"No separate law for Muslims" says OutRage!
By OutRage News Service
London – Thursday, 8 September 2005
12 Noon – 2 PM
Canadian High Commission
38 Grosvener Street, London W1K 4AA
LONDON – Human rights campaigners and refugees from Islamist persecution will protest against the introduction of Sharia law in Cananda, outside the Canadian High Commission, in London on Thursday 8 September 2005 from 12 noon – 2 PM.
The protest is being supported by gay human rights groups OutRage! and one of the keynote speakers will be OutRage! organiser, Peter Tatchell.
“OutRage! opposes the introduction of Sharia law in Canada, Britain, or anywhere else, to create a separate legal system for Muslims. We believe it is wrong to create a system of legal apartheid which treats Muslims and non-Muslims differently,” said Peter Tatchell of gay Human Rights group OutRage! – who is a speaker at Thursday’s protest against the introduction of Sharia law in Canada.
“In a democratic society, everyone should be subject to the same laws and have the same rights and protections, without any discrimination.
“OutRage! supports the struggle of liberal, progressive Muslims to who oppose Sharia law and want the Muslim community to enjoy the same freedom as everyone else. We fear the introduction of Sahria law in Canada, even in limited circumstances, could adversely affect the rights of women with regard to property ownership, inheritance, divorce and child custody.
“Even though the new Canadian system would be voluntary, many Muslim women will come under pressure from their families and communities to submit to the jurisdiction of Sharia religious courts. This would be a huge setback for women’s rights and a tragic betrayal of Muslim women,” said Mr Tatchell.
See below articles on the issue:
Islamic [In]Justice: On the Establishment of an Islamic Court in Canada, Maryam Namazie
Is Canada next? On the Plan to Establish a Sharia Court in Ontario, Canada, Azar Majedi
Campaigning against the Sharia Court in Canada, Homa Arjomand
On the Establishment of an Islamic Court in Canada
The ‘Islamic Institute of Civil Justice’ or what has become known as the Sharia Court has been heralded by proponents as a multi-cultural way of determining personal and family disputes for those who ‘choose’ to abide by Sharia law in Ontario, Canada. We are told it will promote ‘minority rights’ and that it is equitable, tolerant, and fair. We are told that if it is not established, the ‘Muslim minority’ will be marginalised and discriminated against. That anything less is racism pure and simple.
This is not the case.
Deceptively sugar-coating an Islamic Court in civil rights terms cannot and will not conceal the stark realities of Sharia law and its regressive implications for human beings and Canadian society.
To begin with, Sharia law is inherently unjust and unfair even if it’s only being implemented in the area of what some call mundane civil disputes. In fact, discriminatory family and personal status codes are important pillars in the oppression of women in Islamist societies. Much of the struggle for women’s rights has taken shape in countries like Iran vis-à-vis these very aspects of Sharia law. Discrimination and gender-based persecution in areas of marriage, divorce, child custody and so on are in fact reasons why many women flee Islamist societies and seek refuge in Canada and the west. These so called ‘mundane’ disputes have cost many a woman and girl her rights and life in the Middle East and North Africa. Now, it aims to do the same in Canada.
Yes we know. Those who avail of the court will ‘choose’ to do so; it will be completely voluntary. It is interesting how pro-women’s choices the political Islamic movement becomes when it is vying for power in the west. Where are the choices for women in Iran and Afghanistan under Sharia law and Islamic states? Where is it for women of Iraq or Saudi Arabia? The political Islamic movement is renowned for threatening, intimidating, mutilating, maiming and killing all those who refuse and transgress. Women and girls are always its first victims.
The very sham concept of its voluntary nature becomes clearer when you hear Mumtaz Ali who spearheaded the initiative say: ‘Once the parties have agreed …they will be committed to it by their prior consent. As a consequence, on religious grounds, a Muslim who would choose to opt out at this stage, for reasons of convenience would be guilty of a far greater crime than a mere breach of contract--and this could be tantamount to blasphemy-apostasy.’ The penalty of which by the way is execution under Islamic law in places like Iran. Clearly, then, even a limited Sharia Court in Canada will increase intimidation and threats against innumerable women. It will open the way for further conquests by this reactionary movement.
Now some say that the Islamic Court will promote ‘minority rights’ and ensure the fair and equitable treatment of ‘minorities’. In fact, it is just the opposite.
