Wednesday, October 05, 2005

How Do You Solve A Problem Like Sharia? Part II


Two days ago I posted a portion of aJamie Glazov Front Page Magazine interview with Paul Marshall, who is a senior fellow at Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom. The topic? The spread of "extreme" Sharia around the world.

Here in the conclusion of the interview, Mr. Marshall proposes ways to fight off this extremist Sharia of the Jihadis:


FP: Sharia still seems like something far away from North Americans. In what ways is it already hitting close to home?

Marshall: Countries that implement extreme Sharia will almost certainly become anti-American. It is also being imposed by vigilantes against Muslims and others in the West: Note the fatwa against Salman Rushdie, and the murder of movie producer Van Gogh last year in the Netherlands. There has been increasing pressure, as in Canada, to implement forms of Sharia in the United States.

FP: What is the best way to fight extreme Sharia?

Marshall: On many levels.

We have to disable the terrorists.

We have to end and counter the propaganda and funding that promotes extremist versions of Islam, much of it stemming from the government of Saudi Arabia. The U.S., notably with the unprecedented public statements by Karen Hughes on September 27, has raised the issue of the Saudis distributing hate propaganda in the U.S. itself, but the Saudis are telling the Administration that what they do elsewhere in the world is none of America’s business. But it is our business when they are spending billions to teach people to hate Americans and other infidels, and we need to end it.

We need to support Muslims who are committed to liberal democracy. (An Indonesian Muslim leader told me last year that he was disgusted by the influx of radical literature flowing into his country from the Gulf, and suggested that some foundations should start getting works of Indonesian Islam translated into Arabic and send it to the Arab world).

We need to expose the destructiveness of this form of Sharia—most Muslims, and others, have no idea of its effects. And also point out that, for all their promises, such Sharia regimes are repressive, widely irreligious, and corrupt Radicals often get support because of their pledge to fight corruption and provide honest government, so we need to point out that Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Pakistan, and so forth are among the most corrupt places on the face of the earth.

FP: This is all very depressing and frightening. Is it possible to end on any kind of optimistic note? Are you optimistic? Will freedom and liberty in the West ultimately prevail in the face of extreme Sharia?

Marshall: In the long term I am optimistic, but we have a tough struggle ahead, and at the moment we are failing in the war of ideas, in large part because we are not sure what ideas we are fighting.


One silver lining of the recent atrocities in Britain and the Netherlands is that they appear to be shaking those countries out of their stupor in the face of jihadis. If we have the resolution we will prevail—right now we have barely begun to fight.


What Paul Marshall says sound great. But, Robert Spencer does not agree in the slightest. You see, he says that we are fooling ourselves when we attempt to make a distinction between "extreme Sharia" and some theoretical moderate Sharia:


Marshall and the other contributors to Radical Islam’s Rules imply the existence of a form of Sharia that upholds justice and goodness without resorting to draconian punishments. They seem to hold to the idea that there is a form of Sharia that is basically good — or at least free of the destructive features of Saudi and Iranian Sharia — when he speaks of Islamic states imposing “retrograde Sharia law”; “the most reactionary version of Islamic law, Sharia”; and of “the destructiveness of this form of Sharia.” But this creates an immediate conceptual problem: the extreme form of something is only an intensification of tendencies that were already present within it. If extreme Sharia is flawed from the standpoint of universal rights and freedoms, then so also must be Sharia itself.

What’s more, Marshall suggests in his introduction to Radical Islam’s Rules that Sharia becomes benign not when it is interpreted in some pristine form, free of Wahhabi and other deleterious influences, but when it is moderated by elements that do not arise from Sharia at all. “Muslim polities,” he explains, “have…usually adopted local and customary law in addition to directly Islamic jurisprudence and, in recent centuries, have borrowed from other legal traditions, especially Western ones.” Extreme Sharia stands in direct opposition to this tendency: “In contrast to this, the Saudis, the source of much of the spread of extreme shari’a throughout the world, seek to entrench only one version of shari’a, an extreme literalist view that they claim is true Hanbali law.”

