According to Islamic law, freedom and democracy are punishable vices.
|Sharia Law is notoriously brutal.|
As Islam exploded across North Africa and Southern Europe, engulfing the Byzantine Empire to the west and the Arabian peninsula to the east, it became entrenched in several sovereign states in these regions, retaining much of the primitive ideologies of the day, which includes systems of governance and law—the latter of which is notorious for its misogyny and brutality.
Sharia Law is Islam's de facto code of conduct. It applies (or intends to be applied) wherever Muslims live (even if it is not enforced due to the laws of the non Islamic country in which they live). Sharia Law is based on the life of the prophet, but it wasn't finalized in its current form until long after the death of the prophet. One wonders then if the prophet would approve it.
I'll explain more later.
Sharia law is particularly notorious for its extreme forms of "justice", often prescribing capital punishment for the most innocuous of offenses.When you examine this often barbaric system of justice, one cannot shake the feeling that many of the laws codified under it, are as much a product of the ancient Arabian culture as the religion that had subsequently emerged out of it.
Steal someone's halal? Your hand will be cut off — with a broadsword. Kiss your girlfriend in public? You could be reported and thrown into prison for public indecency, even in advanced, modern Islamic states such as Bahrain. Under Sharia law, one is put to death for serious crimes like murder and rape. But one could also be put to death for "crimes against chastity".
I kid you not.
Don't even think about being born gay in an Islamic state. While homosexuality is a sin under Christianity, it is a crime under Islam. Capital punishment usually applies in most Islamic states, where homosexuals are either decapitated in a public space or hung by being hoisted off the ground, inducing a slow, painful death. This is unlike hanging in the west, where one is dropped through a trap door, thereby inciting a quick death through the snapping of the neck.
In Sharia Law, you are guilty until executed. There is little proof of innocence. In Islamic states like Iran, the head of the country is not its president, it's the spiritual leader, the Ayatollah. Such is the case throughout much of Islam, which renders any petition for human rights null and void. They will fall on deaf ears since the life of Mohammad is inexplicably the law of Allah.
The Treatment of Women
|The strangest thing you'll see in Saudi Arabia — 7th Century dress code and 21st century technology|
Even while post modernism has touched the more affluent Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia, Muslim women are still heavily censored. The wearing of the burka and other attire still pervades even more advanced countries like Saudi Arabia. It is certainly more relaxed in places like the Maldives and even Yemen. But it has sparked great controversy in the anals of Europe where all women have long enjoyed freedom of expression, speech, and equal rights.
In some Islamic states, a woman still cannot go out in public unless accompanied by a male (even if it's her own son). She risks severe beating for showing her face in other countries. She could be buried chest deep and stoned to death for fornication. She cannot divorce her husband in some states, and it others she can't do so without being falsely accused of adultery. Accusations of adultery under Sharia law carry an automatic death sentence. It is a clever way for a Muslim man to ensure that his ex-wife would never get to love someone else.
In fact, one of the worst fates that could befall an individual is to be born a woman inside an Islamic State. The treatment of women under Sharia Law is notoriously horrific (and especially under the Taliban). Even in cases where Islamic groups have migrated to Europe, the same atrocities closely follow. One famous case is where several Muslim women in Germany were murdered by their own family members simply for renouncing their oppressive Islamic life style.
In Saudi Arabia, women still aren't allowed to drive, even though they will be allowed to vote in 2015. That's still a lot more than can be said for women in other Islamic states, where there is a "morality police" (in addition to the regular police), who have the authority to publicly flog a woman for infractions as petty as speaking too loudly in public. This amounts to human rights violations against women and are perhaps best exemplified by the Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
The Taliban's interpretation of Sharia law is so extreme, that all their women were banned from working, showing their faces in public, wearing high heel shoes, or being seen in their own homes on the ground floor. While the Taliban is perhaps the most extreme interpretation of Sharia there is, it has escalated the treatment of women to a global human rights crisis.
But to put this in perspective, this extreme view of women from middle eastern religions does not exist in a vacuum. In Judeo-Christianity, women are also considered second class citizens. In fact, there is a famous passage in the Bible that seems eerily reminiscent of the Taliban's view of women. 1 Corinthians 14:34-36 is an explicit command forbidding women to speak. So as you see, whatever influences exist in Islam on women, probably didn't originate in Islam.
A History of Sex in the Middle East
Most psychologists would probably view the ill treatment of women under Islam as a gross overcompensation for deep seated insecurity in Muslim men. The views of young boys under Islam about their female counterparts is a testament to how deeply entrenched these views are. Young boys under Islam often view their women as little more than exploitable animals.
