Often, the silence is deafening

I have just returned from the Center For Inquiry’s Rhine River cruise where Richard Dawkins, Ronald A Lindsay and I were speaking. I gave two talks – one on Sharia law, Islamophobia and Secularism and the other on Free Expression and Islam. Here’s my speech on Sharia law:

My talk today is on Sharia law, Islamophobia and Secularism.

It’s a difficult topic, not – as one might assume – because of the threats and intimidations that surround this issue, or the palpable fear associated with it. While these are very real and colour everything, I find this topic difficult primarily because of how many people and organisations are siding with Sharia law at the expense of rights, equality, and secularism.

There are reasons for why a large segment of the population has become convinced that it is not possible to act or intervene and that it is racist to do so.

People will often tell me that they don’t know enough about Sharia law to oppose it but doesn’t everyone know what Sharia law is even if they don’t know of the existence of Sharia courts in Britain or Europe.

You’d have to live under a rock not to know what Sharia law means for people across the world.

Sharia law is Islamic law and it’s based on a combination of sources, including the Quran, the Hadith or Sunna (sayings and actions of Islam’s orophet Mohammad), and Islamic jurisprudence and rulings or fatwas issued by scholars.

Sharia law is far from monolithic and consistent; there are four prominent schools of Sharia in Sunni Islam and one major school in Shia Islam.

But despite the inconsistencies, there is consensus within all schools regarding the necessity of the death penalty for apostasy and sexual “crimes” including homosexuality, on the need for women to be veiled, and on different treatment under the law accorded to men compared with women as well as Muslims compared with non-Muslims.

Sharia law rulings that everyone is familiar with is people being hung in Iran for examples from cranes in city centres for apostasy, blasphemy, heresy, being gay, and enmity against god. There are 130 offences punishable by death under Sharia. Another recent example is of morality police in Iraq stoning dozens of Iraqi youth to death because of their haircuts and tight jeans. Or in the case of Afghanistan, for example, a majority of women prisoners are there for ‘moral crimes’. The case of Gulnaz, which was highlighted in a documentary commissioned by the EU and then banned by it to safeguard their relations with the ‘justice’ institutions, is better known. She was given a 12 year sentence after being raped. After much protest, she was pardoned by Karzai so she could to marry her rapist! And of course there is the latest example of the Islamist-dominated government in Egypt introducing a law that would allow a man to have sex with his wife for up to six hours after her death…

Despite all the evidence – there are quite a few of people some of whom are humanists, freethinkers and atheists who will say they don’t know enough about sharia to criticise it though they know very well what religion in political power means since they spend quite a large chunk of their time fighting Christianity’s role in the public space. But bring up Islam and Sharia law and suddenly the response is hardly audible.

Often times the silence is deafening.

When people tell me that they don’t know enough about Sharia law to oppose it – though we hear about its abominations day in and day out – I think what they really mean to say is that it is not their place to oppose it.

In its very essence the reason for this – for the conviction that it is not one’s place to act – is a false belief that to do so would be tantamount to racism. And I do think this is why we don’t see the outrage that barbarism of this kind deserves and demands.

Now, if you are fighting Islamism or Sharia law in Iran, Egypt or Afghanistan the debate is not framed around racism and Islamophobia. I remember being on a panel discussion in Sweden with a famous Syrian atheist, Sadiq al-Azm and when the Swedes called his criticism of Islam racist, he said I’ve been arrested, imprisoned and called many things but never this. This accusation of racism is specific to the debate in North America, or Europe or Australia.

If you criticise Islam or Islamism in Iran, you’re not labelled a racist, you are accused of enmity against god, corruption, blasphemy, heresy and apostasy. So the accusation of racism and Islamophobia is specific to the debate taking place in the west.

Just to give you an example, when the Saudi government arrests 23 year old Hamza Kashgari for tweeting about Mohammad, it doesn’t accuse him of racism; it accuses him of blasphemy – an accusation punishable by death. The same government though will accuse critics of Saudi policy abroad as Islamophobic.

What I’m trying to say is that Islamists and their apologists have coined the term Islamophobia, – a political term to scaremonger people into silence – by deeming it racist to criticise anything related to Islam. [Read more…]