An interesting new US think tank report was released this week explaining just why we should be worried about the prospect of sharia law infiltrating the West. It is not just terrorists we should be concerned about, they argue, but those who are using stealthier means to advance their agenda.
What is sharia law?
Sharia is a body of customary law derived from the sayings, practices, and teachings of Mohammed that guides all aspects of Muslim life including daily routines, familial and religious obligations, and financial dealings. There are different schools of Islamic thought encapsulated in the Sunni, Shi'ite and other sects that impact on the way sharia law is applied in different Islamic countries.
Sharia law has two main divisions for practical purposes: marriage, divorce, inheritance and custody laws; and criminal law, made infamous for its harsh punishments. Even where Islamic states decline to use 'hadd' punishments, vigilante justice in the form of honour killings and so forth to effect it are a worldwide problem.
Two schools of thought among Muslims in the West to the introduction of sharia law
The biggest push in the West relates to giving official sanction to marriage, divorce, inheritance and custody laws. The problem is that Muslim laws are gender biased, so that in the UK, for example, where sharia law is already legally enforceable in these areas, women who 'voluntarily' accept the jurisdiction of sharia courts can end up considerably worse off financially than they would under secular courts.
But there is a bigger issue at stake here as well. The US Center for Security Policy report suggests that there is a broad distinction between Muslims who embrace Shariah law as the comprehensive model for governing all human society and those who view it as a reference point for personal behavior but not for the conduct of government and the state:
"On this side of the divide, shariah is a reference point for a Muslim’s personal conduct, not a corpus to be imposed on the life of a pluralistic society. By contrast, the other side of the divide is dominated by Muslim supremacists, often called Islamists. Like erstwhile proponents of Communism and Nazism, these supremacists--some terrorists, others employing stealthier means--seek to impose a totalitarian regime: a global totalitarian system cloaked as an Islamic state and called a caliphate.
On that side of the divide, which is the focus of the present study, shariah is an immutable, compulsory system that Muslims are obliged to install and the world required to adopt, the failure to do so being deemed a damnable offence against Allah. For these ideologues, shariah is not a private matter. Adherents see the West as an obstacle to be overcome, not a culture and civilization to be embraced, or at least tolerated. It is impossible, they maintain, for alternative legal systems and forms of governments peacefully to coexist with the end-state they seek.
The good news is that millions of Muslims around the world--including many in America--do not follow the directives of Shariah, let alone engage in jihad. The bad news is that this reality reflects the fact that the imposition of strict shariah doctrine is at different stages across Muslim-majority and -minority countries."
The non-violent threat
The think tank report argues that non-violent Islamists supporting the imposition of sharia law are particularly dangerous because their tactics make them harder to detect and oppose:
“Far less recognizable, however, is the menace posed by jihadist enemies who operate by deceit and stealth from inside the gates,” the experts said. “The latter threat is, arguably, a far more serious one to open, tolerant societies like ours. Their aim, claims the report is 'civilization jihad', or the destruction of Western society as we know it.
One could add that this group are dangerous for another reason, and that is in their intimidation of moderate Muslims into conformity. Across the world manifestations of a stricter approach to Islamic practice are growing in strength, not diminishing. For example, women in countries where not even headscarves, let alone the burqa are customary, are being intimidated into wearing them.
You can read the full report here.