Modern History and Politics: Islam, Liberalism, and Human Rights

By Waltz, Susan | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Modern History and Politics: Islam, Liberalism, and Human Rights


Waltz, Susan, The Middle East Journal


Islam, Liberalism, and Human Rights, by Katerina Dalacoura. London and New York: LB. Tauris, 1999. viii + 209 pages. Bibl. to p. 231. Index to p. 238. $19.95 paper.

Reviewed by Susan Waltz

For more than a decade, there has been an intellectual debate about the compatibility of Islam and human rights. For students of Islam and Arabo-Muslim traditions, the debate turns around the political interpretation and application of Islamic law, and, notably, the legal doctrines that were developed by jurists in the early centuries after the Prophet Muhammad's death. Arguments may likewise be located within a larger debate between cultural relativism (Hegelian communitarianism) and universalism (Kantian cosmopolitanism). From either perspective, the debate is a highly charged one, and discussion is complicated by the fact that neither "Islam" nor "human rights" is invariably defined. Human rights is alternatively viewed as a philosophical concept, a legally-defined concept, and a 20th century political project and political construct. Islam is variously represented as doctrine and as political practice. Those who expound the tenets of Islam may have in mind their own direct (but inevitably selective) reading of sacred texts, an established tradition of Islamic law, or political doctrine extending from the writings of Islamic scholars; alternatively, they may refer to social and political practices prevalent in Arab society, or Islaminfluenced practices common across the full span of predominantly Muslim societies. Proponents of various positions do not necessarily accept the same premises, approaches, or definitions. It is therefore not surprising that many arguments end up at cross purpose, in a deafening dialogue of the deaf.

Into this mayhem, Katerina Dalacoura has bravely stepped. She has assembled a thoughtful and cogent inquiry that separates and analyzes elements of this deeply entangled argument. Dalacoura sets out to determine if there is, in the first instance, an inherent logical conflict between Islam as a religion and the value of human rights (used interchangeably with the term "liberalism"). Are the two concerns mutually exclusive? In two complex chapters, she reviews contemporary and philosophically contending approaches to both human rights and Islam. She asks if Islam and human rights can be compatible and concludes with what is arguably the most significant contribution of the book: an intellectual argument for decoupling liberalism and secularism in the study of Middle Eastern politics. Dalacoura contests the commonly accepted, but infrequently inspected assertion that in Islam, religion and politics are one. The fact of doctrinal difference creates space for differing political representations of Islamic principles, including those compatible with international human rights standards.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Modern History and Politics: Islam, Liberalism, and Human Rights
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?