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Wednesday, August 04, 2004

What's wrong with this picture, taken in Canada?

Clifford Krauss in the NY Times:
"When the Koran Speaks, will Canadian Law Bend? "

TORONTO, Aug. 3 - If the kimono or chicken curry eventually join the maple leaf, the hockey stick and the beaver as Canadian icons, then so be it. Thus goes the thinking of multiculturalism, the official doctrine of the government for nearly 50 years, and by now a value ingrained on the broader society.

The minaret has been welcome, too, in this otherwise secular society where fewer and fewer people go to church but more than a hundred mosques have cropped up in recent years.

But even here, tolerance has its limits, and the question of where to draw the line can be a tricky one, especially when an increasing number of immigrants come from societies with vastly different values.

A group called the Canadian Society of Muslims is testing those boundaries by establishing the Islamic Institute of Civil Justice to apply the legal code called Shariah, based on the Koran, to settle disputes over property, inheritance, marriage and divorce.

The prospect of Shariah's operating openly here has already stirred a powerful controversy centering on an uncomfortable issue for any liberal society with an expanding Muslim population that now numbers 600,000: Can a predominately Judeo-Christian society trust Islamic religious rules to protect the rights of all individuals?

The Muslim group is acting under an Ontario provincial law passed in 1991 that gave religious authorities the power to arbitrate civil matters as long as the people seeking arbitration do so voluntarily and are free to appeal those decisions in Canadian courts.

Under the law, Jews and Christians have settled a relatively narrow number of issues without going through the courts. Rabbis have granted religious divorces, decided on matters relating to kosher dietary laws and arbitrated business disputes. Catholic couples have gone to priests to annul marriages, while churches of various dominations have settled disputes related to inappropriate behavior of ministers and monetary disagreements within and between parishes.

But the Islamic Institute wants imams and other arbitrators to decide a broader range of issues.

Continue . . .

Should be an interesting situation to watch. ". . . the Ontario government has appointed Marion Boyd, a feminist activist and former provincial cabinet member to review the 1991 arbitration law." So far, she's "struggling" with it:

"How do we honor two commitments, to multiculturalism and equity to the rule of law, that often seem to come into conflict?" asked Ms. Boyd in an interview.

Hmmmm, whatever shall we do? Allow the stoning of allegedly adulterous women? Allow the hand of a thief to be cut off? What about the heads of infidels?