On April 6th 2010, CEU President and Rector John Shattuck hosted former Minister and acclaimed author Ali Abdul-Amir Allawi for a public lecture: Redefining Human and Political Rights in Islam—An Ethical Perspective. The event was attended by Ambassador Aly Housaneldi El-Hefny of Egypt; Ambassador Pierre Labouverie of Belgium; Ambassador Gilberto Vegne Saboia of Brazil; Ambassador Mangasi Sihombing of Indonesia; Ambassador Joao Miguel Vahekin of Angola; Ambassador Charbel Stephan of Lebanon; and Consul Zaid Naffa of Jordan, among other distinguished guests of the diplomatic corps. Also in attendance was Dr. David Horner, President of the American College of Greece.
John Shattuck introduced Allawi by drawing on his own personal experience as an American exchange student in Damascus and his impressions of an Arab world inspired by change and reform. The public discussion after the lecture was chaired by CEU University Professor Aziz Al-Azmeh.
Allawi offered an insiders perspective on navigating the ethical landscape of blurred boundaries between politics, religion, democracy and self-determination that characterizes Islamic civilization today, entangled as it is in a struggle between often contradictory dynamics of contention—the forces of globalization; pushes for socio-economic modernization and political liberalization; and the subsequent backlash in the form of political Islam and its terrorist offshoots. The area of human and political rights is the one in which Islamic civilization remains most at odds with the Western world in terms of defining what constitutes a universal value, how the rights and duties of individuals and institutions are articulated, and how each civilization has developed its own normative space. Allawi identified five areas (crime and punishment; constitutional and political theory; human rights; gender and sexual rights; and international relations) in which this tension is most evident, with Islamic civilization standing somewhere between qualified acceptance and partial rejection of universal tenets of human and political rights.
The ethical dimension to the quest to conceptualize Islam within this universalist framework entails, in the words of Allawi, a three-pronged process of exploring the canons of Sharia law; identifying those points of conflict between Islamic codes and the universalization of values, and examining them through the prism of ethical tenets within the Koran. Allawi concluded his talk by expressing his hope for the emergence of a legitimately Islamic perspective on public issues that would successfully resolve the current points of contention between universalism and the Islamic way as it is broadly understood. ________________________
Ali Abdul Amir Allawi served as Minister of Trade and Minister of Defense in the Interim Iraqi Governing Council from September 2003 to 2004, and Minister of Finance in the Iraqi Transitional Government from 2005 to 2006. Before being appointed to the governing council, he was a Senior Associate at St Anthonys College, Oxford. He is the co-founder the Arab International Finance merchant bank and the founder of the Fisa Group, a hedge fund management firm.
Ali A. Allawi holds a BSc in Civil Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an MBA from Harvard University. He is currently senior visiting fellow at Princeton University and Oxford, and the author of the acclaimed book The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace, praised by the New York Times Book Review as the most comprehensive historical account of the disastrous aftermath of the American Invasion. His second book, The Crisis of Islamic Civilization, published by Yale University Press, was named one of the Best Books of 2009 by The Economist.