Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Tempest in Canada

Itrath Syed (author of this article) was interviewed by the Redeye Co-op Radio, regarding the debate over the use of the Arbitration Act for Muslims in Canada.

This interview is now available on the Ihsan Podcast, or you can click here to listen (web streaming).

Or, click here to listen/subscribe to the ihsan podcast on itunes

For the past year or so there has been an on-going raging debate in Canada which has become known as a debate over "Shariah" in Canada.

That is only the first of many inaccuracies.

The nuts and bolts of the issue is that there exists, in the Canadian province of Ontario, legislation that allows communities to conduct legal arbitrations. Many First Nations communities, as well as some groups in the Jewish, Christian and Ismaili communities have been conducting arbitrations within this system for many years.

The uproar in Canada has been specifically about the possible usage of the Arbitration Act by the larger Muslim community.

This week, the Premier of Ontario, has declared that the proposal made by one group in the Muslim community will be rejected and that other faith-based arbitration will also be re-examined.

I remain opposed to the proposal as it stood, because of what I perceive to be critical problematics with the logistics of the proposal and with the idea of binding arbitration itself. As well, there were many issues that were left gapingly undefined in the proposal and in the subsequent recommendations of the Boyd commission.

However, in Canada, we never really got a chance to discuss the logistics of the proposal or to really engage with ways to fix the existing problems. Though many other groups within the Muslim community, like CAIR-CAN, did make detailed submissions about improving the transparency, accountability and consistency of the process.

The issue has been that the groups in Canada [including some groups within the Muslim community] that have campaigned against this proposal have been very fixated and invested in keeping the debate away from the logistics. The opposition to this proposal has chosen to structure itself around hyperbolic racist arguments. Many of us in the Muslim community in Canada have been appalled and disgusted by the racism that the opponents to arbitration have willfully employed.

The main arguments of their opposition, in my analysis, have rested on three main points.

First: Muslim women are, as a group, too uneducated, weak and unempowered to protect themselves. Apparently we need others to protect us and tell us what is good for us because we can’t figure it out for ourselves. This of course, is the new "White Man’s Burden", - saving brown women from brown men.

Second: The Canadian Muslim community as a whole, is something that all "real" Canadians should be frightened of. Apparently we are not happy Canadians, interested in accessing provisions in Canadian Law. No, no, no. We are the fifth column in the clash of civilizations and our real intent is to destroy all things good and groovy about Canada. They include obviously, Democracy, Pluralism, Women’s Equality, and of course, Maple Syrup and Hockey, too. Clearly, the entire Nation must rise and defend against this assault.

Third: Muslims are dead or are living in some kind of alternate reality outside of history and time, with no individual or collective agency. We are unable to interpret and apply our beliefs to this current reality, because, well, we exist outside of it. Apparently the entire massive contemporary discourse of engagement by Muslims with our legal tradition, much of it by women interested in women’s rights under the law, simply doesn’t exist. Poof. We have not had a new idea in the last few millennia. We are asleep or dead or just too stupid to have thunk anything new.

While many in the opposition are rejoicing over this last ruling, they might take a moment or two to think about what has really succeeded. I believe we have seen the success of a new era of anti-Muslim racism and fear. The discourse has entrenched and inscribed new and frightening levels of racism into our political fabric, which we have seen documented in the media across the country.

And that is the terrifying legacy of this debate. And all of us, regardless of how we felt about the arbitration proposal, will have to reap what the opposition has sown.

And may God have mercy on us all.

6 comment(s):

  • The anti-Muslim racists included the chairman of the Progressive Muslim Union, Tarek Fatah.

    And also his friends, Irshad Manji, Homa Arjomand, and the Dutch anti-Muslim Hirsi Ali.

    This is a pretty good collection of opportunists and hate mongers.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9/14/2005 01:34:00 PM  

  • i respect your right to an opinion, and ideally diverse countries should allow individual communities to have the option to use their own religious personal/family law. the problem w/ using so-called "shari'ah" law is WHAT IS shari'a anyway? What would be used would be a set of laws which favor men in the making of marriage contracts, divorece laws, and custody battles. The shari'ah used should be more egalitarian and in the true spirit of Islam...but currently no fuqaha authorities interpret shari'ah in this way. We don't see a fair and non-androcentric interpretation of shari'ah in any majority Muslim country which currently uses so-called shari'ah based law, be it Saudi or Pakistan, or in countries which use general laws for most other things but base their treatment of family law on their understanding of Shari'ah. instead we find blatant abuse of women's rights, especially in divorce and custody situations. Women currently living in countries that interpret their rights by a more "traditional" understanding of shari'ah (such as myself) know better...If the Shari'ah used in Canada held a better understanding of Allah's law, perhaps more people would support it.

    By Blogger luckyfatima, at 9/18/2005 02:15:00 AM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Jafar, at 9/22/2005 02:48:00 PM  

  • luckyfatima,

    >>> "better understanding of Allah's law"

    Is there any group that would/could concede to another group and submit to "Allah's law" as understood by the other? I guess not.

    This adoption of Sharia Arbitration was a bad idea to begin with in a muslim community as diverse as Canada's, which even now doesn't agree on the ramadan moon-sighting or the Eid date.

    By Blogger Jafar, at 9/22/2005 02:50:00 PM  

  • interesting point, jafar. however, i do not believe the internal differences of interpretation and understandings within the muslim community, are greater than those in any other community in canada. or for that matter anywhere.

    By Blogger itrath, at 9/23/2005 01:07:00 PM  

  • Salam alaik, ana akhuka fillah. May Allah bless you. Say truth, even it's bitter

    Regards from Malaysia

    Abu Ruwayfi' as-Saadi

    By Blogger Abu Fatih, at 9/26/2005 07:50:00 AM  

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