The Law and Religion

I’ve two examples to talk about here … both are examples of intolerance, both have a religious theme, and both illustrate the problems you can get tangled up in when you let religious considerations interfere with the legal process. One is an attempt to legislate some support for an irrational belief, and the other is an attempt to legislate against an irrational belief, what they both have in common is that they are an attempt to dictate how individuals should behave.

You can probably guess, but they both involve Islam … gasp!! … what a surprise that is these days.

First up we have the story about driving in Saudi. As I’m sure many of you are aware, it is illegal for woman to drive in Saudi. Ah yes, a real example of how truly progressive Islam can be when granted a free reign. In fact, its not just a driving issue, this is Islamic Sharia law in full swing; woman cannot vote, cannot be elected, and can never be independent because it is mandated that they must have a male guardian … In essence, woman are most or less a subservient class of slaves with no rights, and its the law because the clerics say so. (and I’ve not even mentioned the mandatory dress code, or that in public men and woman are completely segregated).Make no mistake, “It’s the culture, not the religion,” is a Saudi saying, but that claim is complete bollocks, its the clerics who impose these rules.

To read more about the complete lack of rights for woman in Saudi, you can click here.

The latest good news on all this is that some are rebelling, about 30-40 woman went out driving yesterday. The authorities, conscious that they were being watched by the world, wisely decided to take no action and let them do it as a protest.

Last month seven women were arrested for driving. Manal al-Sharif, a 32-year-old who had posted a video on the internet of herself at the wheel, was held for 10 days, made to sign a pledge not to drive again and banned from talking to the media.

On Friday, a different mood prevailed. Police appeared to be under orders not to intervene. In Jeddah, one woman said she had been detained by soldiers and escorted home. Others reported being ignored.

But when Qahtani, who holds American and international driving licenses, tried driving again in the afternoon, she was stopped after 30 minutes by police, given a ticket for driving without a Saudi licence, and sent home.

What comes next, a change in the law? Probably not, the rulers need the support of the clerics to retain power, so don’t expect anything major. What is truly bizarre about all this is that the clerical defenders of this policy claim that it prevents vice by stopping women interacting with male strangers, so instead of driving by themselves, they are forced to hire male taxi drivers … oh yes, that is indeed a credible claim … not.

You can read more about the driving rebels here.

Now, on to the other example that I promised. For this we zip on over to France where the news is that a court this week heard the first case against women for wearing the niqab – or Islamic face veil – since a ban came into force in April. You can read about that here.

My Key Point

So why am I drawing your attention to both of these stories side-by-side? Well basically because in both instances they breach fundamental human rights. Freedom of thought is a basic right, and the implication is that while we should be free to not believe,  it also entitles believers to embrace whatever nonsense they wish, we can criticize, but if we ever start dictating legally we have also crossed the line.

  • The Saudi authorities impose crazy beliefs upon their population as law – that is grossly immoral, I label them barbarians for the appalling manner in which they legalize the enslavement of half the population
  • In a similar manner, the French authorities, have no right to dictate a dress code or legislate against a specific religiously motivated veil

It might be oh so tempting to support the French stance. The Islam belief that wrapping woman in black bags is liberating is quite frankly insane, but this is where the golden rule kicks in, we might indeed be offended by this belief, but we cannot and should not ever legally interfere with the right to freedom of thought. And so while they should never ever have the right to legally impose their crazy beliefs, we also should never ever attempt to legislate against crazy beliefs, so lets not follow the French over the cliff and into the abyss.

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