Mark S. Weiner

Archive for the ‘Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons’ Category

Preservation Waltz

In Aesthetics, narrative, form, Architecture, Austria, Books and libraries, Constitutional law, Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, Environment, Europe, Law and film, Law and music, Video on July 19, 2016 at 12:42 pm

The latest video in my series about Austrian concepts of law and the Austrian experience of landscape is called “Preservation Waltz.” Rare books, forests, and domestic architecture. Sustainability is the key principle:

Small Blank Space

I discuss the video in this guest post on Environment, Law and History.

Austrian Law, Set in Stone

In Aesthetics, narrative, form, Books and libraries, Constitutional law, Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, Europe, Video on January 5, 2016 at 9:18 am

Why is a basic doctrine of Austrian constitutional law named after one of the central features of the Austrian landscape? A conversation with two far-flung Austrian legal scholars:

Small Blank Space

This video will be incorporated into my film “Wood, Water, Stone, Sky, Milk,” which grew out of the semester I spent in Salzburg as a Fulbright scholar.

Music and Mountain Rescue

In Aesthetics, Aesthetics, narrative, form, Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, Environment, Europe, Law and film, Video on December 15, 2015 at 3:32 pm

When my wife and I were living in Salzburg last semester, I had the chance to talk with a local archivist with a surprising combination of skills. We had a wide-ranging conversation about music, mountains, law, and what it means to be Austrian. Our discussion will be part of my video-in-progress—”Wood, Water, Stone, Sky, Milk”—but for now I’ve created a preview. You can watch it below, or if the video doesn’t appear automatically in your browser or email, just click here.

 

Muslims, Christians and Legal Bargaining

In Books and libraries, Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, Europe, Islam, Spain on August 22, 2013 at 5:53 pm

Back to the Getty’s images from the Vidal Mayor, the great thirteenth-century redaction of Aragonese law.

The manuscript emerges from a critical moment in the relation between Christianity and Islam, the Spanish Reconquista—the gradual capture by Christian crusaders of Muslim Iberia, the caliphate of al-Andalus.

This moment plays a vital role in the ideology of Al Qaeda and its Salafi-jihadist affiliates. Osama bin Laden spoke repeatedly of the “tragedy of al-Andalus,” and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb frequently refers to Muslim Spain in its messaging (for more detail, see this succinct article from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point).

The political imagination of Al Qaeda and company, that is, is fueled by the historical memory of the larger time and place in which Bishop Vidal de Cañellas made his great legal redaction for King James I of Aragon.

From Vidal Mayor

In my previous post, I noted that the charters, or fueros, that the Vidal Mayor incorporates were part of a process in which Iberian royals attracted Christian settlement within the peninsula by offering various legal privileges. They used fueros much like Delaware today uses its laws of incorporation—as an enticement.

If you’re a king and want to attract merchants to a town, what do you do? Provide its inhabitants with especially strong protections of their private property and announce that henceforth they’re exempt from certain taxes. In the meantime, put an end to the violence of clan feuds, which are detrimental to commerce.

Want to draw nobles to a frontier where they may have to fight Muslim forced by horseback?  Provide them with legal exemptions from their usual mandatory military service. Read the rest of this entry »

“O Valencia!” Oh, Aragon! Oh, 1247!

In Books and libraries, Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, Europe, Islam, Spain on August 16, 2013 at 4:07 pm

I received an email yesterday that caused me to lean back from my desk, look up, and audibly whisper “oh, wow, now that’s just incredibly cool.”

The message brought word of a new digital program by the J. Paul Getty Trust called “open content.” In the words of a press release of August 12, the goal of the program is “to share, freely and without restriction, as many of the Getty’s digital resources as possible” (emphasis added, with joy). The press release continues:

The initial focus of the Open Content Program is to make available all images of public domain artworks in the Getty’s collections. Today we’ve taken a first step toward this goal by making roughly 4,600 high-resolution images of the Museum’s collection free to use, modify, and publish for any purpose. These are high-resolution, reproduction-quality images with embedded metadata, some over 100 megabytes in size.

If the idea of free, unrestricted, high-res, metadata-rich images of great art touches a chord deep inside you, I hope you’ll join me for a moment in jumping up and down in glee.

Hands from Vidal MayorNaturally, I immediately had to check out the search gateway and start browsing—in particular, to look for images with legal themes. And I found some great ones.

Today, I’ve been captivated by images from an illuminated medieval manuscript called the Vidal Mayor. This beauty has nothing to do with mayors or with anyone named Sassoon. Instead, it’s the essential redaction of laws of thirteenth-century Aragon—and before this admittedly just somewhat obscure idea causes anyone click “back” on their browser, let me share what this means.

Read the rest of this entry »

If Your Law Were an Animal … or a Tool … or Music?

In Austria, Constitutional law, Conversations, Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, Europe, Germany, Law and music, Netherlands, Romania, Video on July 30, 2013 at 3:58 pm

When I was in Europe last November, I asked a group of legal professionals some unusual questions. The results are in my new video.

 

“She does not know what is going to happen”

In Afghanistan, Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, Gender, Pakistan on April 1, 2013 at 11:12 am

Today the New York Times published an article by Alissa J. Rubin titled “Painful Payment for Afghan Debt: A Daughter, 6.” The title says it all. As a result of a legal arrangement to discharge a debt, the girl pictured on the front page of the paper wearing a red dress and purple shawl, Naghma Mohammad, will be forced to marry a lender’s 17-year-old son. Naghma “does not know what is going to happen,” says her father. Nor is she aware, in the words of the journalist, that she “will most likely be treated more like a family servant than a spouse—and at worst as a captive slave.”

