ISLAMISM & MULTICULTURALISM IN CANADA:
A UNITED CAMP AGAINST UNIVERSAL HUMAN RIGHTS
By Azam Kamguian
As we all know, Islamists in Canada have recently set up an Islamic Institute of Civil Justice to oversee tribunals that would arbitrate family disputes and other civil matters between people of Muslim origin and faith, arbitrating such matters on the basis of the Islamic Sharia law. This is the first time in any Western country that the medieval precepts of the Sharia have been given any validity. One can imagine that the Islamists will use this as a lever to work for similar recognition in many other Western countries. After all, if Canada is prepared to recognise Sharia law in this way, why not every other country in the West.
This move is yet another effort by Islamists to impose the barbaric Sharia law, but this time on the people in the West. This move is characteristic of political Islam, a major force that has brutally suppressed people’s rights and freedom in general and women’s rights in particular in the Middle East. It is a political movement that came to the fore against the secular and progressive movements for liberation and egalitarianism in the Middle East. In Iran, the Sudan, Pakistan and Afghanistan, Islamic regimes proceeded to transform women's homes into prison houses, where confinement of women, their exclusion from many fields of work and education, and their brutal treatment became the law of the land.
Sadly and unfortunately, the setting up of the Sharia tribunals in Canada will be given validity, due to the subversive and reactionary politics of multiculturalism. Validation of the Sharia tribunals yet another fruit of multiculturalism, a policy that causes fragmentation of society, an apartheid-based legal system, and nurturing the ideology and practives of racism. Of course, this politics of fragmentation and apartheid suits the purpose of Islamists best. Mohamed El Masry, President of the Canadian Islamic Congress, has argued that Canada needs "a multiplicity of laws" to accommodate different groups when their moral standards clash. El Masry says the tribunals, which would include imams, elders and lawyers, will provide Muslims with the means to settle civil disputes outside of the regular Canadian courts, and resolve those disputes in accordance with to Islamic beliefs.
Advocates for the Islamic tribunals have argued that one of the beauties of free and open societies in the West is their flexibility. But the very same ‘flexibility” provides the Islamists with the opportunity to impose their own rigid and oppressive rules on a specific segment of or particular subgroup within the overall society. Momtaz Ali, President of the Canadian Society of Muslims and a leading proponent of the Islamic tribunals, has said: "It -- the Islamic tribunal -- not only offers a variety of choices, but also shows the real spirit of our multicultural society." The very same Ali also says: “…On religious grounds, a Muslim who would choose to opt out … would be guilty of a far greater crime than a mere breach of contract – and this would be tantamount to blasphemy or apostasy.” Blasphemy and apostasy are among the worst crimes in Islam, in many Islamic countries punishable by death.
The project to establish and operate special Islamic tribunals for Muslims in Canada is against the equality of all citizens before the law, regardless of race, religion, or gender. Such equality does not exist under the Islamic Sharia law. Sharia tribunals, in effect, establish a parallel legal system based on religion, which I believe will lead to an apartheid-based legal system. The principles of individual freedom and equality before the law should take precedence over any collective goals that members of a particular racial, ethnic, religious, or other subcultural group might claim for themselves.
Many people of Muslim origin and faith will be pressured into accepting arbitration by the Islamic Institute on matters of civil and family law. This presents a serious problem for Muslims living in Canada, particularly as regards the rights of women. The decisions of the Islamic tribunal will be final and binding and will be upheld by the regular Canadian courts. The Islamic Institute will be applying Islamic Sharia law, which is totally against impartiality of the legal systems. For example, a woman's testimony in the Sharia counts only as half that of a man. So, in straight disagreements between husband and wife, the husband's testimony will normally prevail. In questions of inheritance, while sons and daughters under Canadian law would be treated equally, daughters under the Sharia receive only half the portion of sons. If the Institute were to have jurisdiction in child custody cases, the man will automatically be awarded custody, once the children have reached an age of between seven and nine years. Given this inequality it is particularly worrying that there will be no right of appeal to the regular Canadian courts. The governing principle is that, if both parties in a dispute willingly submit to Islamic arbitration, they can't complain when they lose.
The problem here is the word "willing". Too many women of Muslin origin and faith living in the West still live in Islamic and patriarchal environments where the man's word and pressure from the ethnic and religious community constitute law. It will take a brave woman to defy her husband, and to refuse to have her dispute settled under Islamic law, when her refusal could be equated with apostasy and hostility to the Muslim religion. To this is added the problem associated with the fact that going to a regular Canadian court will take longer and cost more. There is no reason, however, why arbitration service under Canadian law could not be used instead. The danger is that, once these special Islamic tribunals are set up, people of Muslim origin and faith will be pressured to use them, thereby being deprived of many of the rights for which people in the West struggled over the centuries, rights which they eventually won and now enjoy.
