Very Little to Debate at 'Human Rights in Islam' Discussion

It is impossible for me to provide a complete account of the debate on “Human Rights in Islam: Just or Unjust?” that was held under the auspices of IslamNet, Norway's largest Islamic organization, on November 7, 2011. The “ideas” that were presented were utterly lacking in logic or intelligence, and the whole thing raced by very fast.  It was almost impossible to keep up with it all: claims were made at a tempo out of another world, and were absolutely without substance.  It was far more a revival meeting than a debate.

They delightedly applauded the chopping off of hands and feet.  And they didn't raise an eyebrow when executions committed by family agreement were defended as a reasonable ”human right in Islam.”

You would be forgiven for thinking that we were in deepest Saudi Arabia, or in a long-ago century.  Far from it. We were in an auditorium at Oslo University College, where our future was being hatched onstage.  The place was packed, and the great majority of the young students were wearing clothes that identifed themselves as followers of the Prophet.

The website reported prior to the “debate" that the participants were sharia expert Fadel Soliman, Lars Gule, and myself, and that Gule would withdraw from the event if IslamNet separated the audience members by sex.  But they did.  The young women used one entrance to the auditorium, the young men another.  The auditorium consisted of four sitting areas.  The areas in the back were entirely separated by sex, while one of the areas in the middle contained members of both sexes -- though not in the same rows.  The sexual separation “just happened -- entirely naturally.”

To walk into the Oslo University hall that night was like entering another world -- or a past era.  The overwhelming majority of the young women had dolled themselves up in full-length hijab; several  were in niqab.  A few were Norwegian converts.  Many of the young men, including Norwegian converts, were strongly inspired in their attire by the clothing styles prevalent on the Arabian peninsula in the time of Muhammed.  Some will maintain that superficial appearances don´t count.  But that's not the whole truth.  I was not dismayed that the audience applauded when Soliman explained why robbery -- but not fraud -- should be punished by chopping off limbs.  I noticed that it wasn't just the heavily covered women and uniformed men who clapped; so did the young women without hijab.  That was a little surprising.  Nor did anyone protest.  This is perhaps surprising, but to stand up to the intense pressure for conformity in this community takes guts.  And if there was anybody with guts in the Muslim audience that night, we will never know.

The atmosphere was intense.  Every single time the name of the Prophet Muhammed was mentioned, mumbled words of blessing echoed loudly through the auditorium.  Even a Norwegian woman in Western clothing joined in.  This was in sync with the audience's sentiment about human rights in Islam, which was perhaps best formulated by a male Norwegian convert with a long beard, a shawl over his head, a white robe, and baggy pants.  The UN's notion of human rights, he insisted, has failed.  Even criminals are given human rights!  (Here he began to tote up all the benefits accorded inmates in Norwegian prisons.)  The answer, of course, is Islam: cutting off limbs.  Only in this way can the world be liberated from crime.  Islam is the answer to humanity's challenges.

Or, as someone else in the audience put it: Our society has hit bottom because we haven't implemented sharia.

Gule spoke up several times about uncivilized barbarism -- yes, his words hit hard -- but I would have trouble believing that they reached a single student.  Nor was there any hint of protest when Soliman explained Islam's view of execution: in cases of murder, it is up to the victim's family to negotiate with the murderer's family.  No trial, then.  Instead, do what the tribes on the Arabian peninsula did 1400 years ago: if the victim's family insists on execution, then out comes the sword.  An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.  Simple and fair Islamic logic, according to Soliman. I never did get an answer when I asked what exactly counts as “spreading mischief in the land,” which, according to a verse of the Koran that Solimon himself quoted, can be punished with death.  Does this apply to blasphemy, for example?  Does it apply to any activity that can be characterized as undermining Islam?

I gather that in Soliman and IslamNet's dream world -- a global caliphate -- the answer to this last question is yes.

The mood grew angry and explicitly hostile when the subject of satire -- an exceedingly delicate matter in Islam -- came up.  It was Soliman himself who brought up the “hatred” that religious satire engenders.  Soliman illustrated this “hatred” with cartoons from my website,  The students' reactions showed very clearly that satire plus Islam and Muhammed can be a deadly cocktail.