We members of the Iranian Diaspora have come a long way in our ability to make relevant and insightful observations about issues affecting our community. I have seen tirades and polemics (once the majority of online dialogue) diminish, and I've watched intellectual arguments and discussions begin to take precedence, at least among some; this goes for opinions that I am both for and against.
However, I just finished reading “Is Canada next?” and as much as I am inclined to agree with the gist of what the author is writing about, I feel there are serious problems with Azar Majedi's arguments that are symptomatic of our old tendency to blow off steam rather than speak judiciously about an issue.
If her primary concern as a feminist is women's mental and physical emancipation, then I wonder why she chose to ignore the real issue that is going to make or break this Islamic court proposal and instead launch into nothing more than an articulate outburst against political Islam.
This debate, as well as the larger one of women's rights, goes deeper than just one religion, and what weakens Azar's argument is her determination to attack political Islam over and over again throughout her piece in preference to addressing the bigger picture.
This is not purely a matter of political Islam. Journalist Paul Weinberg cited in an IPS news article that “… after [my emphasis] religious Jews began using the process to arbitrate internal disputes under the Judaic Halacha process, the leaders of the Canadian Muslim community decided to establish a similar system.”
Thus there already existed a judicial process based on religion in Canada. Given this kernel of information, the debate grapples with another important problem: would it not then be discriminatory at this point to deny the conservative Muslim community the right to have access to a similar process based on Islamic law?
Majedi never acknowledges what would be the inherent discrimination in allowing Jews to have their own legal options on certain matters and denying this right to Muslims, which would only fan the flames of political Islam.
The choice at hand is to either revise the Arbitration Act in Canada to exclude religious law, or allow every religious/cultural community to form its own channels for the resolution of certain legal concerns. This, I believe, should become the real issue in the debate: should institutions that violate Canada's Charter of Rights be allowed to coexist alongside federal and state Canadian law? I don't think so, and this is where I agree with Majedi.
Also, although women would technically have the option of going along with Canadian courts or choosing the Islamic legal system, it's true that there would be enormous spousal, familial, and community pressures to deal with in the vast majority of cases, and these pressures would make it a great deal harder for many Muslim women to choose the court that would best serve their own interests; Majedi is right in saying that the implementation of an Islamic legal system in Canada would be a step backward for women's rights worldwide.
However, she also says: “To recognize two or more sets of values, laws and rights in a single society is a discriminatory practice. By doing this, we are, in fact, defining different categories of citizens, and to do that on the basis of different ethnicity, religion and culture is nothing but racism, pure and simple.”
I'm not so sure that I agree with this statement. In fact, I think that it is rather contradictory to say that recognition of various values, laws, and rights is discriminatory. In fact, it is a sign of pluralism and democracy, not discrimination. Furthermore, recognition of “different categories of citizens”, such as Latino, Black, Iranian, Muslim, or Buddhist falls far short of racism: it's what is done with that recognition that determines its nature.
Racism can be defined as the systematic implementation of the belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others, and while I'm sure that Azar is aware of this, her use of the word in the citation above demonstrates carelessness, at the very least.
Two final points: first, secularism does not own feminism. Secondly, religion is not the sole oppressor of women. Many feminist movements have sprung up and have been driven within the context of a specific culture, religion, or political belief, from the wives of Bolivian tin miners to Sojourner Truth. Libertarians of the past few decades are but a part of an ongoing universal struggle, probably as old as civilization itself.
Getting to my last assertion, the reasons for women's oppression range are economic, cultural, educational, religious, sexual, and historical; in short, oppression dominates almost every aspect of a woman's life, and while it is extremely difficult to attack the issue holistically, that doesn't mean that we should single out one aspect and make it the face of misogynism. Otherwise, it was a great article.
P.S. Buy Siamack Baniameri's new book.
Maziar Shirazi is a junior at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey. Features in iranian.com