(Mar. 2) - - Pakistan recently gave in to the pressure of Islamist militants. Indeed to buy off peace, Pakistani authorities allowed the imposition of Sharia (Islamic law) in the Swat valley.
How long the cease-fire Swill last is anyone's guess. But Pakistan has allowed a precedent that could extend to other provinces; in fact the Swat valley is only about 100 miles away from Islamabad, the capital.
But Sharia is not just making inroads in Pakistan but actually creeping in the West - particularly in Europe.
One area especially touched by this phenomenon is the judicial system in Europe. Two recent cases in Italy and France are particularly troublesome. First, in Italy, three members of a Brescia-based Maghrebi family (father, mother and eldest son) were accused of beating up and sequestering their daughter/sister Fatima because she wanted to live a "Western" life.
In the first trial, the three were sentenced for sequestration and bad treatment. The court acknowledged that the teenager was "brutally beaten up" for having "dated" a non-Muslim and in general for "living a life not conforming with the culture" of her family. But on appeal, the family was acquitted because the court deemed that the young woman was beaten up for "her own good." The Bologna public prosecutor's office then disputed the acquittal of the three accused parties, but the Italian Supreme Court of Cassation dismissed it and ruled in favor of the charged parties.
Interestingly two Italian political leaders on the opposite side of the political spectrum, Isabella Bertolini, vice president of the MPs of the right-wing party Forza Italia, and Barbara Pollastrini, a post-communist former minister agreed to condemn the Supreme Court decision: "This verdict writes one of the darkest pages of history of the law in our country."
Isabella Bertolini was upset that the court "allied itself with radical Islam" and Barbara Pollastrini is pushing for parliament to pass as soon as possible a law condemning violence against women: "Now more than ever, it is urgent to defend the rights of a large number of immigrant women victims of an intolerable patriarchal culture."
Muslim women were quick to denounce the supreme court's decision. Among them, Souad Sbai, president of the Organization of Moroccan Women in Italy.
She said, "It is a shame, this verdict is worthy of an Arab country where the Sharia would be in vigor. In the name of multiculturalism and respect of traditions, the judges apply two kinds of rules: one for the Italians and one for the immigrants. A Catholic father that would have acted this way would have been severely sentenced."
According to her organization, recently at least nine Muslim women have been killed in Italy by one of their close relatives. The number of young girls forced to wear the hijab "as early as eight or 12" is on the rise as is the number of female teenagers fleeing home and "lots of them are looking to flee to France."
But France might not be the panacea either. Indeed in one very publicized case, last June, a French judge ruled in favor of a Muslim man who wanted the annulment of his marriage because his wife turned out not to be a virgin. What this decision amounted to was the endorsement of the repudiation concept.
This decision triggered a huge outcry from politicians, and various organizations. In November, a French court of appeal overturned the decision. Interestingly, a large majority of French Muslims, about 80 percent are very secular and totally reject any kind of Sharia law being implemented in the homeland of human rights.
But the United Kingdom is a different story, indeed there close to 40 percent of young Muslims are in favor of Sharia law being implemented in Britain. The idea seems to be also making headway among non-Muslims. So, last year, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, gave his support for the courts in Britain, saying that the legal recognition of them "seems unavoidable." He added, the United Kingdom has to "face up to the fact" that some of its citizens do not relate to the British legal system.
Williams argued that adopting parts of Islamic Sharia law would help maintain social cohesion. For example, Muslims could choose to have marital disputes or financial matters dealt within a Sharia court.
But contrary to what Williams advanced, Sadiq Khan, a British Muslim MP said that Sharia courts would discourage Muslims from developing links with other cultural and ethnic groups. He feared also that women could be "abused" by Sharia courts, which may give unequal bargaining power to the sexes.
In Switzerland, echoing Williams, Christian Giordano, an anthropology professor at the Fribourg university wrote that a special jurisdiction for Muslims could be envisioned in Switzerland. He added that including elements from Islamic law could allow to better manage the multiculturalism issue. Other occurrences of Sharia law taking precedence over the law of the country have been reported: For example, in Denmark, some imams have allegedly sentenced delinquent Muslims, hence bypassing Denmark's judicial system.
Islamists, much to the detriment of the majority of Muslims in Europe seem to be making headway in Europe in pushing Sharia law into the judicial system.
Olivier Guitta is a foreign affairs and counterterrorism consultant. You can read his latest work at www.thecroissant.com/about.html