Friday, February 8, 2008

Sharia law in democracy? Bite me.

Why, then, should we be commanded to "respect" those who insist that they alone know something that is both unknowable and unfalsifiable? Something, furthermore, that can turn in an instant into a license for murder and rape? As one who has occasionally challenged Islamic propaganda in public and been told that I have thereby "insulted 1.5 billion Muslims," I can say what I suspect—which is that there is an unmistakable note of menace behind that claim. No, I do not think for a moment that Mohammed took a "night journey" to Jerusalem on a winged horse. And I do not care if 10 billion people intone the contrary. Nor should I have to. But the plain fact is that the believable threat of violence undergirds the Muslim demand for "respect."

-Christopher Hitchens

Back in October, during the provincial election in Ontario, I had occasion to interview Richard Dawkins on the subject of faith based schools. (you can find the interview here) He described something he calls "me-tooism." That is to say, sectarian groups wanting special treatment. In that case, because there are Christian schools that get state funding Muslims groups want it too. Of course, Dawkins says tax dollars shouldn't fund faith schools at all, and I agree with him.

I can only imagine, however, how he reacted to the Archbishop of Canteberry's recent suggestion that elements of Sharia Law - the Muslim legal code as found in their religious texts - be used in British courts. Of course, Muslims have cheered the suggestion while everyone else...well, most everyone else did not.

It's the ultimate me-tooism. The legal code isn't enough. They need their own religious laws to supplant them.

Sharia has been criticized, and justly I might add, for being utterly incompatible with democratic legal frameworks. Putting aside for the moment the utterly draconian state of those nations that apply sharia as their legal code, the insane punishments it mets out for crimes, and what's its done to women in those nations (including restricting what they wear and what they are allowed to do for a living), no religious code is compatible with democracy. It was for that reason the religious law courts were banned in Ontario in 2004 on the cusp of sharia becoming part of the civil law code.

The reason is simple. Religious codes are regarded as immutable. The word of god, or Allah, or Zeus or whatever. It cannot be questioned, it cannot be changed. You cannot challenge a tenant of something like sharia in court as unconstitutional, because the entire idea is that these are the laws of a perfect unchanging sky god.

Our justice system is designed to be answerable to the people, and laws that don't work, that are unjust, or need amending, can be through the legislative and executive branches of government - which do so through debate and consultations. Religious laws are regarded as perfect. Of course, as a practical matter, the priests, imams, clerics, monks and others who use and apply religious laws change their interpretations over time, but there is nothing democratic about the process, si there? It's a cleric saying "the law means thusly" and that's it.

And of course, let is not forget that the religious codes of the Bible and the Koran were written by people who had no clue what democracy was, lived in societies ruled by kings and had no idea what a free society is. That's why you don't find any mention of how to run an election, or defend free speech, or provide equal rights for all, in the Koran and bible. You don't get the right to lawyers, appeals, speedy trails, the right to see evidence or the right to be assumed innocent until proven guilty. These ideals were not born of Christianity or Islam and to deny citizens access to them by applying religious laws is an insult to everything democracy is.

(In fact, I ask you, how many Muslim nations are democratic? It's a really, really short list!)

Yet this is what we have to deal with these days. You hear sometimes from evangelicals that the so called "new-atheists" are too militant and "fundamentalists" The good archbishop has made the charge himself. And yet here we are, in an day and age where the leader of one of the largest Christians church in the world is advocating the secular justice system be amended to accommodate the profoundly undemocratic religious sensibilities of some Muslims.

Well, as Dawkins would say, its all barking mad.

The justice system is a justice system for all citizens. You don't get a separate legal system because of the colour of your skin, religious beliefs or what kind of music you listen to. You are Muslim, or Scientologist or whatever and think you deserve special treatment? Too damned bad. Democracy is not a religious enterprise. As Hitchens often says "Mr. Jefferson, build up that wall."