One way or another, the governments of Western Europe and North America have evolved over the past 250 years or so into democracies. They reached their current status by following different paths, but all seem to have come to the conclusion that democracy demands a separation of sorts between church and state.
It is true our secular laws are underpinned by Judeo-Christian ethical standards, however, most of us—and even the most religious—allow secular law to prevail when at odds with religious teaching. Examples are how we deal with homosexuality and abortion, and the fact that we do not put to death adulterers and adulteresses.
Most people will agree, I believe, that the separation of church law—Christian canon law, Islamic sharia, Jewish halakha, etc.—and secular law as determined by representatives of the people has allowed a greater degree of religious freedom, especially for those belonging to minority religions. Tolerance of religions of all sorts and respect for the right of others to hold beliefs different than our own have been hallmarks of Western democracies.
This social evolutionary process has been a protracted one and the remnants of the past can still be found in unexpected places. In Canada, for instance, section 296 of the Criminal Code makes publishing blasphemous materials—called blasphemous libel—an indictable offence, punishable by up to two years of imprisonment.
Blasphemous libel originally applied to the Christian religion. In recent times, however, section 296 has been generalized so that it may now be illegal to blaspheme other religions as well. We may never know for sure, though, since this has not been tested in court and no one been prosecuted under the law since 1935.
I wonder how the most scathing of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons would have fared had they been published originally in Canada and had section 296 of our criminal code been applied to them? But I digress for section 296 is, at least, dormant if not exactly dead.
We in the West are fortunate that we did make the transition to a secular society, at least, as far as our laws are concerned. In fact, my guess is most Canadians would not self-identify as being religious, though, many may still believe in some version of a supreme being, likely the Christian God.
A very significant portion of the 1.6-billion Muslims around the world are not as fortunate as we are, for they live in countries and communities that have religion and culture so intertwined that religious practices permeate virtually every aspect of their lives, including their state/community laws.
There seems to have been little in the way of social evolution in many Muslim societies. Even some Muslims who immigrated to countries that practice freedom of religion and are governed by secular law, like the United Kingdom, choose to segregate themselves into closed communities and subject themselves to Islamic sharia.
Muslim countries have, for the most part, incorporated some level of sharia in their criminal justice system, with many viewing it as the highest law of the land. According to Wikipedia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Brunei, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan and Mauritania apply the code predominantly or entirely.
Why anyone would want to live under laws which have changed little in the past millennium I cannot fathom. Sharia penalties are harsh to the point of being barbaric, including lashing, stoning and beheading though these are not universally enforced. Sharia encourages domestic violence against women. Moreover, under Sharia, a woman’s testimony in court is worth only half that of a man’s.
Using Sharia courts, in several countries a rapist can escape punishment if he marries his victim. In other cases, a victim who makes an official complaint may be prosecuted with the Sharia crime of adultery. Imagine, a sentence of stoning to death imposed on a woman who has been raped.
I could go on, but I think you get the point.
I do not, however, want to paint too bleak a picture of Islam. Islamic culture has much about it to admire. What seems to be the case, though, is that, broadly speaking, Islam with it’s relatively rigid and unchanging traditions has provided fertile soil into which extremists can plant their seeds of radicalization.
So now Western democracies are being threatened by a minority who want to plunge the whole world into the cultural darkness of Medieval times. Innocents are being killed randomly on our streets. Apparently, even Muslims who live among us are targets—for such was the case of a Muslim police officer killed by Islamic extremists in the recent terrorist attack in Paris.
The minority I speak of has fallen victim to doctrines based on those of the Wahhabi Movement, a small but wealthy and highly influential brand of Sunni Islam. More than any other source, Wahhabis (aka Salafis) have provided the theological basis for much of what is preached by these extremists. As such, it is not Islam per se that challenges the West, rather it is the doctrines of the Wahhabi Muslims that are at the root of modern Islamic extremism and terrorism. And it is time for Western nations to begin a concerted campaign to do something about this.
Governments of the West need to shine a bright light on Wahhabis and their influence in our Muslim communities where radicalization seems to be increasing. Institutions funded by or that use teaching material supplied by Wahhabi sources should be identified and have their tax-exempt status revoked. Throughout the West it should be considered socially unacceptable to have anything to do with Wahhabism. Nations and communities that espouse Wahhabi doctrines and supply public funding should be publicly identified, shunned and marginalized.
Isn’t it time to stop treating the symptoms and side effects of Islamic radicalization and begin treating the cause of the disease?