So who is Jonathan Brown?
Jonathan Brown is the Alwaleed bin Talal Chair of Islamic Civilization in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, and he is the Director of the Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim Christian Understanding.
Brown has recently hit the headlines for defending the practices of slavery and concubinage in a lecture. Like many apologists he borrows from discourses more usually associated with secular liberalism to soothe his listeners’ ears. Some use the language of human rights and liberalism to defend illiberal practices. Brown disingenuously invokes postmodern relativist uncertainty to trivialise rape. Here are some excerpts from his justification (taken from this piece at the Daily Banter).
It’s very hard to have this discussion because we think of, let’s say in the modern United States, the sine qua non of morally correct sex is consent. We think of people as autonomous agents. Everybody’s an autonomous agent and it’s the consent of that autonomous agent that makes a sexual action acceptable. Correct?
For most of human history human beings have not thought of consent as the essential feature of morally correct sexual activity. And second, we fetishize the idea of autonomy to the extent that we forget, again who’s really free? Are we really autonomous people? I mean what does autonomy mean? Can I just drive—can I be like a cowboy and in a movie or an action TV series where I just get on my motorcycle and just ride to the West? No, I got kids. I have a mortgage. I mean we’re all born into and live in a network of relationships and responsibilities and duties, but we have this obsession with the idea of autonomy.
We see [the difference between being a concubine and a wife] as enormous because we’re obsessed with the idea of autonomy and consent, would be my first response.
With horrible sophistry, in a calm and chatty tone, Brown presents the fact that we cannot do exactly what we feel like all the time (or will pay a price if we try to do so) as a justification for rape. Here, via Tom Holland, is another statement on the topic (from 2015).
This story broke a couple of days ago but has received comparatively little coverage. There is nothing in the mainstream media, as far as I can see, although there is of course a post on Jihad Watch and a great many Trump supporters are tweeting their disapproval. To be fair, so are a good many liberals – but it’s more dispiriting than surprising to see such comparative indifference to a tenured academic at a US university expressing these utterly horrifying views.