Monday, January 4, 2016

Our First Exposure to Sharia? We Were Just Kids, No, Really, We Were!

This post marks the first of several examining the implications of an uncritical allowance of the application of Sharia law in the United States. Future posts examine the idea of private legal arrangements currently tolerated under the law, and whether such toleration can, consistent with American notions of liberty, justice, and constitutionalism, be extended to Sharia. This first post, however, was provoked by the opportunity to reflect on an incident out of my childhood. Readers of this blog will know that my mother recently passed away. Such losses, at the end of a long life, afford lots of opportunities for reflection on the past. As I thought about my mom and dad, our family, and our life together growing up, I begin considering the events described here and then was struck with how -- although it had not previously occurred to me -- that incident served perfectly as a cautionary tale for those who would foist an uncritical acceptance of Sharia law as a method of regulation of private intercourse and business. I have not changed any names in the telling of this story.

6456 Oakwood Drive, our home from 1965 to 1973
We were kids. No. Really. We were.

We lived in a middle class neighborhood in Falls Church, Virginia. Our home, at 6456 Oakwood Drive, sat at the top of an embankment with the back of the house facing down into a wooded valley between our street and the next over.

That wooded valley was our playground, our battleground for acorn and crab apple wars. It was divided by a creek that wasn't quite a babbling brook. We built damns on the creek and caught crayfish. We dug caves into the sides of the hill in the valley. I learned not to ride a dirt bike in those woods, after doing a ramp jump followed by an ungainly face plant. It was a magical escape for us.

A scenic view of Lake Barcroft, Falls Church, Virginia
As kids we joked about living in the slums of Lake Barcroft. Lake Barcroft, a private, man-made, lake was the central feature of a nearby community of high priced homes and private lake beaches. The homes in our neighborhood were brick ranches, dutch barn style homes, mostly brick, some smaller clapboard-sided homes.

The "we" to which I refer was the children of our family, the Henderson kids. Mary Pat, Paul, Pat, David, Joseph, Mary, Tom, and me, then known as Jamie. Raised in the Catholic faith, we were, mostly, the product of a Catholic elementary education, and a few dark secrets. One thing was a certainty. Our home was a hub, one of three in the neighborhood, where we and our small, rag-tag band of friends gathered for street ball, tag, hide-and-seek, board games, and general hi jinks.

My mom always made room in the house and at the table for friends and family. The best proof of that was that the oldest of the Henderson kids, Mary Pat, was, in fact, our cousin, my mom's brother's only child. My folks brought Mary Pat into our home, into our hearts, because of family difficulties in her family. It wasn't until I was 11 or 12 that I even realized she was my cousin rather than my sister. Maybe my older siblings knew otherwise, but then, I was the baby of the family.

Up the street from us there lived a small family, the Bozes. Their one son, Murat, was my age, and he would, occasionally join us when we played outside.

Embassy of Turkey, Washington, DC
Mr. Boz worked in the Turkish Embassy in Washington, DC.

One day, as he was out riding his bike, my brother, Tom, saw Mr. Boz running out of his house chasing a young teenage girl. When he got within range, Mr. Boz swung a broom down over her shoulder so hard that the broom handle snapped in half.

The young girl continued to run and escaped into the "hundred acre wood" behind the street on which our home sat. She did not come back out of the woods that night.

This isn't one of "those" stories. Mr. Boz was not caught coming out of the woods covered in sweat and dirt, carrying a shovel.

Instead, for the next few nights, my parents turned on the back porch lights and set out a plate of food covered with plastic. Eventually, the young lady responded. Zeynep Akkus came into our home and our lives for an exciting and interesting half a year.

We learned that Zeynep was the oldest of 13 children and that the Boz family had bought her for the equivalent of $1000.00 while they were still in Turkey. They brought her to the US when they came here for Mr. Boz's service at the Embassy. Zeynep was their servant girl. She cleaned house and took care of Murat, even dressing the preteen each morning.

I guess I'll never know what led to the broom handling beating. But the broom handle beating led to Zeynep coming into our life. Eventually, the Bozes learned that Zeynep had come to our home, the State Department, and the International Red Cross became involved. Ultimately, the State Department removed Zeynep back to her parents in Turkey.

At the time, I recall my parents being concerned about Zeynep's fate on her return to Turkey. As explained to us at the time, her family's religion would disapprove of her having lived in a home with six unrelated males. It was suggested that she might well be beaten or even killed for her part is such a flagrant violation of her religion.

The International Red Cross Society, in cooperation with the International Red Crescent Society, did provide at least one update to my parents after Zeynep returned to Turkey, letting them know that she had arrived safely home and was living with her parents. Many years have now passed, we have long since lost all contact with Zeynep, who, if still alive, is a Turkish woman in her early 60s.

Why do I mention this story now?

Sharia law.

We never heard of Sharia law back during our little international incident. We never learned of the role of Islam in gathering slaves at the head end of the African slave trade.

We were shocked to learn of parents that would sell their daughter into slavery.

We certainly never had any idea that a religion -- any religion -- would equivocate about the morality of slavery, let alone propagate the moral virtue of enslaving others, or the moral virtue of physically abusing slaves or killing them for the quite reasonably human action of seeking to escape from slavery.

Today, however, I am coming to a realization that we witnessed, lived through, forty-five years ago, reflected the very real consequences of lives lived under the framework of Sharia law. For that reason, our real life drama might provide a instructive insight on what it would look like if aspects of Sharia law were to be permitted to operate in the United States.

Let's start with the obvious problem of the conflict between Sharia's toleration of slavery and the American struggle to come to grips with the moral evil of slavery.

