Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman LAW ’97 on Tuesday evening delivered his second in a series of three lectures about the Arab world.
Feldman’s lecture, which took place in the faculty lounge of Yale Law School as part of the Kamel Center for the Study of Islamic Law and Civilization, focused on the Syrian Civil War and the rise of the Islamic State group. In particular, the lecture, titled “Whose Fault is the Islamic State,” discussed ideas about who is responsible for the collapse of the Syrian state and the rise of IS.
“Today’s topic, morally speaking, is blame, and practically speaking, the Islamic state,” Feldman said. “There is certainly, when it comes to Syria and the Islamic State, blame to go around.”
On the question of who to blame for the collapse of Syria, Feldman cited an “obvious culprit”: the United States. He placed responsibility on the Obama administration, saying that the middle ground they took in the Syrian civil war — putting pressure on Assad while supporting the civilian army — created an indefinite period of destruction that effectively guaranteed the war.
Feldman noted that while the U.S. strategy was not intentionally destructive, the outcome was “foreseeable.”
“This strategy was adopted to save face,” Feldman said.
Regarding the rise of the Islamic State group, Feldman blamed the actions of the United States, the untimely failure of Islamic democracy, and of course, the leaders of the Islamic State group itself.
“The US was to blame for creating conditions on the Iraqi side of the border where there was space to be conquered,” Feldman said, noting that this allowed IS to establish its power.
He added that the United States’ contribution to the chaos in Syria also facilitated IS’ rise.
Feldman also dove into the history of IS, and discussed the reasons for its success in recruiting followers. He suggested that IS leaders attracted people by claiming to create a “utopian” state grounded in Islamic law.
“IS presented itself by operating under a familiar legal order. No policy adopted by IS, including murders, including mass rape, the capture of non-Muslim women and their subjugation to the status of sex slaves after the execution of men from their villages … no step was taken without a thorough justification grounded by Islamic sources,” he said. “These readings were always defensible, and to make sure that was the case, these justifications were publicized.”
Students interviewed after the talk said they would need some time to process Feldman’s arguments before formulating an opinion on the issues discussed.
“I think at certain points he skirted over certain issues with regards to what’s actually blameworthy and who’s actually blameworthy, and he acknowledged that,” Wajdi Mallat LAW ’20 said.
Both Mallat and Caleb McCracken LAW ’20 said they look forward to attending Feldman’s next talk, which is titled “Tunisia and the Future of Political Responsibility,” and will take place on Sept. 27 in the faculty lounge at the Law School.
“It’s hard for me to have a fully formed opinion right now,” McCracken said. “He left the discussion off by saying that it will be significant for the future.”
Anusha Manglik| firstname.lastname@example.org