Category Archives: islam

God’s law and the law of the State

What happens when you have a particular group in society who are not minded to follow the law of the State, but prefer to follow God’s law as they interpret it?

Recently this question has come up in relation to Sharia law, particularly after the Archbishop of Canterbury said that some aspects of sharia law would inevitably be adopted in Britain. But the question doesn’t just arise in relation to Islam. Many religions have a group within who prefers the laws of God to the laws of the State. For example, orthodox Jews in Australia may take some disputes between one another to the Beth Din, a religious court where rabbis hand out judgment. And some indigenous Australians may prefer that a dispute be dealt with under traditional law rather than “whitefella law”.

My personal opinion is that as long as the law of God does not transgress fundamental human rights, then parties can consent to that particular law binding their actions. It is rather like an agreement to arbitrate in a contract where any disputes are referred to a mutually agreed arbitrator. The problem occurs when a particular practice or punishment which is said to be required by the law of God or tradition is illegal under the laws of the State: eg, stoning, spearing through the leg, promise of child brides etc. My personal opinion is that such things should not be allowed. The issue is slightly more vexed with indigenous tradition than it is with other religious laws because indigenous people didn’t “choose” to move here and to be subject to our laws, they were imposed upon them from colonisers. Nonetheless, as I have explained in one of my very early posts, as a feminist, I just cannot countenance the assault and rape of a teenage “promised bride” by her tribal husband, for example. Cultural relativism be damned.

It is a difficult question however, because it is a balance between religious tolerance and universal human rights (which should apply to all, regardless of race or religion or anything else).

Consequently, I was really interested to read this article in Slate about the American legal system and the Amish and the Mormons. I hadn’t really thought deeply about the conflict that would arise between State law and the traditions and laws of these two groups.

Amish are Anabaptists of Swiss-German origin who live in separate communities. They dress in conservative dress, do not use much modern technology and do not educate their children beyond 8th grade because of the “worldly values” they might learn. Study is focussed on the Bible, and children are expected to work in the fields with their parents once they leave school. They do not believe in Social Security, and do not either make payments or accept payments from the government. The educational practices and expectation that children will work in the fields has brought them in to conflict with US education and child labor rules. In Wisconsin v. Yoder 406 U.S. 205 (1972) three Amish parents were fined by the Wisconsin authorities for taking their children from school before the age of 16, but the US Supreme Court ultimately upheld the right of the parents to do this. Amish refuse to participate in wars, and their conscientious objection has also gotten them into trouble. As the article in Slate observes, the Amish have been given a fair degree of latitude, in part because they are peaceful and because they have managed to broker compromises with the State.

Mormons are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. They believe in the Book of Mormon. The Church of the Latter Day Saints officially abandoned polygamy after pressure from law enforcement in 1890, but some other fundamentalist groups continue to practice polygamy. The practice of taking multiple wives and taking child brides has brought the Fundamentalist Mormon Church into conflict with the law. In the last few weeks, Texan authorities raided a Fundamentalist Mormon compound after a 16 year old girl called authorities to say that she had recently borne a child to her 50 year old husband. Other US States are concerned that this raid may ruin their efforts to make Fundamentalist Mormons trust them and cooperate with them. As the Slate article outlined, a large raid on a Short Creek Fundamentalist Mormon community in 1953 was ultimately counterproductive. The Slate article concludes that the Mormon groups are in a different situation to the Amish:

But the fundamentalist Mormons groups are in a state of evasion. The ban on bigamy functions as a zoning ordinance: Plural marriage is fine in isolated communities, but not in Salt Lake City, and certainly not on TV talk shows, as Tom Green found. So long as the fundamentalists remain in hiding, the extreme ugliness of conducting raids creates a form of tolerance. They are thus in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” state of legal limbo that could break open at any time. They are outside the law in a different way.

It will be interesting to see whether the Texan raid is counterproductive or forces the Fundamentalist Mormon church into submission.

These situations remind us that the conflict between God’s law and the law of the State has many facets, and there are different ways of resolving the issue. Have a read of the Slate article and see what you think.

1 Comment

Filed under children, christianity, feminism, human rights, indigenous issues, islam, judaism, law, marriage, politics, religion, society, tolerance, USA

Fitna

The other day, I watched the film Fitna on YouTube, a film about Islam by Dutch right wing politician Geert Wilders.  I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I had read some interesting reviews by Skepticlawyer at Catallaxy, Pommygranate at Australian Libertarian Society Blog and Saint at Dogfight At Bankstown.

