Monday, October 03, 2005

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Sharia?

Jamie Glazov interviews Paul Marshall about the worldwide spread of what he terms "extreme Sharia", at Front Page Magazine:

FP. In the book and in its title, you refer to something called “extreme Sharia.” Tell us the difference between Sharia and extreme Sharia.

Marshall: I’ve spent a good chunk of the last three years in many parts of the Muslim world interviewing people about Sharia. One thing I quickly learned was that Muslims mean very different things when they use the term. Sharia's root meaning is "the way" or "path to the water" and to most Muslims it implies doing God's will, not necessarily imitating the Taliban.

In Indonesia, polls show 67 percent support for "Sharia" but only 7 percent objecting to a woman head of state. There it seems to means something like the American polling term "moral values." Polling in Iraq shows a similar pattern: 80% support for Sharia combined with 80% support for equality of men and women.

To many Muslims, criticism of Sharia as such sounds strange because, much as they might disagree with stoning adulterous women or cutting off the hands of thieves, the word implies “justice” or “goodness.” So I use the phrase ‘extreme Sharia’ to describe the laws implemented by the Saudis, Iran and others throughout the world.

So, then the problem comes down to an inability or unwillingness on the part of Muslims to face up to the reality of the way Sharia is being applied in many places around the world. Clearly, Muslims themselves have to come up with a language by which they can criticize their own culture.

FP. Tell us the importance of Sharia in the context of the world situation today.

Marshall: The state enforced imposition of retrograde Sharia law is central to the project of Islamist terrorists worldwide, whether in Iraq, Nigeria, Tajikistan or Indonesia. Their explicit, continually reiterated, program is, in brief, to restore a politically unified worldwide Muslim community, the ummah, ruled by a single ruler, a Caliph, governed by the most reactionary version of Islamic law, Sharia, and organized to wage jihad on the rest of the world. We are in a battle with what is most accurately called the Caliphate movement.

A key element of their program and appeal is the replacement of democracy, legislatures and “man-made law” with what they regard as the immutable divine law declared by God to Mohammed. As MEMRI has recorded, bin Laden’s December 16, 2004 “Statement to the Saudi Rulers” said the regime must be overthrown for “ruling by laws other than those which Allah has revealed” and implementing “man-made laws.” His December 27 “Letter to the Iraqi People” told them not to participate in the January 30 election since Muslims are allowed only to elect a leader for whom “Islam is the only source of the rulings and laws.”

Extreme Sharia is central for all Islamists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood or Hizbut al-Tahrir, whether or not they are terrorists. Some groups, like Hamas, will campaign in elections if they think they can win. However, in all cases it is not only destructive of human rights, but is also a stark threat to democracy, since its adherents want to replace democracy with their version of divine law. Therefore it is intrinsically inimical to U.S. national interests. It is also spreading. If we want to understand and combat radical Islam, we must understand Sharia, especially the radicals’ version.

FP: Tell us where Sharia and extreme Sharia have been implemented and what the results have been.

Marshall: It has been implemented in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, and areas of Malaysia and Indonesia. Western attention has focused largely on the draconian punishments of amputations and stoning, but the effects and dangers are far wider. Criminal law, the judicial system, rules of evidence, the role of women, educational systems, the media, religious freedom, and all other human rights are forced into the purported model of seventh-century Arabia. While there are variations from country to country, there is a remarkable consistency to the radicals’ laws and demands ...

It systematically destroys religious freedom and freedom of conscience, undercuts the status of women, and subverts the legal process, especially equality before the law.

FP: If, as you say, most Muslims do not buy into this type of Sharia, why is it spreading?

Marshall: Much of the radicalization of Islam, and in more extreme versions of Islamic law, is tied to an increase in Saudi influence.

Iran is also pushing and funding its versions, but, since it is Shiite, its zone of influence is relatively small—mainly Hezbollah in Lebanon, parts of Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and the smaller Arabian Gulf states, and now, very aggressively, in Iraq. The major influence elsewhere, including in the U.S. is Saudi money and propaganda. If we use a Cold War parallel, Saudi Arabia is the seat of the Comintern.

A major factor is intimidation of those Muslims who object. This can range from death threats to fear of being branded “un-Islamic.” Even in Indonesia, the major home of moderate Islam, one high-ranking Member of Parliament told me he is “terrified” of the Islamists.

Muslims who criticize the extremists’ agenda can be attacked by vigilantes or become victims of apostasy and blasphemy laws. The most famous is Salman Rushdie, condemned to death by Khomeini for his book The Satanic Verses, but many others share his plight.

FP: Give us a few specifics of what has occurred with Nigeria and its form of Sharia.

Marshall: After the northern sate of Zamfara introduced a radical version of Sharia in 1999, Dahiru Sule was flogged with eighty lashes for drinking alcohol, five motorcyclists were arraigned for carrying women, Baba Bello’s right hand was amputated for stealing a cow, and Ahmed Tejan’s eye was removed as punishment for his partially blinding a friend.

These events did not attract international attention until Amina Lawal and Fatima Usman were sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery. The state has also required “Islamic” dress and closed churches and non-Muslim schools. These regulations are enforced by hizbah (religious police). In 2002, Zamfara’s Governor, Ahmed Sani, announced that all residents must begin using Arabic, a language few speak, said that Sharia supersedes the Nigerian constitution and indicated that Islam requires Muslims to kill any apostate, which could include a Muslim seeking a trial in a civil rather than sharia court.

FP: What is the future of Sharia?

Marshall: Thirty years ago, only Saudi Arabia had these types of laws, but they have spread in the past quarter century, either pushed by entrenched regimes, such as the Saudis, by rulers who came to power in coups or revolutions, such as in Sudan and Iran, by creeping legislative change, such as in Pakistan and Indonesia, by state-level governments, such as in Nigeria and Malaysia. They are continuing to spread in Africa and Asia. Chechnyan rebels have adopted their Sharia laws from Sudan.

It appears from the new draft constitution that Iraq, outside of the Kurdish areas, may also come under Sharia. In our war on radical Islam we are succeeding at a military level, but on the level of ideas and laws we are losing.

To be continued.