase, whose location and identity are known at all times, stand by the WTC site and make an ass of himself, is going to cause any harm to anyone (except himself, possibly). Now, if he starts planting IEDs in the Lincoln Tunnel and we don’t stop him, that would be a problem.

  51. Epicurus,

    I thought that was David Hume.

    Colin,

    Some modern theologians try to extricate Aquinas and the contemporary Popes from that error by saying that money then was not the same thing as money now, because the rate of economic growth was so slow that you wouldn’t lose any opportunity by lending someone money without interest. Whereas now you could invest it in stocks or a home or something that quickly appreciates in value.

    Personally, I think it’s simpler to say that Aquinas et al were just making invalid arguments. Of course, one of the Popes during Aquinas’ time issued an edict that any theologian who said charging interest wasn’t sinful should be bound in chains and made to do perpetual penance in a monastery for the rest of his life, so there was an incentive for falling in line.

  52. It was rather surprising, then, to see that the rabble-rousing cleric referenced is the extremist Egyptian preacher and Al-Jazeera host Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

    Not really. Anti-Western religious nuts are often embraced by the Western intellectual elite. In 1979, Carter’s people were saying Khomeini would be remembered as a saint.

    To their credit, FP did include the man whose thoughts and writing are most directly making tens of millions of lives better in the Mideast: David Petraeus.

  53. “Anti-Western religious nuts are often embraced by the Western intellectual elite. In 1979, Carter’s people were saying Khomeini would be remembered as a saint.”

    OK, maybe someone has mentioned this before, but the FP list was of the most INFLUENTIAL intellectuals. So someone who writes and speaks on ideas, and has an influence, would be on the list. Qaradawi is an evil bastard, but he certainly has had an influence on the world (who wants to deny this)? Recognizing that he is one of many people who write about ideas that has an influence on world affairs and stuff is not really very far out. And it certainly doesn’t mean anyone at FP is “embracing” the guy. Jesus.

    “it is entirely possible to be both a very smart person and a total prick at the same time.

    Hey, I resemble that remark!”

    RC, you’re half correct (which is more than usual :)).

  54. Chris Potter,

    They don’t call it the Epicurean Paradox for nothing.

  55. I thought that was David Hume.

    As has been observed, that was Epicurus, the Greek philosopher. David Hume posited many skeptical arguments though, perhaps that one as well.

  56. Epicurus, your little catechism misses the fundamental tenet of Christianity: God does not prevent man from doing evil because God gave man free will.

    God, in other words, is a libertarian, holding to the tenet that you are not free unless you are free to be wrong.

  57. RC, you’re half correct

    Why, thanks, MNG. I’ll take what I can get.

  58. R.C. Dean,

    Why would a God allow for such a property in human beings if it leads to evil? Is this God some sort of utilitarian? Is Christ a utilitarian in other words?

    What about natural disasters? Say for the time being we accept that free will has some utility that justifies the evil that comes along with it. What justifies tsunamies that kill hundreds of thousands of people?

    As always the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has an excellent discussion of this issue. It specifically the Free Will issue as it relates to the problem of evil.

  59. Colin,

    Love can only exist if it is chosen freely, which requires leaving open the possibility of choosing not to love. Basically, if God wanted humans to be capable of love, they also had to be capable of its antithesis.

  60. What about natural disasters? Say for the time being we accept that free will has some utility that justifies the evil that comes along with it. What justifies tsunamies that kill hundreds of thousands of people?

    The relatively simple laws of nature that make our existence possible have these unfortunate consequences as well. During the Scientific Revolution the Catholic “natural philosopher” Gottfried Leibniz imagined that no world governed by consistent natural laws could be completely perfect, and that God chose the best possible world that fit that criterion.

  61. Colin,

    That’s all fine and good but it really doesn’t answer my question and I’m not quite sure why the quality of love is vastly more important than the existance of evil. At the very least this means that said deity is perferring the former over the latter and that of course leads us directly back to merely looking at the problem of evil from other direction – a capable deity who merely accepts evil.

    I would say that (and I’m not the first to point this out) a far more logical way of looking at this would be to follow the prescription of the Gnostics – namely to believe that two Gods exist, one evil and the other good.

  62. Chris Potter,

    Well, if Leibniz’s reasoning is correct, then why would a God create such a world in the first place if said God knew that a world of consistent physical laws would create such suffering? That really does not get one beyond the problem of evil. It merely shifts one from the “incompetent” prong that Epicurus mentions to the the “malevolent” prong.

  63. Colin,

    You’re assuming that non-existence is superior to suffering. Hypothetically speaking, must a benevolent God refrain from creating the world just because it would require one of his creatures enduring a headache one day?

  64. I would say that (and I’m not the first to point this out) a far more logical way of looking at this would be to follow the prescription of the Gnostics – namely to believe that two Gods exist, one evil and the other good.

    Well, that would bring up its own flurry of questions. To me, the most rationally defensible belief is agnosticism, or if you insist on the existence of God, raw deism, simply because these beliefs bring up fewer difficult questions.

  65. Chris Potter,

    Well, non-existance is superior to suffering from the Buddhist perspective (this a gross over-simplification of the matter obviously). Indeed, if I may be allowed to indulge in even even more gross oversimplification, all of existance is suffering from the Buddhist perspective (because we are caught on the wheel of life, etc.).

  66. Chris Potter,

    Well, that would bring up its own flurry of questions.

    Due to my limited amount of grey matter I try to tackle one several thousand year old question at a time.

  67. RC:

    God, in other words, is a libertarian, holding to the tenet that you are not free unless you are free to be wrong.

    Two interesting points about that: The word “libertarian” has the meaning in philosophy of one who believes in free will.

    And what’s more interesting, is that for free will of an individual to exist, God’s omniscience must not include absolute knowledge of the future action of that individual cuz if it did, it would mean that free will is just an illusion since a future that is known is devoid of real choice as things can’t happened any other way. Remember, the limitation on God for free will to exist is on absolute knowledge of the future actions.

  68. Gore and Petreaus are on the list but Dr Paul is not.

  69. After rumors surfaced that the Crown Prince of Qatar was spotted in a London gay bar, al-Qaradawi recommended that he be executed by stoning, “whether he is married or unmarried.” Lionel Trilling, this guy is not.

    Michael, this whole story is suspicious and probably false. Al-Qaradawi IS a host on an al-Jazeera show but is unlikely to have said this. As an Egyptian exile granted amnesty in Qatar he would not be making a comment like this about someone from the Qatari royal family.
    Check the comments at the bottom of the link you provided at http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2005/08/320466.html – they suggest the story is a result of false report being repeatedly misreported. In the first instance, the crappy aljazeera.com (some magazine not related to the TV station) falsely attributed the comments to al-Qaradawi. Let’s not continue to repeat the mistake here on Reason.

  70. “A few write searing works of fiction…”

    This must be a reference to Noam “millions of casualties in Afghanistan” Chomsky. That anyone even considers that buffoon an intellectual shows how far the level of public discourse has sunk in the world.

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