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High lights of a triumph!A letter to activist fighting against sharia Court in England

Homa Arjomand

High lights of a triumph!

A letter to activist fighting against sharia Court and all Faith based Arbitration in England!

It has not been long since the victory against Sharia court in Ontario. It was the force of secularism that pushed back the Ministry of the Attorney General Michael Bryant to put an end to Sharia Court and all faith-based arbitration in Ontario on “Feb 15, 2006”. But once this attempt of Islamists was defeated in Canada, they concentrated elsewhere and made their effort in England. Only a progressive political campaign can defeat this Islamic attempt which has so many implications and so many supports within state and parliament of England and political parties and in broad, including the support of many states such as regime of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and others.

We, the activists of “the International Campaign against Sharia Court In Canada were motivated then by a common concern that political Islam was trying to expand in Canada by promoting the use of family arbitrations based on Sharia law. We were sure that the rise of Sharia court in Canada was not just coincident. It was part of a global move against the universal rights of women. It was a political thrust that was promoted by the political Islam. Our action was to fight this political attempt of Islamists globally.

Right from the beginning we declared that the call for sharia Court has nothing to do with people who have Islam as their faith. We knew it has nothing to do with social or even legal issues. But it was a move of Islamists and of course the bad piece of legislation “the Arbitration Act 1991” allowed the Islamists to penetrate into justice system and establish a parallel court system “Sharia Court”.

We the defender of universal women’s right, the protector of children’s rights and the advocator of secularism organized ourselves internationally, under the banner of “One Law for all” and separation of religion from state. Once the public realized the danger of interference of religion in justice system, the campaign gained its momentum, The campaign’s supporters use every opportunity to bring awareness, they wrote and called their members of parliament, they handed out flyers, they set information tables, they issued press releases and participated in debates across the country, and internationally, organized conferences and workshops. All these events were well attended by the public and were widely reported in the Canadian and international press. Soon the campaign grew to a coalition of 183 organizations from 14 countries with over a thousand activists and spokespersons, who volunteer their time and skills, to push back religion to its rightful place and that was out of state. The movement for secularism raised its flag once more for one law for all and that is the progressive, modern, secular law. This is what I call the force of secularism.

The success of political achievement of the International Campaign against Sharia court in Canada can be evaluated by the involvement of mass people in several of its actions. Only in one of our conferences which was held in Toronto on August 12, 2005, over 66 news agents attended the event. At the time of the victory, we were receiving over 600 e-mails daily. 11,659 people signed our petition to end Sharia court in Ontario. The debate on this issue reached to every corner of streets, every house and amongst the members of parliament.

Despite our differences everyone had opportunity to raise the flag of secularism and became the spokesperson of the campaign, slogan of “one law for all” became a well-known slogan. People in England, France, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, and North America organized demonstrations before Canadian embassies or Councils of Canada. We received news that people in Iran, Turkey and India rallied against Sharia court in Canada. The effect of this campaign was to the extreme that motivated women in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to establish their resolution to gain vote.

Our campaign in England should aim people in mass, ordinary people, women activist, labor activists, politicians, intellectuals, and celebrities. It should target groups and the leaders of various organizations and campaigns for social reforms. Our focus must be individuals who are affected the most. People who escaped from countries so-called Islamic, people who have been the victims of religious and religion movement, immigrants and refugees and families who have been hurt by religious law and interference of mosques, churches, or Senegal’s. I have no doubt the leaders; the spokespersons and organizers among these groups can educate and mobilize the rest of the groups. A constant call to them and their involvement should become part of our routine activities. We should be easily approachable. People ought to have access to us and we should provide a platform for people to be engaged in the campaign. Media, use of internet, face book and pal talk, are just not enough; other avenues such as public forums, public debates, press conferences, petitions, rallies, pickets, information desks, educational seminars, workshops, and public meetings are essential for a political campaign.

Another important action is to challenge the Acts that are incomparable with universal rights of individuals and leaves the door open for the religious groups to precede their political agenda. Law and provision can be challenged too. We need to identify those Acts with help of lawyers and experts a substitute Act can be introduced, in Canada we had 13 lawyers who were donating their time to introduce ways to amend Arbitration 1991. Legal battle is the ground which can encourage legal community to get involved.

We should not forget the pitching. This is another way of influencing people in the power to become in favor of our campaign. This can be done by privately visiting the members of parliament, back-benchers, influential members of parties and prominent figures. Having meetings with caucus members of opposition parties and encouraging them for a collective bill or even a private bill is another way to raise the banner of the campaign. Building relationship with women caucus works out faster. Organizations, such as teachers’ association, university women group, and governmental bodies in areas of women and children issues should be our way of infiltrating and lobbying the state for law change or reform.

A stronger campaign can be built when an international campaign is developed around a common threat. But the focus should be on local issue. If the target is Arbitration Act 1996 in England, our target should be the amendments of such an act. A simple demand and a simple petition, a simple slogan, and logo should be created, and distributed worldwide. A strong networking, which already exists, can be built, or enhanced. A day of action worldwide can be a starter for rebuilding such networking.

The experience of three years battle against Sharia court in Canada is our capital and it is up to us to use this triumph as a pathway to another victory.

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