Author: Christine Barkley

Interpreting Islamic law today

On Tuesday, Oct. 11, Anver Emon, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Religion, Pluralism and the Rule of Law at the University of Toronto Law School, came to St. Olaf to give a lecture on Islamic natural law. The presentation was brought about in cooperation with Carleton College, with the support of a Broadening the Bridge grant for Middle Eastern studies.

Professor Emon’s lecture at St. Olaf came after he delivered a speech at Carleton titled “Islamic Law at the Borders: Thinking Jurisdiction at the Intersection of Sharia and International Child Abduction.” Carleton students and the Carleton director of Middle Eastern Studies Professor Noah Salomon were also present at the St. Olaf lecture.

After Emon got his start in academia as a medieval historian, he became interested in Islamic studies and law. The study of present day Islamic natural law was an extension of his study of historic Islamic law.

The medieval historian turned law and Middle Eastern studies scholar peppered his talk with humor, saying that he was “going medieval today,” referring to the whiteboard on which he had outlined his talk. The presentation was split into three parts: history, theory and discontent.

Starting the discussion with background, Emon explained that in Islamic law there are “Lacuna,” or gaps, in law that need to be filled.

“You need reform, and God has said not only that ‘I am the legislator,’ but also that, ‘I am not talking to you anymore, you figure it out,’” Emon said. This is where interpretation comes into play. Law cannot be cemented in time, and new challenges arise as the world changes.

“The Qur’an creates a variety of stipulations against the consumption of alcohol. So today could I use those same stipulations to prohibit the consumption of heroin?” He said the answer is yes; in Islamic law, heroin would be forbidden for the same reasons that alcohol is forbidden. In the struggle to understand and find meaning, “ijtihad,” one can use “qiyas,” which is rule by analogy. There is a precedent, in this case the consumption of alcohol, and a new case, the consumption of heroin. They are related by their intoxicating effects, and heroin can thus be prohibited.

Reinterpreting Islamic law has proved contentious. Religious, or in this case natural, law is something that is not taken lightly, as “we have a God that we don’t want to piss off,” Emon said.

“I don’t read reviews of my work anymore, my friends read them for me,” Emon said after his speech. Most of the criticism comes from other scholars of Islam, with a common complaint being that Emon misinterprets the Arabic.

Students also had the opportunity to eat breakfast with Emon at St. Olaf.

“He was very welcoming and he answered all of our questions,” Hoda Al-Haddad ’18 said. “Professor Emon provided me with a new perspective on how to use law and Middle Eastern studies together. I learned a lot from him.”

Professor Jamie Schillinger, director of the Middle Eastern studies program at St. Olaf, stressed the relevance of Emon’s talk.

“Natural Islamic law is a topic that is important to a lot of different groups. It is important to philosophers, legal communities and to religious communities. We are lucky to have him here.”

The Broadening the Bridge Middle Eastern studies collaboration aims to pool the financial and cultural resources of Carleton and St. Olaf to enrich the study of the Middle East at both schools. Carleton’s strengths in international relations and St. Olaf’s in inter-religious dialogue will form the basis for this cooperation. More events, including more outside lecturers, will be held throughout the academic year.

About Christine Barkley

View all posts by Christine Barkley →

× Featured

Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Dolphins could be newest navy recruits

Earlier this year, the Russian Federation announced its inten- tions to purchase five dolphins, which will subsequently be trained for military use. Their skill set includes things like flagging mines, protecting ships and har- bors and detecting submarines. Before we start criticizing the Russians, let us examine the sur- prising history of combat dolphins.

If you were thinking that exploit- ing small mammals for militaris- tic gain definitely sounds like an American idea; you are correct. American military researchers in 1960 were looking to dolphins as inspiration for designing bet- ter missiles. That idea ultimate- ly progressed to just using dol- phins for military tasks. As this was the height of the Cold War, the Soviets, followed suit and adopted this innovative mam- malian escapade five years later.

Today, the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Training Program in San Diego, California houses 85 Bottlenose dolphins. The Russians, on the other hand, are current- ly trying to rebuild their marine mammal training program. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Crimea, where their dol- phin training program was located, became a part of the Ukraine. With the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Russia is again looking to beef up its military marine mammal presence.

The human race is no stranger to using animals for our benefit; the most prominent and versatile of those animals are dogs. While humans have only been inter- acting heavily with dolphins for the past century, the domestica- tion of dogs goes back millennia.

When looking at aggression in dolphins versus dogs we find one major difference – dogs will harm and kill humans without training, while dolphins will not. The United States has promised to never train a dolphin to kill; the Russians have made no such promises. While training Russian military dolphins to kill would be unacceptable, at this point, no such training pro- gram exists. In fact, military dol- phins have never seen combat – the closest they came was during the Vietnam war. Furthermore, the dol- phins do not look likely to see com- bat any time in the future either.