I must say that I felt considerable ambivalence about it. I’ve waited over a week to write on it.

On the one hand, I support freedom of speech. Furthermore, there is no denying the fact that there are extremist Muslims who in the world who advocate terrorism or jihad (as I’ve argued previously). I think this kind of behaviour is unacceptable from anyone of any religion, and should be condemned.

But on the other hand, I wonder what this film will really achieve other than deepening the divide between the West and Islam. Among other things, it extracts news, film and photographs of all the worst instances of Islamist extremism and terrorism, and juxtaposes them against sura from the Qu’ran. It has a scaremongering feel which I do not like at all – it makes broadbrush generalisations and depicts the worst of a particular group. As I have said in a previous post, I find scaremongering propaganda to be problematic, regardless of whether it is on the Left or the Right, or from the West or Islam. It makes people behave in an irrational manner.

As Pommygranate noted in a post at the Australian Libertarian Society Blog, there is a rather odd dichotomy in this film – Wilders preaches Western values of tolerance and free speech, but he is essentially calling for intolerance of a certain religion. Pommy says:

He [Wilders] is essentially a hypocrite as on the one hand he champions Holland’s proud history of tolerance and freedom, yet on the other, seeks to introduce discrimination back into the Constitution (by banning further immigration of Muslims), wishes to ban the Koran as a fascist book comparable to Mein Kampf, and wants a complete ban on the wearing of the headscarf. 

The ironic thing, as with the Danish cartoons, is the way in which various Islamic groups and countries are claiming that the film is offensive and inaccurate for saying their religion is intrinsically violent and intolerant, but radical Muslims are also making death threats against LiveLeaks for posting the video… Don’t those guys who make the death threats have any sense of irony whatsoever? Any violent retaliation against Wilders will prove his point rather nicely.

The film makes me think of a book by Chester Porter called The Gentle Art of Persuasion. He argues that using fear to get your point across is not an intelligent way to put an argument. I concur. The central message I got from the film was “Muslims are terrorists, intolerant people, anti-Semites, bashers of homosexuals, genital mutilators and oppressors of women’s freedom.” But I am still wondering: what was the point? How are people (Muslim, Dutch and others) meant to respond to that message? How does this film fix anything?

If this film’s central message is that Muslims need to rethink the violent and unpleasant aspects of their religion, which is one of the film’s claims, then I don’t think a vehicle such as this would be the way to achieve it. It would immediately make even a moderate Muslim defensive of his or her religion, rather than open to reasonable criticism.

I suspect there were two responses Wilders wanted – to provoke a backlash among Dutch people to Islam (or at least, some extreme practices of some Islamic groups), and to make a point that the response to films or writings which criticise Islam is often violence (although I note that the Dutch Muslim population seems to have sensibly decided that the best response is to be moderate).

I’ve noticed in blog comments threads that a common response to the film is that “Christianity is just as bad” (see for example the comment thread which has developed at Iain Hall’s post). Yes, one could do the same with Christianity and find some nutbag Bible bashers who wanted to stone homosexuals or whatever, and intersperse it with Biblical quotes (particularly chapters like Leviticus). But I think that misses the point of the film. As Skepticlawyer has indicated in her post at Catallaxy, I think one of the particular concerns Wilders is focussing on is the interaction between Muslim immigrants in Holland and the mainstream Dutch culture, which is tolerant of homosexuality, prostitution, drug-use etc. Thus, it’s obviously not relevant for him to make a film on the shortcomings of Christianity, because the Dutch Christian attitude is generally tolerant; or at least, most Dutch Christians turn a blind eye to those things in Dutch culture which they disagree with. If a whole slew of US Southern Baptists emigrated to Holland and started questioning Dutch values, it would obviously be relevant to question Christianity, but that’s not the particular conflict he has in mind.

And ultimately, so what if you can do the same with Christianity? It doesn’t make the conduct of Islamists who espouse the same views right. It cannot be denied that there are a proportion of radical Islamists who believe many or all of the things in this movie. A plague on all the houses of those who seek to convert by the sword, kill and persecute those of different religions or oppress and use religion to justify violence towards women and homosexuals.

What is the best thing to do about Islamist terrorism and intolerance? I’m just not sure that this movie is a constructive solution to the problem: it may just make things worse. Yes, it is important to be honest about the problems of Islamist extremism, but it is also important to find ways to solve those problems rather than to inflame them.