You can research the question of whether Sharia permits slavery. From my research, I have concluded that it does, and that those who argue otherwise ignore the duty of Muslims to emulate the founder of their religion, Mohammad. In his life, it is reported that he owned forty or more slaves. Moreover, in the Koran and in religious teachings about the Koran, slavery features as element of life as designed by Allah.

Mr. and Mrs. Boz bought a slave in Turkey. They brought that slave into the United States on the false pretense. Were facts as they must have represented them to bring Zeynep to America, then there seems little likelihood that the State Department and the courts would have resolved the matter be sending Zeynep home to her parents.

So, as silly as it might be to have to say so, by importing a slave to the United States, the Bozes obeyed Sharia law and defied the American Constitution. The Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution eliminated the Peculiar Institution of slavery in the United States:
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
In fact, by importing a slave into the country, they defied a long standing federal statute, adopted in 1807, An Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves. Congress enacted that law, as permitted by the Constitution, as a ban on the importation of slaves just as quickly as it was permissible under the Constitution for it to do so.

So the Bozes brought a slave into the United States in violation of our federal ban on importation. They then maintained that slave in a condition of perpetual servitude, in violation of our federal constitutional ban on slavery. Of course, as I have concluded, their actions were perfectly acceptable under Sharia. Their defiance of our laws and Constitution had the countenance of Sharia law.

While the larger problem of countenanced slavery is evident in Zeynep's case, there is the related matter of the treatment of slaves by Muslim owners.


I am not forgetting our horrible history.

In fact, because of our horrible history with slavery, we ought more carefully to consider the idea of providing governmental sanction to the observance here of Sharia law, even in circumstances of voluntary agreement by those regulating their choices under Sharia.

Under the Peculiar Institution of slavery, States that tolerated slavery took a number of dehumanizing steps.

First, they declared slaves to suffer from a condition of perpetual legal minority. As a consequence, slaves lacked legal standing to object to their conditions, to their disposition by their owners, to the disruption of their transactions, however petty they might be. Just as an infant lacks standing on their own to sue or be sued, slaves were deprived of this standing.

Second, States that countenanced slavery made teaching of reading and writing to slaves illegal. The ability to persuasively communicate their conditions, their pleas for redress, their calls for organized resistance, all could be hamstrung simply by denying to slaves the very voice that the Freedom of Speech and the Freedom of Press granted to us all.

Third, because of their perpetual minority, slaves were unable to marry. They lacked the accepted legal structures to fortify and protect familial relationships. While my anarchistic friends will say that such legal structures are unnecessary, they ought to recognize that being denied equality of access to those institutions is a particularly insulting injury to one's separate, equal status under the law. Being unable to marry, the marital relations that did occur under slavery were capable of being portrayed as mere coital heat and response, objectifying and distancing the relation in humanity between the slave holder, whose seared conscience demanded such distance, and the slave.

Fourth, brutality prospered under a system of legal toleration with the sufferance of polite society, and embodied in various legislative shelters. So beating, branding, cutting, breeding, selling, and family separating of slaves were shameful reflections on how States tolerating slavery brutalized slaves and lowered themselves to brutish stature.


Having acknowledged our own deeply disturbing toleration for the institution and its brutalities, we are right to be concerned that we would open our Nation to a revisitation of tolerated brutality under the guise of "tolerance" shaped as allowing the voluntary participation of individuals in arrangements governed by Sharia. 

For the United States, the experience and stain of slavery is as damning and dangerous to us as is the antisemitism and Aryanism of the Third Reich to Germany. There, of course, even the denial of the facts of the Holocaust is criminalized because the German People cannot risk again giving flight to worst angels of human nature.

So we ought to recoil at propositions, at arrangements, at adjustments --even ones offered in the guise of cultural toleration -- that risk any national recidivism respecting slavery here.

Mr. Boz broke a broom over Zeynep's back. My brother, Tom, witnessed this savage attack. We don't know why Mr. Boz did so. Did she fail to properly dress Murat for school? Did she miss a speck of food on a dish while washing the dishes? Was it some supposedly more justified consideration, perhaps stealing from her owners? We do not know.

We just know that a Turkish Muslim chased down his escaping slave. When he got within striking range, he struck a mighty and savage blow, breaking a broom handle over her back.

Before you charge hyperbole, please remember, this incident occurred in the early 1970s. This broom was not a hollow, pig metal, handle. The broom handle was a solid wood broom handle. If you are in your 40's or older, you know the kind of handle I mean: substantial, weighty, solid.

Mr. Boz's act certainly constituted a criminal battery and assault under Virginia law. Depending on his actual mental state, it might have constituted more, perhaps even an attempted homicide. No doubt exists that his act provided the lawful basis for charges of assault and battery. No charges, however, were ever filed against him. He enjoyed diplomatic status in the United States and was shielded by diplomatic immunity.

As a matter of law, however, his actions were perfectly permissible, even appropriate and, perhaps, required under Sharia law. Perhaps she had refused to allow him to rape her, a prerogative accorded to the owners of slaves under Sharia. At a minimum, running away from her master constituted gross disrespect and patent, insolent, disobedience. Corporal punishment of slaves is permitted, perhaps required, under Sharia.

This real world instance of the clash between our American legal and cultural structure and a Turkish, Islamic cultural and legal structure may not prove that every instance of tolerated application of Sharia law would turn out so badly, involve restoration of dehumanizing slavery, or mark this Nation's slide toward a caliphate of Islamic domination. It does illustrate, however, that American notions regarding the moral propriety of slavery and accepted notions regarding aggravated assault are at odds with accepted standards under Sharia.

The consequence, then, of agreeing to enter on a path of experimenting with the introduction of Sharia law in America bears real life risks that might be beyond contemplation. Given this actual, real-life example, the cruel case of Zeynep Akkus, the introduction of Sharia in America without a close and critical examination of its implications ought to be rigorously resisted.