Roger writing the LAWmag

Deadly Anachronism: Back To The Afghan Future?

Shia law cartoonAfghanistan has approved - but not yet implemented - a new family law which will oblige all Shia Muslims to submit to the ancient ways of their variety of Sharia law.

This is not a mere quaint anachronism, good tourist copy, but deadly serious legislation that purports to lower the human rights standard of all women in this war-torn country. Frankly, all Western peace-keeping powers presently helping out in Afghanistan at great financial cost, should pull out now if this new law is not repealed.

According to the law, strict clothing requirements are imposed on all Afghan women at the age of puberty or over, preventing anyone from seeing their faces.

It continues a tradition of marrying off young girls.

Article 132 of the law declares wives to be the simple property of their husbands by making it illegal for a wife to leave the family home without her husband's permission or to refuse sex to her husband, thus legalizing sexual assault.

Turning The Clock Back May Not Be Contained to Afghanistan

Shia is the second largest denomination of Islam, believing that there have been not just Muhammad, but 14 "Infallibles".

In a December 2007 interview, Qari Hifzur Rehman, a Muslim preacher in Pakistan, reportedly told a British journalist:

"Adulterers who are married should be buried in earth to the waist and stoned to death. Homosexuals must be killed - it's the only way to stop them spreading. It should be by beheading or stoning, which the general public can do. Thieves should have their hands cut off. Women should remain indoors and films and pop music should be banned.

"We want Islamic law for all Pakistan and then the world. We would like to do this by preaching. But if not then we would use force."

Many Muslims living outside of Muslim jurisdictions cringe at these kinds of statements. And yet, if history has taught us nothing else, a model of government is best assessed by its action, as opposed to its word.

Muslim laws are not left behind at the border by all immigrants and indeed, are encouraged by well-intentioned but naive multiculturalism programs.

A 2006 poll in England found that 40 per cent of Muslims living in England want Sharia law. One of the built-in persuasive tools of the Muslim religion is that any adherent who converts to another religion can punished by death.

Anachronisms

Anachronism pilloryThere are anachronisms in every legal system.

In England, for example, it is illegal for a Queen to be Catholic, making it legal for Prince William to marry a Jedi Knight, a Vulcan from Star Trek or even an avowed  witch - but not if they are Roman Catholic. This, because a 1701 law, the Act of Settlement, is still on the books in spite of clear contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights. Any heir to the throne can marry a Catholic - it's just that they forfeit their spot as heir to the throne. Reigning monarchs cannot convert to the creed of the papists without also having to forfeit their throne.

On May 17, 2007, Peter Phillips, 11th in line to the British Throne, was poised to give up his spot when he married a Canadian Roman Catholic, Autumn Kelly. But Ms Kelly is no dummy: she blinked and converted, instead, to Anglicanism before her marriage.

Indeed, you can find nonsense in the law books of all nations - see, for example, Crazy English Laws, Crazy Laws - American Style, and Dumb, Crazy or Stupid Laws Around the World.

But these are long repealed or rarely enforced, leather bound dust-bunnies found in the deepest recesses of the law library.

A Law, A Disgrace

Karzai and Barack ObamaIn contrast, the Afghanistan law is deadly serious, dated April 2009, and is supported by law-makers such as President Hamid Karzai (pictured with Barack Obama), that see the world as square.

Such brutal legislated discrimination, void of all reason, leaves one to wonder if there was, perhaps, some as-yet undiscovered coin toss in history that women lost. And if it is about who kills the buffalo, well, most of us shop at Safeway.

Afghan members of parliament who support the new law somehow claim it promotes women rights. One of them:

"Men and women have equal rights under Islam but there are differences in the way men and women are created. Men are stronger and women are a little bit weaker; even in the west you do not see women working as firefighters."

Other apologists point out that the law is for the Shia minority only and is merely the government's attempt at expanding community self-government, no different than the Canadian Province of British Columbia's granting law-making powers to aboriginal communities.

Half-heartedly, given the strategic importance of Afghanistan in the international balance of power, Western leaders are meeting and expressing outrage and hope that the Afghan government comes to its senses.

With the stupidity of a formal government even suggesting rolling back time and the removal of basic human rights of women as part of a formal legislative agenda - Afghan Shia or other - there can be no happy ending.

We should all cover our faces, but not as a sign of disrespect to the millions of Muslims who yearn for reformation of their creed and who oppose barbaric law anywhere they find it.

In shame of Afghanistan who, by word of mouth of a government that Western democracies have done so much to help in recent years, use the letter of law to trample on their own.

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Posted in Human Rights, International Law
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