The Long View 2006-01-09: Cracked Pillars; Chinese Real Estate; Irreformable Islam

I had forgotten this short bit on Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI claiming that Islam cannot reform, which is, as John noted, in line with what Muslims say too. It is also true that the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence are quite clever at finding ways to be flexible in interpretation. An example that springs to mind is Mudarabah (مضاربة)  and Musharakah (مشاركة or مشركة) home purchase contracts, that avoid the prohibition of charging interest, but otherwise work much the same as a mortgage.

The Salafi movement, which is misleadingly called a reform movement on Wikipedia, is in part a reaction to this brand of cleverness, seeking to return to a simpler way of doing things.

Cracked Pillars; Chinese Real Estate; Irreformable Islam

A world without pillars: that seems to be Wretchard's assessment today at The Belmont Club:

. Of the pillars that held up the political world in 2003 only a few remain standing. Arafat dead; Sharon in a coma; Schroeder a factotum of Vladimir Putin; Chirac a shadow of himself; the European Union moribund, the UN a standing joke; Blair badly weakened and America obsessed with cookies left on browsers on government websites. And 2006 just beginning. Interesting times indeed.

This is the important thing about the international system in the 21st century so far. It's not that the United States alienated its traditional allies and showed disrespect for international institutions, though arguably some of that happened, too. It's that the alliances, and indeed some of the allies, have been revealed to be too insubstantial to rely upon, and that few of the international institutions remain credible. The flipside of this, of course, is that America's foreign interlocutors must be wondering whether Washington is about to enter another impeachment spiral.

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One long-predicted Chinese collapse has finally occurred:

Once one of the hottest markets in the world, sales of homes have virtually halted in some areas of Shanghai, prompting developers to slash prices and real estate brokerages to shutter thousands of offices...Although the city's 20 million residents represent less than 2% of China's population of 1.3 billion, Xie says, Shanghai accounts for an astounding 20% of the country's property value... today, prices at [one] complex have fallen by a third, and the lines of frenzied buyers are gone.

Does this mean that the Middle Kingdom will now be riven by real-estate riots? Possibly not, though it does make hash of the near-term effort to fix the banking system.

Actually, I am more concerned about the value of real estate locally. Property-tax rates have just increased by about 15% in Jersey City. The people are irate.

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But the rump government of New Orleans is beyond satire:

NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 7 - The city's official blueprint for redevelopment after Hurricane Katrina, to be released on Wednesday, will recommend that residents be allowed to return and rebuild anywhere they like, no matter how damaged or vulnerable the neighborhood, according to several members of the mayor's rebuilding commission...But ultimately, the areas that fail to attract a critical mass of residents in 12 months will probably not survive as residential neighborhoods, ...People who rebuild in those areas will be forced to leave, according to the proposal. Though such a requirement would be emotionally wrenching, the commission will propose a buyout program to compensate those people at the market price before Hurricane Katrina, but it is not clear whether there will be federal financing for such a program.

The state of Louisiana, at least, realizes what nonsense this "plan" is, and certainly the federal government is not going to donate a nickel toward implementing it. Meanwhile, though, urban activists have secured court injunctions to prevent state and local authorities from clearing the remains of ruined houses, including houses whose ruins are now blocking the streets. Nothing will serve but the election of a new municipal government by the people who have actually returned to the city. The old mayor and council have prevailed upon the state to delay the election, however.

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That Spengler at Asia Times follows the statements of Benedict XVI very closely. So do I, or so I thought, since Spengler found this and I did not:

Now Pope Benedict XVI has let it be known that he does not believe Islam can reform. This we learn from the transcript of a January 5 US radio interview with one of Benedict's students and friends, Father Joseph Fessio, SJ...Strange as it may seem, the pope must whisper when he wants to state agreement with conventional Muslim opinion, namely that the Koranic prophecy is fixed for all time such that Islam cannot reform itself. If Islam cannot change, then a likely outcome will be civilizational war, something too horrific for US leaders to contemplate.

Note that Muslim jurists have long since become adept at interpreting the Koran to make its application flexible, quite without rejecting the principle of its immutability. Still, the Koran does pose problems for political science that the Christian Bible does not. The Bible does not purport to be a law code or a constitution, though dim Christians have used it for that purpose. Note also that Benedict would probably be horrified if he knew his assessment was being used as an argument that intercivilizational war is inevitable. Maybe he reads Asia Times and is horrified already.

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Speaking of horrors, headlines like this call up memories of old movies:

Stolen human tissue ends up in several mountain patients who went into the hospital for surgery

And was any of the material a criminal's brain?

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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