It is discriminatory and unfair to have different and separate systems, standards and norms for ‘different’ people. The concept of an Islamic Court adheres to a principle of separate but equal similar to that promoted by the former Apartheid regime of South Africa. It was clear then as it is clear now that separate is not equal. In fact it is a prescription for inequality and discrimination. It is the Canadian state’s justification for shrugging its shoulders and excusing itself from its responsibility towards all citizens living in Canada. It maintains fragmented ‘minority communities’ leaving members of the so-called community, particularly women and children, at the mercy of reactionary and parasitical elders and imams. It increases marginalisation and the further ghettoisation of immigrant communities. It makes immigrants and new arrivals forever minorities and never Canadian citizens equal before and under the law.
And that is exactly the problem with the racist concepts of multi-culturalism and cultural relativism. It promotes tolerance and respect for so-called minority opinions and beliefs, rather than and often times instead of respect for human beings. Human beings are worthy of the highest respect but not all opinions and beliefs are worthy of respect and tolerance. There are some who believe in fascism, white supremacy, the inferiority of women. Must those beliefs be respected? There is a big difference between the two.
Multi-culturalism always gives precedence to cultural and religious norms, however reactionary, over the human being and her rights. And it always sees communities as having one homogeneous belief and opinion – often times taking the most reactionary segment of that community – the imams and elders’ beliefs - as the belief and culture of the whole.
Multi-culturalism’s promotion of respect for beliefs and opinions is so strong that even when rights are violated, women mutilated and killed, girls victimised, respect for those beliefs and norms take precedence over individual and universal rights. There is a real contradiction between cultural relativism and multi-culturalism on the one hand and individual rights on the other.
The Canadian state is duty-bound to defend the rights of all human beings living in Canada equally often times despite differing opinions and beliefs. Even if it is the individual’s belief. Just as it intervenes when a woman refuses to press charges against an abusive spouse. Just as it intervenes when parents abuse their children. Everyday, the state intervenes to protect people. Not necessarily because it likes to but because civil society and established norms force it to. It must do so here as well.
And there are some who say opposing the Sharia Court and Islamic laws is racist.
It is not.
Opposition to or critiques of or even 'phobias' of ideologies, religions, cultures, laws or political movements are not racism. Islamophobia is not racism. Only phobias against people because of their race are racism. It is only under the New World Order's multi-culturalism that Islamophobia has been increasingly and deceptively given legitimacy as a form of racism. The political Islamic movement labels it such only to silence those who critique it or stand up to it.
In fact it is racist to create a Sharia Court. It is racist to discriminate against so-called minorities and deny them universal and equal rights and standards and the secularism fought for and established by progressive movements over centuries. It is racist to justify and ignore violations of civil rights and misogyny under the pretext of multi-culturalism. It is racist to deny equality of all citizens before the law. It is racist to create separate legal, social, cultural, religious systems for people deemed different.
Enough is enough! The Sharia Court in Canada is an extension of that movement that stones women on streets and hangs apostates from cranes on city squares in Iran. It is an extension of the same movement that has threatened to kill Yanar Mohammad of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq for defending women’s rights there. It is an extension of the same movement that imprisons women in burqas in Afghanistan. It has no right to speak of civil rights and justice. It is itself a pillar of injustice and rightlessness in the world today. A Sharia Court in Canada? No way! No How! We will not allow it. Enough is enough!
Is Canada next?
On the Plan to Establish a Sharia Court in Ontario, Canada
When I heard about the Sharia court in Canada, I first thought it was a joke. When I realised it was real, that it was really happening; when I read that soon Islamic courts may become a reality in Canada, I was overwhelmed. I was shocked. It sounded like a fantasy world. As a friend called it: the Islamic Republic of Canada is coming into being. I thought of my friends, like Homa Arjomand, who escaped one Islamic republic only to end up in another. How many Islamic republics do we have to fight? One in Iran, one in Afghanistan, fighting the creation of another in Iraq, and now one in Canada.
