Saturday, December 1

Death to Gillian Gibbons, bring us the head of Taslima Nasrin, hang Atefeh Sahaaleh, 200 lashes for the Qatif Girl: Islamic justice in action

Ibrahim Ramey, who has the title of Civil and Human Rights Director of MAS Freedom, a sister organization to the Muslim American Society, has published a commentary about the Gillian Gibbons case that is curiously dated in tone. He writes as if were 1999 -- back in the day when publics outside Muslim countries were greatly ignorant of the atrocities carried out by Islamic systems of justice.

Mr Ramey takes Gillian's side in the matter, arguing that she should not be punished for what was clearly an innocent mistake. Yet running throughout his commentary, which is self-pityingly titled, The 'Teddy Teacher' Incident - More Than Muslims Can Bear, is the warning that non-Muslims should not see in the Gibbons sentence a reason for prejudice against the Muslim religion.

Mr Ramey needs to notice what year this is. With the exception of countries where the press is censored, publics are becoming aware that matters of religious faith are not the big issue. Repressive governments are the issue -- including governments that term themselves Islamic: Governments using the power of the state to enforce a legal code that trammels the rights of the individual, the right to dissent, and every other right accorded under a humane government; governments that through their legal code foster the cruelest of societies.

The question is what democratic governments will do about the issue as applied to Islamic governments. Will they continue to dodge, as the governments of the United States and Britain are doing? Will they continue to divert attention from the issue by keeping to a discussion of "extremist" Muslim groups?

I'm afraid that the answer is yes, at least for the foreseeable future. Pakistanis and refugees from other poverty-stricken Muslim countries are to Britain what Mexicans are to America -- a source of very cheap labor.

Communities in Britain made up of such workers are now recognized as a breeding ground for terrorism. Thus, every attempt has been made by Britain's government to pander to the religious sensitivities of Muslims, even to the point of allowing them to ignore British law in favor of Sharia's interpretation of justice.

As for the United States, the government presumes it needs so much help from Saudi Arabia that it is willing to be silent, or very muted in protest, no matter how inhumane the Saudi justice system.

To put this another way, the American government can loudly decry the inhumanity of Burma's junta, yet the official stance is that it cannot loudly decry the inhumanity of the Saudi government.

But then what is Than Shwe to make of the US government's double standard -- or for that matter what does Robert Mugabe, China's rulers, and every other despot make of it?

One may argue that the price on Taslima Nasrin's head was not set by the Bangladesh government but by an "Islamist" group in India, and that other calls for her murder came from Bangladeshi citizens, not the Bangladesh government.

Yet it was the Bangladesh government that created the climate to call for Taslima's murder by banning one of her books, confiscating her passport, and issuing an arrest warrant, which eventually turned her into a fugitive from her country.

For what offense was Taslima hauled to court? The official charge was blasphemy. She wrote columns decrying the treatment of women under Islamic law and wrote a book that exposed the government-sponsored persecution of Hindus in Bangladesh.

Atefeh Rajabi Sahaaleh , 16 years old, was not sentenced to hanging in an Iranian court because of her alleged crime of having an affair with a married man -- an affair she considered statutory rape.

Ateqeh was given the death penalty because she did not grovel before the judges to seek mercy. She stood straight and demanded that the court recognize that the rapist, not the victim, should be charged in a rape case.

She argued her own case because no lawyer dared take it. She argued haltingly, and she had the bad judgment to hurl her shoes at the judge -- a grave insult in Islamic countries. Yet for her insult and "sharp tongue" she was hanged -- and for no other reason, as the judge in the case clearly explained.

A Saudi victim of gang rape, who is known only as the Qatif Girl because the Saudi press will not release her name, was originally sentenced to 90 lashes for the crime of sitting in a car with a man who was not related to her. The sentence was increased to 200 lashes and six months in jail because she had the impertinence to tell her story to a human rights organization and the Saudi press.

Or, as the Saudi authorities explained it, her sentence was increased because she made an "attempt to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media," according to Saudi Arabia's English-language newspaper Arab News.

Last week Prince Saud al-Faisal said that a Saudi court would review the case. However, according to tonight's NBC Nightly News, the judge most likely to hear the appeal has already stated that if the case had been his to begin with, he would have sentenced the Qatif Girl to death.

(A Saudi blog mentions that Ibrahim Al Khodhairi, a judge at the appeals court in Riyadh, said on November 27 that "the judges in this case should have imposed the death penalty on all the parties involved, including the girl.")

So one may consider Gillian Gibbons very lucky because she holds a British passport and has the support of the British government in trying to secure her pardon for the crime of insulting Islam -- and because she dredged up enough sense of self-preservation to cry her eyes out before the court.

Right now two British Muslim peers are in Sudan, trying of their own accord to secure her release. And Gillian has been transferred from the infamous Omdurman women's prison to a secret (and one hopes better) place of confinement; this, after thousands of Sudanese, many armed with clubs and swords and beating drums, burned pictures of her and demanded her execution. The Washington Post notes that while there was no overt sign that the government organized the protest, such a rally could not have taken place without at least official assent.

Yet to consider what would happen if a northern Sudanese had committed Gillian's crime is to recall the fate of Taslima Nasrin, Atefeh Rajabi Sahaaleh, and the Qatif Girl. These are not unusual cases; they are only some of the most recently famous examples of justice under Islamist government.

Ibrahim Ramey closes his commentary with the observation that "people in the Christian world" should not use the case of Gillian Gibbons "to mischaracterize or stereotype all Muslims as extremists."

I do not live in the Christian world; I live in a democracy. My condemnation of Islamist government would extend to a Christian government -- or Jewish or Hindu government -- or any government based on theology and laws deriving from religious beliefs. Such laws invariably boil down to the deadly idea that the worth of a human is circumscribed by his submission to a set of metaphysical beliefs.

We in the West did not fight countless wars against the tyranny of such laws, only to end up tolerating the laws of Islamic governments. But again, the question is whether democracies are willing to make such a stand today.

Prince Faisal had the gall to whine, during his attendance at the Annapolis meeting last week, "What is outraging about [the Qatif Girl] case is that it is being used against the Saudi government and people."

That's akin to a thief complaining he has appear in court because he was caught red-handed.

Maybe Faisal would have considered the case itself to be outrageous, if the US Department of State had spoken up strongly. Yet all that a State spokesman could manage to squeak out, when he found himself unable to dodge questions from the press about the case, was that "most would find this relatively astonishing that something like this happens."

Relatively astonishing? But then this was during the run-up to the Annapolis meeting, where the Saudi presence and support was deemed critical by State.

If you think that democracies can stave off, at least for a few decades, wrestling with the question of Islamic government, the issue is already on top of us. The big controversy is whether it's valid to make a distinction between Islam and what is termed Islamism; i.e., whether Islam is inherently political or whether the concept of Islamic government can be separated from the religion.

In any event, so many Muslims in so many countries are calling for Islamic government that it's ridiculous to dismiss calls for such government as "extremist" or "radical fringe." See the Wikipedia article on Islamism for a balanced introduction to the issue.

I interject that non-Muslims did not likely coin the term "Islamism;" I first heard it from a Turkish Muslim who was worried that her government would be taken over by what she termed 'Islamists," and I've heard the term many times since from Muslims in other countries.

What is at stake here, for those who value a fair system of justice? I think Dr Khalid al-Mubarak, of the Sudanese embassy in London, said it best the other day. He noted that a source told him "innocence alone isn't enough" to ensure freedom for Gillian Gibbons.

Sunday, Dec 2, 11:15 AM ET Update
The facility Gillian was transferred to from Omdurman prison is a secret location for her safety but it's "not a prison, it's an office, like a small villa, with many security guards for her safety. It's a decent room," said her lawyer Kamal Gizouli. Gillian reports being well fed and in good spirits.

British Labor peer Lord Ahmed and Conservative peer Baroness Warsi, on a private mission to secure Gillian's release, are set to hold talks today with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to press their case for Gillian to be pardoned. It's believed the peer's chances to obtain a pardon are better than those of the official British delegation working for Gillian's release.
6:45 PM ET Update
The peers' meeting with Sudan's president is now scheduled for Monday. According to the London Times: "Analysts say that President al-Bashir faces opposition within his own Government - from the powerful Ministry of Interior and state security apparatus - if he is seen bending to Western pressure. A deal with two British Muslims who have funded their trip from their own pockets may be more acceptable to his opponents."

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