"My sentence was reduced to beheading"
Ali Ertaz argues that there is no such thing as a uniform sharia law and that any attempts to standardize it would precipitate an "Islamic civil war". The experience of two Britons at the hands of sharia illustrate how variable things can be.
Martin Fletcher was arrested in Mogadishu after being involved in a traffic incident.
One afternoon Richard Mills, The Times photographer, and I were driving away from the infamous Bakara arms market. In a narrow, rutted sidestreet our way was blocked by an approaching vehicle. Neither driver would give way.
A furious argument flared up, and our bodyguards drew their guns. Happily, ICC policemen arrived in the nick of time and escorted us all to the nearest Sharia court. ...
The court performed its duty with admirable dispatch and minimal fuss and everyone went away happy. It was quicker, cheaper and just as effective as a British magistrates’ court.
The ICC is no more. Washington accused it of turning Somalia into a terrorist haven. It was replaced by a deeply unpopular Government of former warlords.
Fletcher said, "As one who has been hauled in front of a Sharia court I would like to risk having my hand — or head — chopped off a second time by suggesting that the Archbishop of Canterbury just might have a point." Contrast the journalist's experience with that of Sandy Mitchell who "was falsely accused of being involved in a car bombing in Saudi Arabia in 2000 when he was working there as an anaesthetic technician."
He was held in prison for three years and tortured until he eventually signed a confession, which he later had to read out on Saudi television. A sharia court sentenced him to having his head partially severed, followed by public crucifixion.
The sentence was later reduced to beheading, before the Saudi authorities finally conceded that al-Qa'eda terrorists had planted the bomb and let Mr Mitchell return home to Halifax, West Yorks. ...
His torturers told him his wife and son were "involved" in the plot, even though his son was only a year old, and Mr Mitchell finally cracked when the jailers told him: "We will torture them. When you hear their screams, you will know they are suffering because you haven't told us the truth."
Saudi Arabia beheaded 136 people in 2007. I could find no statistics on the number of those crucified, but Human Rights Watch mentions it as one of the legal modes of punishment in the Kingdom, together with beheading or stoning, amputation (of a hand, or a hand and a foot, depending on the crime), banishment, or flogging. However four Sri Lankans who were beheaded in February 2007 also had their corpses put on public display after being executed by surprise. They mistakenly believed they were only sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. One of the reasons for the confusion over their verdict was that as "Saudi Arabia’s chief judge, Salih al-Luhaidan, told Human Rights Watch in a meeting on December 19, 2006 ... it is against Islam to issue a written verdict to those sentenced to death or to inform them of the time of their execution, but that the kingdom had changed this practice due to the influx of foreign workers and the many capital offenses they commit."
Unlike Fletcher, Mitchell is less enthusiastic about sharia and takes a dim view of Rowan Williams' recent proposals to incorporate it into British practice. He said:
Yesterday he accused the Archbishop of Canterbury of "betraying" Christians with his comments on Islamic law. He said Dr Rowan Williams clearly had "absolutely no concept of what sharia law is", because if he did, "he wouldn't have made such a foolish statement". ...
"No matter what Dr Williams may say, I'm afraid he doesn't appear to have grasped even the basics of sharia law before he made his comments."
So I guess Ali Ertaz was right about the variability of its application. But if there is no consensus about what Sharia stands for, is there any consensus on what the West stands for? Or does Ali Ertaz's warning about "civil war" being the price of attempting to achieve consensus apply to modern liberal society as well?