In a fairly dubious article in the New York Review of Books, I noticed this interesting description of:
the waqf, or Islamic trust, which, beginning in medieval times, was one of the most important institutions of the precolonial era. These foundations, which were immune from government interference, allowed the transmission of wealth down the generations while sustaining public welfare by providing hospitals, schools, mosques, inns, public drinking fountains, and other services independently of the state.
Waqfs were the primary civil society institutions in the Islamic world. As such they represented a threat to the modernizing schemes of governments facing the challenge of grow-ing European power. The Ottoman sultans and other would-be reformers gradually took them over, incorporating them into the apparatus of state—a movement that facilitated the emergence of the autocratic regimes that prevail in much of the Islamic world to this day because the increase in the power of the state was not balanced by advances in democratic accountability.
This description of a “civil society” which is pre-modern and in opposition to (rather than dialectically dependent on) state power is not the most dubious thing in the article; but it intrigues me, because it has a lot in common with the kind of Lockean state-of-nature fantasy that is central to libertarianism. It’s common to impose the western division of liberal and conservative onto Muslims; but where are the libertarian Muslims? Hiding in Ron Paul’s campaign staff, that’s where.
(And isn’t “stealth Muslim” an extraordinarily fucked-up term to have entered our political vocabulary? An “international Jew” for the 21st century.)