Where human rights are really needed
Babette Francis - News Weekly, 2 May 2009
A shocking video, recently aired on Pakistan’s private television networks and now available on the Internet, shows a gang of Taliban men holding a teenage woman face down as they flog her. “Leave me for the moment — you can beat me again later,” the 17-year-old begs between sobs. But the local Taliban commander continues to flog her without mercy as a group of village men watch in silence.
These images were described recently in a New York Times article (April 3, 2009), which noted that the alleged transgressions of the woman were not known. The range of possible violations of the Taliban’s version of Islamic law — from stepping outside her house without a male relative to having an illicit affair — is vast.
The video, apparently shot on a cell phone and given to a human rights activist, is not surprising — the brutal subjugation of poor, uneducated women in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan is widely known in the West. Whenever people bring up the subject of human rights, we should remember what women traditionally suffer under Islamic Sharia law.
The Rudd Labor Government has initiated a national consultation on how human rights in Australia should be protected and promoted. Discussion at these consultation meetings in capital cities and regional centres are led by consultation committee chairman, Jesuit priest and law professor Frank Brennan, and committee members, former SBS newsreader Mary Kostakidis (pictured at right), former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Palmer and indigenous barrister Tammy Williams.I attended a consultation in Melbourne, and while I am opposed to a bill of rights, my initial impression was that this committee seems more moderate than other committees appointed by Labor governments to assess public opinion. For example, the chairman, Fr Brennan, did not rule out the possibility that the right to life of unborn children might be included in the committee’s report to the government.
Those attending the consultation were given an opportunity to express their concerns, and many of these appeared to be about deficiencies in our health system, especially in regard to the disabled. However, one woman’s plea for an end to war reminded me of where human rights are really needed. The woman herself appeared to be Pakistani or Afghani, and was dressed in typical Punjabi clothes — a long tunic over trousers, and a shawl. She complained that if she wore her shawl on her shoulders she was not harassed, but if she wore it over her head she was spat at while walking in Melbourne. She also held up a newspaper picture of an Australian soldier killed recently in Afghanistan and pleaded that Australia should not be involved in the wars against the fundamentalist Muslim Taliban and al-Qaeda, as this armed conflict resulted in the deaths of innocent women and children and created a refugee problem.
In response, I said that while the insults she experienced in Australia were deplorable, here she at least had the choice of wearing her shawl on her shoulders or on her head and walking out of doors, whereas under the Taliban she would have to be clad in a black burqa from head to foot and mostly confined indoors. I added that among the human rights for which our soldiers are fighting was the right for women and girls to be educated. The Taliban, by contrast, murder female teachers and throw acid in the faces of schoolgirls.
I am reminded of the warnings of Nonie Darwish, who lived under Sharia law in Egypt for 30 years before migrating to the United States. She has written two books, Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel and the War on Terror (Sentinel Trade, 2006) and Cruel and Usual Punishment: The Terrifying Global Implications of Islamic Law (Thomas Nelson, 2009). In her more recent book, Darwish warns that tolerant Western nations are being taking advantage of, as Muslims from the Middle East, as well as some born in the West, are aggressively pushing to impose Sharia law in countries such as Britain, the United States and Europe. “To live under Islamic Sharia is to live in the world’s largest maximum- security prison, and I for one don’t want to be incarcerated again,” writes Darwish.
For many Westerners, it is hard to believe that cruel punishments, extreme oppression of women’s rights, and unjust marriage customs, as experienced under Sharia, can still exist in the 21st century. But they do exist, Darwish says, and are applied in strict Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan, Libya and Sudan. Some states in northern Nigeria also have Sharia courts, and recently the northwest region of Pakistan was allowed to enact Sharia law to appease terrorists. Canada allowed Sharia family arbitration from 1991 to 2006, and Great Britain allows it on a limited scale.Under the Islamic legal system, a woman without a headdress on in public can be flogged; a rape victim under certain circumstances can be severely punished; and an adulteress can be beheaded.
In her book, Darwish tells the story of a Saudi woman who was gang-raped by seven men, but sentenced by the court to flogging because she was allegedly seen talking to a man who was not her relative. Her attackers said they saw that violation as justification to rape her and the judge agreed. Under Sharia, women are not even allowed to make eye contact with men who are not their relatives.
Threat of Islamic law
While most of her book is devoted to explaining the tenets of Sharia, Darwish is clear from the beginning that she wrote the book to warn Western nations about the threat of Islamic law. “The West must never allow even limited Sharia marriage and family laws to be practised in any Western democracy, simply because it is against basic principles of human rights and equality between the sexes,” Darwish declares. Sharia allows a man to have four wives and many concubines.
So there are at least a couple of points News Weekly readers can make in submissions to the federal government’s human rights consultation (the deadline for submissions has been extended to June 15, 2009). I would encourage readers to insist that: • Any bill or charter of rights must include protection for babies in utero. (A large volume of letters on this point would be embarrassing for the government to ignore). • No application of Sharia law should be allowed in Australia, not even in the limited context of family law.
Babette Francis was born in India and spent time in Muslim-majority provinces before the painful 1947 partition of the country
into secular India and Islamic Pakistan.