Last edited: November 06, 2004

Students Tackle Islamic Crime Code

Durango Herald, November 6, 2004

By David B. Caruso, Associated Press Writer

PHILADELPHIA—Professor Paul Robinson’s fall seminar at the University of Pennsylvania Law School offered a unique opportunity for the ambitious student: a chance to make law, rather than just study it.

But there was a catch. The students’ client would be a regime that has outlawed dissent, jailed pro-democracy demonstrators and been accused by Amnesty International of “endemic torture and unfair trials.”

As part of a project sponsored by the United Nations, the class’ sole task would be to craft an updated crime code for the Republic of Maldives, an island nation of 278,000 people in the Indian Ocean.

The code was to be based on the Shariah, a body of Islamic law that fundamentalist nations have used to subjugate women, crush free religious expression and impose personal-behavior laws criminalizing homosexuality, alcohol consumption and sex outside marriage.

To third-year law student Tom Stenson, the challenge was too important to pass up.

“Is there a way to convince people that there is an Islamic alternative that doesn’t include all the unpleasant practices? I think so,” he said. “The criminal code that we’d like to present will comply with human-rights norms. It will treat men and women equally. I don’t think any of us would stand by and create a document that could be used for repression.”

Fifty students applied for a seat in the class. Eighteen were accepted and have been immersed in the project for several weeks. The students work with high-ranking Maldivian officials, and their final draft will be submitted to the country’s parliament.

So far, many of the issues they tackled differ little from what they might encounter streamlining law in the West.

Stenson has been working on theft and kidnapping statutes. Other students have been codifying laws regarding fraud, forgery and rules on criminal culpability.

The students’ work doesn’t sit well with everyone.

Daniel Pipes, head of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum and a presidential appointee to the U.S. Institute of Peace, said it was a mistake for the class to do anything that could help prop up Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the strongman who has ruled Maldives since 1978.

“It’s like working on the criminal law in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq,” Pipes said.

Pipes, an outspoken critic of militant Islam, called the Shariah incompatible with many Western values, including freedom of religion, gender equality and the separation of church and state. He said it should be rejected as a source of state law, “not made prettier.”

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