Mark LeVine is an emerging leader of the new generation of historians and analysts of the modern Middle East and Islam.
… taught Qur’an to Muslim Brothers,
LeVine trusts no one, is suspicious of all sources and all authority. He is not afraid to tell the truth based on the facts and data he can personally confirm, and will challenge the actions and opinions of rulers and ruled, oppressed and oppressor alike.
His wide and deep knowledge of the politics and history of the entire region (from North Africa to Afghanhistan), its religions and its cultures, gives him unique insight into the broader dynamics that have produced the events that constantly dominate the news.
Need anything else be said?
Perhaps you thought that reading Qur’an and hadith and sira, accompanied by hundreds of articles and dozens of books, might help one to understand a belief-system that, unlike Mark LeVine, is not “suspicious of all sources and all authority” and indeed, is based entirely on “sources” and “authority.” From what do Sheikh Tantawi, Qaradawi, the “Sunni scholars” of Anbar Province, Ayatollah al-Sistani, Ayatollah Khomeini, and the imams with their khutbas in Saudi Arabia, receive their authority, if not from their familiarity with, and understanding of, the canonical texts? When, on a thousand websites, inquiring Muslims write in, asking for opinions on taxes and hairstyles and avoiding interest and the calculation of zakat and the possibility of permanent peace with Infidels, on what do those offering their opinions and formal rulings base them – if not the authority of the texts, and the commentators on those texts? Yet someone like Mark LeVine, who rushes about the wide world, who is a great believer in his own experiences – teaching Qur’an to Muslim Brothers, interviewing Hamas members, and whatever else it is that he has done (no need for boring book-learning in the stacks) – discounts all that. He, after all, is part of the “new generation of historians and analysts” who are suspicious of “all sources” and “all authority.” One wonders by what criteria he decides to stop being suspicious, and to accept any scholarly work by anyone. At what point, for example, would he say that Snouck Hurgronje or Antoine Fattal, to take two disparate examples, have passed all of Mark LeVine’s tests and need not be read with such a total refusal to accept “all sources” and “all authority”? It appears that Edward Said and Noam Chomsky are among those who, as “sources” and “authority,” have passed some Mark-LeVine-tests. What tests would those be? Perhaps others can apply the same criteria?
And who else meets the test? Does John Esposito? Does Ibn Warraq? What does Mark LeVine think, since he reads German, of Christoph Luxenberg? And since he reads Italian, this polymath, what does he think of the cofanetto of four works by Oriana Fallaci, all on the subject of Islam, and the Islamization of Europe? Anything? Nothing?
Mark LeVine believes that “the West” – or more specifically, America, or Amerika, is also guilty of “terrorism.” It is things that America has done that explain hostility to it. It has nothing to do with America being perceived as an Infidel power. Nor do the world’s Muslims bear any animus to anyone outside the West, such as Hindus and Buddhists (or the Zoroastrians of Persia), with whom they have always gotten along so swimmingly. And if a handful of historians, such as K. S. Lal or Sita Ram Goel or Francois Gautier, suggest otherwise, they are simply puppets of the BJP and Hindutva fanatics.
He believes that we all need a cooling-off period. There is nothing in Islam itself, as a belief-system, to worry about. Nothing about the behavior of Muhammad, and then of Muhammad as a model, to worry anyone. Nothing in the hadith, and of course nothing in the Qur’an, that might, just might, cause Believers to behave in a way that might represent a permanent danger to Infidels.
That is because Mark LeVine doth bestride the world like a colossus. He knows languages – many many languages (just try him out in a debate – try speaking to him in French, or Turkish, — and of course he can also make out Ottoman script as well as modern Turkish – and Italian, and of course Arabic and Hebrew and Persian. A. K. S. Lambton, Bernard Lewis, S. D. Goitein – these people have nothing on him, and he is not about to submit to their “authority.” Goitein spent a few decades trying to understand the weight of the jizya on the Jews, and finally felt he had done so, after a lifetime of underestimating it as a burden. But Mark LeVine doesn’t have to know what Goitein learned, because he has traveled to the Middle East, and spoken to Hamas members, and even “taught Qur’an to Muslim Brothers.”
