Human rights versus Sharia law

Posted: Apr 03, 2007 12:01 AM

In a case in which a Muslim, Moroccan-born 26-year-old mother of two was petitioning for an expedited divorce from a man who had beaten her and threatened her life, Judge Christa Datz-Winter denied the woman's request, a woman who already had a restraining order on her husband after police were called last May because he attacked her. The reason for the injudicious divorce denial? The Koran, the judge said, instructs that "men are in charge of women." She explained further that the couple hails from a "Moroccan cultural environment in which it is not uncommon for a man to exert a right of corporal punishment over his wife."

I'm not normally a fan of speedy divorce -- or of divorce at all, for that matter. But surely divorce exists for precisely these circumstances.

Clearly, Datz-Winter's was a reprehensible ruling. But it's also one that highlights real problems we face all over the world. It's at the heart of this war we're in. It's at the heart of struggles by so-called moderate Muslims who would never dream of beating their wives or condoning anyone who would engage in or justify such brutality.

The ruling epitomizes the struggle that nations -- East and West -- are facing as they weigh issues of multiculturalism and Sharia (Islamic) law influences. And it shows that some nations have taken multiculturalism too far.

A friend who has been intimately involved in more terror cases than he'd ever want to think about remarked about the case: "I think we've hit a new low. Does the next judge say: 'We can't proceed against these jihadists because the Koran says jihad is a Muslim obligation'? Oh, wait a minute, I forgot -- a judge already did that in Yemen." He was referring to a case last year in which 19 alleged members of Al Qaeda were exonerated for plotting to kill Westerners by blowing up a hotel frequented by Americans because the presiding judge ruled, "Islamic Sharia law permits jihad against occupiers."

For years, commentators like Melanie Phillips, author of the 2006 book "Londonistan," have been cautioning otherwise ignorant Westerners of the threat to human rights abroad -- and, increasingly, at home. In her book, Phillips wrote: "Britain is in denial. Having allowed the country to turn into a global hub of the Islamic jihad without apparently giving it a second thought, the British establishment is still failing even now -- despite the wake-up calls of both 9/11 and the London bomb attacks of 2005 -- to acknowledge what it is actually facing and take the appropriate action."

In an interview I had with her last summer, she warned: "Some of the things that are going wrong in the U.K. are true for the U.S. too -- the obsession with minority rights, for example, or the excessive reluctance to interfere with religion. If Britain sleepwalks into cultural oblivion, this may strengthen these tendencies in the U.S., too. After all, Britain was the originator of the concepts of liberty, democracy and the rule of law. If Britain now unravels the values that underpin them, the consequences will be incalculable throughout the free world."

In Germany, thank God -- a nation in no position to be messing with basic human rights (again) -- there has been widespread condemnation of Judge Datz-Winter. German government officials have described the ruling as "incomprehensible," and one lawmaker (a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Party) correctly declared that "the legal and moral concepts of Sharia have nothing to do with German jurisprudence." Those condemnations are both encouraging and important -- but not the end of the story. As M. Zuhdi Jasser, chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy tells me: "The only way to win this war is to use cases like this one as examples of the ideological battlefront in the intellectual war of ideas."

Michaela Sulaika Kaiser, a Muslim feminist, asked rhetorically in an interview: "In my work educating sexist and short-sighted Muslim men, do I now have to convince German courts that women are also people on the same level with men and that they, like any other human, have the right to be protected from physical and psychological violence?"

To the contrary, I think her work just got a little bit easier. And we're all a little more awake.