The Sharia – Ancient Mapping – The Territorial Imperative
Sometimes the book reviews are better than the books. The referenced book reviews may be examples of this phenomenon.
“Adina Levin’s weblog. For conversation about books I’ve been reading, social software, and other stuff too.”
Adina has some excellently written book reviews on the BookBlog:
What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response
a book by Bernard Lewis
Adina writes e.g.:
“Contemporary Sharia systems in places like Iran and Afghanistan are
often mocked for being medieval and backward, legislating repression of
women and brutal corporal punishment (no, I’m not in favor of the Texas
death penalty, either). But there is no empirical reason that a system
of Muslim jurisprudence needs to be backward. After all, European laws
once featured trial by ordeal, and prevented women from owning property.
A living tradition of Muslim law might be able to adapt to current
economic and social conditions. How did the Sharia change from a system
that had once reflected the standards of justice of its time to one that
insisted on avoiding change?”
Those are essentially interesting and modern jurisprudential issues.
a book by John Noble Wilford
This book and review are of particular interest to the Law Pundit because of his own book
Stars Stones and Scholars
which claims that the megaliths are remnants of ancient surveys, i.e. that they are Stone Age geodetic mapping systems triangulated by means of the astronomy, using stars much as in ocean navigation.
Adina writes, inter alia:
“The Mapmakers purports to be world history, but it has a strong European focus. Wilford does include few pages about sophisticated early mapmaking practices in China. But he almost completely ignores Muslim and Indian geography. The book contains just one brief reference to ibn Khaldun, the medieval Muslim traveler and geographer, and nothing on Al Idrisi, who was commissioned by Roger II, the Christian king of Sicily, to update navigational records, and created the famous early atlas called “The Book of Roger.” The Mapmakers briefly mentions that one Francis Wilford, a member of India Survey, was a student of ancient Hindu geography. Given early Indian sophistication in astronomy, math, and government administration, one wonders what earlier sources of geographic knowledge he drew on. According to an Indian friend of mine, many early maps were destroyed to keep them out of the hands of British colonial rulers.
Wilford writes about the dire level of geographic ignorance of Medieval Europeans, whose maps routinely placed Paradise at the Eastern border of China, without noting that during the same period, there was a longstanding, ongoing system of travel and trade from Arabia through India and Southeast Asia to China (see books by Abu Lughod and KN Chaudhuri, among others), conducted by Arabs, Jews, Indians, and sometimes Chinese. I don’t know what sorts of maps were used by these travelling merchants, but they must have used something, because they got from place to place regularly and routinely.”
Law and Territory
What is the connection between law and mapping? Of course, it is a significant one. All knowledge of ancient cultures indicates that the old civilizations had “territories” and “lands” and that these were marked – and thus obviously, mapped – in some manner, giving rise to “territorial” consequences involving retribution – i.e. sanctions for violating territory – which is a “legal” connection.
Without the mapping of land, law would be impossible. The Territorial Imperative (a book by Robert Ardrey) is at the foundation of jurisprudence. This indeed is the main dispute in the current war in Iraq – does America have a “right” to be there or not? The underlying answer – on both sides – is based, essentially, on territorial claims – defending “land” and “national security”.
Territorial claims have a long history. Let us take the case of Ancient Babylon, here described in a site on the History of Iraq:
“Babylonian town life had revived on the basis of commerce and handicrafts. The Kassitic nobility, however, maintained the upper hand in the rural areas, their wealthiest representatives holding very large landed estates. Many of these holdings came from donations of the king to deserving officers and civil servants, considerable privileges being connected with such grants. From the time of Kurigalzu II these were registered on stone tablets or, more frequently, on boundary stones called kudurrus. After 1200 the number of these increased substantially, because the kings needed a steadily growing retinue of loyal followers. The boundary stones had pictures in bas-relief, very often a multitude of religious symbols, and frequently contained detailed inscriptions giving the borders of the particular estate; sometimes the deserts of the recipient were listed and his privileges recorded; finally, trespassers were threatened with the most terrifying curses. Agriculture and cattle husbandry were the main pursuits on these estates, and horses were raised for the light war chariots of the cavalry. There was an export trade in horses and vehicles in exchange for raw material. As for the king, the idea of the social-minded ruler continued to be valid.”
The New York Review of Books has an inane review of Ardrey’s book as compared to the more benevolent and naive theories of Konrad Lorenz, and, in view of recent world developments, there is little doubt that Ardrey is more right than Lorenz.
Indeed, keywords such as intellectual property, copyrights, trademarks, P2P and file-sharing involve modern outgrowths of the territorial imperative.
Our ancient forbears understood the territorial imperative only too well – since their survival depended upon it – and thus staked out their territories long before the advent of reading and writing. To stake out territories, you had to have some way of mapping them and some way of protecting those territories – by legal and military systems. About this there is little doubt.
And as the modern wars show us, little has changed in the interim. The battle for territory on this planet is still a bloody business.