Homa Arjomand's Speech at Waterloo Ontario
I would like to thank you for giving the opportunity to be among you today. My speech will highlight the need for total separation of religion from justice system. I will then talk about the challenges that women’s movement for equality face and outcome of present struggle in Canada. I can only hope that by the end of Today’s event we can discuss, what needs to be done in order to prevent faith-based arbitration in Ontario.
I consistently emphasized throughout my debates that the move for establishment of Shari’a court in Canada is part of a global political move and has all the characteristic of Islamic move. This has nothing to do with People’s personal belief. This is not ideological Islam. It is political Islam simply because it seeks for its share of power and influence on international level. This move is well known in Meddle East for its opposition to the freedom of women, women's civil liberties, freedom of expression and its enforcement of brutal laws and tradition. Unfortunately, the Ontario arbitration Act 1991 provided a green light for this move to widen its umbrella in Canada too.
The Act unfortunately formed another obstacle for women’s rights movement. It has been over a year to be more precise since October 23, 2003, from the moment The Islamic Institute of Civic Justice established and announced Sharia court in Canada by use of the Arbitration Act 1991 we as defender of women’s rights, as defender of secularism have been withstanding it in every aspect, from running panels and public meeting in various cities, provinces to having meetings with ministries in charge; from attending to various conferences and speeches nationally and internationally to appealing to media and general public; from running international demonstration to writing articles in various paper nationally and internationally, finally in June 2004 the Ministers in charge gave Mrs. Boyd a mandate to review the act. On December 20, 2004. “just four days before Christmas Holidays”, “when the whole atmosphere in Canada from shopping malls to individuals’ house was under the influence of religion”, Mrs . Boyd recommendation was out. I must say that was a barbaric gift framed and wrapped in glass ball.
We are told that religious arbitrators will promote “minority
rights” and to be more specific it will ensure minority’s religious rights. What is missing here are the rights of individuals within that group. What about the rights of my client “Nasrin” who was pulled out of school and forced to an arranged marriage?
To place “minority rights” above individual rights would mean forcing my young client Nasrin to get raped regularly for the rest of her life in what is a so called Islamic community - defined marriage. It would mean that members of the greater society, who are not part of that community, would be forced to accept this horrific act and be totally powerless in opposing or preventing it. Such horrific scenarios will occur when the government of Ontario, under the guise (freedom) of religious rights legalizes the violation of individual members, particularly women and children.
We are told faith-based court deals with civil and not criminal matters!! My question is where can we draw a limit on religious law and regulation? To subsume religious law into civil and criminal law is impractical. These types of classification are drawn by a secular court system not a religious. Under Sharia law there is no boundary between civil and criminal. For example, according to Sharia the least penalty a single unmarried woman can have for having sexual relations with a man is death by stoning. In the case of pregnancy outside of wedlock the punishment is 100 stashes first then death by stoning, right after the birth of her child. According to today’s enlightened view as seen from the perspective of modern secular society and according to criminal law in secular society, no crime has been committed by any of the above mentioned women!
In today’s civil society rape, child molestation, forced marriage
and child bride are all considered to be very serious crimes. According to Sharia law, however, girls as young as nine can be raped legally, under the guise (name) of “marriage” by any man- even a man as old as their grandfather. One can give thousands of examples that in Sharia, there is no border between civil and criminal law.
Allowing religious interference in the justice system promotes respect and tolerance for minority beliefs and practice rather than respect for the individual. The problem is that the defenders of religious arbitrators see communities as having one homogeneous belief. The inhume aspects of this notion is the violation of individual members particularly women and children in those communities. This is an obvious discrimination against a significant part of the society. It is a delineation of different categories of citizens which is equivalent to racism.
I need to emphasize the fact that there has been a long battle
for recognition of the citizen and the citizen’s rights for the past 100 years. The reduction of the Church’s power over society and achievement of the secular system and secular legislations, did not come to us without a harsh struggle.
We are told parallel court systems are permitted legally in
order to prevent the hidden practice of religious law. There is
no need to say that it is the duty of the State to protect the rights of all its residents, independent of their country of origin, religion, race, and gender. The law and regulation of a secular system must be able to disallow the hidden practice of so-called religious leaders. The law must be enforced! All the once who denies women’s rights in areas of marriage, divorce and child custody must face consequences rather than recognition and validation.
The question is, should the government of Ontario legalize driving while under the influence of alcohol because statistics show that the numbers of people who tend to drink and drive are increasing? Or should government mete out harsh punishment to those who disobey the rules and cause harm to other individuals?
It has been emphasized that it is completely voluntary to
attend a religious court. What is being purposely ignored is
intimidation and social/ moral pressure to attend such a court. Women in so called Islamic communities are forced to not only accept inequality in all aspects of their lives but are also forced to respect all these degradations as the norm. Or else no women would voluntarily accept to have inequality in marriage, divorce, custody the list goes on and on.
Discrimination and gender –based persecution should not be
tolerated. All citizens should be equal before the law. Religion,
race, minority, or majority should not serve as the basis for the definition of the civil rights of citizens.
There is no need to say we still have many long hard challenges ahead for the total separation of religion and state. Fighting Sharia tribunal is one important step in defending universal rights for all who live in Canada.