A Time for Change.

The Times on Friday 30th May carried an editorial entitled “Cruel and Archaic” in which the editor responded to the fact that on Monday Meriam Yehya Ibrahim gave birth to a baby girl in Khartoum. The editorial explained that this birth was unusual in that it took place while the mother was in chains in a prison in Khartoum. Worse, the mother, a twenty seven year old woman, was recently condemned by a Sudanese court to receive one hundred lashes for adultery and will then be hanged for apostasy.

The editorial cites Article 18 of the Declaration of Human Rights, signed in Paris in 1948, that grants all citizens the right to choose their religion and to even change their religious beliefs if that is what they wish to do. However, Sudan appears to view the concept of Law differently to that espoused by the international community and yet that same international community appears to resist the right to intervene except for Amnesty International that is calling for sanctions to be imposed against Sudan.

Yet in truth, Sudan is not the only Muslim state that appears to be usurping the freedom of women and to suppress the practice of religious freedom. Only this week a young pregnant woman was stoned to death in front of the High Court in Lahore, Pakistan. The perpetrators were members of her own family who had exercised their right to kill her, because they did not approve of her marriage. The mere mention of an “honour killing” evokes a strong sense of antipathy within me and it is difficult to comprehend that such practices are continuing in the Twenty First Century and we are by and large silent for fear of being perceived of as being racist.

Recent trials in the United Kingdom have highlighted the fact that “honour killings” have occurred in Muslim communities in England and, perhaps even worse, Sharia Law has been requested as a means of Muslims having access to their own religious law inside the United Kingdom. I hope that this request is never met, as indeed a request for a trial based upon English Law would hardly be granted in Saudi Arabia or in the Sudan.

Before anybody launches forth with accusations that my opinions are racist, let me state at the outset that such is not the case. My views are based upon the fact that many countries around the world have tried hard to implement the Declaration of Human Rights. Those that have done so have, by and large, provided a democratic framework in which all citizens are free and if they have transgressed the Law then they will be tried in open court, with full representation and with the possibility of receiving an impartial verdict. What we are witnessing in a significant number of countries around the world, which would include many Muslim countries, is not at all in harmony with the Declaration of Human Rights. Indeed, in such countries as Pakistan, Sudan and Afghanistan, verdicts appear to be often nothing more than agreements between people who hold subjective points of view and are often closely related to the victim and without a process of appeal that militate against the possibility of imprudent verdicts being enacted.
My knowledge of the Holy Koran is not profound enough to stand examination, but my understanding is that Islam is the religion of peace. Yet the cruel and archaic practices that we are witnessing by some Muslims (which would include “honour killings”, acid attacks on women, girls kidnapped from school and forced marriages) tends to portray Islam in a rather different light; perhaps one that many modern Muslims are equally eager to see changed.

I recall the impact that Malala Yousafzai had when she stood up to the terrorism of the Taliban and her bravery in denouncing their outmoded beliefs. Yet what has changed since she addressed the United Nations? Not as much as may have been hoped for. The truth is that nothing will really change until such time as economic and political sanctions are imposed on countries that continue to offer jurisprudence that is largely based on medieval concepts of revenge and reprisal rather than on the principles enshrined in the Declaration of Human Rights.

Clearly imposing sanctions on states such as Brunei, Pakistan or on Saudi Arabia would be problematic, but is that not why the United Nations was created; so that countries that were disposed to operate in a manner that was not in harmony with the global community would be provided with a comprehensive framework to modify practices that indeed were cruel and archaic. Failure to do so would be to risk becoming subject to sanctions that would isolate them from the international community until such time as they renounced the past and sought to live in the contemporary world such as Bosnia has managed to do so successfully with its majority Muslim population.

I suppose it requires the international community to act even though it may well engender strident opposition in the first instance. But in my opinion it is better to face that possibility than to continue to deny women in many parts of the world the support that they so earnestly require if they are to live freely and at peace.

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