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Justice (This Time)!

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Free at last! Thank God almighty and the activists. Finally, sense comes to Nigeria — Amina Lawal is free. The Shari’ah Court of Appeal yesterday overturned the sentence of death by stoning for the 31-year-old mother convicted of adultery in March 2002.

According to the court, the conviction was invalid because Lawal was already pregnant with her daughter at the time an Islamic court sentenced her to die. As CNN reports, it is possible that the order to murder the mother would have been vacated even if the Islamic-law governed Shari’ah court had not nixed the sentence:

Lawal’s case had become the focus of human rights groups around the world who were outraged at the sentence that Lawal should be buried up to her neck and then have stones thrown at her head until she was dead.

Had the court not overturned the verdict, Lawal would still have had two appeals left, one to a Nigerian federal court and a final appeal to Nigeria’s Supreme Court. Neither of those courts is governed by Shari’ah law.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo had said if Lawal’s case reached the Supreme Court, he would make sure it was overturned.

What appears to be a straightforward, sensible decision to many is not nearly so clear in Nigeria. The court’s vote to save the single mother of four was a split decision — and equally split on the notion of Islamic law are many of the nation’s residents. As South Africa’s News 24 reports, Shari’ah law still reigns in some sections of the country, and the penalties to those convicted under this law remain cruel and unusual:

Since the end of military rule in the west African state in 1999, a dozen mainly-Muslim states have brought back elements of Shari’ah into their penal codes, a move which has increased tensions between Muslim and Christian communities.

Obasanjo, a Christian wary of offending Muslims who make up half of Nigeria’s 126-million-strong population, stood by as the states brought back stoning for sex crimes and hand-chopping for thieves.

When Lawal and at least two more divorcees were condemned for bearing children out of wedlock, and their sentences made international headlines, his response was simply to promise they would be cleared on appeal.

Not being Nigerian, my opinion, naturally, has no bearing on what goes on in that country, but here it is, anyway: President Obasanjo needs to develop a backbone and put a stop to this vicious brand of justice. Yes, it is likely that some non-Islamic court would have reversed Lawal’s sentence once appeals in Shari’ah courts had been exhausted. But what about the effect on a young mother trying to rear her children under the looming specter of being buried up to her neck and having stones hurled at her head until she mercifully died? What effect did this horrific pressure have on her children? For nearly two years, Lawal had to contend with a fear you and I (hopefully) will never know. It simply was not necessary.

Voices more valid than mine agree.

[W]ithin Nigeria, Christian groups and rights activists are furious that he has not used the option given him by Nigeria’s 1999 constitution to challenge a law code they believe violates fundamental freedoms.

“The constitution of Nigeria is supreme in legal matters,” Nwachukwu Ike, a senior lawyer with Nigeria’s biggest and most respected rights group, the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), said this week.

“Extending the jurisdiction of Shari’ah to cover criminal matters is unconstitutional. We in the CLO also note that the federal government has not challenged the implementation of the criminal aspects of Shari’ah law.

“Government seems to have abdicated its responsibility in this way, by asking aggrieved Nigerians to go to court to fight for their rights. It is simply an abdication of responsibility,” he said.

At AF&O, which has been part of the human-rights effort to stop the execution of Amina Lawal, we breathe a huge sigh of relief, at least for today. Here’s to justice finally being done.

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  • Eric Olsen

    Excellent news Natalie, I have been very concerned about this since it became news. I am very relieved for Amina Lawal, but agree with you that it’s the structure that needs to be changed, not just massaged so that the original very embarrassing verdict would be overturned in this particular case.

  • Thank God! (Or some general sense of providence if you prefer.)

    Now if we can just get the whole world to agree that the American experiment has demonstrated rightly that government and religion shouldn’t be mixed, I’ll be happy, because this type of nonsense won’t happen again.

  • Except that American government and religion are mixed.

  • Nah, they’re not. Having someone who holds religious views occupy a government office is not “mixing” religion and poilitics. Not barring organizations that happen to be religious just because they happen to be religious is not “mixing” religion and politics.

