Wednesday, February 13, 2008

On sharia and sharing (my soapbox)

Below is my handsome spouse's reaction to The Archbishop of Canterbury's speech on religious law, and specifically Sharia law. When he sent me this treatise, I suggested he start a blog, but I know he won't. As such, I plan to periodically feature his writing on these pages. He starts:

My sense is that the uproar caused by these remarks stems from a generalized tension or fear that the multiculturalist approach is eroding the foundations upon which Western civilization rest. Namely, the absolute assurances offered by English common law that all will be treated equally and that there will be only one law applied to everybody, across all linguistic, religious, ethnic and gender lines (ideas Williams refers to as “a very unsatisfactory account of political reality in modern societies” – please!). Implicit in the drive to introduce alternative precepts of law is the notion that the original precepts are antiquated. Worse, that they don’t apply to certain sectors of the populace. Recall that “non-Western” ideas have been built into Western legal codes (Mohammed figures in more than one frieze within the Supreme Court building for a reason) so the presumption that these codes are not flexible enough or “inclusive” enough to accommodate all people is fallacious. Worse, it is a dangerous expression of the lack of pride and confidence in our own social mores that has become far too prevalent in the past forty-odd years.

One of my problems with this guy is simply that he’s the “second in command” of the Anglican Church, and he’s openly advocating for the implementation of sharia! What the hell is that about? Now that all this has hit the fan, he’s in seclusion, apparently “devastated” that his words have caused such furor. Not to be insensitive, but give me a bloody break. Stand up and take it on the chin! I’m so sick and tired of the vacillation and weak-kneed groveling that define Western “leadership” today. I’ll say one thing for Bush (and you know I’m hardly a fan of his) but he’s definitely stood for what he believes, and for that he deserves some kudos.

Williams says:
so far from being a monolithic system of detailed enactments, sharia designates primarily – to quote Ramadan again – 'the expression of the universal principles of Islam [and] the framework and the thinking that makes for their actualization in human history.
Am I being obtuse, or is the very phrase “universal principles of Islam” indicative of the monolithic system people fear? For me this is not specifically about Islam (although as you know there are certainly aspects of fundamentalist Islam and its cultural expressions I find very troubling), but about any faith or idea which attempts to apply “universality” to its principles.

Later Williams states that:
sharia depends for its legitimacy not on any human decision, not on votes or preferences, but on the conviction that it represents the mind of God; on the other, it is to some extent unfinished business so far as codified and precise provisions are concerned.
Hold on, here. Whenever somebody starts sermonizing about the “mind of God” I get very uneasy. Laws should be based on human decisions; if we start dabbling in “the mind of God” to make our laws, we end up with Mullocracy, the Inquisition, etc. Moreoever, the fact that sharia law is not codified is inherently problematic. Without codification, laws are subject to the whims of jurists who can be swayed by political winds or community feeling.

Using Pakistan and Jordan as examples, he says:
Such societies, while not compromising or weakening the possibility of unqualified belief in the authority and universality of sharia, or even the privileged status of Islam in a nation, recognise that there can be no guarantee that the state is religiously homogeneous and that the relationships in which the individual stands and which define him or her are not exclusively with other Muslims. There has therefore to be some concept of common good that is not prescribed solely in terms of revealed Law.
Ummm. . . .Yes. Substitute “Judeo-Christian values” for “sharia” and he’s describing the systems of constitutional law that already exists in Britain, the U.S. and Canada. So why not just stick with what we’ve got?? It’s worked pretty well for a while now.

The idea that we must allow “scope for a minority group to administer its affairs according to its own convictions,” seems to be the crux of his argument. Discussing some ramifications of Enlightenment thought on pluralistic societies, he writes: “The danger is in acting as if the authority that managed the abstract level of equal citizenship represented a sovereign order which then allowed other levels to exist.” The danger, he asserts, is that some forms of social life are reduced “merely” to private concerns and are never allowed to fully enter into public discourse about the nature of society or the direction it takes. This is the worst sort of pseudo-intellectual rubbish! Guess what: in any group or community, somebody has to be in charge. There will always be privilege, there will always be winners and losers. In the context of these truisms, I firmly believe that that West grants the fullest sanction to all community members to take part, speak out, debate and discuss policies, etc. Of course, there are problems with racism and prejudice. I would argue that these problems are at their most minimal ebb in the past 500 years. Again, witness the ongoing trend to “beat up” on ourselves, to doubt Western successes and minimalize our achievements because of a few who remain unhappy. The very fact that the Archbishop of Canterbury (!!!) is advocating the inclusion of sharia law in British jurisprudence proves beyond a doubt that Muslims have a fairer shake there than they would in most predominantly Muslim societies!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Gonna Buy Me Some Ben & Jerry's

In the news today...Monsanto is looking to have labelling laws changed to ensure that Ben & Jerry's cannot claim their ice cream is made from hormone-free milk. Apparently accuracy is a unacceptable on food packaging. The last thing any of us would want is to know what we are ingesting, right?

Readers may recall that this is the same company that accused Percy Schmeiser, the Canadian canola farmer whose fields were contaminated with Monsanto's genetically modified seeds, of patent infringement. Monsanto sued Schmeiser for patent infringement! The seeds in questions were blown over from a neighbouring farm. Life cannot and should never be patented. Goodness! How could a farmer prevent seeds from blowing over or cross-pollination? It's bloody impossible.

Schmeiser will be in court again soon, as he's suing Monosanto for contaminating his fields. He's asking for $600, the cost of removing the genetically modified plants. I wish him luck and I wish Ben & Jerry's luck in their battle.

Monsanto needs a kick in the ass.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Wake up Canada

The CBC and Environics have released another new poll. I'll attempt to avoid my usual complaints about the veracity of the answers, whether the questions were skewed, etc. (The questions about nuclear weapons were skewed towards my own world view, making the bias more palatable.) The problem is that Canadians are hypocritical, selfish twits. 91% of those polled felt that they have either a great deal of confidence or some confidence in Canadian NGOs to make a positive difference in the world. This confidence in NGOs is no doubt warranted. Certainly Canadians do not have the same confidence in our own elected officials to make a positive difference in the world (also warranted).

What gets me is that while Canadians (as represented by those polled) believe in NGOs, 60% admit they have not given financial support in the last two years to causes or organizations that address problems or issues in other countries.

So let me get all of this straight:
  1. Canada has a leadership role to play in the global arena.
  2. NGOs are more capable of making a positive contribution than governments, businesses or individuals.
  3. Canadians do not give NGOs the money to allow them to do the work to make the above mentioned positive contributions.
WAKE UP CANADA. It's time to whip out your wallet and make your own positive contribution to an NGO near you. Feel free to start with a few of my favourites:
  1. Doctors Without Borders (Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, with volunteers working in some the world's most dangerous regions)
  2. Oxfam (working to end global poverty and injustice)
  3. Plan Canada (formerly Foster Parents Plan)
  4. UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency, not expressly Canadian)
As an aside, check out Doctors Without Borders list of the top ten underreported news stories in 2007.