Shari’a law is (by definition) a system for rule of Law. It may not be the kind of Law that Westerners would want to be ruled by, but it is a system of Law nevertheless. Therefore, in a very simple yet fundamental way, Shari’a is an anathema to the might-makes-right oppression of gangs and warlords, of which the Taleban are a fine example. This is why Shari’a (and all other religiously-derived Law) exists – to protect a population from anarchy and exploitation of the weak by the strong.
Of course, in the hands of those very same thugs and warlords, Shari’a itself can be twisted to serve their ends. This is precsely what Islamic extremists like the Taleban, or the ruling theocracy in Iran, or the religious establishment in Saudi Arabia, have done. They subvert Shari’a to become an instrument for the oppression of the very people it was meant to protect.
However, the embrace of Shari’a Law in this way is a double-edged sword, because by using it, these forces of anarchy are implicitly legitimizing Law rather than their own raw power as a source of authority. And as the Taleban are finding out in Swat, the Law can take on a life of its own. The Shari’a courts in Swat, installed by the Taleban’s demand, are proving to be not as compliant as the Taleban warlords had assumed:
The “Taleban case” before the court vividly illustrates this.
It pertains to the creation of a dirt track through the fields of a local farmer at the behest of the Taleban.
The farmer filed a case in the Sharia courts and the matter was adjudicated by Maulana Rahman.
The ruling was in the farmer’s favour.
“But the members of the Taleban present refused to accept the
verdict and said they would take up the matter with senior Taleban
commanders,” an eyewitness says.
“They also twisted the judge’s words and brought in the
commander after telling him that Maulana Rahman had said that he did
not care if Maulana Fazlullah himself had demanded a repeal.”
Maulana Fazlullah is head of the Taleban in the Swat region. His power is said to be absolute.
The clearly incensed Taleban commander demanded an explanation from Maulana Rahman.
The qazi made it clear he had not made any such comments.
But he also reiterated the fact that the ruling was final.
For several minutes, the Taleban commander and his henchmen continued to argue.
But Maulana Rahman refused to budge, and fellow qazis waded into the argument in his support.
Finally, they managed to convince the Taleban after quoting examples supporting the decision from the Koran.
They also said they would personally come and investigate the matter if the ruling was not followed.
At this, the Taleban agreed to the decision and beat a hasty retreat.
“This a system that works for us,” says Qari Fazal Maula, a petitioner at the court.
This is delicious irony indeed, but also a positive development worth celebrating. Once Law is established as the authority, it can be changed, and the trend in history has always been for Law to grow more and more liberal, especially as information technology and trade open a region to influences beyond its domestic sphere. Even in Afghanistan, the Taleban are unable to stop technology from infiltrating the society – and they don’t want to, being hooked on it themselves.