I am sure right now some of you will think: ‘please don’t exaggerate, this is going too far. This is not about the whole of Canada; it is only about the so-called Muslim community. And it is only going to concern the civil and the family codes not other legal aspects. You are talking as though there is going to be stonings on the streets of Toronto, and furthermore, this is a voluntary matter; no one is forced to go to these courts if they do not choose to. It is purely going to be their choice.’ Fine. Let’s examine and see whether I am exaggerating or if this statement is underestimating the graveness of the situation and the extreme risk we are taking vis-à-vis women’s, children’s and human rights.
Defence of this legislation is based on fallacies.
The first is the argument that by creating Islamic courts parallel to the national courts - that is by allowing every community to have its own judicial system - we are respecting the rights of minorities, and by doing this we are thereby creating a less discriminatory society and supposedly a more egalitarian one. This is a totally false assumption. By defining the rights of communities as opposed to the rights of individuals or rather citizens, we are discriminating against a section of the society. We are depriving some citizens of their equal rights and universal rights recognised by the society. Before the law, we should recognise citizens and not collectives or communities. By recognising communities and assigning some arbitrary rights based on a particular culture or religion to that collective we are leaving the members of that particular community at the mercy of the inherent power struggle of the community. The so-called leaders of that community, be it elders or mullahs, are gaining power over the individuals.
To recognise two or more sets of values, laws and rights in a single society is a discriminatory practice. By doing this, we are, in fact, defining different categories of citizens, and to do that on the basis of different ethnicity, religion and culture is nothing but racism, pure and simple. We are assigning different laws, rights and norms and standards to each different ethnic or religious group.
The concept of citizen and citizen’s rights are modern concepts achieved by decades of libertarian struggle. The reduction of the Church’s power over society is another achievement. The world has made important strides towards the recognition of concepts such as human rights. In fact, the struggle against sexism and for women’s rights has been such a process.
In the case of Islamic courts and empowering them with legal procedures regarding civil disputes or family disputes, we are leaving women in so-called Muslim communities at the mercy of Islamic laws and traditions, which are clearly discriminatory against women. There has been a long battle in countries under the rule of Islam by the women’s liberation movement to achieve a secular system and secular legislation in order to diminish discrimination against women and promote the recognition of equal rights for women in the realm of family as well as the society as a whole.
The second fallacy is the argument that says referrals of family disputes to Islamic courts and Islamic arbitration is voluntary and a matter of personal choice. This argument sounds very libertarian and legitimate. But this is only a fancy façade for imposing a patriarchal value system on women and children. Intimidation and force of communal moral pressure are tools of keeping women subjugated. No human being in her right mind would choose to deprive herself of equal rights, and into a subordinate position. Under the patriarchal value system, such as Islamic traditions and norms, women are deprived of equal rights in matters such as marriage, divorce, custody and running of family matters and family disputes. Women in these communities are forced by intimidation and the communal moral pressure to accept this inequality as the norm, as the natural and divine law, and to respect it. Creating a legal system and empowering the so-called leaders of the community with legal powers as well as religious and moral power will reduce the choice for women to live a more equal life. It will diminish women’s rights to equal opportunity; it will isolate women from the broader society and ghettoise their lives. Any women’s rights activist and analyst will tell you that the family and the dynamism of family life and family order are the pillars of women’s subordination in the society. Some argue that Islamic courts only deal with mundane issues, such as family law. This is a self-serving argument to fog the real issues involved. The women’s liberation movement has fought long and hard to reform family laws and the structure of power inside the family. By recognising Islamic courts we are turning the clock back for women living under Islamic traditions. The society is duty-bound to offer every woman equal opportunity and equal access to equal and universal laws. No one has the right to deny any woman, whether in Islamic communities, Jewish or any other, from this basic right. In an environment based on patriarchy, an old value system, and traditions so clearly misogynist, there can be no question of exercising your choice freely. The choice will be that of the strong partner in the relationship.
In the past decades, we have witnessed a glorification of culture as a primary issue dictating people’s lives and rights. Culture has come to take precedence over human rights, equality, liberation, rights of individuals, children’s rights and women’s rights - concepts and issues which have long been argued and have prominence in modern and civilised civil societies. The birth of cultural relativism and its recognition in the society as a credible concept is the result of this process. I ask you why an arbitrary concept such as culture must be so glorified so as to take precedence over prominent issues such as freedom, equality and justice. Why should people be categorised and placed in different pigeonholes according to culture or religion. These should be private matters. There is no justification for assigning such a prominent status to culture, which overshadows any sense of justice, equality and freedom and the achievements of long battles fought by freedom loving people and socialists for more than two centuries.
