Politics & Policy

Bangladesh Today, Egypt Tomorrow

The long-term strategy for enforcing sharia law.

James Clapper issued a clarification last week. Within hours of testifying to Congress that the Muslim Brotherhood is a “largely secular” organization, he clarified that he had meant to say the Muslim Brotherhood is not a secular organization. Clapper, the Obama administration’s national intelligence director, did not clue us in on whether he’d been tipped off by the organization’s name or by its motto proclaiming devotion to Islam, Mohammed, the Koran, sharia, and jihad — the final term being one he may have missed thanks to ongoing government efforts to purge it from our lexicon.

#ad#If Mr. Clapper’s information was a tad off, his timing was even worse. And not just because even giddy Western pundits were occasionally pausing from their dance on Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s political grave to admit that the pharaoh’s demise could pave the way for a Brotherhood-led Islamist ascendancy.

What might an Islamist ascendency look like? Consider this: Shortly before Clapper’s faux pas, a ghastly report out of Bangladesh began making the rounds: A 14-year-old girl named Hena had been killed by fewer than 80 lashes of the 100-lash whipping local sharia authorities had ordered her to suffer. It’s difficult to contain one’s anger at the details. Hena had been raped by a 40-year-old Muslim man, described in news accounts as her “relative.” The allegation of rape got the authorities involved, but that turned out to be even worse than the sexual assault itself.

Under sharia, rape cannot be proved absent the testimony of four witnesses. Rapists tend not to bring witnesses along for their attacks. In any event, moreover, sharia values a woman’s testimony as only half that of a man, so the deck is stacked and rape cannot be proved in most cases. Yet that hardly means the report of rape is of no consequence. Unable to establish that she’d been forcibly violated, the teenager became in the eyes of the sharia court a woman who’d had sexual intercourse outside of marriage. Thus the draconian lashing sentence that became a death sentence.

What has that to do with the Muslim Brotherhood? It turns out that these not-so-secular “moderates” spend a great deal of time ruminating on the subject of sharia’s brutal huddud laws — those prescribing sadistic penalties, such as whippings and stoning, for extramarital fornication, adultery, and homosexuality.

The Brotherhood’s emir for such ruminations is the famed Egyptian sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a sharia scholar who graduated from the storied al-Azhar University. He is probably the ummah’s most influential Islamic cleric — just ask such admirers as Ground Zero mosque imam Feisal Rauf. Qaradawi is sold as a Muslim modernizer by his many Western fans, particularly the Islamic-studies programs that the Saudis, longtime patrons of the Muslim Brotherhood, pay institutions like Georgetown University to operate. What the academy avoids telling you is that the sheikh, who has endorsed suicide bombings in Israel and the killing of American troops and support personnel in Iraq, also supports female genital mutilation (euphemistically called “circumcision”) as well as sharia standards that discount a woman’s testimony, limit a woman’s inheritance rights to half of a man’s share, and permit men to marry up to four wives (who may, of course, be beaten if they are disobedient).

#page#Qaradawi is also quite opinionated when it comes to the matter of rape. He agrees that a woman must be punished not only if she cannot show that she was the victim of sexual assault, but also if, as they say, she was asking for it. “For her to be absolved from guilt,” he has explained, “a raped woman must have shown good conduct.” If, for example, she has dressed immodestly — particularly if she has dressed in the Western style — she is deemed to have brought the attack upon herself.

#ad#To the extent that influential Islamist views about huddud laws are known in the West — which is not much — it is a big problem for the Brotherhood. Their motto declares that “the Koran is our law,” and it’s not an empty slogan. The Brothers believe in these behavioral strictures and in the savage penalties meted out for transgressions. That complicates life for an organization struggling to put on a happy, secular face for the West (at least when it’s not writing memos about its “grand jihad” to destroy our civilization from within). Not everyone in America is as desperate to be convinced as our intelligence agencies.

So the more wily Islamists struggle to thread the needle. None is wilier than Tariq Ramadan, grandson of both Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna and Said Ramadan, the Brotherhood legend who established its extensive European network. Tariq Ramadan is now free to visit the U.S., the Obama State Department having reversed the Bush administration’s decision to bar him for alleged terror support. In 2005, while this bar was still in effect, Ramadan endeavored to demonstrate his “moderate” credentials by proposing a moratorium on the huddud laws. 

Naturally, there was wild applause from the Clappers in the Western commentariat — a cheap date if ever there was one. Note, however, that Ramadan was not condemning huddud or calling for its repeal — just a moratorium. As he framed it, the problem was not sharia but society: The benighted world that is still mired in jahalia, the dark ages before Mohammed. It had not yet seen the wisdom of adopting Islam’s legal system. For Ramadan, the huddud laws themselves were fine; it was just that until countries fully adopted sharia, the conditions would not be in place to assure that huddud would be justly imposed. In the end, the answer for Islamists is always the same: more Islamic law, not less.

Still, it seemed to be a masterstroke of Brotherhood dissembling that would have made his grandfathers proud. It would enable Islamists to appear positively evolved even as they urged adoption of their seventh-century blueprint for society. Except you’ll never guess who wasn’t buying: all those wonderful secular moderates who guide the Brotherhood.

To put it mildly, Qaradawi and his conglomerate of academic and media acolytes went berserk. There were blistering diatribes condemning Ramadan. His proposal was belittled as an “unfounded innovation” that was “juristically baseless” and threatened to sow discord throughout the ummah. That last, by the way, is an extremely serious charge. Sowing discord is often construed as treason, the functional equivalent of public apostasy. The penalty for that under sharia is — you’ll never guess — death.

Here’s what you want to remember: Tariq Ramadan is widely revered in Brotherhood circles, for both his heritage and his service to the cause. When he stepped off the sharia reservation, though, that did not stop Qaradawi and the Brothers from slapping him back into his place. You, on the other hand, don’t enjoy a similar reservoir of good will with these alleged secular moderates. You are not an Islamic jurist of legendary standing.

You’re more like Hena. 

 Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.

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