Hooray for Hol­ly­wood

Celebri­ties fi­nally de­clare war against Shariah

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Clif­ford D. May

Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres brought a smile to my lips last week — and not by say­ing any­thing funny. They were out in the not-so-fresh air on Sun­set Boule­vard demon­strat­ing against the Beverly Hills Ho­tel and Ho­tel Bel-Air, prop­er­ties owned by the Sul­tan of Brunei who, as The New York Times re­ported, this month be­gan en­forc­ing “a new pe­nal code that will per­mit the ston­ing of gays and adul­ter­ers in his home coun­try.”

This could be the start of some­thing big: Hol­ly­wood man­darins declar­ing war on such pe­nal codes — also known as Shariah, a key com­po­nent of the Is­lamist agenda.

Christo­pher Cow­dray, Lon­don­based chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Dorch­ester Collection, the lux­ury ho­tels’ par­ent com­pany, en­cour­aged that — al­beit in­ad­ver­tently. He said that those call­ing for a boy­cott of the sul­tan’s ho­tels “ap­peared to have over­looked hu­man rights abuses in the home­lands of oth­ers who own businesses around the world. In Lon­don alone, he said, a num­ber of fa­vorite ho­tels have own­ers in Saudi Ara­bia and other coun­tries that en­force harsh as­pects of Is­lamic law.

The leading lights of show­biz also might want to in­quire into the le­gal sta­tus of ho­mo­sex­u­als in the Is­lamic repub­lic of Iran and the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries. (Spoiler alert: Is­lamic pe­nal codes in both Iran and Gaza list ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity as a crim­i­nal of­fense pun­ish­able by death.)

Nor are ho­mo­sex­u­als (and adul­ter­ers) the only op­pressed mi­nori­ties in what we have come to call the “Mus­lim world.” Un­til now, how­ever, gen­der apartheid, honor killings, fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion and the per­se­cu­tion of an­cient Chris­tian com­mu­ni­ties have in­spired yawns among the glit­terati. The plight of the Baha’i and the Kurds, geno­ci­dal threats by Iran’s rulers against Is­raelis, and Pales­tinian tele­vi­sion shows teach­ing preschool­ers to kill Jews haves left them fight­ing vainly the old en­nui.

It dawned on Mr. Leno that in re­cent days Amer­i­cans have been out­raged over Don­ald Ster­ling, owner of the Los Angeles Clip­pers, for ex­press­ing what ap­peared to be racial bias: “I mean, we get so up­set when a team owner says some­thing in­ap­pro­pri­ate,” he said. “Here are people be­ing killed, stoned to death ... . It’s just a mat­ter of pri­or­i­ties, that’s what it is.”

Then, per­haps chan­nel­ing Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry (who re­cently ac­cused Vladimir Putin of be­hav­ing “in 19th-century fash­ion”), Mr. Leno added: “This is 2014, not 1814.”

Not to quib­ble, but he’s off by roughly a thou­sand years. Shariah was de­vel­oped im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the ad­vent of Is­lam, be­tween the 7th and the 13th cen­turies, based on the Ko­ran (re­garded as the un­al­ter­able word of Al­lah) and the Sun­nah (the life and ex­am­ple of the Prophet Muham­mad). The process of in­ter­pret­ing Shariah is called fiqh, of which there are five schools.

Mus­lim re­form­ers — few of whom nowa­days dare re­side in Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries — would agree with what might be called the Lenoist view that Is­lamic law can and should evolve and mod­er­ate over time.

Mus­lims of a more fun­da­men­tal­ist bent — in­clud­ing those af­fil­i­ated with al Qaeda and the Mus­lim Brother­hood, and the Saudis and Iran’s theocrats — most em­phat­i­cally do not. They fa­vor a strict read­ing of Shariah — not least in re­gard to hudud of­fenses, which in­clude il­licit sex­ual prac­tices. Among the pun­ish­ments: ston­ing, flog­ging, am­pu­ta­tion, cru­ci­fix­ion and be­head­ing.

By the way, kid­nap­ping and en­slav­ing in­fi­del women — as the Nige­rian ji­hadi group Boko Haram has been do­ing — is quite jus­ti­fi­able un­der un­re­formed read­ings of Is­lamic law.

Of the 57 mem­bers of the disin­gen­u­ously named Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Is­lamic Co­op­er­a­tion (OIC), most are em­phat­i­cally not in the process of lib­er­al­iz­ing their in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Shariah, and sev­eral are clearly head­ing in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. In Pak­istan last week, for ex­am­ple, gun­men fa­tally shot a prom­i­nent hu­man rights lawyer who was de­fend­ing a pro­fes­sor ac­cused of “blas­phemy” — mean­ing the pro­fes­sor may have said some­thing un­flat­ter­ing about the prophet or Is­lam.

Brunei is a mem­ber of the OIC. Its of­fi­cial name is Ne­gara Brunei Darus­salam, which trans­lates as Na­tion of Brunei House of Is­lam. A tiny state (just 2,226 square miles with a pop­u­la­tion of about 420,000) on the north coast of Bor­neo, it is the first coun­try in South­east Asia to of­fi­cially im­pose Shariah, as op­posed to hav­ing a sys­tem of civil law merely in­flu­enced by Is­lamic re­li­gious doc­trine.

This raises the ques­tion: Will In­done­sia (where two large prov­inces al­ready out­law ho­mo­sex­ual acts), Malaysia (where op­po­si­tion leader An­war Ibrahim was re­cently sen­tenced to five years in prison on sodomy charges), and other coun­tries in the re­gion fol­low Brunei’s lead?

Brunei is ruled by Has­sanal Bolkiah, a 67-year-old hered­i­tary ruler and one of rich­est men in the world, thanks to ex­ten­sive petroleum re­serves first dis­cov­ered by Euro­peans in 1929. His palace is said to have 1,800 rooms, and he re­port­edly has a collection of sports and lux­ury cars sec­ond to none. He is known as a guy who wants to party all the time with in­fi­del women from the United States and Europe.

Ho­mo­sex­u­als are not the only people in Brunei who will feel the im­pact of Shariah. Fail­ing to fast dur­ing Ra­madan and miss­ing Fri­day prayers may be pun­ished with fines or jail time. If al­co­hol thrills you at all, you could end up get­ting whipped. Theft may lead to the loss of a limb. Con­ver­sion from Is­lam to an­other re­li­gion may bring the death penalty.

Whether the lo­cals are ea­ger for such re­stric­tions is dif­fi­cult to say. Free­dom House has long ranked Brunei as “not free,” a des­ig­na­tion that ex­tends to most mem­bers of the OIC.

In the past, those of us who write and talk about these is­sues have been de­nounced as “Is­lam­o­phobes.” I sus­pect apol­o­gists for Is­lamism will re­frain from at­tempt­ing to pin that term on Mr. Leno, Ms. DeGeneres and other ti­tans of Tin­sel­town. That, too, brings a smile to my lips. Clif­ford D. May is pres­i­dent of the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies.


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