Last week, I wrote about a closely related issue in a post ironically titled “‘In Praise of Forced Marriage’” (the post was a response to a critical review of my own work titled “In Praise of Kinship”). The New York Times article closely tracks what I said there.

I’d like to note three things in response to this moving story.

First, Afghan and Pakistani liberals resolutely condemn forced marriages like this one. In response to my earlier post, a devout Muslim friend of mine from the tribal areas of Pakistan wrote to proclaim that he “condemns [the practice] in all its manifestations. It’s against human rights and human dignity … I consider it a crime against humanity from its very roots.”

Liberals in developed states should be making common cause with people like my friend. We should be helping them in their modernization efforts, and we should be asking them—especially when they are critics of the United States—to help us appreciate the ways that we fall short of our own values.

Second, the article highlights the way in which people within traditional societies can feel trapped by the collective, kin-based social and legal structures that exist in the absence of effective state authority. Tellingly, the girl’s father, Taj Mohammad, muses in regret: “If, God forbid, they mistreat my daughter, then I would have to kill someone in their family”—and, indeed, he fears that “when she goes to that house, she will die soon.”

He also is dejected by the demand of his child’s future mother-in-law that Naghma be withdrawn from school because having a son’s future wife receive an education is “dishonoring” to the family. At the same time, the father seems prepared to accede to the demand—what else can he do?

Finally, a note about the Pashtun legal institution of the jirga, or counsel of elders, which sanctioned Naghma’s forced marriage. As I argue in The Rule of the Clan, I believe that social and legal modernization of the kind that advances principles of personal autonomy can only be effective if it works with and through clans and their traditional institutions rather than over and around them. Liberals need to respect customary legal practices if our efforts are to be both ethical and effective.

The jirga is one of those traditional legal institutions, and it has been as essential to Pashtun tribal life as federal courts are to the United States.

Yet if you speak with people who are familiar with the most traditional Pashtun tribal areas, they will tell you that jirgas today are changing. Traditionally, the jirga was composed of men who, like our own judges, could resist outside pressure and decide cases independently. But it is said that jirga membership standards are now in decline—that selection standards are increasingly less strict. The institution is being undermined in the same way that our own legal institutions would be weakened by a decrease in standards of bar admission.

Perhaps I’ll write about this central feature of liberal development—the maintenance of professional standards against external pressure—in a future post. It’s an issue liberals everywhere share, whether we are fighting against the social dislocations of war or against an unbridled marketplace.

“In Praise of Forced Marriage”

In Afghanistan, Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, Gender, Pakistan, Rule of the Clan on March 26, 2013 at 9:22 am

This morning the Wall Street Journal published this critical review of The Rule of the Clan by Felipe Fernández-Armesto, a professor of history the University of Notre Dame. I’m happy to receive the review (as I’ve noted here, I begin each morning with a bracing perusal of the Journal’s editorial page), and I send my greetings across the blogosphere to Fernández-Armesto and to readers who support his views—from which, I hope, all right-minded people will recoil in head-shaking disbelief.

Without writing more extensively about the review than it warrants, I’d like to use it as an opportunity to clarify my own views, because Fernández-Armesto’s remarks represent the kind of worrying trend in American political culture and intellectual life I criticize in the book: the rejection of the modernist values of the liberal Enlightenment.

Fernández-Armesto frames his review by recounting a story I tell in Chapter Three involving a civilian analyst for the U.S. Central Command. During one of his tours of Afghanistan, the analyst witnesses the proceedings of a Pashtun tribal jirga adjudicating a case of murder. In a practice known as swara, the council prevents a blood feud between the victim’s family and the perpetrator’s family by forcing the sister of the murderer to marry the brother of the murdered man.

As Fernández-Armesto notes, I indicate that “the young woman had no choice in the matter,” and I criticize the custom because it violates her autonomy.

Fernández-Armesto takes me to task for precisely this criticism, suggesting that I “can’t appreciate” that the “Afghan newlyweds may feel fulfilled as peacemakers.” He accuses me of endorsing “one-size [fits all] individualism.” Read the rest of this entry »

Beauty & Dignity: How is German Law Like Music?

In Aesthetics, narrative, form, Austria, Constitutional law, Conversations, Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, Germany, Law and music, Video on February 18, 2013 at 9:17 pm

My latest video is about the concept of human dignity in German constitutional law. The video also considers the relation between law and art—in this case, music—which I’ve also examined in two other videos: “The Beauty of the Code” and “Law in Stone & Glass.”

Law Made in Germany

In Conversations, Cross-cultural encounters & comparisons, Europe, Germany, Video on January 14, 2013 at 11:04 pm

As promised some weeks ago, here is my interview with the German Minister of Justice, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger. In our conversation, I asked the minister about the export of German law overseas, internet privacy and European Union legal harmonization, German law school tuition, and the recent controversy surrounding circumcision in Germany. If you’re reading this blog in the three-column format and would like a larger version of the embedded YouTube video, click here.

For those who are interested in reading the booklet “Law Made in Germany,” click here.