I would like to reflect on another issue here. As it regards Islamic courts, we are dealing with a movement, which has gained political power in some influential countries and has become well known internationally: political Islam. In my opinion, it is a reactionary and misogynist movement. I am talking to you here as a first hand victim of political Islam. I can show you here among the audience many more victims of this brutal movement. There are many women and men here today who have fled the torture, threats of execution and the humiliation of political Islam. For us to see the seeds of an Islamic Republic being sown here in Canada is terrifying.
Let me briefly take you back to September 11, 2001 - the horrific day that thousands were killed in the most horrendous manner. It was not only the number of human beings who lost their lives that shook the world but also the manner in which it happened. As a result of this tragedy, political Islam was marginalised and came under increasing pressure. The crimes of this brutal movement in Afghanistan and Iran were exposed. People in the world became appalled by the atrocities committed by political Islam.
However, the actions taken by the USA and Britain, the attack on Iraq and the USA’s bullying created a ground on which this movement began to build a psychological and propaganda campaign to present itself as the victim of western racism. It began to create a feeling of guilt among decent freedom-loving people in the west. The crimes and atrocities inflicted by the USA in Iraq and against immigrants and people from Middle Eastern origin became a source that political Islam came to cash in on to appear as ‘victim’. After that date, political Islam took our belief in freedom and equality hostage to serve its own interests. Our decency became a source for their exploitation. The term Islamophobia came into being. And once more after having pushed back cultural relativism to the margins, we came to fight a new monster. We were threatened by them and frowned upon by well-intentioned people for criticising Islam and its treatment of women, for criticising the veil, especially child veiling. The political Islamic movement that flogged us, tortured us for not observing the veil, and made us flee our homes and seek refuge here, now calls us racist. We should not let this happen. This mockery must be stopped. We should put and end to this charade of victimization and self-righteousness by a movement that has terrorised millions of women into submission and subjugation.
It is true that we are the first hand victims of political Islam, but we are not mere victims. We belong to a vibrant, dynamic, strong, and progressive movement, which has fought political Islam not only in Iran, not only in Iraq, and not only in the Middle East but also here in the west. We have raised the banner of freedom and equality not only for women but for humanity and are fighting to push back religion to its rightful place - that is to the private sphere. We are fighting to diminish the role of religion in the running of society, to separate religion from education and the state, and judiciary. We have raised the banner of secularism. We are the front runner of the secular movement in Europe, and now in Canada. Women’s rights, equality and freedom need the secularisation of the society. We have organised this fight; we are at the forefront of this struggle and we are proud of it. We will not allow political Islam to take root in the west and we will soon uproot it in the Middle East as well.
Campaigning against the Sharia Court in Canada
The reasons given for a Sharia Court in Canada by Islamists and their multi-culturalist supporters are not what they seem. They say Muslims do not want their family problems to be made public; these tribunals will deal with civil disputes not criminal matters; one can choose not to go before the Sharia tribunal; and that it will take less time than a Canadian court and cost less.
Let me address each one separately. Why do the initiators of the proposal not want family disputes to be publicised outside of their ‘communities’. In communities where Sharia law interferes with people’s lives, family problems are not simply disagreements between a man and a woman and who gets what. In fact, private matters and religion are closely linked together. To make my point clear, I would like to present one case study I have come across in my social work. I have a client in Toronto who was taken out of school by her parents at the age of 15 and forced to marry a 29 year old man; according to Sharia, she is married whilst under the Canadian legal system she is not. At the age of 16, this young pregnant girl is going through separation because of domestic abuse. In a secular court, the fact that she was forced to marry at a young age is considered a crime and her husband will be charged for assault and child abuse. As for her parents, they too will be charged. The Children’s Aid Society will get involved and if they have any other children younger than 16, all will be moved out to the Aid Society’s care. While in the eyes of the Sharia tribunal no crime has taken place and the matter is a civil one, which can be resolved by the Islamic tribunal, under the modern secular system of Canada, the child will be immediately protected and the abusers prosecuted.