    Basing laws only on a holy book rather than reason and the will of the governed is mixing them, and requiring religious oaths or membership or whatever in order to hold an office is mixing them. The American experiment was expressly set up to ensure that wouldn’t happen (within the limits of the minds of those doing the setting up, who had never really seen such a government before).

    A Moslem cleric could be our next President (unlikely but possible), and none of us would have to change our lives in the slightest. What are the odds that a Methodist ends up Prime Minister of Palestine or Israel?

    That’s mixing government and religion.

  • I know they are not supposed to be mixed, but when many, many people justify laws on the books (see the many laws discriminating against GLBT citizens and the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment) on the notion that this is a “Christian” nation, it is obvious to me that they are mixed. When prayers are said befor many governmental gatherings, it is obvious to me that they are mixed. When the nation’s currency insists that “in God we trust,” it is obvious to me that they are mixed. When your nation’s pledge, as it has only since the 1950s, includes the phrase “one nation under God, indivisible,” it is obvious to me that they are mixed. When some public dollars are going to parochial schools, it is obvious to me that they are mixed. When the president of your country is the honorary chair of a private organization dedicated to discriminating on the basis of religious beliefs, it is obvious to me that they are mixed. So, Phillip, we will have to agree to disagree on this.

  • We will have to agree to disagree, but the justification of many people for their support of silly laws does not a government make. The prayers that are said range from Jewish to Moslem to Protestant to Roman Catholic to Humanist “moments of silence,” so I’m still missing the mixing there.

    Perhaps I need to restate my objection. Respect for the existence of religion does not (in my book) constitute mixing with that religion. A huge percentage of Americans consider themselves religious, so a government that paid no attention to that whatsoever would strike me as nearly as odd (though probably not as dangerous) as one based entirely on someone’s Holy Book. I do recognize that there is some government recognition for religious beliefs in America, just as there was some (though not nearly what is often claimed) religious basis for the foundational documents and laws of our country. I can see why some might consider that “mixing,” but I think that when compared to countries in which the first amendment is not in play, I see a clear dividing line.

    Inscriptions on coins and (bad) lines in pledges similarly do not seem to me to be mixing religion and politics because no policies are based on the inscription, which is generally shared among all religions.

    As I indicated earlier, denying money to schools because they happen to be religious while granting money to other schools that eschew all religion but are otherwise identical seems to be a clear violation of the first amendment to the US Constitution.

    Finally, the President is perfectly capable of not choosing to be the honorary chair of the Boy Scouts if he chooses, so again that seems to fall far short of “mixing” politics and religion. It’s a personal choice by a person who happens to be President. If you become President, you will certainly not be the head of the Boy Scouts, so there will be no problem, right?

    Of course, I would suggest researching a bit about the BSA, if you haven’t already, before making that decision.

  • What a relief that this turned out the way it did.

    But this is a warning about where a large and influential (on the GOP) group of fundamentalists here in the U.S. want to take us. Anyone who can’t see religion creeping into U.S. politics in an alarming way simply isn’t looking. And anyone who thinks a Bush second term wouldn’t ratchet up the speed of the movement in the direction of theocracy is probably not really thinking (this includes the libertarians in the right wing who think they’ve made a safe devil’s bargain with Bush).

    On the subject of the BSA, the Raving Atheist, one of the best sources of info and commentary on religion–so good, in fact, that, if He existed, God would read the Raving Atheist every day–has a fine entry about it.

  • Phillip, I am well aware of what the BSA’s policies and operations are. The Baltimore Activists Coalition, a group I co-founded, was very active in working against the BSA and informing the public of its stance against gays, girls, and atheists.

    And, as a non-citizen by choice (yeah, I know), I am not qualified — and not willing — to be president. 🙂

    Brian, yes! The Raving Atheist rocks!

  • Brian- The RA link is pretty funny stuff, thanks.

    I do note one thing: The objection in San Diego seems to be over the idea that the BSA, a private organization, should not be the recipient of tax dollars. Certainly not, at least, unless they agree to abide by the rules any secular organization does with regard to discrimination.