Another view is that it is a cultural remnant of ancient Middle Eastern society where women were traditionally treated as property, which predicated the religious view that fornication is a sin — a view shared by not only Islam, but Judaism and Christianity as well. If we examine the ancient societies of Arabia before Islam, we would see that women weren't being treated that differently. The religion has done little more than accentuate a long held cultural principle that a woman is explicitly a man's property, as even the prophet Muhammad had demonstrated.
The Christian Jesus has no official record of having a wife. By contrast, the prophet Muhammad had many wives, one of which was estimated to have been 9 years old when her marriage to him was consummated. That is tantamount to statutory rape (and even child abuse) in every developed western state. Even in Hindu countries where child marriage is still practiced, it is illegal by the ruling government and has largely been abandoned for the version in the west.
Defenders of both cases regarding the keeping of many wives (or really young wives) will try to argue against the cultural and historical argument for the prevalence of this practice by saying that it was largely done out of an act of necessity, where survival played an important role. The argument is that Muhammad took many of those wives because their husbands had perished in battle or out of acts of kindness due to their resulting impoverished state of being.
Even if one were to make such an argument, Muhammad's marriage to a 9 year old girl (some have argued that she was as old as 15) is still indefensible. He could have adopted the 9 year old and given alms (as is required by Islam) to the women who lost their husbands in battle. However, the prophet had children by all these women. That means he had sex with all these women. That means any defense of polygamy by way of survival is a vacuous one at best.
Like every other middle eastern culture, having enough women to wet one man's loins is as pervasive as sand in the Sahara. While the practice is probably rooted in biology (since male chromosomes are less probable and males tend to be more sexually virile) it is not unique the Qur'an. It is in the Bible as well. As such, Islam's view of women is not altogether inexplicable.
A Matter of Maturity
Then again, Hinduism is much older than Islam, older than even Judeo-Christianity. It logically follows then that Hinduism has had much more time to mature and evolve with the cognitive evolution of man. As I have stated before, that is likely why Islamic tenets such as Sharia law seem so barbaric and primitive by comparison, with decreasing viability in a modern world.
The inflexible qualities of Sharia law meticulously define every aspect of Muslim life. This largely extends to everything from diet to government. Sharia law is so all encompassing, all Muslim states tend to adopt every precept in it as the law of the land, (even in this 21st century) and that is largely why there is no such thing as freedom under Allah — at least, not in the east.
It makes sense then, that Islamic Governance is no different.
Islam's Culture of Authoritarian Governance
|Muhammad's reigning doppelgangers (shown from left to right): Bashir Al Assad of Syria, Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa of Bahrain and Ali Abdulla Saleh of Yemen. These educated Arabs rule their people with an iron fist.|
Pick an Islamic state at random and examine its existing governance structure. You will find that virtually every single one of them (with the exception of maybe Pakistan) is some form of authoritarian regime. That is the way it has been since the time of the prophet Muhammad. Since Islamic law fashions itself after Muhammad's life, it is no wonder modern Muslims have rarely tried democracy. Apparently, the freedom to think for yourself is not well recommended.
Mohammad's newly established political regime in Medina was ruled by him and only him. There was no democratic election. But try to understand this in context. When Islam first arose, it was under severe persecution by the Meccan tribes. The tribes of Mecca didn't want to give up their many gods (and thereby alter their ways of life) and the early Muslims didn't want to suffer for their beliefs. Survival required fierce loyalty and a strong, singular vision.
A Brief History
As these were times of great conflict between many warring tribes, unifying Arabia under one system of belief required an authoritative, autocratic leader. The early Muslims didn't have time to form a congress, with representatives from their many states, going on the campaign trail to win the votes of hapless, camel hoarding nomads who had hoped for a better future.
Thriving in the harsh deserts of Northern Africa through the many mountainous regions of southeast Asia required the same kind of finesse. The harsh environments made resources scarce and life even scarcer. This meant that as tribes of people evolved in these regions, they had to compete for scarce resources. This created a culture of warfare that thrives to this day.
Until these intrepid souls found oil beneath their land, (having once been the lush prehistoric plains of the Mesozoic era), they had to fight to survive with tooth and nail — almost literally. Everything that defined their existence was essential to it. There was no fluff. There was no room for ideological expansion. These were humans living at the edge of their very survival.
The Shared Vision
But Mohammad, seeing the discordant mess that was Arabia, had a vision. That he claims god revealed it to him is irrelevant. If there was no Mohammad, another human being would have had the same evolution of thought. War between a vast number of tribal factions is not quite evolutionarily sustainable. Sustained conflict has a way of eradicating a species permanently.
