Roxon right on Sharia

I have to confess to being a little underwhelmed when I heard that Nicola Roxon had been appointed Attorney-General instead of Robert McClelland – a solid if unremarkable A-G. This, of course, is the same Nicola Roxon who, as then health minister, once referred to herself as “Nanny Nicola”. From what I could tell, she was definitely cast from my least favourite political mould – the “I know what’s best for you and I’m going to make sure you do that whether you want to or not” kind of politician. I am a big boy now, thanks, and I very much resent this attitude.

That said, it seems I may have underestimated Ms Roxon to a degree. I was very happy to read this headline over the weekend:

Roxon baulks at role for sharia by Australian Muslims | The Australian.

“There is no place for sharia law in Australian society and the government strongly rejects any proposal for its introduction, including in relation to wills and succession,” Ms Roxon said.

“The Australian government is committed to protecting the right of all people to practise their religion without intimidation or harassment, but always within the framework of Australian law.”

Note: I will forgive Roxon this, but “sharia” means “Islamic law” – calling it “sharia law” is a tautology.

Roxon was speaking in the context of a woman who wanted to obey the “sharia” with regards to inheritance for her children, which means that her sons inherit double the share inherited by their sister. It is very important to be aware of these kinds of rules within sharia, because many people from Roxon’s side of politics will defend the right of Muslims to their own sharia courts on the basis of moral relativity in various guises, such as “ethnic diversity” or “cultural sensitivity”.

The inheritance law is not the only aspect of family sharia that is inimical to Australia’s (and the West’s) values. For instance, as anyone who has seen Academy Award-winning Iranian film A Separation will know, sharia also mandates that in a divorce, the husband has the right to decide: a) if his wife is even permitted to divorce him and b) who keeps the children. Note that this is not dissimilar form the Orthodox Jewish concept of a “Get” – one that I strongly oppose and one that most Orthodox communities try desperately to find loopholes around (such as effectively excommunicating husbands who refuse to divorce their wives).

I will pause at this point to note that, like all religions, Islam contains numerous interpretations of sharia. Some are entirely compatible with our Western values and can be practised in Australia without ever coming into conflict with our laws.  I have attended interfaith meetings where Muslim delegates have explained to me that Mohammed was actually a reformer in his time and that many of the laws he made regarding women were very progressive for medieval Arab society. They have chosen to take the spirit of his laws rather than regress to the archaic standards that he was born into.

What this means, however, is that those Muslims advocating for the implementation of “sharia” in Australia are advocating for precisely the archaic form of Islamic jurisprudence that we cannot allow to be practised here.

The point about what sharia we should and should not allow was well made by Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi in a Wall Street Journal article entitled ‘A Warning for Women of the Arab Spring’ (emphasis added):

Shirin Ebadi: A Warning for Women of the Arab Spring –

There are interpretations of Shariah law that allow one to be a Muslim and enjoy equal gender rights—rights that we can exercise while participating in a genuinely democratic political system. Shariah law and women’s rights do not have to be mutually exclusive. Although the 1979 revolution in Iran is often called an Islamic revolution, it can actually be said to be a revolution of men against women. Before the revolution, women’s rights were recognized to some extent. But the revolution led to the enactment of numerous discriminatory laws against women.

After the revolution—even before drafting a new constitution or establishing parliament—the revolutionary councils changed the laws. When I first read the Islamic Penal Code instituted after the revolution, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The drafters of this document had effectively taken us back 1,400 years.

Before the revolution, I was a presiding judge. When the revolution broke out, I was initially on the side of the revolutionaries and I believed in their cause. I was shocked when the revolutionaries decided that women could no longer hold my position. I was demoted to secretary—while many of my male colleagues who were not as professionally qualified were appointed judges.

I highlighted the quote about the “revolution against women” because it leads into this quote from News Ltd columnist David Penberthy, reflecting on the Australian inheritance case:

1400 years of tradition is no excuse for sexism | Article | The Punch.

