“When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law.”
– Frederic Bastiat
A seemingly well-planned and directed campaign against Sharia Law has been taking place in a number of American cities. While the obvious purpose of this effort has been to drum up support for anything anti-Muslim, it does raise some interesting inquiries. In asking “what is Sharia Law, and who would be bound by it?”, much deeper political questions are implicated.
An initial question to be asked is “what is law ?” A superficial answer is that it is rules set by government that the state will enforce through coercion. While the word includes that, an understanding of the concept involves so much more. At its core, “law” is unavoidably tied up with the property question: who gets to make decisions about what? Every dispute or conflict we have with others comes down to a property question: “did my dog trespass on your lawn?” The distinction between “victimizing” and “victimless” crimes turns on the question of whether a property interest was trespassed. Murder is the intentional taking of the life of another, a violation of the victim’s ownership of self; prostitution, if based on a voluntary transaction between two adults, involves no property violation. Do some people get to establish enforceable rules against others and, if so, how does such authority arise? In a society that respects the inviolability of the private property principle, only owners of what is theirs can rightfully make such decisions. If Muslims in America wish to create and enforce rules of conduct – under the name “Sharia Law” – who would be bound to observe such standards? If you are not a Muslim, would you be bound? If you are a Muslim, but have not agreed to obey such rules, could they nonetheless be enforced against you and, if so, by whom?