Is the Tide Beginning to Turn?

Seyran Ates has very interesting things to say.

Why are a few particularly estimable, highly intelligent women and men in very prominent positions, blind in one eye when it comes to the protection of minorities? Why are they blind in that eye with which they have otherwise promoted equal rights for the sexes, and still do? The so-called minority protection with respect to Islam and religious freedom can only be had at the cost of the equal rights of women, and ultimately only serves to perpetuate and reinforce obsolete, archaic, patriarchal structures. The situation of Muslim girls and women in Germany has been played down to an extreme…I want to know, and many thousands of Muslim girls and women have a right to know, why understanding and infinite tolerance is practised with particular cultural traditions that are clearly oppressive of women. Human rights are universal and unconditional. And that goes most certainly for religious objectives.

This blind eye and playing down may finally be beginning to change, because women like Seyran Ates and Fadela Amara are speaking up and getting published in large-circulation newspapers and magazines. As are men like Johann Hari and Kenan Malik – in fact the list of women and men who are doing this is getting quite long. But there’s a lot of accumulated blindness to get rid of, so the list needs to keep getting longer and longer.

Fadela Amara, who founded ‘Ni Putes ni Soumises’:

Amara emphasises that this is the difference between those who talk about cultural relativism and her organisation, which is aimed at achieving universal human rights. “An exaggerated tolerance of supposed cultural differences which results in the maintenance of archaic traditions – that’s just not acceptable.”

Like the archaic traditions ‘Shinaz’ found herself up against:

For months, a Muslim woman living in Toronto tried to wring a divorce out of her local imam. Under sharia law, her husband had to consent to the divorce – even though he had abandoned the family four years earlier and married another woman in a South Asian country where polygamy is legal. The imam told her that her spouse wanted $100,000 and all her gold jewellery, she said, asking that her identity not be disclosed because she fears retribution from her ex-husband, the imam and her community…”The imam told me, ‘there are some sharia conditions you must follow, we must come to a settlement within sharia.’ I agreed because I was desperate,” said the woman, 29, who uses the pseudonym Shinaz.

There’s room for some optimism on the sharia in Ontario front though. The Attorney General released a statement on the day of the international protests against Sharia in Ontario – in fact, ninety minutes after the Toronto demonstration ended.

The McGuinty government is firmly and completely committed to equality principles and women’s rights as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms…We have heard loud and clear from those who are seeking greater protections for women. We must constantly move forward to eradicate discrimination, protect the vulnerable, and promote equality. As the Premier re-iterated this week, we will ensure that women’s rights are fully protected. We are guided by the values and the rights enshrined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We will ensure that the law of the land in Ontario is not compromised, that there will be no binding family arbitration in Ontario that uses a set of rules or laws that discriminate against women.

Let’s hope he means it. Of course, fans of the idea of sharia courts insist that the ‘set of rules or laws’ in question doesn’t discriminate against women, that the rules are different for the two sexes but not discriminatory, etc etc etc – but let’s hope the AG is not playing that game. That looks on the face of it like a pretty strong (and clear) statement – the kind it would be hard to reconcile with sharia courts in the face of strong protests, without paying a heavy political price.

Homa Arjomand released a statement on the Attorney General’s statement, of which she sent me a copy.

TORONTO – “The government is definitely heading in the right direction”, said Ms. Homa Arjomand, Coordinator of the International Campaign Against Sharia Court in Canada, “I hope this statement by the Attorney General means he will soon bring an end to faith-based courts in Ontario”. Yesterday at noon, Ms. Arjomand led over 400 protesters to Queen’s Park to demand the liberal government stop allowing family legal matters such as divorce and child custody, to be settled in private courts based on religious laws. At 4:30 pm, ninety minutes following the demonstration, the Attorney General of Ontario issued the…statement…”I agree with the Attorney General, we do need more protections for women and to eliminate discrimination, said Ms. Arjomand, … we can best achieve this through the Family Law Act of Ontario. The Canadian Charter can guide us as it clearly states ‘Every individual …has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination’. All we ask is to be treated equally, the same as other Canadians.” added Ms. Arjomand.

It will be nice to be able to declare one victory. I’m looking forward to it, and to congratulating Homa.

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