Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sectarian laws

Granted that the well-fanned flames of anti-shariah panic spring from bigotry in almost every instance.

The more tangible effect of the movement, opponents say, is the spread of an alarmist message about Islam.... The anti-Shariah campaign, they say, appears to be an end in itself, aimed at keeping Muslims on the margins of American life.
The loons who oppose any mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, don't do it because they are in fact in any danger at all. They do it because they hate Muslims, don't want them living next door, and don't want them worshipping any god but theirs.

They've reached the point where most of them will grudgingly give Catholics a pass, at least until they get the Southern Baptist theocracy they want established. And this will differ from shariah how exactly? I am the lord thy god, and thou shall have no other gods before me. It's such a huuuge difference to smite a heretic in the name of god, instead of the name of god in Arabic.

But I digress.

The truth is that, despite anti-shariah's genealogy of bigotry, I don't want any ecclesiastical law - not canon law, not rabbinic law, and especially not shariah - to determine the outcome of cases in American courts. I want secular law to dominate. I'm happy to have diverse ethnic and religious people in America, but America is a shared political idea of common liberty under law. It shouldn't be a place where one neighborhood has rights for women and one neighborhood can treat them as chattel.

Sure, we have only attained this enlightenment ourselves recently. That only means we shouldn't draw self-flattering conclusions about how wonderful we are, not that we should surrender the real progress we've made as if it weren't really progress after all.

One actual case I've heard of in which shariah was considered (in Florida, of all places, if I remember correctly) was a family law case submitted to an Islamic arbitrator by mutual consent of the parties. Since both the man and the woman were represented by American lawyers, that sounds pretty reasonable. Still, think of the social pressure on the woman to accept her lesser legal standing and thus to achieve a lesser outcome. A Muslim woman who immigrates to America should (and does) gain all the rights of the American woman she has become.

Here's another case in which justice was delayed, though not denied:
Critics most typically cite a New Jersey case last year in which a Moroccan woman sought a restraining order against her husband after he repeatedly assaulted and raped her. The judge denied the request, finding that the defendant lacked criminal intent because he believed that his wife must comply, under Islamic law, with his demand for sex.

The decision was reversed on appeal.
America is in no danger whatsoever of the establishment of widespread shariah. None. The anti-shariah movement is built to frighten and manipulate credulous wingnut fools. Keeping them in a constant state of uproar and fear - so typical of conservatives - is an electoral strategy designed as red meat for the bigoted, nativist base of the Republican Party.

The correct political reply from the left is not to defend shariah. We don't want to own this sort of statement:
“There’s a conflation between the idea of Islam being a universalist, proselytizing religion and reducing it to a totalitarian movement,” said Mohammad Fadel, an associate professor specializing in Islamic law at the University of Toronto. “All good propaganda is based on half-truths.”
Islam is not a universalist religion. It's not inclusive. It's absolutist. Its social and political incarnations in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa practice by and large only the barest religious tolerance - if any. Speaking of propaganda based on half-truths...

Perhaps our political response should start by mocking the silly fears of ignernt teabaggers. But mainly it's to say quite calmly and directly that we all live under the Constitution and English Common Law, and that we don't need any precedents, statutes, or case law from any religious legalisms. For example, we don't need Michele Bachmann submitting to her husband like a good little religious wife - fundamentalist Christian or Muslim, take your pick, we don't want either.

Update: Outrage piled upon outrage, so thick and high I could quote almost any single paragraph. Here are two short ones:
Ms. Mohammedi’s uncle visited her in jail to say she had shamed the family, and promised that they would kill her once she was released. Her father, an illiterate laborer who works in Iran, sorrowfully concurred. He cried during two visits to the jail, saying almost nothing to his daughter. Blood, he said, was perhaps the only way out.

“What we would ask is that the government should kill both of them,” said the father, Kher Mohammed.
Do we actually imagine in a century we could fix this lawless backward society? It would take a mythic race of avenging Amazons killing every uncle who murdered his niece and every father who acquiesced. As brutally and publicly as possible.

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