Moreover, proponents say that the Sharia tribunal is optional for those who decide to use it. My question is optional for whom? Muslim women lose their options right at birth. But for the sake of argument, let’s go back to our case study. Let us say that the 15 year old girl refused to accept the forced marriage, and made a complaint against her parents to a secular court. I don’t know if that would have happened in reality due to social and financial restrictions. What do you think would have happened to her? I know it is hard to imagine. Her family would disown her for sure. For a moment, imagine being born and brought up in such a family and the so-called Muslim community, being made to study in an Islamic school and never having the chance to integrate within society; and then being disowned by not only your family but also the entire community. No wonder she chose marriage over isolation. I think it is fair to say that she had no choice, even though she could have filed a complaint. As I mentioned before, her choice was taken away right at birth. In her case, after going through tremendous abuse (verbal, mental, financial and sexual) for eight long months and being five months pregnant, she could not take it anymore. What are her choices now before the tribunal? Because she married according to the Sharia, in the eyes of her community and family, her divorce has to be in accordance with the Sharia too or else it will not be legitimate!
Proponents go on to say that the tribunal costs less and takes less time. During a recession, these two excuses may be acceptable for the government and its right-wing parties. They may think that whatever reduces costs of social services, health care, education and social justice is to their advantage but what would the consequences of these low costs be? And who will pay the price? How much damage will it do to humanity? It is not their problem. The above two ‘solutions’ are exactly the same as letting an unskilled layperson do heart surgery on patients in order to reduce the cost of paying a skilled heart surgeon; the percentage of survivors in this case is obvious. Or discharging a sick patient right after her critical operation in order to bring down the costs of the hospital or to be able to shorten the process of recovery!! If this is not inhuman, then what is it?
My point is why should Muslim women pay a heavy price to bring down costs? If the cost of courts are high and the process is long because of its bureaucracy, then it is everyone’s duty to fight it and make sure that the justice system is fair and affordable for everyone, while remaining secular and modern.
And finally, we often hear people saying, this is not your problem; why do you care? This is what Muslim women want. Modern society is not built of different clans and tribes that can make their own laws and practice it without affecting others. A modern, secular society has its own norms and standards. We have gained them by going through harsh struggles over many years. The rights to live, education, health, to socialise and have a social life, and all other rights such as the rights of gays and lesbians and children, etc. make up the society’s standards and norms. The disturbance of any will affect others. For example, it is not acceptable to physically discipline children. In fact it is considered abuse and has legal consequences. When some Amish people claimed that it was their right to physically punish their children and had nothing to do with others as they were doing it out of love for their children, society opposed it. And we had every right to do so. It is exactly the same in the instance of the ‘right’ to have the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice. It must be opposed nationally and internationally as it will diminish our social norms and standards. In the real world, not every ‘right’ is or should be respected, such as the right to commit suicide, drink and drive, institutionalise male domination, gender apartheid and segregation between man and women and so on. Whether all Muslim women want it (as they falsely claim), 1,000,000 people demand it or just one does not affect the argument.
We still have many long hard challenges ahead for the separation of the state and administration from religion, ethnicity, nationalism, racism and any ideology that contradicts the absolute equality of all in civil rights and before the law. Fighting the Sharia tribunals is one important step in defending universal rights for all those living here in Canada.
The above speeches were made on March 8, 2004, International Women’s Day at a panel debate organised by the International Campaign against the Sharia Court in Canada to debate the planned establishment of a Sharia Court in Ontario, Canada. The successful panel was organised by Homa Arjomand, the Campaign’s Coordinator. To join or find out more about the campaign to stop the Sharia court in Canada, contact Homa Arjomand at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit the website: http://freehost14.websamba.com/noshariacourt and sign the petition online: www.petitiononline.com/pasc1361/petition-sign.html.
Worldwide demonstrations against the Sharia Court in Canada
On September 8, 12-2pm in various cities
UK: London, Canadian High Commission, 38 Grosvenor Street (Bond Street Tube)
Contact: Sohaila Sharifi ( email@example.com)
BM Box 8927, London WC1N 3XX
International Campaign against Sharia Court in Canada: www.nosharia.com
Previous articles on this topic:
Irshad Manji speaks in London 19 April 2005
The New Dark Ages 10 April 1998
The rise of Islamic Fundamentalism in Britain 10 April 1998
Muslim fundamentalists threaten to kill gay man 20 March 1998
Gay activists stand trial over islamic protest 30 January 1995