He wants to be judged by the Qur’an because according to the Qur’an, what he did in plotting the mass murder of Infidels was justified. This demand is particularly striking in light of the claims of Muslim spokesmen in the U.S. and Canada, that Islam and the Qur’an teach peace and that only “Islamophobes” who misunderstand Islam think otherwise. Is Chiheb Esseghaier a misunderstander of Islam? Did he somehow miss all the passages of the Qur’an that David Cameron and Boris Johnson found readily enough — you know, the ones that prove that there is no Islamic justification for murdering Infidels? If so, how is it that no one in the Canadian Muslim community ever noticed or corrected his misunderstanding? The questions multiply, and the official government-endorsed explanations of Islam and the terror threat fail utterly to answer them. “Terror train plot: Chiheb Esseghaier’s Qur’an demand reveals law/religion collision,” by Wendy Gillis for the Toronto Star, June 8 (thanks to all who sent this in):
He sat silently at first, the camera beaming his image “” thick dark beard, wire-rim glasses, an orange prison jumper “” from a tiny jailhouse room into a cramped Old City Hall court.
But Chiheb Esseghaier, accused of being part of a terrorist plot, is not one to keep quiet in court. As the Crown attorney and Justice of the Peace discussed his failed attempts to find a lawyer last week, Esseghaier’s voice rose above the rest, making clear he would not accept just anyone.
“I cannot take a lawyer who is not able to fulfill my need,” he said.
Co-accused in an alleged plot to derail a Toronto-bound passenger train, the 30-year-old Tunisian national has proclaimed his peculiar “need” at numerous court appearances since his April 22 arrest. Because the Criminal Code is not a “holy book,” he says, he requires a lawyer who will help him be judged by the Qur’an, not “a book written by humans.”
He’s had difficulty finding one. A Legal Aid lawyer visited Esseghaier in jail recently, but would not take him on because of his request. Without representation, Esseghaier, who returns to court later this month, may eventually have to mount his own defence “” and he”ll have a hard time there, too, given that accused criminals can’t just opt out of the law.
“Certainly a person can assert that they are guided by the Qur’an and not the Criminal Code, but that position isn’t tenable in Canadian law,” said Daniel Brown, a Toronto criminal defence lawyer. Put another way by other legal experts consulted by the Star: “It’s crazy.”
So extreme as to be absurd, Esseghaier’s demand nonetheless puts into stark relief the tension that can exist between religion and the law, one that shows itself with increasing frequency in multicultural societies like Canada.
In the latest case examining religious accommodation in Canadian courts, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in December that Muslim women could in some instances be allowed to wear a niqab when testifying, even though that could conflict with another person’s right to a fair trial.
Generally, it is requests for special accommodation within the legal system that are given consideration by lawmakers. But extreme demands like Esseghaier’s occasionally have their day in court.
In the 1980s, Alberta pastor Thomas Jones was homeschooling several children but had refused to apply for permission from the province to pull children from the public system. Jones said appealing to secular authorities was against his beliefs, and claimed he was answerable only to God when making decisions about his children.
The case went to the Supreme Court of Canada, where the majority ruled that Jones had to apply for permission from the province, deciding his religious freedom was either not being infringed upon, or that it was “trivial” interference.
Cases like that of Jones and Esseghaier typically fail because the claim being made is just too large or fundamental, said Richard Moon, a University of Windsor professor who studies law and freedom of religion.
“One can’t accommodate something that basically says Canadian law is simply not applicable,” he said.
David Butt, the lawyer for the Muslim woman in the niqab case, is not aware of a single case in Canadian law where the Qur’an was ever referred to by a judge.
Canadian laws come from our constitution, legislatures, and common law “” the latter being the accumulated wisdom of small decisions made by judges. Those judges always have to ask themselves if the decision they are making is so big as to be undemocratic “” as in, better left to elected officials to decide.
“If a judge making a law were to reach out to a particular religious document “¦ and say: “˜I”m pronouncing this to be the governing legal principle,” that would be perceived as a radical departure from this tradition of judges only making little incremental changes,” Butt said.
Any lawyer that represents Esseghaier does have a duty to listen to his desires. According to U.S. attorney Kimberley Motley, a lawyer who works primarily in Afghanistan, that would include at least attempting to bring the Qur’an into the defence.
Motley, one of a handful of lawyers who regularly uses the Qur’an in court defences, said in this case she would use the religious text in addition to Canada’s Criminal Code, as a supplementary document that the judge might consider.
“That at least would put it out there, because that’s what your client wants,” she said….
To Justin Trottier, of the Canadian Secular Alliance, a non-profit advocating for the separation of church and state, the idea of the Qur’an being given weight in someone’s defence is “revolting.”
He points out it has been less than a decade since Ontario was having a heated dispute over the use of Shariah law in private arbitration. That debate ended with the rejection of Shariah law and prohibition of religion-based arbitration.
“There are large communities, obviously, out there who think that religious law should have some role to play, if not a predominant role to play, in our secular societies,” Trottier said….
No kidding, really?