Why Shariah Law Scares Tea Bag Republicans

shariah weddingConsider the case of the girl who moved to the United States at age 5, with her parents, leaving a large extended family in their home country.  Her parents worked hard and prospered.  They raised their children to have the benefits of public education and the material comforts our society has to offer.  The girl and her siblings became naturalized U.S. citizens.  The extended family ‘back home’ saw the U.S. branch as an example of what the new world had to offer.

When the girl turned 17, the family took her back to their home country to meet and marry the young man the extended family had chosen for her.  The ‘home country’ has a legal system that, like our ally Saudi Arabia and our enemy Iran, requires that marriages and divorces happen in religious settings.  So the girl and her husband were married in a Shariah ceremony.

Then they came to California, where she had grown up, to start their own married life.  But it didn’t work out.  They didn’t have any children and didn’t accumulate any community assets.  When she turned 21, the girl told her family that the marriage was over.  She was going to college, planning her own future, and like any good American, she would choose her own husband, in her own time.

The family convinced her that extended family politics would be better if she allowed her husband to divorce her, in the old country, rather than her divorcing him in California.  She agreed and the couple returned to the old country where her arranged husband filed for and obtained a divorce in the Shariah court.  Then they both returned to California, as separate individuals.

A couple of years later, the woman married again, this time in California.  With her new husband, she started a family, had a child and began accumulating community assets.  A little while later, a question came up about the legality of her second marriage.  The specific question was whether California should recognize the Shariah divorce granted in the old country.

Many people don’t want courts in U.S. states to recognize Shariah law for any purpose.  Oklahoma actually amended its state constitution to bar courts from considering Shariah law, for any purpose.  Awad et. al. v. Ziriax et. al., Aug. 15, 2013, U.S. Dist. Court, Western Dist. Oklahoma

If California didn’t recognize the Shariah divorce, then the woman would be committing bigamy by marrying her second husband.  She would still be married to her first husband, and the property that she and her second husband accumulated would be community property with her first husband.

Or, if we didn’t recognize the original Shariah marriage, the woman would never have been married.  In that case, when her first, Shariah, husband moved to the U.S. with her, he would have been legally unmarried and thus committing a fraud on the INS.  If they had had children, or accumulated property, the legal status of the children would be in question and the property would not enjoy the benefits of community property law.

The problem is, of course, not just that of one girl who came here with her family, and then tried to honor family customs.  Los Angeles is home to tens of thousands of people and families who fled Iran when our Shah fell.  There are mature families, with extensive property holdings, with jobs, with children and grandchildren, with divorces and remarriages.

These people are our neighbors and friends.  They came here because they had prospered under the regime of the Shah, whom we had installed, after overthrowing the popularly elected government of Iran.  These are “friendly” Moslems who had helped prop up the ruler we had installed, and had helped our oil industry drain Iran’s assets, for our profits.  After their loyal service, should we really be saying that we don’t even recognize their marriages, contracted under a government that we installed and directed?

And what of the translators, drivers, body servants, cooks, mechanics, prostitutes, spies and other retainers we enlisted during our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?  As we withdraw from those sandboxes we can expect a flood of our ‘native’ employees to flee to the U.S., seeking protection from retribution by their own countrymen.  They will come here, bringing their families, if they can.  Should we deny the legitimacy of their marriages?  Should we deny them the right to our community property laws?  Should we make all their children illegitimate?

Orange County has a large Vietnamese community, populated by those who sided with the French and Americans in our war to continue colonial rule of that nation.  When those who wanted self-rule for Vietnam drove the U.S. out, our ‘native’ employees fled the homeland they had abandoned philosophically and settled in the most pro-war communities they could find in the U.S.

They brought with them their Buddhist religion.  But Buddhism hasn’t overthrown our courts.  Buddhism hasn’t threatened traditional American views of marriage and divorce.  Buddhism hasn’t destroyed out system of corporate welfare economics.

Then why are we so scared of Shariah law?  What is it about Shariah that has Tea Bag Republicans so fearful?  It’s hard to put a finger on the roots of this fear, because the people most virulent in their condemnation are also the people most uniformly unwilling to cite specifics about Shariah legal codes or decisions that have them upset.

In fact, there is so little specificity and citation to actual legal authorities (as contrasted with “religious authorities” who gleefully make up ‘facts’), that one might be led to conclude that the Shariah opponents are actually driven not by legal concern as much as by a perceived chance to make a profit.  Like opposition to abortion or “the homosexual agenda,” opposition to Shariah has been a fundraising goldmine for for-profit televangelists and for Tea Bag politicians eager to distract public attention from their anti-environmental, anti-labor, anti-competitive and anti-family political positions.

Many of these Tea Bag Republicans have joined the Ted Cruz/Rand Paul/John Boehner cabal in an attempt to shut down the Federal government.  They see their mission as completing Newt Gingrich’s contract-on-America, with the goal of allowing the southern states to “rise again” reversing their defeat in the Civil War and taking back civil rights that were fought for and gained over the last century.  Their effort to demonize Shariah law is part of a larger effort to identify and exploit scapegoats.   To them, anything Islamic should be exploited the way that Feminazis, Socialists, Homo Activists, Acorn and the New Black Panthers should be exploited.

But if they were to succeed, what costs would we encounter, beyond the already mentioned damage to families and children?  Our oil policy is to import oil from Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Indonesia.  All Islamic countries with Shariah legal systems.  Will we simply deny the validity of any contracts with companies in those countries?  Iraq and Afghanistan, in which we have installed puppet governments, both have Shariah legal systems.  Shall we refuse to recognize the legal systems we established in those countries?  Shall we refuse to recognize or enforce the contracts of companies operating under the legal systems we imposed?

China and other developing nations are hungry for the oil we now use.  If we begin to reject the contracts and laws of companies in nations that source that oil, does anyone imagine that those countries will not sell the oil to other buyers?

Tom HallFrom coffee to pistachios we buy food from Shariah nations.  What will happen when the Chinese tell those nations that China will respect their laws, while we thumb our noses?

The “problem” of Shariah is actually a problem of opportunistic politicians, who want to fabricate a fear issue, with no thought to the inevitable consequences of such fear mongering.  Shariah isn’t a perfect system.  But with the world’s highest incarceration rate, no functional rehabilitation programs, and widespread crimes of opportunity in a financially depressed population, neither is our system.  Finding ways in which different legal systems can work together holds more promise for the future than proclaiming our terror of any of them.

Tom Hall

Friday, 6 September 2013

Published by the LA Progressive on September 6, 2013
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About Tom Hall

Tom Hall is a family lawyer in West Los Angeles. He is from Boston, and was raised in Friends Meeting at Cambridge (Quakers) to think that religion was a progressive force. During the Vietnam War, he organized draft counseling centers and worked with groups training people in techniques for disciplined nonviolent demonstrating. After the war, he became just another yuppie working to make a comfortable life. The Bush administration shocked him back into social concerns. Now he’s working to see that the Obama administration lives up to its progressive promises. Tom can be reached at ProgBlog@aol.com