In virtually every Western country with a sizeable Muslim minority, there is pressure from Islamists for a separate civil and criminal law for Muslims. They seek to establish within each Western society their own state to oppress people, legally and officially. There must be no state within a state. Yet this is precisely the objective that the Islamic advocates are pursuing. They argue that it is their duty, as good Muslims, to work for precisely this end. And this end precisely leads to more forced marriages, more honor killings, more Islamic schools, more FGMs done secretly, and more harassment and intimidation towards women and girls in Islamic ghettos.
In Islam, as Momtaz Ali has said, there is no separation between religion and the law. But in contemporary civilized societies, laws are seen as the work of man and, as such, can be changed in the light of changing circumstances. In Islam, the law is against universal human rights and equality, is perceived to be God’s law, and, as such, is believed to be immutable --i.e., not subject to change by man. It is impossible for mankind to make changes in God's law.
Islamic Sharia law should be opposed by everyone who believes in universal human rights, women's civil rights, individual freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and belief, and freedom from religion. Islamic law developed in the first few centuries of Islam and incorporated Middle Eastern pre-Islamic misogynist beliefs and tribal customs and traditions. We may ask how a law whose elements were first laid down over 1000 years ago can be relevant in the 21st. century. The Sharia only reflects the social and economic conditions of the time of Abbasid and has grown out of touch with all the human social, economic, cultural, and moral developments that have occurred since Abbasid's time. The principles of the Sharia are inimical to human moral progress and civilized values.
Islamic law forcefully opposes free thought, freedom of expression, and freedom of action. Accusations of impurity, of apostasy, are waiting to silence any voice of dissent. Suppression and injustice shackle the lives of all free minded people. One is borne and labelled Muslim, and one is forced to stay Muslim to the end of his or her life. Islamic law denies the rights of women and non-Muslim religious minorities. Non-believers are shown no tolerance: death or conversion. Jews and Christians are treated as second-class citizens.
Under the Sharia, for over two decades, millions around the world have fallen victim: countless people have been executed, beheaded, stoned to death, had their limbs cut off, flogged and maimed, bombed to pieces, and routed. In countries which have proclaimed an Islamic state, such as Iran, the Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and some states in Northern Nigeria, we have already seen the pernicious effects of the Sharia.
Human rights and the Sharia are definitely and irremediably irreconcilable and antagonistic. Universal human rights are essential to ensure a certain standard of living for people across the globe. It is not acceptable to let governments and religious authorities get away with the numerous abuses of the Sharia by using multiculturalism as an excuse. We cannot let multiculturalism become the last refuge of Islamist repression. To accept religion as a justification for human rights abuses is to discriminate against the abused and to send the message that they are un-deserving of human rights protection.
Multiculturalism is a cover to create a comprehensive social, legal, intellectual, emotional, and civil apartheid based on distinctions of race, ethnicity, religion, and gender. This complete system of apartheid attacks women’s basic rights and freedom and justifies misogynist rule inflicted on women by Islamists. Any attempt to restrict human and women rights in the name of religion and culture, or defining freedom and equality according to different cultures and religions, is racist.
Our contemporary society is far larger, more diverse, and more complex than the small primitive tribal society that existed in Arabia 1,400 years ago, the small primitive tribal society from which Islam emerged. It is time to abandon the idea that anyone should live under the Sharia. More than ever before, people need a secular state and society that respects freedom from and of religion as well as all the other human rights founded on the principle that political power belongs to the people and not to God. It is crucial to oppose the Islamic Sharia law and to subordinate Islam to secularism and secular states.
I call upon all secularist forces and all freedom-lovers to stand up and protest against the setting up of Islamic tribunals in Canada. All progressive forward-looking people should make a joint effort to stop Islamism and the multicultural politics of the Canadian authorities from violating our universal human rights and our civilized values.
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Currently residing and working in London, England, Azam Kamguian is an Iranian writer and women's rights activist. The author of
several books, Azam is the Founder and Chairperson of the Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East and is Editor
of the Committee's bulletin, Women in the Middle East. The foregoing presentation by Azam was adapted from a speach
she delivered, on March 7, 2004, in Toronto, Canada, at a panel discussion and debate on "The Sharia Courts and Women's Rights
in Canada." Azam delivered the same speech, on March 14, 2004, in Birmingham, England, at a seminar in commemoration of
International Women's Day. The adapted version also appears on the Internet website maintained by the Institute for the
Secularization of Islamic Society.
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