It would seem from this not only that “extreme Sharia” is Sharia purged of salutary non-Sharia influences from the West, but a parochial, virulent form of the law devised by fanatical Saudi Wahhabis. But do the other major schools of Sunni Sharia jurisprudence (the Maliki, Hanafi, and Shafi’i schools), as well as the Shi’ite Jafari school, actually reject the elements of Sharia that Marshall specifies as particularly characteristic of the “extreme” version?


In the FrontPage interview he enumerates as elements of “extreme” Sharia “stoning adulterous women or cutting off the hands of thieves,” as well as restrictions on “religious freedom and freedom of conscience,” “the status of women,” and “the legal process, especially equality before the law.” But unfortunately, these are not matters on which the various schools of Islamic jurisprudence disagree. While a case may be made that the Saudi Hanbalis and Iranian Shi’ites are virtually alone in their determination to implement and enforce such strictures in the modern age, it is misleading — extremely misleading — to suggest that such elements are inventions of Saudi Wahhabis, and do not exist in mainstream Sharia jurisprudence.

Even some of the essays in Radical Islam’s Rules demonstrate that the distinction between Sharia and “extreme Sharia” is not as clear as perhaps Marshall wishes it were. In his essay “Shari’a in Pakistan,” Maarten G. Barends notes that “one of the features of classical shari’a is the provision that Muslims cannot change their religion and that, if they do, they face a death sentence.” So is this restriction on freedom of conscience a feature of benign Sharia or “extreme” Sharia? Is classical Sharia extreme? Or did the Hanafi jurists of Pakistan learn this precept from the Saudi Hanbali Wahhabis?

In fact, the Muslim Prophet Muhammad’s famous dictum, baddala deenahu, faqtuhulu — “If anyone changes his religion, kill him” — is amply attested in Islamic tradition (cf. Bukhari vol. 9, bk. 84, no. 57), forms the foundation for this restriction on freedom of conscience, and has never been considered negotiable by the great majority of Islamic jurists throughout history. Were they all “extreme”? Of course, like any law it was not universally enforced or even always on the books: journalist Stephen Schwartz, who has contributed an essay to Radical Islam’s Rules, has contended that “the Ottoman caliphate abolished death sentences for apostasy from Islam more than two centuries ago,” although “Western media still widely report that all Muslims believe the penalty for apostasy must be death.” However, the facts are otherwise: according to the Turkish historian Bülent Özdemir, the death penalty for apostasy was only abolished by the Ottomans (and replaced by imprisonment) in 1844, under pressure from the British. So here again the traditional Sharia provision gave way only in the face of Western influence — a welcome influence, to be sure. Nevertheless, it remains true that the Sharia death penalty for apostasy was not moderated because of the force of some internal component of the Sharia itself, in the way that the abolitionist movement in the Christian world arose from Christian principles of the dignity of human beings, which ultimately won out over the Bible’s apparent tolerance of slavery.

Why does this matter? Why not posit the existence of “extreme Sharia” and call upon Muslims to adopt more moderate forms of Islamic law? Ultimately because this approach does not address the deep roots within traditional, mainstream Sharia of so many precepts that violate universal notions of human rights. One result could be Western non-Muslims working to help Muslims implement what the Westerners believe will be benign, moderate Sharia, only to find that this moderate construct has no strength or vital force to keep the “extremists” at bay.

A peculiar unreality now dominates American public discourse about Islam. Those who traffic in comforting fictions — such as but not limited to the distinction between “extreme” and classical Sharia — are lauded in the mainstream media and consulted by the powerful, while those who dare to point out obvious but uncomfortable facts are dismissed and derided as a “fringe.” However, it is the nature of the truth that it will someday, one way or the other, make itself manifest; and on that day, those who have not dared to make it known, whether because of political correctness, fear, or a desire for personal gain, will be relegated to irrelevance.



In the next couple of days, I will will post Part III of this piece, in which I will discuss ways in which Sharia law is tempered by existing structures in emerging forms of doctrinal Islam. The problem, however, is that these new forms are not accepted by purists. Some have said that the current Jihad can be viewed as a Civil War Within Islam. In some ways this is the case. However, there are very few fighting on the good side with any strategy or purpose. That can change, so, let's talk about how.