March 01, 2008

The Fallacy of Shared Values

By Janet Levy

At a time when 40% of young Muslims in the United Kingdom want to impose sharia law on the country and 36% favor executing apostates of Islam, the head of the Church of England called for the selective application of sharia law in Britain in the interest of social cohesion.

On February 7, 2008, Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, issued what amounts to a capitulation to the encroachment of Islam and an accommodation to sharia. This Islamic theo-political-legal doctrine assigns second class status to Christians and Jews, utilizes a medieval system of justice that sanctions cruel and unusual punishments and mandates the inequality of women and non-Muslims. 

Archbishop Williams’ suggestion is not unexpected given his 2003 speech at Princeton University, “Islam versus the West:  Challenges Facing the Human Family.” In that address, the Archbishop called for the cultivation of an “enduring partnership based on shared values that make us human beings, that make us capable of receiving God’s gift of love and peace.”
But an examination of the intersection of Islam and traditional Western or Judeo-Christian societies reveals very little evidence of any “shared values.” Instead, glaring conflicts between the two are evident in the role and practice of religion in society, the concepts of moral behavior, the value of human life, personal responsibility and civil and legal rights.
Church and State
The most dramatic of these conflicts is the difference over the power religion holds in matters of state. Theologies shape societies, but the extent of their ability to control human interactions is in direct proportion to the extent of their mandate.
In the West, democratic governments preside over affairs of state and the church’s domain is subordinate to the rule of the land. Christ’s instruction to “render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” embodies the separation of these realms from a theological standpoint. Separation of church and state is the underlying civil principle.
However, within Islam’s all-encompassing religiopolitical ideology, no dichotomy exists between the civil world of government and the theological world of religion. Unelected religious clerics, who enjoy lifelong reign, issue binding rulings on every aspect of people’s lives. Such rulings are indisputable and represent the will of Allah as interpreted from the Islamic teachings.
Democracy vs. Theocracy
From these two differing theological and civil positions, two vastly different methods of governing are derived. In most Western democracies, government is “of, by and for the people” or some approximation thereof. In essentially pluralistic participatory democracies, the populace decides by a majority vote who among them will best represent their interests and will advance the most beneficial policies for the nation as a whole. A political leader who doesn’t perform according to the will of the people can be voted out of office.
But in Islamic nations, rigid theocracies, for the most part, rule in accordance with Islamic scriptures. Religious practices and laws are enforced under the watchful eye of religious police, empowered to beat or imprison violators. Clerical leaders control all aspects of life, with the primary concern obedience to the words of Allah and Mohammed. Religious leaders strictly interpret the Islamic doctrine and dissent is prohibited and viewed as un-Islamic. 
Equality vs. Supremacy
The Western concept of rule by the general populace led to the logical extension and development of human rights. Equality under the law regardless of race, religion, sex, or ethnicity is a cornerstone of democratic societies. Government agencies monitor human rights violations and prosecute violators of existing statutes. Affirmative action programs often mitigate perceived disadvantages of identified minority groups. Violence against women is prohibited by law and spousal abuse is prosecuted and viewed as morally abhorrent by society.
By contrast, within Islamic societies, in which the individual is subordinate to God’s rule, no concept of human rights exists and no acceptance of differences, particularly religious differences, exists. Instead, Muslims are viewed as superior to and more privileged than non-Muslims. In many Islamic countries, non-Muslims are slighted for not embracing Islam, treated like second class citizens and are frequently prohibited from practicing their religions. Inequality also exists between men and women, with men having greater standing and worth than women. Women are under the control of male relatives. The movements, careers and marital choices of women are often restricted. Women who are not obedient may be dutifully beaten by their husbands as a God-sanctioned corrective measure and responsibility under Islamic teachings.
Acceptance vs. Elitism
Western and Islamic societies also differ in their approach to treatment of others. Key moral features of any society are the rules delineating how others should be treated.
In Western societies, the expected standard for human interaction can be summarized from the universally accepted Golden Rule:  “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Thus, a reasonable expectation exists that others will treat you the way in which they would like to be treated and that you will reciprocate in kind.
Islam, however, lacks the concept of the Golden Rule. Instead, the world is divided into believers in Allah, the Dar al Islam, and the world of kafirs, the evil unbelievers, known as the Dar-al-Harb or world of war. Behaviors prohibited against fellow Muslims, such as lying, cheating or stealing can be used with impunity and are considered permissible against kafirs. Even in murder, the acceptability of the act is judged by the victim’s status. Killing a fellow Muslim is a serious crime, but the murder of an infidel is justified by his non-belief in Allah.
