The following a speech prepared for the International Women’s Day panel on a Sharia Court in Canada
8 March 2004
The ‘Islamic Institute of Civil Justice’ or what has become known as the Sharia Court has been heralded by proponents as a multicultural way of determining personal and family disputes for those who ‘choose’ to abide by Sharia law in Ontario, Canada. We are told it will promote ‘minority rights’ and that it is equitable, tolerant, and fair. We are told that if it is not established, the ‘Muslim minority’ will be marginalized and discriminated against. That anything less is racism pure and simple.
This is not the case.
Deceptively sugar-coating an Islamic Court in civil rights terms cannot and will not conceal the stark realities of Sharia law and its regressive implications for human beings and Canadian society.
* To begin with, Sharia law is inherently unjust and unfair even if it’s only being implemented in the area of what some call mundane civil disputes.
In fact, discriminatory family and personal status codes are important pillars in the oppression of women in Islamist societies. Much of the struggle for women’s rights has taken shape in countries like Iran vis-à-vis these very aspects of Sharia law. Discrimination and gender-based persecution in areas of marriage, divorce, child custody and so on are in fact reasons why many women flee Islamist societies and seek refuge in Canada and the west. These so called ‘mundane’ disputes have cost many a woman and girl her rights and life in the Middle East and North Africa. Now, it aims to do the same in Canada.
Yes we know. Those who avail of the court will ‘choose’ to do so; it will be completely voluntary. It is interesting how pro-women’s choices the political Islamic movement becomes when it is vying for power in the west. Where are the choices for women in Iran and Afghanistan under Sharia law and Islamic states? Where is it for women of Iraq or Saudi Arabia? The political Islamic movement is renowned for threatening, intimidating, mutilating, maiming and killing all those who refuse and transgress. Women and girls are always its first victims.
The very sham concept of its voluntary nature becomes clearer when you hear Mumtaz Ali who spearheaded the initiative say: ‘Once the parties have agreed …they will be committed to it by their prior consent. As a consequence, on religious grounds, a Muslim who would choose to opt out at this stage, for reasons of convenience would be guilty of a far greater crime than a mere breach of contract--and this could be tantamount to blasphemy-apostasy.’ The penalty of which by the way is execution under Islamic law in places like Iran. Clearly, then, even a limited Sharia Court in Canada will increase intimidation and threats against innumerable women. It will open the way for further conquests by this reactionary movement.
* Some say that the Islamic Court will promote ‘minority rights’ and ensure the fair and equitable treatment of ‘minorities’.
In fact, it is just the opposite.
It is discriminatory and unfair to have different and separate systems, standards and norms for ‘different’ people. The concept of an Islamic Court adheres to a principle of separate but equal similar to that promoted by the former Apartheid regime of South Africa. It was clear then as it is clear now that separate is not equal. In fact it is a prescription for inequality and discrimination. It is the Canadian state’s justification for shrugging its shoulders and excusing itself from its responsibility towards all citizens living in Canada. It maintains fragmented ‘minority communities’ leaving members of the so-called community, particularly women and children, at the mercy of reactionary and parasitical elders and imams. It increases marginalisation and the further ghetto-isation of immigrant communities. It makes immigrants and new arrivals forever minorities and never Canadian citizens equal before and under the law.
* And that is exactly the problem with the racist concepts of multi-culturalism and cultural relativism. It promotes tolerance and respect for so-called minority opinions and beliefs, rather than and often times instead of respect for human beings.
Human beings are worthy of the highest respect but not all opinions and beliefs are worthy of respect and tolerance. There are some who believe in fascism, white supremacy, the inferiority of women. Must those beliefs be respected?
There is a big difference between the two.
Multi-culturalism always gives precedence to cultural and religious norms, however reactionary, over the human being and her rights. And it always sees communities as having one homogeneous belief and opinion – often times taking the most reactionary segment of that community – the imams and elders’ beliefs - as the belief and culture of the whole.
Multi-culturalism’s promotion of respect for beliefs and opinions is so strong that even when rights are violated, women mutilated and killed, girls victimised, respect for those beliefs and norms take precedence over individual and universal rights.
There is a real contradiction between cultural relativism and multi-culturalism on the one hand and individual rights on the other.
The Canadian state is duty-bound to defend the rights of all human beings living in Canada equally often times despite differing opinions and beliefs.
Even if it is the individual’s belief. Just as it intervenes when a woman refuses to press charges against an abusive spouse. Just as it intervenes when parents abuse their children.
Everyday, the state intervenes to protect people. Not necessarily because it likes to but because civil society and established norms force it to. It must do so here as well.
* And there are some who say opposing the Sharia Court and Islamic laws is racist.
It is not.
Opposition to or critiques of or even 'phobias' of ideologies, religions, cultures, laws or political movements are not racism. Islamophobia is not racism. Only phobias against people because of their race are racism. It is only under the New World Order's multi-culturalism that Islamophobia has been increasingly and deceptively given legitimacy as a form of racism.
The political Islamic movement labels it such only to silence those who critique it or stand up to it.
In fact it is racist to create a Sharia Court. It is racist to discriminate against so-called minorities and deny them universal and equal rights and standards and the secularism fought for and established by progressive movements over centuries. It is racist to justify and ignore violations of civil rights and misogyny under the pretext of multi-culturalism. It is racist to deny equality of all citizens before the law. It is racist to create separate legal, social, cultural, religious systems for people deemed different.
Enough is enough!
The Sharia Court in Canada is an extension of that movement that stones women on streets and hangs apostates from cranes on city squares in Iran. It is an extension of the same movement that has threatened to kill Yanar Mohammad of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq for defending women’s rights there. It is an extension of the same movement that imprisons women in burqas in Afghanistan.
It has no right to speak of civil rights and justice. It is itself a pillar of injustice and rightless-ness in the world today.
A Sharia Court in Canada? No way! No How!
We will not allow it.
Enough is enough!
Maryam Namazie is a spokesperson for the International Federation of Iranian Refugees, representative of the Organisation of Women’s Liberation and Director of the Worker-communist Party of Iran’s International Relations Committee. Contact information: BM Box 8927, London WC1N 3XX, England. Tel: +44 (0)77 191 66 731. Fax: +44 (0) 870 1351338. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org