Did Goitein, did Snouck Hurgronje, did Margoliouth, did Joseph Schacht do that? Can anyone who hasn’t wandered through North Africa and the Middle East really and truly undrerstand it? Books are so overrated. The study of the past is so overrated. The study of immutable doctrines, and the hapless attempts by some “reformers” to overcome the immutability of those doctrines, is so overrated. What counts is Experience.
It is a little like Nabokov. He once regretted that he had, in his life, only been a writer, whereas so many American writers had been lumberjacks, soda jerks, oil field hands, taxi drivers, and short order cooks, amassing all those experiences which, of course, had caused their prose to be immortal and his prose – well, you can forget about him. And didn’t James Joyce also have a dozen different occupations as well?
So Mark LeVine indeed does represent the newest stage in scholarship: the scholar who doesn’t have to bother with scholarship. There is no past. The past exists only if we let it. Say No to the Past. Stick with the present. See what you can see. And since you cannot see into the minds of men, and do not know what it is – what texts, what sermons and societies and atmospherics and attitudes that are based on, or emerge from, those texts – that forms their minds, they will always be a mystery.
Did Arafat mention on at least four occasions the Treaty of al-Hudaibiyya? So what? What is that supposed to mean?
And so what if Majid Khadduri wrote a book which many consider to be the last word on the subject – “War and Peace in the Law of Islam” – in which he sets out clearly the impossibility of any Muslim people or polity making a permanent peace with any Infidel people or polity. Khadduri explains that a “hudna” is to be used only in order to strengthen the Muslim side, or to rescue it from a currently untenable position. For example, it is clear that some members of Hamas believe that the Israeli counter-offensive has been quite damaging, and that Hamas needs a timeout. Yes, but why should Israel give it to them?
And it is also clear that many Muslims are now worried about Infidels learning just a bit too much, and becoming a bit too alarmed, about Islam – about its doctrines, about what Muslims believe, and about the future of Infidel countries where there are large and growing Muslim immigrants. Transparent attempts to protect Islam and Muslims from critical scrutiny, such as the invention, and widespread use, of the scare-word “Islamophobia,” are evidence of this fear.
The “Conflicts Forum” of Alistair Crooke, Patrick Seale (who has been in the business of supplying every – and I mean every – desire of Arab paymasters since he was throwing parties for important Arabs, and inviting some attractive young English girls of a special sort to his house in Eaton Square in the 1970s), and the propagandist and public relations adviser to Arafat & Co., Mark Perry, discussed elsewhere at this website, is another example.
And now comes Mark LeVine to embody this new mode of anti-academic academics, where deep familiarity with the texts can be dispensed with, as one can learn so much more from real life, in Beirut and Gaza, in Cairo and Damascus. Scholarship without scholarship – that is the new motto for a new age. And why not?
Perhaps you prefer Mark LeVine to Schacht, Margoliouth, and Antoine Fattal. Perhaps you think Mark LeVine’s understanding of the “hudna” is superior to that of Majid Khadduri. But why?
Mark LeVine must really tell us what it is about Snouck Hurgronje on Mecca and Islam in the Dutch East Indies, what it is about Fagnan and Dufourcq and Bousquet and Bat Ye’or on Jihad and dhimmitude, what it is about the Indian historian K. S. Lal and about Francois Gautier, Haish Narain and Sita Ram Goel and a dozen other historians of India under Muslim rule, and what it is about Rumanian historians of Islam (Maria-Matilda Alexandrescu-Dersca Bulgaru) and Bulgarian students (Bistra A. Cvetkova; Snegarov) and Greek historians (Speros Vryonis Jr. and Apostolos E. Vakalopoulos and Vassiliki Papoulia), and Serb historians (including the celebrated writer Ivo Andric, whose Ph.D. thesis, “The Development of Spiritual Life in Bosnia Under the Influence of Turkish Rule” has recently been published in English) that makes him so distrustful of all of them. Is it some internal inconsistency? Is it that they did not know the relevant languages? Is it that they had not had the life experiences, talking to Hamas members, teaching Qur’an to members of the Muslim Brothers, that Mark LeVine has had?
