Informed Comment: "The Schiavo Case and the Islamization of the Republican Party"

I did not expect to write about the Schiavo Case but I came across an interesting entry on Informed Comment: The Schiavo Case and the Islamization of the Republican Party

On his blog Juan Cole states:

The cynical use by the US Republican Party of the Terri Schiavo case repeats, whether deliberately or accidentally, the tactics of Muslim fundamentalists and theocrats in places like Egypt and Pakistan. These tactics involve a disturbing tendency to make private, intimate decisions matters of public interest and then to bring the courts and the legislature to bear on them. President George W. Bush and Republican congressional leaders like Tom Delay have taken us one step closer to theocracy on the Muslim Brotherhood model.

What does he mean by that? Well the following:

The Muslim fundamentalists use a provision of Islamic law called “bringing to account” (hisba). As Al-Ahram weekly notes, “Hisba signifies a case filed by an individual on behalf of society when the plaintiff feels that great harm has been done to religion.” Hisba is a medieval idea that had all but lapsed when the fundamentalists brought it back in the 1970s and 1980s.

He is using the case of Abu Zaid (who is now living with his wife in Leiden, The Netherlands, and teaching there at Leiden University.

In this practice, any individual can use the courts to intervene in the private lives of others. Among the more famous cases of such interference is that of Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid in Egypt. A respected modern scholar of Koranic studies, Abu Zaid argued that, contrary to medieval interpretations of Islamic law, women and men should receive equal inheritance shares. (Medieval Islamic law granted women only half the inheritance shares of their brothers). Abu Zaid was accused of sacrilege. Then the allegation of sacrilege was used as a basis on which the fundamentalists sought to have the courts forcibly divorce him from his wife.

Abu Zaid’s wife loved her husband. She did not want to be divorced. But the fundamentalists went before the court and said, she is a Muslim, and he is an infidel, and no Muslim woman may be married to an infidel. They represented their efforts as being on behalf of the Islamic religion, which had an interest in seeing to it that heretics like Abu Zaid could not remain married to a Muslim woman. In 1995 the hisba court actually found against them. They fled to Europe, and ultimately settled in Holland.

What does this have to do with the Schiavo Case? Cole continues:

One of the most objectionable features of this fundamentalist tactic is that persons without standing can interfere in private affairs. Perfect strangers can file a case about your marriage, because they represent themselves as defending a public interest (the upholding of religion and morality).


But the most frightening thing about the entire affair is that public figures like congressmen inserted themselves into the case in order to uphold religious strictures. The lawyer arguing against the husband let the cat out of the bag, as reported by the NYT: ‘ The lawyer, David Gibbs, also said Ms. Schiavo’s religious beliefs as a Roman Catholic were being infringed because Pope John Paul II has deemed it unacceptable for Catholics to refuse food and water. “We are now in a position where a court has ordered her to disobey her church and even jeopardize her eternal soul,” Mr. Gibbs said. ‘

In other words, the United States Congress acted in part on behalf of the Roman Catholic church. Both of these public bodies interfered in the private affairs of the Schiavos, just as the fundamentalist Egyptian, Nabih El-Wahsh, tried to interfere in the marriage of Nawal El Saadawi.

Like many of his fundamentalist counterparts in the Middle East, Tom Delay [Republican congressional leader, MdK] is rather cynically using this issue to divert attention from his own corruption. Like the Muslim fundamentalist manipulators of Hisba, Delay represents himself as acting on behalf of a higher cause. He said of the case over the weekend, ‘ “This is not a political issue. This is life and death,” ‘

Needless to say that Cole is not happy about this development:

Republican Hisba will have the same effect in the United States that it does in the Middle East. It will reduce the rights of the individual in favor of the rights of religious and political elites to control individuals. Ayatollah Delay isn’t different from his counterparts in Iran.

I’m not sure wether this comparison between islamic fundamentalists and the republicans isn’t a little bit over the top. For example Cole refers to the Catholic Church and states that Congress is acting on behalf of that church. This seems a little bit strange to me because what does this actually mean? That the lawyer of Terry’s parents is appointed by the Catholic Church or that the Catholic Church has ‘hired’ Congress. Perhaps the lawyer, the church and Congress have the same opinions on this case but this does not necessarily mean that they act on behalf of eachother. And is it a problem if they have the same opinions? See also the criticism of Ex Post on this point. Another issue of course is that we have to distinguish between the courts interference and the interference of the Congress. Cole says that the Republicans have embraced the Muslim fundamentalist practice of “using the courts to intervene in the private lives of others.” The courts interference seems to be necessary in this story just like in the Netherlands there has to be some kind of control by the public prosecutor in cases of euthanasia. I don’t think the practice in the US is that much different (or is it?). What Congress has done is expanding the possibilities for the courts to intervene, not deciding what the court has to rule. This is truly different compared to the fundamentalist case in Egypt. See more on this point at PowerLine.

But then again it is remarkable how policitians intervene in this single case. It seems to me that it is remarkable how politicians can intervene in a persons private life. Unless of course, and it is more or less framed like this, the question of life and death isn’t a private issue but a public issue. Like for example among some Muslim groups the reputation of a woman is not a private matter, but a cause for concern for the whole group. The whole group, or American nation, is at stake here. But what is striking then, that these politicians have made a law based on a single case and that they intervene directly in this case. While, i could be wrong, I thought that you made laws about a general development after several cases appeared. This law cannot be attributed to those cases anymore but it can for future cases. This of course, again I could be wrong, has to do with the trias politica: Separation of powers. The idea that the powers of a sovereign government should be split between two or more strongly independent entities, preventing any one person or group from gaining too much power. This adds even more to my confusion because I was taught at school (yes a while ago) that the US was probably the strongest example of this separation of powers. So a possible weakening of the trias politica, an increasing influence of religion on politics (weakening the separation of church and state) and a private issue that is politicized and becoming a group-issue, that indeed sounds a little bit what the fundamentalists among the Muslims want. Maybe the comparison is not that bad at all.

At the same time of course there is a problem because Terry Schiavo hasn’t got anything on writing that states she refuses to live like this. Euthanasia has to be with explicit consent of the person in question and that is not the case here. So what to do?

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