Jonathan Brown is an Islamic studies professor at the Georgetown University campus has raised more then a few brows with this recent comments during a question and answer session. The following excerpt is from the full lecture that be listed to here:
“Brown: [59:57] But actually you know, slavery in Islam or slavery in any other place doesn’t have any necessary connection to what we think of slavery in an American context. In fact I actually think this is sort of exporting our sin here because we take our history of slavery and we just dump that onto other people.
But I think if you took the Sharia understanding of slavery and even the general [unintelligible] of slavery in Islamic civilization, I don’t think it’s comparable at all to plantation chattel slavery in the Americas. It’s just not comparable at all.”
Incredibly, Brown kept digging and equated the ownership of slaves with having personal obligations like a family and a mortgage, but first he addressed the issue of concubines in modern Islamic civilization. He went on to contrast moral consent for sex and autonomous ownership of people for sex as a duty:
“Brown: [1:19:20] The first question was about the concubines. So this is a very difficult discussion to have. We don’t have time to have it today, but I would say that…. 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?”
In one of his last statements, he drops this bomb on the audience:
“Brown: What’s the difference between someone who is captured in a raid in the steppes of Central Asia brought to Istanbul’s slave market, sold to an owner, who, by the way, might treat her badly, might treat her incredibly well. She’s going to bear him children. She’s going to be a free woman. She’s going to be the mother of his children. If he’s high status, she’s going to be high status. If he dies she might be a very desirable wife. That person’s situation? What’s the difference between that and some woman who’s a poor baker’s daughter who gets married to some baker’s son without any choice because no one expects her to have any choice? And that baker’s son might treat her well. He might treat her horribly. The difference between these two people is not that big. We see it as enormous because we’re obsessed with the idea of autonomy and consent, would be my first response. It’s not a solution to the problem. I think it does help frame it.”
I would be hard pressed to find anyone who agrees that any of this is rational, however there is no dispute that Georgetown University actually employees a man who believes slavery and rape is moral depend on which culture produces it.