The following is a letter to the editor I sent to the Webster Kirkwood Times in response to an article on over-turning the current Missouri law prohibiting Sharia law. This is the full letter, the one I sent had to be edited down to 300 words:
I appreciated last week’s article on the Missouri laws regarding Sharia law. It is a timely topic with the background of recent Egyptian politics.
Sharia law in the United States is a difficult topic on which I can find myself arguing both sides. The essence of the issue is how to maintain the rights of minority groups in an increasingly diverse secular democracy. Muslims are as entitled to pursue their religious/political interests as anyone else in this country. Yet, I wonder at times how much the diversity adds to the richness of democracy, or creates tension and chaos.
In the West, we are so used to thinking in terms of secular pluralism that we often forget there are other ways of thinking. We want to ‘be reasonable’ and believe that our human logic will ultimately lead us in the right direction if we can just sit down and talk inclusively.
While this is the common western view of democracy, not everyone sees the democratic vote in this light. Michael Jansen in the Irish Times has pointed out that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt saw the vote which brought Mohamed Morsi into power, not to be just the will of the people, but the will of God; the vote was a mandate for them to fulfill their vision of the Islamic kingdom under the rule of God.
There is an aspect in which I respect even the more radical Muslims who criticize western democracy for its loss of values and principles. Whether it comes from the Brotherhood or even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, they are correct in wanting to push the dialogue to theology; addressing ultimate values and meaning. N.T. Wright, the retired Anglican bishop of Durham, England has correctly pointed out that historic Christianity (and even Judaism) also uphold theocracy as their ultimate ideal, however much we tactically value democracy as a modern workable compromise. The debate then becomes much more complex with the need to look at which ‘theos’ is behind a theocracy, and how values of love and violence are legitimate (or illegitimate) means of bringing about that kingdom, and how minorities who don’t share these ideas are respected.
President Obama and much of the administration fail to remember that democracy requires more than a free vote, it also requires a practiced system of values and rights. Jason Isaacson of the American Jewish Committee, in a recent interview on Fox news paralleled the Egyptian free democratic vote for Mohamed Morsi, and the subsequent attacks on the Coptic minority to the loss of Jewish rights in Germany after the 1937 democratic election that brought Hitler to power. We can vote away our rights, or find them denied in practice.
While I found Faizan Syed compelling, I also know that Muslims are as varied in their views as Jews, Christians and secularists; he presents one position. The Muslim Brotherhood also spoke of inclusion and tolerance pre-Morsi. I would feel more comfortable lifting restrictions on Islamic law if I felt Islam significantly protected minority rights. In spite of some opposition, Muslims in the West still enjoy many freedoms: to build mosques and wear the burka in public. In contrast, I consistently find a significant lack of equivalent freedom in Islamic countries for Jews or Christians to freely build a synagogue or a church, to wear a cross in public, or openly share their faith. We need to respect diversity, but it needs to be a mutually practiced respect.