Emperor Qin had that realization and unified China (albeit, in his madness). The Tzars had that realization and unified Russia (in their megalomania). King Henry VIII had the same thought and unified England (in his lust). The founding fathers had the same realization and created the United States of America (in a bid to lay the foundation to conquer the world). So I doubt god was involved in Mohammad's vision. I just think he was that smart. But alas, I digress.
More importantly, when one man comes around and tells everybody that they could live a better life if they simply changed their ideology (thereby eliminating the need for inter tribal war), you best believe that will incite a new kind of war. It did in China. It did in Russia. It did in England and you are quite familiar with what it did in America. Now this was Arabia's turn.
Fight or Flight
Now they were not fighting for water, camels, women or ground produce. They were fighting to keep (or permanently change) that way of life. Muhammad's vision was profound in that region (there was only one god) and would threaten the status quo (different tribes living together peacefully) This is what fueled the wars between early Islam and the rest of Arabia.
They were constantly in fight or flight mode. The threat of annihilation was always at their door step. They needed a warlord, not a politician. Mohammad, inextricably tied to his fate, became the first Muslim warlord. He led his people to victory and united all of the warring tribes of Arabia under one theocratic dictatorship. Such is the power of ideology. Say what you will about him, but this makes Mohammad one of the greatest historical leaders of all time.
Then again, the same can be said of Hitler.
The dozens of Muslim warlords that lived and died in the centuries that followed were all rubber stamped historical doppelgangers of Muhammad. But all other cultures went through exactly the same phase. Europeans and Africans had Kings. The Slavs had Tzars. The Asians had Emperors. The Native Americans had Chiefs. The Arabs had Warlords. This isn't new.
Since Mohammad unified Arabia under Islam, this model of Theocratic Dictatorship has been repeated ad nauseum throughout Arabian history, largely because it really works. If you take a very close look at many Muslim societies before the internet age, they were a culture that thrived on being told what to do and what to think. Islam took away their individuality. In becoming surrendered to god, they have also blindly surrendered their will and individuality.
This is why before the Arab Spring kicked off in early 2011, there is was no democracy in any Muslim state. The last existing Jewish state is the only Middle Eastern territory to adopt democracy (and is consequently, a large part of why the United States befriends only this nation — well, them and Jordan.) Democracy has long been considered ludicrous in Arabia.
Iran is ruled by an Ayatollah. It's presidential elections are a sham. Most of the OPEC countries are ruled by Sheiks, Emirs, Caliphs or some other form of absolute monarchy that only pass power from father to son. Others are ruled by dictators, most of whom rose to power through military coups. That's exactly why we can't even consider an Islamic republic to be democratic.
|Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: head of the most powerful Islamic Republic of them all — Iran. His "election" to power is more of a sham as he was explicitly appointed by the Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran's supreme ruler.|
Why exactly can't we consider an Islamic Republic to be democratic? Because such a republic is intrinsically based on Islamic Law, which incorporates Sharia law, which has no provisions for a separation of religion and state. Sharia law is based on the life of Mohammad, wherein power was only handed down through direct succession. As to how that succession is done is the source of the great schism in Islam, between Sunni and Shia Muslims. This has been a source of violent contention between Sunni and Shia Muslims since Mohammad's death, to this day.
However, that is at this point irrelevant.
Either way, even where Islamic States have incorporated some form of consultation with the people, it doesn't involve democratic elections which allow for a state decided by the people. At this point, I should make the distinction between Islamic States (or Republics) and Islamic majorities. Indonesia has an Islamic majority, but it is not an Islamic State (like Saudi Arabia).
See the difference? Good. Moving on:
Islamic Republics are intrinsically authoritarian. As far as governance is concerned, that is the bread and butter (or should I say halal and rice?) of Islamic doctrine. Here, take a look at the Economist Intelligence Unit's 2010 Democracy Index. Notice the number of Islamic States that fall under "Authoritarian Regime". According to Islamic law, democracy is simply not an option.
Muhammad had drafted a constitution that endorsed plurality among the various religious and tribal groups living in Medina. It was a binding agreement between the Muslims, the Ansar, the Mujahedin, Jews, Christians and Pagans living in this region. Under Muhammad, it didn't matter if you were Jewish, Christian or a non believer. You were allowed to live peacefully with the Muslims. As such, the Arabic word "Umma" was coined to refer to this diverse community.
However, after Muhammad died, this constitution was dismantled by caliphs that succeeded him, using the later Hadith as a guide for what is now Sharia law, ultimately eliminating any tolerance whatsoever for competing views. Therefore, the word "Umma" which was originally defined as a community of all peoples, became redefined to mean only that of Muslim people.
