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Libya's Sharia Law: A Different Kind of Tyranny

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It's not what could be called an encouraging start for democracy in the new, liberated, un-Gaddafied Libya.

The declaration by Interim leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil -- a former Justice Minister under Gaddafi -- has told the country that Islamic Sharia law will be the basis of legislation now that Gaddafi is no more.

Sharia law encompasses more than religion, and is involved in all aspects of Islamic life -- marriage, politics, diet, social relations, you name it.

For women, Sharia is harsh, and not just because of genital mutilation. Women are officially inferior. They are even blamed when they are raped. At extreme levels, Sharia imposes punishments that are barbaric and intolerable in "civilized" countries. Like honour killings.

Things like stoning to death for adultery -- if a confession can be wrung from the accused party, man or woman, or finding four males who witnessed the adulterer.

Under Gaddafi, the Islamic practice of four wives was discouraged. Now polygamy is now back in style. "Any law that violates Sharia is null and void," declared Jalil.

How does this enhance the rights of women, who do not have the same inheritance rights as men under Sharia?

Apostasy -- the changing of religions, or abandoning Islam for Christianity -- is a crime under Sharia, punishable by death according to some Islamic regimes.

Of concern, too, was Jalil's announcement that banks in liberated Libya would conform to Sharia law, whichn prohibits the earning (or paying?) of interest, which is considered usury -- reviled also in the Bible by Jesus.

But running a country with a banking system that allows no interest payments poses problems on the international stage.

Attempts have been made to introduce Sharia in democratic countries. Ontario's Liberal government seeming willing to impose a limited form of Sharia, until vociferous objections from enlightened Islamic sources persuaded the government to reconsider.

Ontario was warned that even a diluted form of Sharia would be used as propaganda by extremists, and be a wedge for the next phase. Ontario backed off.

Britain allows Sharia law in specific cases, but not without controversy. Backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Sharia law was introduced in 1996 in five centres for Muslim family disputes, (London, Manchester, Birmingham, Bradford and Nuneaton). Since then, something like 80 Sharia tribunals have spread across the country, dealing in secrecy, in mosques, behind closed doors, with no independent witnesses. The practice is rife with allegations of intimidation and discrimination.

In divorces, any male child over seven belongs to the husband, regardless of circumstances.

British MPs have argued there should be one law, and one law only that applies to all citizens. Sharia leads to pressure and intimidation, where women may be afraid to complain or demand British justice instead of Sharia law.

Libya is different. At the moment there is much rejoicing about the advent of democracy. True democracy and Sharia law are irreconcilable, despite Jalil's assurances that Libya will be a "moderate" Islamic country.

Look at some Islamic countries that subscribe to Sharia: Afghanistan, Iran, Northern Nigeria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Sudan. And now Libya.

Although Jalil may be moderate, there's a virulent Islamist faction in Libya that has been linked to al-Qaeda in the past, and which is a political force for the future.

Whatever the future, it is not exactly reassuring -- even though Prime Minister Stephen Harper has pledging Canada's support for the new regime.