    Only I don’t see how the BSA are receiving tax dollars, except in some theoretical sense as they pay a pretty low amount for the lease. As I understand it, the BSA has spent millions of privately-raised dollars improving land that is open to the public (all the public), and agreed in 2001 on the signing of the lease extension to spend another $1.7 million by 2008.

    I used to live in San Diego. I still visit about once a year, and I love Balboa Park. The idea that the city is giving up $1.7 million in improvements to the park is a real bummer to me. I’ve spent many, many hours of my life at Balboa Park, and I have never encountered any indication anywhere of anything religious, and I’m reasonably certain that nobody else has, either. The idea that the park in general or the Camp Balboa part specifically will fall into disuse or disrepair over an issue that has nothing to do with the park-visiting public in general is a real shame.

    If the BSA were allowed to continue at Balboa Park, we would all be, practically-speaking, better off. You and Natalie and I could all go romp through Balboa Park some weekend and enjoy the flowers and the model trains and the museums. It would be grand. 😉

  • Eric Olsen

    Brian, sometimes I think we live on different planets. The history of religion and government in the U.S. is one of steadily DECREASING influence of religion on government over the last 400 years. This is a secular society that derives some of its common sense of morality from religion, typically from where the major religions intersect in their dictates.

    Bush is a Christian – so what? Every other president we’ve ever had has been a christian also. And nothing is “creeping.”

    Finally, to say this story of extreme sharia law as applied in the Islamic area of Nigeria IS THE DIRECTION CHRISTIAN FUNDAMENTALISTS WANT TO TAKE THE COUNTRY is the most preposterous assertion I have heard in a very long time: a) that there is anyone of influence in this country who would want such a thing, b) that they would have the tiniest success in moving the country toward – what? – the stoning of unmarried mothers?

    Isn’t this the same country whose Supreme Court said anti-sodomy laws are unconstitutional?

    Maybe the alarmist bilge works for fund raising but it has nothing to do with life as we know it.

  • Of course, on principle, I could and would not romp through lands funded by BSA dollars. And I fully disagree that we would all be better off, practically speaking or otherwise.

    Phillip writes: “I don’t see how the BSA are receiving tax dollars, except in some theoretical sense as they pay a pretty low amount for the lease.”

    IMO, it is immoral for the BSA, as a discriminatory organization, to get any break on the lease cost. And the organization, in many areas, receives benefits paid for by the public when it uses taxpayer-funded space and facilities. If it can’t “abide by the rules any secular organization does with regard to discrimination,” it should not reap any benefit from the public trough.

  • Oh my, Natalie, the Boy Scouts discriminates against girls? What next?! Soon I won’t be able to enroll my baby boy in Girl Scouts! Yikes!

    But yes, the complaints about athiests and gay poeple are valid. While the BSA is quite open to children of all faiths, including Judaism, Islam, etc, they aren’t very open to children of no faith.

    I’ll leave a debate on the merits of this policy to someone else who has actually ever been in the Boy Scouts or whatever, but I thought that the girl-discrimination thing was amusing. 😉

  • If I had been inclined to join such an organization (this goes back to the way the groups were when I was a kid; and I was a Brownie for a short time), I would have preferred to be in the BSA. The Girl Scouts were SO lame in comparison. (IMO, the GS rocks now.)

    Personally, I am not a fan of gender segregation in most areas. Look at Camp Fire: All kids are welcome, period. I don’t see a rationalization for separate Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, but that’s just me, the weirdo.

  • Generally, mixing religion and politics doesn’t work out too good. I’m agin it.

    However, it makes a HUGE difference WHAT religion is dominating. If you’re going to have a strong religious domination- and in backwards, primitive cultures this seems hard to avoid- then it is better to have a more humane religion, such as Christianity or Judaism, for example.

    The best thing would be for Muslims to give up their not-true beliefs, and become rational humanist atheists. If they still must have the emotional life raft of religion, however, then Ann Coulter’s infamous maxim starts to look like a reasonable compromise: kill their vicious leaders, and convert them to Christianity.

    Contrary to Brian Flemming’s constant foolishness, even our relatively hardcore Christians would be raving liberals relative to almost any part of the Muslim world. This story serves as a perfect case in point.