In terms of underwater mili- tary prowess, dolphins are an easy choice. Smarter than sharks and beluga whales, dolphins fill a void. Due to their ability to dive to depths of over a thousand feet and stay submerged for over ten minutes, dolphins have evolved in just the direction that would enable them to help humans militarily. In addition, dolphins are extremely intelligent and social mammals that frequently communicate with each other and, on occasion, with humans. Because of characteristics such as these, it appears that, at the moment, there are few better options to help keep the oceans safe.

The reconnaissance roles that dolphins are playing in national security are nonviolent and likely to stay that way. Their usage in military tasks is really no more of an ethical problem than the role of K-9 dog units used across the world. Additionally, any ethical qualms about the use of the dol- phins will probably be remedied soon; in today’s enlightened age of technology it is increasingly likely that we will soon find alter- natives to the skill set of military dolphins. However, at about $5,000 per dolphin (training not includ- ed), they are not a bad bargain.

Christine Barkley ’18 (barkle1@sto- is from St. Paul, Minn. She majors in Russian Area Studies.

About Christine Barkley

View all posts by Christine Barkley →

× Featured

Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Agnes all about that basic

On Friday, Nov. 6, nine girls took over the Pause Mane Stage for the Agnes A Cappella Fall Concert. This year’s title for the annual fall concert was “Back to #Basic.” The singing of Beyonce and Michael Jackson by girls wearing shades of burgundy and boots was hardly unexpected.

Also to be expected, the Pause was packed, with spectators trickling in throughout the performance. The chairs quickly filled up, with students standing and perching around the edges of the space.

The concert opened a few minutes late with an upbeat rendition of “Pretty Hurts” by Beyoncé. During the first half of the performance the group did some meaningful songs, including another Beyoncé song “Irreplaceable,” while the onstage dancing and energy of the performers provided a fun atmosphere.

Following an almost unrecognizable version of “Your Song,” was an entertaining interlude that comprised of a video of the members of the group set to “Run the World (Girls),” of course. During the second half of the act, the audience was excited and ready for the slew of upbeat songs and mash-ups.

During a break from dancing, Toluwalope Toluhi ‘18 said, “I really like what they are doing, what they are singing, the mash-ups, the dancing; it’s really great!”

He was not the only one busting a move. There were several people standing and moving around to the beat provided by Harrison Hintzsche ‘16. Some students that were able to sit down were even enthusiastically chair dancing.

The high point of the night was the cover of Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T.” featuring Alex Knutson ‘17 as the soloist. After that crowd favorite, the performance ended with the second mash-up of the night: “Drag Me Down” by One Direction with “I Knew You Were Trouble” by Taylor Swift. The first mash-up was “Gold Digger” by Kanye West with Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space,” proving that T-Swift makes everything better.

While the performance could not be described as technically perfect, it was a victorious return to the stage for a group that lost half of its members due to graduation last spring.

“We have come a long way, this group of people has only been practicing together since August,” Annie Weinheimer ‘16 said

Agnes clearly has bonded together well as a group. “It was my first time performing with the group and I can easily say that it was one of the best music filled moments I have had here at St. Olaf,” new member Alee Danyluk ‘18 said.

The onstage chemistry of the group, the mood of the audience, and the amount of Beyonce made for an incredibly fun night. The “Back To #Basic” concert was a great way to end the week and an even better kick-off to the weekend.

You can catch the group again for their Winter Concert on reading day. Updates are published on Agnes A Capella’s Facebook and Instagram pages.

About Christine Barkley

View all posts by Christine Barkley →

× Featured

Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

Dinner dialogues promote international discussion

By Christine Barkley

World Issues Dialogues, a 30-year-old dinner tradition at St. Olaf, has begun weekly Thursday meetings for the 2015-16 school year.

Almost 70% of students in the 2015 graduating class studied abroad during their four years at St. Olaf, and there are 200 international students within the current student body. This, along with St. Olaf ’s emphasis on a global perspective, provides the perfect environment for dinner dia- logues that work through international and intercultural experiences and issues.

The dialogues begin at 5:30 p.m. every Thursday and last for 60 to 90 minutes. Katya Wendt ’16, the student organizer for the events, encourages students to come for all or part of the event.

“We try to encourage people to attend even if they can’t stay the whole time or if they don’t get there at 5:30. Come late and leave early, just come,” Wendt said.

The topic of the kick-off dinner on Sept. 24 was South African Apartheid – Past and Present.

“The dialogue leaders first gave a short summary of South African history, then presented on South African apartheid, before finally moving to talking about how modern day South Africa is still dealing with the effects

of racial segregation that was enacted during apartheid,” Wendt said. “It was very interesting and a well-done presentation and the attendees had a lot of good questions for the presenters.”

