Students Tackle Islamic Crime Code
Herald, November 6, 2004
By David B. Caruso, Associated Press Writer
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
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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