Daveed Gartenstein-Ross in this Commentary piece emphasizes that even those ex-Muslims who live in the West have very real security concerns. He also points out that some Muslims residing in the West are all too willing to use the West's liberal institutions to advocate the barbaric Sharia punishment of death for apostates. He discusses in particular Syed Mumtaz Ali, the architect of Canada's Sharia tribunal, and law professor Ali Khan, both of whom have advocated extending Islamic apostasy laws to the West -- to yawns from Western authorities.
In the Islamic world, there is a broad consensus, both popular and scholarly, that apostates deserve to be killed. A rich theological and intellectual tradition, stretching as far back as Muhammad and his companions, supports this position. Though official proceedings against those who reject Islam are fairly rare—in part, no doubt, because most keep their conversion a closely held secret—apostasy is punishable by death in Afghanistan, Comoros, Iran, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen.1 It is also illegal in Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, the Maldives, Oman, and Qatar.
The greatest threat to apostates in the Muslim world derives not from the state, however, but from private individuals who take punishment into their own hands. In Bangladesh, for example, a native-born Muslim-turned-Christian evangelist was stabbed to death in the spring of 2003 while returning home from a film version of the Gospel of Luke. As another Bangladeshi apostate told the U.S. Newswire, “If a Muslim converts to Christianity, now he cannot live in this country. It is not safe. The fundamentalism is increasing more and more.”
Because of this ideological environment, every apostate in the Muslim world must live in constant fear of death. And unfortunately, as harsh recent experience has taught us, Islamist ideology is hardly confined to the Muslim world alone. Advocates of jihad, to say nothing of actual terrorists, can be found in every corner of the West. More disturbing, because of what it says about our own ideological self-defenses, is the respectability that has been granted to spokesmen for Islamic fundamentalism who have learned to promote their agenda in our own idiom, even as they argue that mere conversion out of Islam should be considered a crime.
A prime example in this connection is Syed Mumtaz Ali, the president of the Canadian Society of Muslims. The Indian-born Mumtaz Ali was the first South Asian lawyer in Ontario when he set up practice more than 40 years ago, and has been the intellectual force behind the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice, a group dedicated to applying shari’a (Islamic law) to certain civil disputes in the province. Ontario’s Arbitration Act, passed in 1991, paved the way for this campaign—and for Mumtaz Ali’s emergence as a respected public figure—by granting religious authorities the power to arbitrate in family and property matters so long as the parties involved gave their consent (and with the proviso that the decisions can be appealed to Canadian courts).
Instituting even so restricted a version of shari’a has been controversial in Canada, especially among feminists rightly worried about its effects on Muslim women. But for Mumtaz Ali, this first, modest concession to the claims of Islam has been just the beginning. As he declared in defending the shari’a tribunal, “freedom of religion as guaranteed under Canada’s constitution means not only freedom to practice and propagate religion but also to be able to be governed by one’s religious laws in all aspects of one’s life—spiritual as well as temporal.”
What Mumtaz Ali meant by this portentous remark is made clear in an astonishing essay under his name that can be found on the website of the Canadian Society of Muslims.2 Not only does he affirm there the traditional proposition that apostates must “choose between Islam and the sword,” but he argues that, if Canada is to be true to its own Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it must allow the country’s Muslim community to punish those of its members who renounce or traduce their faith.
[W]hat such a large segment of the Canadian minority believes as a precept of their faith/religion ought to be fully recognized if the Charter’s provision respecting freedom of religion are [sic] to have any real meaning. . . . Failing [to incorporate Islamic law concerning apostasy and blasphemy into the laws of Canada] will be a flagrant breach of equality rights. . . . Failing to interpret the guaranteed rights and freedoms of Muslims in accordance with the true spirit of multiculturalism results in the effective denial of this fundamental philosophy of the Canadian constitution. This is a tragic departure from that cherished “tolerance” (the real tolerance) which is the distinguishing quality of a cultured people.
Mumtaz Ali allows that recognizing Islamic law in this context “does not necessarily entail any obligation to enforce the Islamic punishment for blasphemy/apostasy within the Canadian jurisdiction” (emphasis added). Apostates, that is, will not have to be stoned or beheaded. But plainly some punishment by the community itself is in order, and Canada, as Mumtaz Ali would have it, has no right to stand in the way.
A still more original apologist for the harsh treatment of apostates who reside in the West is Ali Khan, a law professor at Washburn University in Kansas. In a recent issue of the Cumberland Law Review, Khan suggested that Islam can be seen as a form of intellectual property, and Muslims as “trustees” who have vowed to protect their faith’s “knowledge-based assets.”
These assertions, on their face, seem innocuous enough, if a bit absurd. But Khan’s argument quickly takes an ominous turn. If Islam is understood as intellectual property, he contends, the faith should enjoy what he calls “the right to integrity”—that is, its trustees should be able to safeguard “the protected knowledge from innovations, repudiation, internal disrespect, and external assaults.” Thus, Khan continues, apostasy should be punished because it is aimed at dishonoring the protected knowledge of Islam. The murtad (apostate) is akin to a corporate insider who discloses the secrets he has undertaken to protect; he is akin to a state official who turns traitor and joins the ranks of the enemy; he is akin to a custodian who destroys the very monument he was safeguarding on behalf of the community. All legal systems punish insiders who breach their trusts; Islam punishes murtaddun [apostasy] too, sometimes severely.
Khan does not specify what punishment should be meted out to those Muslims in the West who compromise the “intellectual property” of Islam, and perhaps he has something in mind for them that falls short of capital punishment. After all, as he surely knows, American law generally does not countenance the execution of corporate spies and inside traders. The key point, however, is not the outlandish substance of Khan’s argument. Rather, it is the fact that he was able to use an American law review as a soapbox from which to advocate the licensed punishment of apostates—and that his grossly illiberal views were never rebutted in its pages.
Read it all. This piece should be required reading for every elected official in North America and Europe.