If the arguments put up by Mustapha Omari prevail I can’t imagine a more lily-livered abrogation of the principles that are enshrined in our citizenship pledge. It would be a terrifically disturbing legal precedent. And it puzzles me that more people, particularly those of a supposedly progressive nature, aren’t talking about it. I’m a supporter of multiculturalism, but supporting multiculturalism shouldn’t mean trashing our liberal values. It also shouldn’t mean that we keep our mouths shut in the face of bad behaviour, for fear of being accused of discrimination, when the only real discrimination here is being practised by the male respondents in this case.

Which leads me to my last point: why are “liberals” permitting this kind of thing? What is it about Islamism that puts it beyond criticism? Much of it is to blame on 50 years of  third-worldist academic thought, following “Orientalist” Edward Said, which rejects as “colonisation” the idea of Westerners holding non-Westerners to Western moral standards (I’ve gone into this in some detail before).

Unfortunately, there is another source of our failure to condemn: Islamophobia – not the in its catchall meaning, whereby it seems to refer to any discrimination against Muslims, but the actual (and not necessarily irrational) fear of Islam. This was exposed recently in the BBC by Timothy Garton Ash, who noted the double-standards with which we treat Muslims:

One rule for Jesus, another for Muhammad? | Timothy Garton Ash | Comment is free | The Guardian

I’ve been thinking about this because of some media reaction to a conversation I had recently with Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC, for our Oxford University project on free speech. After we talked about the BBC’s broadcast of Jerry Springer: the Opera, which provoked angry protests from evangelical Christians because the satirical musical depicted Jesus as a petulant overgrown baby in a nappy, I put it to him that the BBC wouldn’t dream of broadcasting something comparably satirical about the Prophet Muhammad. He replied: “I think essentially the answer to that question is yes.”

… I suggested to Thompson that this asymmetry in the way broadcasters (not just the BBC) treat Islam as compared with other belief systems was a result of the threat of violence from Muslim extremists. He replied: “Well clearly it’s a very notable move in the game … ‘I complain in the strongest possible terms’, is different from ‘I complain in the strongest possible terms and I’m loading my AK47 as I write’.” That’s a frank acknowledgment of one of the biggest threats to free speech around the world today. Classic American free speech literature talks of “the heckler’s veto”. These days, we face the assassin’s veto. Such violent intimidation must always be resisted. To yield to it ultimately encourages others to threaten violence. If only we atheists and Christians were credibly thought to be loading our AK47s, more “respect” might mysteriously follow.

Furthermore, Jonathan Neumann in Commentary exposed the New York Times for following a similar policy.

This is why I have to give credit to Nicola Roxon for bravely breaking with the convention of the “Left” and staying true to progressive politics in this instance – unlike many self-proclaimed “progressives” who see protecting 7th Century morality as “progress”. She has thus ended a state of affairs whereby Cory Bernadi and Fred Nile were better champions of women’s rights than anyone on the left of Australian politics.

In fact, Timothy Garton Ash has changed his tune since the devastating critique he received from Paul Berman two years ago in The Flight of The Intellectuals – the best book I have read on the subject of Islamism and the West. Maybe this is sign of a positive shift amongst Islamist apologist circles.


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  1. #1 by Brett on March 19, 2012 - 7:15 pm

    Interesting commentary.

    ‘Sharia law’ isn’t strictly a tautology as its tautological status would only be perceived by those who speak both English and Arabic. In English, ‘Sharia’ has come to describe a particular legal system and ‘Sharia law’ is pretty much an accepted phraseology. I’m guessing that part of the reason for this is that the word ‘Sharia’ does not easily lend itself to being turned into an adjective, unlike ‘Halacha’ which is often referred to as ‘Halachic law’.

    Also, keep in mind that ‘Chai tea’, ‘Pilaf rice’ and the ‘Sahara Desert’ are all things.

    • #2 by MK on March 19, 2012 - 8:31 pm

      It’s like when people say “the Hatikvah”.

      I’m still against it.

  1. Major Karnage
  2. Why do they hate Mona Eltahawy for speaking about Arab women? « Major Karnage

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