Religious Freedom vs. Religious Coercion
The practice of religion itself also differs dramatically in Western and Muslim societies. In the West, religion is freely chosen and practiced according to an individual’s desired level of orthodoxy. Religion is viewed as a guide for living a moral life, based on reason and interpretations of the word of God. God is perceived as a just, loving and forgiving divine presence and a human-divine relationship exists. Religious scriptures are “divinely inspired” and open to interpretation, with doctrine allowed to evolve over time.
In Christianity, the messenger of God, Jesus Christ, is depicted on earth as an ethical, honest, compassionate human being who works for the common good of mankind. The Bible is considered a “how-to” guide for living an ethical existence. Practitioners of Christianity and Judaism endeavor to live peacefully alongside believers of other religions and the highest level of religious expression is to serve all mankind and establish harmony in the world. Western religions are not at war with other religions and strive to live in peace with the rest of the world.   
Islam, however, dictates all facets of life and allows no room for interpreting the words of Allah and Mohammed. According to Islamic teachings, Allah dictated the Koran verbatim and it must not be interpreted or altered.  For Muslims, Allah’s messenger or prophet, Mohammed, is viewed as the ideal man whose life is to be emulated. His actions included advocating the mass murder of kafirs or non-believers, use of deception or taquiya to further the goals of Islam and subjugation of non-Muslims and women. Allah is represented as a revengeful, rigid and condemning god who demands that followers conquer the world for Islam. Any concept of a God-human partnership is alien.
Further, the Koran and Sunnah contain no concept of equal justice for all and focus on revenge and warmongering. Islam is in conflict with other religions and the highest level of devotion to Allah is waging jihad and defeating those who do not embrace Islam. Muslims who leave Islam are considered to be apostates and are threatened with death. The Koran is a manual for life that must be followed literally. Islam is viewed as superseding Judaism and Christianity, which are nullified by Allah’s final revelations in the Koran. 
Abhorrence vs. Embrace of War
In democratic societies, war is viewed as a necessary evil to protect fellow countrymen and preserve liberty and freedom. Citizens, government representatives and military officers view loss of life as tragic and regret the carnage and destruction of war. Efforts are made to protect innocent citizens and military strategies are developed accordingly. 
In Islam, war against infidels is a noble, divinely commanded mission against those deserving of death for their unbelief. The death of non-Muslims – men, women or children – is a cause for celebration and a certain route to Paradise. Young children are indoctrinated to hate non-believers, are required to participate in military training and are taught to revere martyrs. 
Justice vs. Honor
Finally, Islamic and Western societies differ in their application of laws and punishment. Western societies operate under the rule of law and a set of equally applied legal standards. Murder, for even an unpremeditated crime of passion, is condemned, punishment is demanded for the perpetrator and the victim is mourned and often memorialized. In instances of attempted assault or murder, the intended victim is protected by authorities and generally receives support and sympathy from the public at large. 
But in traditional Islamic societies, murder is viewed as honorable if it is committed to enforce social control and adherence to Islamic or sharia law. Women who violate required behavioral, social norms can end up the victims of honor killings. They can be killed for failing to wear proper clothing, being in the company of an unrelated male without a chaperone, dating, marrying a person deemed unacceptable or leaving an abusive, forced marriage. Women who commit such offenses are shunned, prompting murder as a response to defend family honor. As such, it is a purposeful, planned event often committed with the collusion of family members. Upon the completion, the murderer is celebrated and the victim promptly erased from memory. 
Given these dramatic and irreconcilable differences between Western and Islamic beliefs, the quest by the Archbishop of Canterbury to identify a common ground of shared values is obviously a hollow and futile enterprise. While Western societies endeavor to accommodate to the demands of Muslim immigrants and cultivate interfaith understanding, Muslims are continually looking for ways to overcome the West.
Acceptance of sharia law is thus not a step in the direction of recognizing shared values. It is a step toward capitulation to Islam, the subjugation of women and the state of dhimmitude, or creation of minority and unequal status for non-Muslims. Instead of calling on Muslims to integrate into the mainstream of British society and for all UK citizens to follow the law of the land, Rowan Williams is wrong headedly suggesting that British citizens recognize and accommodate Islamic law. Already, Britain has accepted polygamy, halal meat in public schools and sharia finance. With honor killings, forced marriages and female genital mutilation rampant in the United Kingdom, the Archbishop should be speaking out about the preservation of cherished Western values of democracy and freedom.

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