Seif al-Islam al-Qadaffi, the second son of Libya's late leader, Colonel Muammar al-Qadaffi, was captured in Southern Libya -- or so CNN International announced as breaking news at noon Eastern European Time on November 19.
In Libya's capital, Tripoli, the news was met with celebration. According to the live CNN news report, emphatic shouts of "Allahu akbar" ["Allah is greater"] were heard throughout the streets.
Seif al-Islam (whose name literally means "The Sword of Islam"), who played an active role in the Libyan government's bloody crackdown against the "Arab spring" protestors, could now be tried for his role in the bloody crackdown against the anti-Qadaffi protests that began last February.
Yet, the CNN news team covering the story made a meaningful error in their reporting: they claimed that Seif's "international human rights would be respected" – a claim based on a statement made by the Libyan General, Othaman Muglita's, who said, "Human rights in accordance to Shari'a law."
Shari'a law and international human rights are not the same.
One of the cornerstones of Western democracies is the separation of church (or religion) from state. Citizens are free to practice the region they choose, but are still accountable to the laws of the state. They are not held subjected to the laws or punishments of religious texts, such as the New Testament or the Jewish Tanach.
Shari'a law is a religious law, almost entirely based upon the Islamic Koranic scripture as well as the examples set forth by the Muslim Prophet Mohammad during his life in the 7th century CE.
Shari'a means "way" or "path." It is not merely a set of societal laws. Shari'a covers the way an individual should live his life, including prayers, ritual, charity, marriage, legal worth (a woman is officially worth half a man), inheritance, divorce, as well as crime – all understood to be in line with Islam, and therefore also to be in line with "human rights law."
In Europe, due to concerns the treatment of woman and human rights under Shari'a law, there has been much debate over the implications of including Islamic banks and Islamic family law into the civil society.
In northern regions of Nigeria that are governed by Shari'a law, for example, women convicted of adultery are stoned to death. In Saudi Arabia, public execution by beheading is common – forty-four public beheadings occurred in Saudi Arabia in 2010 alone. In one case, a Sudanese man was beheaded for being a "sorcerer;" he had attempted to predict the future on his television show; it cost him his life. In Iran, one punishment for thievery is amputation of the thief' hand – just some of the punishments required by Shari'a law—and considered perfectly acceptable as complying with human rights,
Western human rights organizations agree that nations that abide by Shari'a law are not in compliance with international standards of human rights. Amnesty International, for instance, called such punishments "cruel, inhuman and degrading, particularly flogging." According to the "Freedom Around the World Report," published by the American think tank, Freedom House, most of the Shari'a societies receive the lowest possible score: "not free."
A number of Islamic states have, in fact, openly rejected the International Declaration of Human Rights on the grounds that it is considered to be a secular interpretation of the "Judeo-Christian" tradition, which conflicts with Islamic law. As a result, these states created their own Islamic version of human rights: the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam. As the Human Rights in Islam charter concludes, 'All rights mentioned are subject to Shari'a law."
The Islamic Declaration has been criticized for its failure to uphold international standards of human rights. A member of the International Commission of Jurists, Adam Dieng, criticized the document on the grounds that the "declaration gravely threatens the inter-cultural consensus on which the international human rights instruments are based, and that it introduces intolerable discrimination against non-Muslims and women.' Dieng further said that the Declaration uses the cover of Shari'a law "to justify the legitimacy of practices, such corporal punishment, which attack the integrity and dignity of the human being."
Libyan interim Prime Minister Abdel Rahim has promised a fair trial for Seif Qadaffi. Given the international attention alone, it is likely that Seif will be treated in accordance with something resembling international human rights. But Westerners who hope for democracy in the Middle East must not be deluded by the differences between our so-called "universal values" and the values of Islamist regimes, whose world view is guided by an absolute interpretation of the Koran and the practices of the Prophet Mohammad, thought of as "the perfect man."
The CNN news team naively team made the error of failing to point out that it was the Islamist narrative that was being promulgated by General Mulgita – a leader of Qadaffi-free Libya.
A week after Seif's capture, November 29, it was reported that thousands of Libyan prisoners captured by the interim government have been denied their basic international rights -- and tortured.