Postscript

Incidentally, I heartly agree with Skepticlawyer that many Muslim commentators, politicians and imams need to get over calling anyone who disagrees with Islam’s tenets “Zionist”. A Jordanian media coalition described Wilders as “extremist and Zionist deputy Geert Wilders” in a press release. Wilders is not Jewish, and I don’t know if he supports the establishment and/or expansion of the State of Israel or not. Even if he does, that wasn’t the point of the film anyway. As soon as I hear insane frothing at the mouth about Zionists such as this, I start to doubt the credibility and sanity of the source.

9 Comments

Filed under blasphemy, christianity, freedom of speech, islam, judaism, politics, racism, society, terrorism, tolerance

Dance of the seven robes

The title to this post could also be “Anything you can do, I can do better.” I’ve long believed that bickering and conflict between the three Abramic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) is a bit like sibling rivalry, as I’ve said before, and the story below just confirms that belief. The three are very similar, but the differences are all the more contentious because of that.

Apparently there is a new trend among ultra Orthodox Charedi women in Israel. Inspired by Rebbetzin Bruria Keren, these ultra Orthodox women wear ten skirts, seven long robes, five kerchiefs knotted at the chin, three knotted at the back of the head, hide their faces behind a veil and then cover themselves with several thin shawls. Whew! I’m surprised that these women can walk after putting all those clothes on.

The effect is somewhat like a niqab, or a full Islamic veil revealing only the eyes. I refer to and repeat my comments about the niqab (here and here). An outward show of inner faith, or a display of modesty before God are, to my mind, acceptable reasons for wearing religious costume. But as a feminist, I draw the line at religious costumes which impede women from interacting with the outside world. If a woman cannot engage in face to face communication, cannot drive, cannot run, cannot drink a glass of water in public…then I think it’s just plain wrong. It makes her less of a person than a man. I also dislike the idea that layers of clothing must be worn because a woman’s body is peculiarly seductive, or because it is thought that women’s bodies are unclean or lewd.

There are a number of interesting things about this phenomenon. First, the ultra Orthodox men tend to dislike the practice, despite their emphasis on tzniut, or modesty, in women. Thus it has been considered to be a kind of “counter revolution” – women saying, “Well, if you’re going to ask us to be modest, we’ll do that to the maximum degree possible.” I still don’t think that it can be considered “empowerment”, except in a very negative way.

The other interesting thing is that the women are apparently mistaken for Arab Muslims or Arab Christians, and are somewhat offended by this. They don’t feel any solidarity with their Arab sisters. I wonder, as foreshadowed by the alternative title to the post, whether there’s a sense of “oneupwomanship” here: “You Muslims think you’re modest? We Jews can be ten times more modest, and wear even sillier outfits, just watch us.” I’m waiting for some fundamentalist Christian women to start wearing old fashioned metal diving suits, just to show that they are the most modest of all.

In the end, it’s up to all these women (of whatever religion) to choose to wear whatever they please. I don’t really mind, as long as they don’t judge me for what I choose to wear, and don’t impose their standards on me or my daughter. My body is not dirty, thank you very much, and nor am I a harlot because I show my ankles. To me, empowerment is being able to move and communicate freely.

(Via Indyblogs)

Update

And it’s stories like the one of Indian tennis player Sania Mirza which make me believe that requiring women to cover up cannot be empowering or “feminist”. Mirza is an Indian Muslim, and some radical clerics have issued a fatwa against her. She has just withdrawn from the Bangalore Open after receiving threats because she wears short skirts and sleeveless tops.

12 Comments

Filed under christianity, feminism, islam, judaism, sexuality, society, tolerance

The thought police are listening

It seems pretty ridiculous that Dr Haneef has been charged with supporting a terrorist organisation by leaving his SIM card with his second cousins in Glasgow. I was wondering how they could charge him, and decided to look at the terrorism offences. I’m not a criminal lawyer, let alone one acquainted with the Federal jurisdiction. I found it interesting to check out these provisions.

Section 102.7 of the Criminal Code makes it an offence to possess things connected with terrorist acts. The relevant offences are in 102.7(1) and 102.7(2):

102.7 Providing support to a terrorist organisation

(1) A person commits an offence if:

(a) the person intentionally provides to an organisation support or resources that would help the organisation engage in an activity described in paragraph (a) of the definition of terrorist organisation in this Division; and

(b) the organisation is a terrorist organisation; and

(c) the person knows the organisation is a terrorist organisation.

Penalty: Imprisonment for 25 years.

