The fight against Sharia - a historical task and duty
Sharia law may take different forms from Iran to Afghanistan and Indonesia to Algeria but the difference is a matter of degree. In the worst case scenarios, like Iran, the law even specifies the size of the stone to be used in stoning someone to death for adultery. Or in Saudi Arabia, it demands the flogging of a 74 year old woman for being alone in her own home with two young men who have come to bring her food. In Britain, it takes yet another form. Apologists will say that Sharia courts and councils, which are thriving here, are different because they are not stoning women to death in Trafalgar Square and are only dealing with ‘mundane’ civil matters. The difference, however between a law that stones a woman to death for adultery and one that denies her the rights to divorce and child custody is a matter of degree. The fundamentals are the same. It is medieval, misogynist and inhuman. It is what happens when religion has political power. It is different in different places not because of religion and Islam but despite it and because of people’s resistance via progressive social movements.
In Britain, the government has no problem with Sharia councils and tribunals, which have already decided on over 7,000 cases since the late 80s, having even issued a death fatwa. The British government is even helping to set up informal Sharia courts in Afghanistan – as if the formal ones - like the one that sentenced Perwiz Kambakhsh to death and now life imprisonment for downloading information from the internet on the status of women under Islam - are not enough.
Western government policy in general has no problem with Sharia. Iraq is more Islamic than it was under Saddam; a current law in ‘liberated’ Iraq allows a rapist to evade prosecution if he marries the woman he has raped. And marital rape has just been signed into law by Karzai in Afghanistan (though it is on hold due to pressure).
One problem is that western governments are only opposed to that which they deem as ‘extremism’ or rather terrorism. They have no problem with political Islam or Sharia if it stays in ‘Muslim minority’ areas in the west or in political Islam’s sphere of influence in the Middle East, Asia and North Africa.
Another problem is that it is deemed Islamophobic and racist to criticise Islam and the political Islamic movement. The UN Human Rights Council has recently approved a resolution against the defamation of religion. Clearly, one can’t defame a religion – the right not to be defamed, other rights, equality, and respect are for people not religions or beliefs.
Cultural relativism is another problem. It is often portrayed as anti-racist. In fact it’s the opposite. The idea of difference has always been the fundamental principle of a racist agenda not the other way around. The defeat of Nazism and its biological theory of difference largely discredited racial superiority. The racism behind it, however, found another more acceptable form of expression for this era. Instead of expression in racial terms, difference is now portrayed in cultural terms.
And anyway, whose culture? Du’a Khalil’s and her parents who opposed her stoning or those who stoned her for loving the wrong boy? Atefeh Rajabi’s culture or the Islamic regime that executed her for crimes against chastity? The 13 year old Somali girl who was stoned for being raped and the people who intervened to try and stop her stoning or the militia who stoned her?
Another problem is the European anti-imperialist nationalist left. In my opinion, the left is the banner carrier of social justice but not this left. The likes of the Socialist Workers’ Party segregates meetings and calls on women to veil in solidarity at anti-war demos. It carries signs saying ‘we are all Hezbollah.’ It excuses, legitimises, apologises and supports political Islam at the expense of people’s lives and rights. These anti-imperialists have it all wrong. ‘My enemy’s enemy is my friend’ is lazy logic. According to them, then, I should be pro US militarism because I am opposed to the Islamic regime in Iran! How absurd.
Their problem is that they don’t begin with the human being. If they did, it would be easy to see that one can be against both US-led militarism and political Islam. In our fight back we have to put the human being at the centre if we are to succeed.
Moreover, the struggle against political Islam is actually part of the anti-racist movement. What greater act of anti-racism today than to demand equal rights, universalism, and citizenship rights, oppose ghettoisation, and a policy of minoritism that segregates and gives lesser rights to those deemed ‘minorities’ or ‘different.’
In the face of this onslaught – and the rising attack on women’s rights - secularism, universalism, citizenship rights, a humanity without labels and values worthy of 21st century humanity has to be defended via another transformative enlightenment that pushes religion once more out of the public sphere.
This is our historical task and duty.
The above is Maryam Namazie’s speech at an April 4-5, 2009, International Conference on Secularism in Paris, France.