In 2006 a young woman, born and raised a Muslim, came to America. She had escaped an arranged marriage and fled to the Netherlands where she applied for asylum. While in Holland, this woman fell in love with Enlightenment values and became a leading activist in the cause for reform of sharia laws. This woman's name is Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
The harder Ali worked to draw attention to the plight of Muslim women in Western countries, the more she was placed in personal danger from Muslim retaliation. After a high- profile friend was murdered for 'insulting Islam' by making a film about it - and she was warned she would be next - Ayaan came to the United States.
Ali says that multiculturalism often deprives women of their rights when it is tolerance for the sake of consensus. This anniversary of 9/11 is a good time to think about what that message means.
In 2008, a young Muslim woman moved to America from Morocco with her husband, a man to whom she was married forcibly at the age of 17. She filed for divorce after arriving in America the next year, complaining of abuse and what her husband called “punishment.” She told the courts that her husband continued to torment and rape her during the divorce process.
This 18 year-old girl asked the New Jersey judge for a restraining order but the request was denied after the judge considered an iman’s testimony saying that Islamic law requires a wife to comply with her husband’s sexual demands. The imam explained that the husband is prohibited from obtaining sexual satisfaction elsewhere so the wife must obey. The judge acknowledged that this was a case in which religious custom clashed with state law and that the wife had a right to refuse husband’s advances. However, the judge also found that domestic violence and assault did occur, but the judge ruled that the husband did not act with criminal intent since he believed that his estranged wife was required to comply with his demands.
It is true that this ruling was overturned when the appellate judge found the husband’s conduct in forcing sexual relations was “unquestionably knowing,” but why was an un-American standard of justice applied by the trial court judge in this young woman’s case?
In other words, tolerating all cultural practices to the point of sacrificing foundational human rights and gender equality is wrong, and this is what Ayaan Hirsi Ali's message means. Tolerance that bargains for approval from all parties undercuts objective standards of justice, individual liberty and self-determination. In America, our consent to be governed by the rule of our laws means that both the democratically driven laws and the uniquely empowering liberties apply to all. Validating cultural practices to the degree that American notions of justice and equal protection are denied is accommodation gone too far.
Many Muslims do not want sharia rules imposed in America. As Ayaan Hirsi Ali notes, this system of laws “arose from an honor and shame culture.” As divinely inspired, and clerically interpreted, sharia does not recognize democratic participation or rule of secular law. It certainly does not allow for the expressive rights, equal treatment, and choice of religion that Americans hold so dear.
A very recent confirmation of this comes from news last week that a German journalist has concluded what France and Great Britain have already publicly acknowledged; that is, that sharia communities operate outside the law and do not respect national law as legitimate. The German study by Joachim Wagner revealed that German law and evidence standards were not a part of the sharia arbitration process. Rather, he learned that Islamic dispute compromises often turn on violence and threats and which family is more powerful.
In Great Britain, Baroness Caroline Cox has proposed an initiative in the House of Lords to stop parallel legal, or quasi-legal, systems from taking root. Her goal is “that discrimination against women shall not be allowed within arbitration” and her coalition intends “to make sure [Muslim women] are free from any coercion, intimidation or unfairness.” She notes that many women say, “we came to this country to escape these practices only to find the situation is worse here.”
Yesterday, constitutionally-oriented Muslim leaders in America and Canada endorsed the Michigan initiative called American Law for American Courts. This legislation has passed in four states and would establish American law as the transcendent authority over sources of foreign or sharia law. The American Islamic Leadership Coalition supports this initiative for the purpose of “protecting Muslims and non-Muslims alike from extremist attempts to use the legal instrument of shari'ah (also known as Islamic jurisprudence, or fiqh) to incubate, within the West, a highly politicized and dangerous understanding of Islam that is generally known as ‘Islamism,’ or ‘radical Islam.’”
Last month, the Pew Center released a study showing that 60% of American Muslims are “very” or “somewhat” concerned “about the possible rise of Islamic extremism in the United States.” American Muslims responded to other survey questions to show overwhelming support for women’s participation in business and politics. Significantly, 48% of American Muslims said that “Muslim leaders in the United States . . . have . . . not done enough to speak out against Islamic extremists.”
At this time when Americans remember a devastating attack on our very way of life, there is momentous opportunity to speak with one voice against the forces of terror and extremism. We must not only focus on the threat from terrorists who would instantly change the way we live -- but also the equally alarming threat from radical Islamists who seek to incrementally change the culture in which we live.