Perhaps Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury thought his statement about Sharia Law will be received enthusiastically as well-intended and an effort to reduce racial tensions in the society. However, his proposal got him into trouble. He was attacked from right and left. Those who saw their “white Christian culture” under threat asked for his resignation. Women rights activists, secularists and such like attacked him for the negative effects of Sharia Law on human rights, particularly the disastrous effects of such a practice on women in so-called Muslim communities. In response to harsh criticism he tried to qualify his proposal by stating that he did not mean the whole Sharia Law, but in family matters. He has just missed the point.
The status and rights of women in Islam is the Achilles hill of this religion, and I must add, ideology. Misogynism is the trade mark of Islam. The veil is its banner and gender apartheid its main pillar. Moreover, today a very active reactionary political movement has based its ideology on Islam, namely political Islam. Anywhere they gain power they first and foremost victimize women, strip them of all their rights, force them under the veil and segregate them in society. The same movement that laments lack of tolerance for Sharia law in western societies is terrorizing the population in societies under its rule to obey Sharia Law, observe the veil and gender apartheid and punishes the defiant by flogging, cutting their limbs and execution.
One main reason to oppose Sharia law is the way it treats women. Rowan Williams’ promise that he only means the family code of Sharia law is no comfort to any woman living under the threat of losing her rights, nor to any girl who is frightened by “honor violence,” forced marriage and veiling. In fact it only exposes his ignorance.
It may be argued that the Archbishop’s intention is to combat racism. Let us examine whether the Archbishop’s proposal is anti-racist. One might argue that he has taken Muslim’s demands and culture into consideration, particularly when Muslims are increasingly being stigmatized. This assumption is false. Historically, the fight against racism has meant fighting for equality not for differentiating; equality before the law and in social, economic and political sphere. Anti-racism has been about integration not segregation. The civil rights movement in America was not about creating a set of different laws for blacks, but treating blacks and whites equally. The essence of long battle against racial apartheid in South Africa was to create one system and one law for all citizens, which treated them equally.
However, it is not only the Archbishop who espouses this upside-down approach to racial equality. This is a political trend. For this trend the meaning of anti-racism has changed from equality to differentiation, from integration to segregation. We owe this falsification to post modernism, which gave rise to cultural relativism and eventually giving such high socio-political status to the concept of multi culturalism in this deformed interpretation of it.
Some misled section of the “intelligentsia,” academia and political institutions have played a significant role in defending these concepts as progressive, libertarian, egalitarian and anti-racist. Reactionary political forces, such as political Islam have been the only beneficiaries of this trend. For decades gross violations of human rights in societies under Islam were neglected and even justified by these mal-formulated theories. Only when these brutal practices made an inroad into western societies in the form of terrorism, particularly after September 11, some outcries began to be heard.
Multiculturalism is racism; cultural relativism is racism; this should be recognized once and for all. By defining different laws for different citizens on the basis of such arbitrary concepts such as culture or religion, we leave the lot of the weakest sections of that so-called “cultural community” to the mercy of the self-imposed leaders of that community. We deprive these weakest sections the protection of the law and society. Women under Islam are down trodden and deprived of any rights. Leaving them under Sharia law will only victimize them further.
There are many fallacies involved in such an approach. One which is seemingly very liberal is the assumption that members of the “Muslim communities” will voluntarily resort to Sharia law. If Muslim women or children had any choice or voice, they would tell the Archbishop, to keep these proposals to himself. The question of choice is non-existent in a hierarchical and deeply male chauvinist community. Allowing Sharia Law to be practiced will cut off the poor voiceless women from any protection and make life much more difficult for the young women who struggle with backward traditions at home.
Giving the Archbishop’s intention the benefit of the doubt is the best case scenario. The other, to my opinion most probable scenario is that he is cunningly trying to strengthen the grip of religion and religious institutions on the society as a whole. By assigning a stronger position to Islam in “Muslim Communities” he is trying to foster the position of the church and Christianity in the wider society. If one accepts the role of Islam and Islamic laws in one community, by the same token, they should accept the role of Christianity and Church of England in the larger community. His defence of Sharia Law is a clever step towards revitalizing the role of Church in the wider society.
And finally, as a veteran women’s rights activist and one who has suffered first hand under a brutal Islamic state, as an activist who has fought hard against Islam and political Islam for liberty and equality, I am very indignant by Rowan Williams’ proposal. We do not need to establish Sharia law in any form or shape. We need a secular, free society, free from racism, misogynism and inequality. We need to rid the society from religion and religious establishment, be it Muslim, Christian, Judaism or the like.
Azar majedi founded the Organization for Women’s Liberation – Iran in November 2002, and at present is acting as its chair.