President Obama has tabbed the former dean of Yale Law School, Harold Koh, to become the legal adviser for the State Department. Among numerous questionable and controversial statements, Koh has said that the “war on terror” — a term which the Obama Administration has already quietly abandoned, was “obsessive.” And in a 2007 speech, according to a lawyer who was in the audience, Koh opined that “in an appropriate case, he didn’t see any reason why sharia law would not be applied to govern a case in the United States.”
Asked for comment, a spokeswoman for Koh waved the incident away: “I had heard that some guy…had asked a question about sharia law, and that Dean Koh had said something about that while there are obvious differences among the many different legal systems, they also share some common legal concepts.”
Probably Koh has something in mind akin to what the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was thinking when he made his notorious statement that Islamic law was “unavoidable” in Britain. Williams didn’t mean that Britain would become a Sharia state, but only that Muslims could have recourse to private Sharia arbitration for marital disputes, inheritance matters, and the like. Stonings and amputations? Of course not. “Nobody in their right mind,” said Williams, “would want to see in this country the kind of inhumanity that’s sometimes been associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states; the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women as well.” But, he concluded, the idea that “there’s one law for everybody…I think that’s a bit of a danger.”
Equality of treatment and equality of rights for all people? A dangerous concept!
One may hope that Koh wouldn’t go that far, but in saying that “in an appropriate case” Sharia legal principles could be applied in the United States, he seems to be opening the door to Sharia courts in the U.S., instituted after the pattern already established in Britain.
Sharia courts are already operating there, and multiculturalists dismiss concerns about them by insisting that they’re just private, voluntary arbitration tribunals, like similar arbitration panels for Jews and Catholics. The analogy, however, is not exact. Jewish family courts and Catholic marriage tribunals claim authority only over those who accept that authority, i.e., those who believe in the tenets of those faiths. What’s more, such courts claim no authority beyond their narrow purview, such that most legal matters are beyond their scope. Islamic law, by contrast, asserts itself as the only legitimate law for all areas of human life – not just marriage and family law, and by no means just religious law, but as the sole legal foundation for every aspect of social and political life.
As such, Sharia claims jurisdiction over non-Muslims as well as Muslims. The great Pakistani Islamic theorist of the twentieth century, Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi, whose writings remain internationally influential among Muslims today, wrote that non-Muslims have “absolutely no right to seize the reins of power in any part of God’s earth, nor to direct the collective affairs of human beings according to their own misconceived doctrines.” If they do, “the believers would be under an obligation to do their utmost to dislodge them from political power and to make them live in subservience to the Islamic way of life.” In accord with this, there is no concept in the Qur’an, Islamic tradition, or Islamic law of non-Muslims living as equals with Muslims in an Islamic state: Muslims must be in a superior position.
And so it comes as no surprise that those private Sharia courts in Britain are already coming into conflict with British law. Recently Sharia courts in Britain have been allowed to adjudicate cases of domestic violence rather than have those cases referred to the criminal courts, even though the Qur’an directs men to beat disobedient women (4:34) – a directive likely to find the battered woman’s complaint falling on deaf ears in a Sharia court.
Sharia is a complex and comprehensive unity that traditional Muslims believe to be the unalterable law of Allah. To open the door to one aspect of it is only to open the door to the rest — which inevitably will result in the institutionalized subjugation of women and non-Muslims, and the extinguishing of freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. Consequently, all free people may hope that Koh, if his nomination is approved, will reconsider his earlier naïve approval of the coming of Sharia to the land of the free.