Sunday, March 22, 2009
The Separation of Church and State
A few months ago I did a post on an Iranian woman who'd been horribly disfigured by acid because she'd refused a marriage proposal. Her attacker had been sentenced to the same fate, and so it seemed justice had finally taken a more fair right turn in that particular case in the Arab world. Or so I thought. Was that sentence a separation of church and state? I know little of the Muslim faith, but if I were wool gathering I would bet that judge's ruling had more to do with public opinion and their religious dogma than the government of Iran enforcing the laws of the land. Because the two are intertwined in many Arab countries.
In Saudi Arabia, a top cleric refused to annul a forced marriage between an 8 year old and a 47 year old man, as long as the man agreed not to have sexual relations with the girl until she'd reached puberty - whatever that means.
"It is incorrect to say that it's not permitted to marry off girls who are 15 and younger," Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Sheikh, the kingdom's grand mufti, said in remarks quoted Wednesday in the regional Al-Hayat newspaper. "A girl aged 10 or 12 can be married. Those who think she's too young are wrong and they are being unfair to her."
Christoph Wilcke, a Saudi researcher for Human Rights Watch said, "We've been hearing about these types of cases once every four or five months because the Saudi public is now able to express this kind of anger -- especially so when girls are traded off to older men," Wilcke said.
Wilcke explained that while Saudi ministries may make decisions designed to protect children, "It is still the religious establishment that holds sway in the courts, and in many realms beyond the court."
In another case in Saudi Arabia, a 75 year old woman was sentenced to forty lashes for having her nephew and a friend of his bring her a loaf of bread. Forty lashes!! For having a non-immediate relative visit her of the opposite sex. What about those men I wonder, were they also convicted? Of course not, it's always the woman's fault, no matter her age.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, in Brazil a 9 year old girl who'd become pregnant with twins after being abused by her step-father was allowed to have an abortion - it's legal in Brazil in the case of rape or medical emergency - and what did the Catholic Church do? They excommunicated her mother for allowing it and the doctor for performing the procedure! Even though the child and the twins would've most likely died if allowed to continue to term. What of the vagabond who impregnated her? The church is still mulling over his case because being a rapist isn't as bad apparently.
With the Bernie Madoff's, the Governor Blagojevich's, and more than one case of corrupt judges, I am more than grateful we live in a country where church and state are supposed to be separate. But we must be vigilant. One must only take a brief look around us in other parts of the world to know what can happen if our rights are challenged, or taken away by corrupt people right here at home.