Feb 292012

I do not wish to harp on the issue of banning international law in state courts, but alas, I will…

Many US states are concerned about Islamic Sharia law overtaking their judicial systems, so many states – beginning with Oklahoma – have decided to take action banning Sharia law, thus often prohibiting state court judges from considering principles of international law.  (The vast majority of issues before state courts would never involve international law.)

The web site Gavel to Gavel, which bills itself as “a review of state legislation affecting the courts,” has a rundown on states banning use of Sharia or International Law.  Take a look.

Feb 232012

For decades, the United States was considered a leader in international law and human rights, and the American public largely supported their government’s efforts in developing and abiding by international law.

While America’s commitment to international law and human rights has never been beyond reproach, many Americans’ view of international law has recently soured.  According to the Centre for Research on Globalization:

“Americans are increasingly embracing policies that undermine the international rule of law, with self-identified liberals, in particular, seemingly reversing their positions on matters such as the Guantanamo prison camp, extrajudicial assassinations and arbitrary detention.” (link)

This shift in perspective is likely caused, at least in part, by the rise of international terrorism and the Bush and Obama administrations’ practices of long-term detention, use of military tribunals, and targeted assassinations.

Americans’ decreasing support appears to be motivated by fear.  American resistance to international principles stem from a belief that such laws weaken the country’s defense and leave it vulnerable.  Much of this fear is related to many Americans’ negative view of Middle Eastern culture and their fear of Islamic-based Sharia law.  In many respects, Sharia law is oppressive, violent, and a barrier to free society.

While this fear is not wholly unreasonable, it is crucial that America does not retreat too far.  Americans must remember the benefits of international law.

International principles create a framework for nations to negotiate and adjudicate disputes, create economic opportunities, and hold oppressive and abusive political and military leaders accountable.  Unfortunately, this framework becomes more tenuous when dealing with international groups acting independent of a nation state; however, even when one nation or group violates or threatens international standards, America must hold itself and it’s peers to the standards of international law.

Of course, nothing is ever this black and white, especially in the international arena, but America has a legal and moral obligation to support well-founded rules of international law.

Jan 232012

You may recall that in November 2010 Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly passed a law prohibiting judges from considering international law in state courts.  The provision was intended to specifically prohibit Islamic Law (Sharia Law) from being enacted in Oklahoma; however, the ballot initiative effectively banned consideration of all international law in Oklahoma state courts.

After the measure was approved, current Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich went so far as to call for a “federal law that ‘clearly and unequivocally states that we’re not going to tolerate any imported law.’” (link)

In 2010, I questioned the wisdom as well as the Constitutionality of banning International Law from the consideration of state judges.  The law was almost immediately challenged, and a federal judge halted the law’s implementation.

Last week a federal appeals court found the Oklahoma law discriminatory and recognized the plaintiff’s standing to challenge the law (link).   I suspect the federal courts will ultimately strike down the provision, and hopefully it will have a chilling effect on this type of imprudent action in other states.

Dec 162010

One of the wider-reported state ballot initiatives in the November 2010 US elections was the state of Oklahoma’s decision to prohibit international law, including Islamic/Sharia Law.

In the election’s aftermath, there are news reports of more US states considering a ban on religious/foreign law, including Arizona and Florida.

I normally stay out of US political issues, but it seems like much ado about nothing – is there any documented evidence of a US court adopting (or considering to adopt) Sharia law?   Seems far-fetched to me.

Equally as far-fetched is the amount of political controversy generated by the US Senate’s proposed ratification of the new START treaty.   News agencies are reporting that the Senate will consider the treaty before the instillation of the new Congress.

Sep 062010

A final news update on Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, the Iranian woman that is the subject of my previous two blog postings.

Her lawyer confirmed that she was lashed 99 times last week for allegedly appearing in a photograph without her traditional head covering.  However, media outlets have claimed that the photo misidentified Mohammadi Ashtiani.

Her lawyer believes Ashtiani’s stoning sentence could be carried out soon.

The full AP story is here.

Sep 052010

Many of you may be following the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman facing the death by stoning after being convicted of adultery.

Brazil offered the woman asylum, but Iran rejected the offer.  Now, the Vatican is reportedly getting involved, hoping to pressure the Iranians to forego the death penalty.

The full story, via the AP, is here.

Last week I posted a post concerning Sharia law, and I would like to echo my concerns

Is it too much to hope that Iran’s judicial system could recognize, at the very least, a sense of proportionality?

Aug 302010

Last week I blogged that a Saudi Arabian court was considering snapping a defendant’s spinal cord, which is justified under Sharia law.   The posting initiated several private discussions with friends and colleagues regarding the acceptance of Sharia law under international law.

I follow a variety of developments in international law ranging from political issues to business law to human rights, but at some point these spheres intersect.   I am often conflicted about the intersection, and to what degree human rights concerns should effect international business/political relations.  This concern is certainly not unique, and papers/articles on these issues have been written/dissected ad nauseam.

One of my biggest intrigues is whether countries practicing strict Islamic law will evolve into more open, less rigid, and less violent systems of justice.  And in the meantime, how should other nations, businesses, general society, and international organizations confront Sharia law?

I am going to do something unusual by linking the Washington Post’s blog on faith.  Ali Gomaa, Grand Mufti of Egypt, discusses whether “Sharia law [is] reconcilable with modernity.”

I am linking neither to join the political discussion on constructing a Mosque near the site of the World Trade Center nor to create a discussion on the validity of Islamic beliefs.  Instead, I wish to highlight Mr. Gomma’s argument concerning Sharia law as I try to process it against the reality of how Sharia law is practiced in Islamic nations.

What are your thoughts?

Aug 232010

… Maybe if you live in the Middle East.

I could easily focus this blog on human rights issues.  Just flipping through the today’s paper I read about rising homicide rates in Venezuela and mass rape in the Republic of Congo.  However, it was the following story that grabbed my attention.

Two years ago, a Middle Eastern man attacked one of his countrymen with a meat cleaver, leaving him paralyzed and causing the amputation of a foot.  The attacker has been arrested, tried and found guilty.  His punishment?


The crime occurred in Saudi Arabia, and under Islamic Sharia law, which allows “eye for an eye” types of punishment.  So, you cause paralysis, you get paralyzed.

The Saudi Arabian government is consulting area hospitals to find one that is willing to sever the defendant’s spinal cord.   Human rights activists are protesting the potential punishment; however, the punishment is indicative of the rationale behind Islamic law.

This punishment would violate numerous faucets of international law, including the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

This story is starting to get significant media attention, and it is possible that a global outcry would persuade Saudi Arabian government to forego this particular punishment.  However, it does not diminish the daily human rights abuses occurring in the Middle East under Islamic Law.  At some point international human rights must be given greater urgency and force Middle Eastern countries to evolve their ancient sense of justice.

You can read the full story here.