Past dissucssion topics have included Women and Veiling in the Muslim World, Bartering and Haggling around the World as an American, Lutefisk and Lefse: Fact or Fiction and The History and Pouring of Guinness.

“You don’t need any sort of experience, you can come and be quiet if you want,” Wendt said. “It is really about gaining a new understanding.”

Coordinator of Program Advising and Student Activities

Helene MacCallum has been a part of World Issues Dialogues since it was created. “The International and Off-Campus Studies [office] felt that there needed to be a place to talk about international and domestic issues, a place where students could share perspectives from being abroad,” MacCallum said.

Personal experiences clashing with culture can be a sen- sitive interaction, something of which the organizers of World Issues Dialogue are acutely aware.

“They set up a system where students can submit ques- tions through text anonymously and they will display the questions and answer them. It’s a great way for students to ask questions they have always wanted to ask but have never felt comfortable with asking,” Wendt said.

World Issues Dialogue draws from a diverse pool of attendees. Last week, in addition to St. Olaf community members, the discussion attracted a Carleton student and a member of the Northfield community.

The dialogue meets at 5:30 p.m. every Thursday evening in Buntrock Commons, Trollhaugen Room (210). All stu- dents, faculty and members of the wider community are encouraged to attend as they are able.

About Christine Barkley

View all posts by Christine Barkley →

× Featured

Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote

BDSM group causes a stir

Sometime around Spring Break, sheets of printer paper with the phrase “kink@olaf” printed boldly in the center, began appearing around campus. The flyers were advertising a new, underground club that centers around BDSM culture and lifestyle. Students’ initial amusement and mild shock surfaced on social media, but the new club initially faded into the background.

David DeLuca ’15 founded the group after noticing a lack of sexual openness and acceptance at St. Olaf. According to DeLuca, the goal of BDSM/kink@olaf is to “discuss different ways of viewing sex and relationships.” The club centers around BDSM, explaining and answering questions about the lifestyle and methods.

BDSM stands for “bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism.” “Kink” is a broader term referring to any sexual practices that go beyond the conventional.

The group BDSM/kink@olaf was thrust back into the spotlight on April 22 at 3:30 pm, when there was a bondage demonstration in Fireside.

“It was pretty disruptive, no one could focus,” Lesley Kraft ’15 said. “A couple of my friends gathered up their things and left because they were so uncomfortable.”

While some students found the demonstration to be amusing, many reactions to the group’s event have been negative.

“It was just a really inappropriate spot to film a bondage demonstration. I am very sex positive, but they definitely went about it the wrong way,” Kraft said.

The unsupportive student reactions do not bother those involved in the club.

“People on this campus have a hard time accepting diversity. When something strange and upsetting happens on this campus, they complain,” DeLuca said.

Social media platforms such as Yik Yak revealed more amplified student reactions. One post read, “To the people filming a BDSM demonstration in Fireside: No. Just. No.” Another Yik Yak user defended the demonstrations, stating that their intentions were to raise awareness for the club. The group also used Yik Yak to answer questions about the club and BDSM.

DeLuca took the criticisms in stride.

“I can understand why people say that. It may have been offensive but it wasn’t indecent,” he said. “Any accusations of it being sexually explicit are unfounded. I respect [the opinions], but I don’t see that as a justification for [the display] not happening. It raised awareness for our group and it will happen again.”

Some students have reacted in a more positive manner.

“It’s personally not something that I’m interested in, but I think that it’s great that the St. Olaf community is openenough for everyone to express their own interests,” Megan Bjorkman ’18 said.

Yik Yak was also used as a tool to get the word out about BDSM/kink@Olaf meetings.

“It was somewhat helpful, somewhat not,” DeLuca said.

The group itself is sparsely populated. About four students regularly attend meetings, and there are only 10 likes on the BDSM/kink@olaf Facebook page. The club’s weekly meetings provide an opportunity for members to chat casually about a wide range of BDSM and kink related issues. Topics in the past have included what it means to be sexually explicit, play party etiquette and polyamory.

“Meetings are open to everyone. We don’t pressure anyone to talk, we don’t interrogate, and it is a judgment free zone. Sometimes we even have food. Anyone is welcome,” DeLuca said.

Meetings for the BDSM/kink@olaf club are held on Sundays at 9 pm in the basement lounge of Larson. The topic of the meeting on May 10 will be a debate on the relationship between human nature, violence and BDSM.

“[The group’s ultimate goal is]to open up a discussion about the way that people view sex and relationships in our community,” DeLuca said.

Another rope-tying demonstration is being planned for the coming weeks.

About Christine Barkley

View all posts by Christine Barkley →

× Featured

Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote