Speech at Panel Discussion on Separation of religion from State at the University of Toronto 's Faculty of Law

 November 4th, 2004

I should that say on the one hand  it is regrettable that at the  beginning of the twenty first century we still have to deal with the ancient debate about the separation of religion from the state. I said 'the ancient debate' because centuries ago religion and its industries' influence had been defeated in a great confrontation.

 On the other hand this debate has come to the forefront again due to the rise of political Islam in the Middle East and to its achieving state power in Iran . The debate made its way into western society from the time that political Islam started its attempt to gain political power in those societies.

 It is important to recognize what tools the provoker of religious advocators, are using to persuade people to accept the interference by religion in the justice system.

 One of the tools is the demand to  respect  “minority rights” rather than to respect  individual rights.

 It is not surprising to find that, in a Canada, a country that actively infamous, doctrine, the argument of minority versus individual rights has been put forward by the initiators of Sharia court in Canada, who claim that minority rights require the installation of a Sharia court. Similar types of arguments have been offered by the Islamist movement in other parts of The West. 

 To understand the full reactionary notion of this concept let's study the concept of “minority rights” versus “individual rights” by using the same argument that the initiators of Sharia Court in Canada used. We are told that because the population of Muslims in Ontario has reached six hundred thousand, therefore the government has to validate and legalize their collective rights as Muslims.  

 I would like to touch on some of these collective rights such as the right to practice polygamy ( having more than one wife at the same time), and the right to forced and arranged marriages. These kinds of marriages are recognized by Sharia and some other minority groups. (Just to remind you, their advocators proudly announced its practice on Canadian National TV).  While death by stoning is the penalty for women who commit adultery, many Muslim men can enjoy multiple marriages either for pleasure or as one of the ways to resolve  family disputes. If a Muslim man is not pleased with his wife in any way, he can avoid divorce and make use of his rights. He can keep his disobedient wife as a maid and marry another woman. Even though it is illegal according to Canadian law,  it is allowed by Sharia law which is based on perceived duties to God . The  Ontario Arbitration Act 1991  allows him and his legal wife to agree to him taking a second additional wife as sanctioned by Islam.

 What is actually missing in this picture is the right of the specific individuals in the group, that is, the rights of the first and the second wife. These individuals are left with no rights of immunity of body and mind, with no guarantee of  the necessities of a normal life in  present-day society, with no assurance of  individual independence, with no ability to seek the truth about all areas of social life, and without equal status in the family. Since these types of marriages are not legal in Canada , should the relationship dissolve,  these individuals (wives) are,  therefore, left with no rights to their husband’s income, pension, benefits, nor to any share of the family home .

  The first victims of religion influenced culture, particularly of Sharia, are women and children. To better explain the degree of conflict with secular law and the extent of religious interference into the justice system, I’d like to examine women and children’s rights  as expressed in Canadian secular law and within Sharia. 

 In Sharia death is the penalty for unmarried girls, widows or divorced women who get pregnant, however, according to Canadian law, getting pregnant is a private matter which has nothing to do with civil or criminal law. But where do you think she would end up if she finds her fate being decided by an Islamic arbitrator?

 Children as young as 13years old are pulled out of school and forced into strangers' beds.  This crime is called 'arranged marriage' by the laws of Sharia.  According to the Sharia arbitrator, no crime has been committed, although, according to Canadian law, it is a very serious crime .    Indeed, it would be considered a criminal offence.

  A Muslim man can divorce his wife or wives by announcing it three times in the presence of another male. She will be eligible for three months support from her husband  and it does not matter how many years she had been married to him .  But if a Muslim women decides to divorce her husband, she must , according to Sharia,  pay a court determined amount of  money to him.

  Respecting the collective rights of the six hundred thousand Muslims as a whole,

 means accepting the segregation, at a very young age,  of girls from boys in school and on play grounds.  It means approving the  forcing of girls at tender age to wear the veil (Islamic Hijab) .  It means the approval of the prohibition of girls  participating in team sports, in swimming and in dancing.  It means agreeing with depriving girls of a full education; and of isolating them from mainstream society. It means agreeing that death should be the penalty for girls who are found to be lesbian or who get pregnant before marriage. It means that members of this society who are outside this particular group must bear witness to women being reduced to second class citizens.  They must simply accept it since they are not able to oppose it.

 I would like to respond to the question "How can religion penetrate the laws of the secular state and why do members of that secular society allow it happen?

 The policy of Multiculturalism has provided religions with many opportunities to impose their own rules on a specific community within the greater society. Multiculturalism promotes tolerance and respect for so-called minority opinions and beliefs, instead of promoting the respect of the rights of those individuals of that community.

 The advocates of multiculturalism encourage the members of the wider society to see that particular religious/ethnic group as one homogenous group with a common belief system, common values and common behaviors.  In fact, because of this attitude towards other cultures and because of cultural relativism, two sets of values and two sets of rights and privileges are aplied to the residents of Canada .

 As result, people outside a specific  'multicultural comminity'  dare not raise questions even when the rights of individuals in the community are clearly violated; even when women are mutilated and girls are victimized. 

 I see the growth of cultural relativism and the sensitivity towards multiculturalism expressed through the tacit approval of political and financial support provided not only by “ the international religion industry” but also by the government of Canada .

 Every year the government  funds the training of its legal staff in multicultural sensitivity; funds TV time supporting multicultualism,  and provides facilities and financial support to the advocates of multiculturalism. Such government support encourages the creation of small minorities, with ghettoisation being the outcome of that policy.

 Under these circumstances, the Ontario Arbitration Act 1991 has opened the door to religious interference in the Canadian secular court system. Religion easily managed to penetrate the secular State with the unfortunate result that every religion now has the right to become an integral part of the Canadian justice system. 

 If we are for a modern and civil society based on the concepts of  equal and universal rights for all residents ; if we are for a society based on the social identity of human beings as opposed to their identity by religion, nationality or ethnicity, then we must make religion the private affair of each individual. 

 A key pillar the of separation of religion from state is the removal of religion from the justice system. That means that all religious and religiously inspired notions and references must not interfere with our justice system for the simple reason that all religions belong to ancient times, to the period of “clans” and “tribes” and are incompatible with today’s norms and standards.  Finally, the intrusion of religion creates conflicts in a society which contains various religions and belief systems such as the Canadian Society.

 

Homa Arjomand

homawpi@rogers.com

www.nosharia.com

tell: 416-737-9500

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