(2) A person commits an offence if:

(a) the person intentionally provides to an organisation support or resources that would help the organisation engage in an activity described in paragraph (a) of the definition of terrorist organisation in this Division; and

(b) the organisation is a terrorist organisation; and

(c) the person is reckless as to whether the organisation is a terrorist organisation.

Penalty: Imprisonment for 15 years.

So I presume that the police are saying that the SIM card is a thing connected with the planning of the Glasgow bombings, that Dr Haneef supplied it to his second cousins and was reckless to the possibility that it might be used for a terrorist act. Still, it seems like the AFP are drawing a long bow, charging him just so that he has been charged with something. I don’t know if there’s further intelligence as to whether he helped his second cousins in the plot, or whether he got out of the country because he knew about it but didn’t want to be involved. It’s hard to make a judgment without knowing all the facts.

But it seems to me that this kind of charge represents a worrying trend. Isn’t this the very thing the Western world should be against – a charge for the sake of it?

Check out Marcellous’ post on the topic for more insightful legal commentary.

Update

I was looking at the wrong section, as Marcellous has pointed out. Now amended to Section 102.7. Told you I’m no criminal law expert. Especially criminal law involving statutes. Well, I guess that’s all of it…

Update 2

It seems the government has revoked Dr Haneef’s visa. Again, I suspect that there’s more to this guy’s actions that we’re hearing in the press. I don’t know the full evidence on which the Minister made his decision.

But if the Magistrate was satisfied with imposing strict bail conditions on Dr Haneef, why wasn’t that enough? It seems as though the government is using immigration detention as a method of imposing a punitive gaol sanction where the courts have decided that the suspect should be released. Doesn’t seem like due process to me.

26 Comments

Filed under Australia, courts, criminal law, islam, law, religion, terrorism

How can they do it?

Jane from Diversion Cubed was wondering how on earth people who had sworn the Hippocratic oath to heal other human beings could allegedly become involved with suicide bombing plots. I can’t fathom it myself. How can you work all day trying to heal people and help people, and then wish to wreak death and injury on innocent civilians?

In that context, I found this article by Shiv Malik on the London 7/7 bombers very interesting (hat tip to Larvatus Prodeo). Malik spoke with the family of bomber Mohamed Sidique Khan and others who lived in Beeston, Leeds. He found that the impetus to become radical is more complicated than one would think:

Khan may have felt indignant about western foreign policy, as many anti-war campaigners do, but that wasn’t the reason he led a cell of young men to kill themselves and 52 London commuters. At the heart of this tragedy is a conflict between the first and subsequent generations of British Pakistanis—with many young people using Islamism as a kind of liberation theology to assert their right to choose how to live. It is a conflict between tradition and individuality, culture and religion, tribalism and universalism, passivity and action.

When it is stated like this, the problem of Islamic extremism looks depressingly intractable. The government’s first reaction following 7/7 was to consult with a wide range of Muslim opinion, including the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and similar bodies. The government now argues that the MCB and some of its affiliates are as much part of the problem as of the solution, and the new initiatives to tackle radicalism stress the promotion of British values at a grassroots level and working more closely with the few liberal modernisers in Britain’s Muslim community. But maybe all that we can do now is remain vigilant and wait for the tide in the battle for Islam’s soul to turn in the west’s favour.

Malik explores the fact that many first-generation Pakistanis in Britain have a very traditional approach to life – one in which Islam is important, but so too are tribal values. It is expected, for example, that young Pakistanis will marry according to their parents’ wishes, often to a cousin or relative within the larger tribe. Radical Islamism offers an escape from arranged marriages. Malik explains:

So while traditionalist mosques carry on recruiting imams from back home, keep their sermons in Urdu and other Asian languages and neglect to publish material to engage new members, the Wahhabis and the Islamists give their sermons in English and take their recruitment on to the streets of Pakistani or Bangladeshi ghettos such as Beeston Hill. They have also encouraged the schooling of British-born imams, have learned to use the internet and have generally come to understand what makes the second generation tick. The Wahhabis and Islamists win new members by contrasting their galvanising message of world Islamic justice with the inactivity and irrationality of the first-generation traditionalists. (Among those who turn to violence, such as Khan, their beliefs are often a mix of fundamentalism and Islamism.) And by arguing that the traditionalists—with their saint worship, mysticism and forced marriages—have been corrupted by weakness and Hinduism, they provide useful arguments to those Pakistani and Bangladeshi youths who want to cling on to Islam but throw off their parents’ constraints.

Part of what pushed Khan towards fundamentalist Islamism was his desire to marry for love, not to marry the bride whom his parents had arranged for him.

