Harvard Prof: ISIS Sex Slavery Is Bad, but Hey, U.S. Had Slavery

One key reason why so few Americans are aware of the full nature and magnitude of the jihad threat is that the academic and media establishments labor so assiduously to cover it up.

Those who are deemed the best minds of this generation devote their energies to convincing people that the threat is not as large as it is, or that it can be neutralized by adjustments to U.S. foreign policy (particularly the abandonment of Israel), or that the West is really just as bad, so we are hypocrites for opposing the jihad.

Harvard professor Noah Feldman, last week in Bloomberg View, provided a sterling example of the latter in an egregious piece trying to mitigate the horror of the Islamic State’s practice of sex slavery.

The bio accompanying Feldman’s piece describes him as, among other things, “a professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard University” with “a doctorate in Islamic thought from the University of Oxford,” who “as an adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq … contributed to the creation of the country’s new constitution.”

Given the blood and chaos that engulfs contemporary Iraq, one might think he wouldn’t be all that proud of that particular resume item anymore, especially since in 2008 he downplayed and ignored the aspects of Sharia that have made life hell for so many of the nation’s non-Muslims.

In a lengthy exposition of Sharia that Feldman published in the New York Times, he never once mentioned the Sharia provisions mandating second-class status (dhimmitude) for Christians and conversion or death for non-Muslims not considered “People of the Book,” such as Yazidis.

Now, in his Bloomberg View piece, Feldman actually acknowledges that in taking sex slaves, the Islamic State is “following the practices of the era of the Prophet Muhammad” and wants “to go back in time, to the days of the earliest Muslims and the Prophet’s companions.”

He does not, of course, tell his readers that sex slavery is called for in the Qur’an (in the “captives of the right hand” passages, 4:3, 4:24, 23:1-6, and 33:50), or that sex slavery doesn’t just go back to Muhammad’s era, but was practiced by Muhammad himself, who is the supreme model for emulation for Muslims (cf. Qur’an 33:21). Muhammad did it, so it is right, and Muslims should do it as well.

Feldman compounds that omission by likening “one interpretation of classical Islamic law” -- as if there were any mainstream interpretations of Islamic law that forbid sex slavery; there aren’t -- to the U.S. Constitution in the course of building an argument in praise of progress.

Our horror at this self-conscious neo-medievalism should teach us a lesson about the evolution of our beliefs and what it means to be modern. Begin with the sober acknowledgment that we aren’t light years ahead of Islamic State -- more like a century and a half. 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.

This is a fundamentally dishonest comparison. The U.S. Constitution is a human construct, whereas those who believe in Islamic law believe it not to be a human invention able to be amended and revised, but divine law that is perfect and unchangeable.

Mainstream Muslims would no more revise the Sharia than Jews or Christians would revise the Ten Commandments. “Progressive” Muslims in the U.S. who depart from normative Sharia interpretations don’t have any appreciable influence in the Islamic world.

Noah Feldman, with his doctorate in Islamic thought from the University of Oxford, should be honest enough with his readers to tell them about that difference and its significance.

But his piece is just one more in a steady stream of articles that downplay and deny jihadist atrocities, or tell Americans that what their own country has done is just as bad. Not only do such claims blunt the force of the human rights indignation that should be rising worldwide against the Islamic State for its brutalization of Yazidi and Christian women, they also sap the will of the West to defend itself.

And that may be the larger objective.