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Faith-based arbitration in Ontario: Consistently wrong decisions

From the Globe and Mail:

Seeking to end months of debate, Premier Dalton McGuinty now says "there will be no Sharia law in Ontario" -- an announcement that should quell a growing public-relations crisis concerning the use of Islamic law, but which also exposes Queen's Park to attacks from other religions.

Following widespread condemnation of a plan that would formally allow the tenets of Sharia to be used in resolving family disputes, the Premier said he'll make the boundaries between church and state clearer by banning faith-based arbitrations.

Since 1991, Jewish and Christian arbiters could make decisions guided by the principles of their faiths under the auspices of the Ontario family court system.

This did not seem to generate too much controversy, but when the recommendation came down to extend that to include Islamic principles, the Sharia hit the fan:

Last year, former NDP attorney-general Marion Boyd recommended the province handle Islamic arbitrations as it long has other religious arbitrations. She said participants must go into the process voluntarily, and that all decisions could be appealed in court.

Yet the proposal is exceptionally controversial. In the past week alone, there have been a series of marches against Sharia and reports of female Ontario Liberal MPPs denouncing the initiative. This past weekend an open letter from prominent Canadian women urged Mr. McGuinty to take a stand against "the ghettoization of members of religious communities as well as human-rights abuses" that religious tribunals would bring.

Of course, a socialist like Marion Boyd would have thought this was a good idea. All religions are the same, after all, to a good socialist. Opiate of the masses and all that.

And when the Premier said he would pull the plug on all faith-based arbitration, it struck me. They aren't all the same, of course, and that's why the Sharia proposal generated so much controversy.

Canada, like just about all Western liberal democracies, is a Judeo-Christian society, and that is reflected in the legal and political system. The severe limits on what constitutes justifiable homicide is an example.

"Thou shalt not kill."

Imminent danger of death for you or your family is about the only way you can get away with murder, and that reflects that principle. And even then you have to prove it in court.

In Arab countries, honour killings happen with alarming frequency. Women being murdered because they brought dishonour onto the family (particularly the male members of the family). There is no such principle in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Indeed, Christians are taught that God wants us to turn the other cheek.

I bring this up as an example to point out that while Jewish and Christian faith-based arbitration are fundamentally consistent with the legal system in Ontario, Islamic arbitration is fundamentally inconsistent.

"Consistency" seems to be the culprit. Marion Boyd seemed to think that for the sake of consistency, it was necessary to recognize a legally inconsistent legal tradition and promote it to the same level as two legally consistent traditions.

She was wrong.

But now to be consistent, McGuinty is going to ban consistent and inconsistent legal traditions.

Politically, this might have been his only choice. But I'm not a politician, so I can go ahead and make observations that are politically incorrect. Islamic-based arbitration has no place in Ontario (or in Canada in general) because historically, it has had zero influence on the legal traditions of Canada. Not only that, its guiding principles are inconsistent with the Judeo-Christian philosophy that forms the underpinning of the Canadian system. Not just the details -- the principles.

That should have been obvious right from the beginning, and the idea should have been shot down immediately. But because people couldn't be intellectually honest about it, Boyd's proposal was allowed to fester and infect the thinking of the government. To clean out the infection, a perfectly healthy idea -- Jewish and Christian faith-based arbitration -- is being excised as well.

Thanks to Marion Boyd. This is why socialists should never be allowed near religious issues.

Update: The Relationship between Honour Killings and Islam

I was too quick to draw a connection between Islam and honour killings, as a reader pointed out. But there is a strange relationship that cannot be easily ignored:

Traditional interpretations of Islamic law prescribe severe punishments for zina' (extramarital sex) by both men and women; premarital sex may be punished by up to 100 lashes, while adultery is punishable by stoning. The act must however be attested by at least four male witnesses of good character, punishments are reserved to the legal authorities, and false accusations are themselves punished severely. The term "honor killing" refers specifically to extra-legal punishment by the family against the woman, and as such is forbidden by the Sharia.

The execution of the Saudi Arabian princess Misha'al is a prime example of an honor killing in that the execution did not follow any Islamic court proceeding but was ordered directly by her grandfather.

Interpretations of these rules vary. Some Arabs regard it as their right under both tradition and Sharia (by the process of al-urf), though this contradicts the views of the vast majority of Islamic scholars (fuqaha). Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of Iran has condemned the practice as "un-Islamic", though the punishment under Iranian law remains lenient. In Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, honor killings are unknown, as also in Muslim parts of West Africa. According to Sheikh Atiyyah Saqr, former head of the al-Azhar University Fatwa Committee (one of the oldest and most prestigious in the Muslim world):

"Like all other religions, Islam strictly prohibits murder and killing without legal justification. Allah, Most High, says, “Whoso slayeth a believer of set purpose, his reward is Hell for ever. Allah is wroth against him and He hath cursed him and prepared for him an awful doom.” (An-Nisa’: 93) The so-called “honor killing” is based on ignorance and disregard of morals and laws, which cannot be abolished except by disciplinary punishments."[5]

In Pakistan, when a bill proposing to strengthen the law against "Honor Killing" was defeated in Parliament, March 2, 2005, the government allied with the Islamist opposition to decide explicitly that the bill was "un-Islamic" (BBC)

Officially it is forbidden, but de facto punishment against those who commit an honour killing is far less severe, and the formalization of de jure punishments is resisted. Even its illegality is debatable, at least among some Muslims.

And curiously, we are calmly debating whether Islam justifies killing women. We need Islamic scholars to find the answer because we all, rightly or wrongly, believe the answer could go either way. The principle in Islam (certainly as practised by Arabs) is unclear, even to many Muslims. The fact that we can't even be sure tells you how different Islam is from the Western tradition. In the West, regardless of how poorly it was practiced historically, we all hold the image of the chivalrous Christian knight, dedicated to the protection of women, and that protection of the weak, even at the expense of some man's honour, is one of those fundamental principles of Western law. It doesn't even enter into our minds to consider whether "honour" is a quality that can be enhanced or repaired by killing a woman under any circumstances; that it should be so seems utterly alien.

Given this very different view of what constitutes a fundamental concept such as "honour", how do you jam this square peg into the round hole?

McGuinty's answer is to throw away the square peg, the round pegs, and the peg board altogether.

But what do I know -- check out SAFspace for more informed thoughts on the matter.

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