This is why it is commonly reported that Christians and atheists are severely persecuted in countries with an Islamic majority. The Al Shabab execute those who convert from Islam to Christianity in Somalia. Coptic Christians are still constantly being persecuted in Egypt. In Pakistan, blasphemy laws (converting from Islam) still apply and Indonesian non believers have taken to the internet to voice their discontent with their pseudo Islamic governance.
So now you know why secular Tunisians are worried.
Islamic Oppression in South East Asia
Even if there is no Islamic state, having a substantial Muslim population in your country seems to be bad for your health. Just ask the intrepid people of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Following Iran's Islamic revolution that transformed the country from a secular to an Islamic state, there are many other militant Islamic groups in other countries whose sole purpose is to transform their country into an Islamic state. Indonesia is particularly at risk in this regard.
By now you are familiar with the gross atrocities of Islamist group Jemaah Islamiyah after their horrific bombing of a Bali nightclub in 2002. Groups like Jemaah Islamiyah exist all over the Islamic world. They only exist in states with an Islamic majority that do not have an Islamic government. Their sole purpose is to transform their secular states into an Islamic Caliphate.
You remember what a Caliphate is, right? It's an authoritarian Islamist government, complete with Sharia law, brutal oppression of women, public executions for trivial crimes, etc. Jemaah Islamiyah wants to do in South East Asia what was accomplished in Iran in 1979. If Indonesia is now a popular tourist destination for you and yours, then imagine that idyllic tourist magnet being transformed into the dictatorship that is now Iran, complete with a puppet president.
Think of Bahrain on steroids.
This is why Americans were so on the edge about any Islamic establishment cropping up in their country. The perpetuation of Islam throughout the world is slowly becoming a rallying cry throughout known terrorist states to transform the world into one all encompassing Islamic world government. They probably won't succeed (the Emirates' oil reserves will be exhausted before 2020), but it is still something to worry about, as Islam doesn't tolerate individuality.
This is why the young people of Indonesia are rallying together to fight the Islamist uprising in their country. This is why Atheism is now outpacing the growth of even Islam in this part of the world. Indonesian Atheists are banding together, struggling against what is an oppressive system of government that while it supports freedom of religion, still explicitly requires religious affiliation. It's a clever way of saying "you are free to be religious, but Islam is the best option".
States with a Muslim majority tend to have a history of militant groups tipping the balance through force into an Islamic government. That is why Indonesia is the country to watch. It is currently the only non Islamic state with Muslims in the vast majority of its population. The freedom of its people may rest in the hands of its free thinkers and not its religious zealots. In fact, it's these free thinkers that are changing the Arab world right before our eyes. Enter the:
|All across Arabia, the people are rising up against their authoritarian government demanding change.|
Finally, now that the world is mostly well connected (thank you internet), the Arabs are more educated (thank you, Universities of America) they now see what the rest of the world has evolved into (thank you, white man) and have grown desirous of having the same thing in their states. But Mohammad's warlord descendants wouldn't budge. They held on to power.
All of a sudden, a new wake of violence erupted in Arabia. They want democracy. They want freedom of speech. They want the liberation of women. They want equal rights. They want freedom from religion. This is why there is now such a wake of unrest across the Arab world in which its people are rising up, nation by nation against their own theocratic governments.
While the west (that is, the United States, France and Britain) would never try to topple these authoritarian regimes themselves, they would welcome the opportunity to walk into these countries and save their people from the brutal iron fist of their dictators should their cry for freedom be bludgeoned with an iron fist. The willingness of militant Muslims to indiscriminately die for a cause has finally found good use. Just ask the recently deposed dictators of Arabia:
Saddam Hussein? Executed. Ben Ali? Exiled. Mubarak? On trial. Gaddafi? Killed. Who's next? Al Assad of Syria? Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain? Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen? Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria? Not even Jordan's King Abdullah II is immune from the pressure. Every autocratic leader across North Africa and the Arabian peninsula have reason to be worried:
|Arab Spring Victims (from left to right): Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. 3 down and 5 to go. The Arab Spring rages on, overturning Islamic rule.|
According to Islamic Law, freedom and democracy are punishable vices. Therefore after 1400 years of doing the same thing, it should come as no surprise that the Arabs have had enough. Irrespective of religion, people are still ultimately people. As banal as that expression is, it is a testament to why the west is no longer being ruled by autocratic Christian Kings and Queens.
The Arab Spring (as it has been dubbed) is perhaps beginning of the end of Islam as it was in its inception. The days are disappearing when a theocratic government told the people what to do and what to think. That's why the Catholic church is now merely a shadow of its former glory and why few still patronize Hindu priests. Finally, it is now Islam's turn to face the music.
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