For the Separation of Religion and State!
Socialists & Sharia Courts
In September 2005, the Liberal government of Ontario, Canadas most populous province, ended months of speculation by announcing that it would not extend the 1991 Arbitration Act (which gave Christian and Jewish clerics the right to make legally-binding rulings on civil disputes normally handled in family court) to include Islamic tribunals. Instead, the government decided to end all religious arbitration. The Liberals move came after public pressure was generated by a campaign that was spearheaded by supporters of the Worker-communist Party of Iran and heavily supported by bourgeois feminists and various other secular organizations.
While most of the left welcomed the decision as a reaffirmation of the democratic principle of the separation of religion and state, the International Socialists (ISan affiliate of Britains Socialist Workers Party) opposed it, presumably to ingratiate themselves with Canadas oppressed Muslim minority. In the months that followed, the IS held several public meetings on the topic in Toronto, where they proudly reported having sold their paper in front of a local mosque. IS coverage of the issue has pointed to the supposedly progressive elements of sharia (Islamic) law:
"All religions are contradictory. Why arent the opponents of the use of the arbitration act highlighting those aspects of Islamic law which say it is the mans responsibility to share in the cleaning and cooking, that gives women, along with men, the right to divorce, that mandates child-support from the estranged husband?"
IS members have had difficulty explaining why socialists should favor the integration of clerical and state authority. When pressed, they claim that opposing religious courts can foster Islamophobia:
"In France, the government banned Muslim girls from attending school if they wore the hijab, and widespread support for this law is similar to what we now see over Sharia. Abstract calls for secularism mask the undertones of racism and sexism that see Islam as uniquely reactionary, or Muslim women as uniquely passive victims in need of imposed liberation."
Marxists oppose the headscarf ban as a racist attack on the religious freedom of a persecuted minority (see "No to the Hijab Ban!", 1917 No. 27). But investing clerics with the authority of the state is not a matter of freedom of conscienceit is an assault on one of the key gains of bourgeois democracy. Those who are unable (or unwilling) to make this elementary distinction have no right to claim to be any sort of socialist.
Published: 1917 No.28 (December 2005)