And how well, really, did Majid Khadduri know Arabic? And what did he know about how Muslims think of war, and peace, with Infidels? Did he talk to Hamas members? Or lecture members of the Muslim Brothers? Just how long had Majid Khadduri been studying Islam before he wrote his own book on “War and Peace in the Law of Islam”? Did he get on “Nightline”? Why not? And for that matter, did Elie Kedourie? Or J. B. Kelly? What about his views on Saudi Arabia? Do they have any resemblance to reality? Doesn’t the Aramco Handbook tell us so much more, being written as it was for the edification of the real-life oil workers and engineers who spent years right there in Saudi Arabia — even more time in the midst of Arab Islam than Mark LeVine, and so, presumably even greater experts than he?
And since Mark LeVine is apparently impressed with Edward Said and Noam Chomsky, those two lifelong students of Islam, could he explain what it was about each that made him trust in them as sources, and in their authority? Was there something about Said’s “Orientalism” that escaped the historian of British India Clive Dewey? Or that Ibn Warraq failed to notice in his own review of Said’s work? Or Keith Windschuttle? Or Bernard Lewis in his celebrated reply to Said, “The Question of ‘Orientalism'”? And what was it that caused Mark LeVine to have such confidence in Said’s own “The Question of Palestine”? For example, was it the way Said used, or did not use, the testimony of Western travellers, beginning in the late 18th century, to the area known to the West as “Palestine”? Why, for example, does he quote Volney in his “Orientalism” but for some reason leave Volney out of “The Question of Palestine”? Anything about the use of sources there that got Mark LeVine’s antennae quivering? What about the quotations, or lack of quotations, from the eyewitness accounts of the Holy Land, of which there were so many? Does Mark LeVine find at all strange the difference, for example, in how Lamartine and Chateaubriand and Mark Twain and Melville are quoted, or not, in Said’s book, and how they are quoted in a book of equal length, Katz’s “Battleground”?
And as for Chomsky, what with the Sandinistas and syntactic structures, has Chomsky ever had time to study Qur’an and hadith and sira — or to take seriously a belief-system, and attempt to understand what prompts Muslims to see the universe as many do, by actually looking at the texts upon which that belief-system is so thoroughly based? Does Mark LeVine worry the least bit about a belief-system that offers a Total Explanation of the Universe, and divides that universe mainly into two groups — Believers and Infidels? Or is this all a fantasy of Donald Rumsfeld, aided and abetted by such neo-con Likudniks as Ibn Warraq, Ali Sina, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and the late Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, right-wingers all?
Yet, these criticisms surely must be unfair. For otherwise, how could Assistant Professor Mark LeVine possibly have concluded the following about Assistant Professor Mark LeVine: “His wide and deep knowledge of the politics and history of the entire region (from North Africa to Afghanhistan), its religions and its cultures, gives him unique insight into the broader dynamics that have produced the events that constantly dominate the news.”
Mark LeVine is an updated academic version of Dickens’ Mr. Podsnap in “Our Mutual Friend”:
Mr. Podsnap was well to do, and stood very high in Mr. Podsnap’s opinion. Beginning with a good inheritance, he had married a good inheritance, and had thriven exceedingly in the Marine Insurance way, and was quite satisfied. He never could make out why everybody was not quite satisfied, and he felt conscious that he set a brilliant social example in being particularly well satisfied with most things, and, above all other things, with himself.
Thus happily acquainted with his own merit and importance, Mr. Podsnap settled that whatever he put behind him he put out of existence. There was a dignified conclusiveness – not to add a grand convenience – in this way of getting rid of disagreeables which had done much towards establishing Mr. Podsnap in his lofty place in Mr. Podsnap’s satisfaction. “I don’t want to know about it; I don’t choose to discuss it; I don’t admit it!”
Perhaps you trust Mark LeVine, who doesn’t want to know about all those scholars, doesn’t choose to discuss them at length, doesn’t admit the justice of their decades of scrupulous research. He knows better. He has been to the Middle East. He has talked to Hamas members and Muslim Brothers. They tell him things. What more does anyone need?
Perhaps you agree as well with Mark LeVine’s guiding motto, that mental bumper-sticker which tells him always to “Question Authority.”
Why should you?