Furthermore, in poor areas such as Beeston Hill in Leeds (where three of the four 7/7 bombers lived) there was an increasing problem with drug use. Traditional parents had no response for this problem. It was not within their ken. Malik continues:

Ali told me that the older generation didn’t know how to deal with the drug problem. They were largely illiterate and didn’t know the system, so they would sooner move out than try to fight the dealers. The only people who seemed to do anything about the drug-taking were a group of second-generation Pakistanis called the “Mullah boys.” This was a fluid group of 15 to 20 members that formed in the mid-1990s, initially as a response to the drugs issue. Mohammad Sidique Khan was a leading member. Ali told me that on several occasions, the group kidnapped young Pakistani drug addicts and, with the consent of their families, held them in a flat near the Wahhabi-inclined mosque on Stratford Street—and forcibly cleansed them of their drug habits.

What we learned from Ali was later corroborated by an ex-drug user called Asim Suleman. He had been cold-turkeyed by the Mullah boys in 1996, and Sidique Khan, Khan’s friend Naveed Fiaz and Tafazal Mohammed, Khan’s line manager in his youth worker job, had asked Suleman back to help with another round in 2001. Following 9/11, the Mullah boys had become increasingly religious. Initially, this new-found godliness was welcomed by the older generation in Beeston—until the group began marrying people of their choice.

I had wondered how men who had grown up in the UK could do this. Malik’s analysis makes sense. The second generation did not want to live like their parents. They wanted to marry whom they wanted, they wanted to escape narrow tribal restrictions and they wanted to do something constructive about social problems in their community, such as drug use. But they did not feel part of the broader British community either. There were two paths for young disaffected men – either to embrace violence and drug use, or to embrace radical Islamism. The latter seemed more honourable. It offered an escape to the conundrum of trying to fit in with traditional Pakistani or English social norms – reject both, embrace Islam, then you’ll feel part of society. Paradoxically, the radical Islamist movement is in some ways more akin to a radical political group from the West than it is to traditional Islam.

I’m sure it’s no coincidence that the background of radical Sydney cleric Sheikh Feiz Mohammed resonates with this analysis. Sheikh Feiz was a street kid who drank and took drugs in his youth. He saw radical Islam as the pathway out of despair.

A more nuanced understanding of what drives these young men might help a more nuanced response to the issue. An analysis which simply concludes that Islam is evil or that the West is corrupt and decadent misses the mark. As always, it’s more complicated than that. Radical Islamism is a child of a terrible congruence of both Western and Islamic values.

Update

An interesting piece in The Guardian by Hassan Butt, a former member of the British Jihadi network.

6 Comments

Filed under England, good and evil, islam, morality, politics, terrorism, war

Egypt and FGM

It’s awful that it has taken the death of a 12 year old girl to precipitate change, but it is good that Egypt is now looking at banning female genital mutilation outright. Even more positively, leaders in the Sunni Muslim and Coptic Christian communities have spoken out unequivocally against the practice, which is practiced by adherents of both faiths. Hopefully, this will be the beginning of a cultural shift.

1 Comment

Filed under christianity, feminism, human rights, islam, law reform, middle east, sexuality

Quick post on hijabs

I read today that legislation banning teachers from wearing a hijab in class passed by the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia has been upheld as legal. Obviously I can’t comment on the nature of the decision (I don’t know much about German law). But I do think that it represents a disturbing trend of intolerance.

What of Catholic or Anglican nuns, who may wear a wimple? Would they also be banned from teaching classes? I should hope so, for reasons of moral consistency. You can’t have one rule for one religion and another rule for another. What about a Jewish teacher who wore a yarmulke (Jewish skull cap)? What about a Sikh teacher with a turban? Where do you draw the line?

My suggestion is that the line needs to be drawn only where religious dress prevents a teacher from communicating effectively with students. As long as a teacher’s face is fully visible and she can do all the practical demonstrations which she needs to do, there should be no reason for her to be banned from teaching. As I have written previously in this blog, I do not think that niqabs (covering leaving only the eyes showing) or burqas (covering with gauze over the eyes) are appropriate wear for teachers, because it inhibits face to face communication and inhibits physical movement. And communication is an essential part of teaching. But as long as the face is visible, what’s the problem?

Have a look at RG’s post about recent allegations of school photos being doctored to remove evidence of a hijab from a student’s head (did they have to imagine what her hair looked like?…the mind boggles). Thoroughly recommended.

(Via Jurist)

21 Comments

Filed under education, islam, jobs, law, religion, society, tolerance