April 02, 2009
Dean Harold Koh on Sharia
The right wing media has falsely attacked Dean Harold Koh of the Yale Law School as someone who would impose Sharia law on the United States.
These right wing pundits seem, as usual, to have little concern for the facts. Dean Koh was Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights, Democracy, and Labor in the Clinton Administration—I do not recall that period as being one where the State Department sought to bring Sharia to the U.S.
Others have already addressed the false claim that Dean Koh voiced willingness to look to Sharia law as part of foreign law in a Yale Club of Connecticut talk (he actually, as the New York Times reported, “said that there were ‘common underlying concepts” in many legal systems around the world”).
In the 71 articles penned by Harold Koh that appear in the Westlaw law review database, there is but one article that mentions Sharia (I tried a number of variations in the spelling of that term). This article is titled “Restoring America’s Human Rights Reputation” and appears in the Cornell International Law Journal after a lecture he delivered at that law school.
In that article, he denounces the government of Iran for “impos[ing] a strict form of Sharia law that denies basic rights to women and minorities.” (p. 69) The full passage is even more clear about his aversion to fundamentalist mullahs:
The human rights situation in Iran remains increasingly disturbing. Although a great percentage of the Iranian people support democratic reform, the country remains in the hands of the conservative clerics, who closely monitor and restrict the opposition and the press, punish human rights defenders, and impose a strict form of Sharia law that denies basic rights to women and minorities.
Here, Dean Koh shows the diplomat’s ability to separate the people of the country from their oppressive leaders. Like President Obama, who recently addressed the people of Iran in a Persian New Year greeting, Koh understands that many people in Iran would prefer democratic reform. Furthermore, he is concerned about free speech, denouncing Iran for “shut[ing] down two independent newspapers and block[ing] access to many media internet sites.”
In a footnote, he quotes from the State Department report on Iran:
As the Iran Report notes:
Human rights problems included severe restriction of the right of citizens to change their government peacefully unjust executions after reportedly unfair trials; disappearances; torture and severe officially sanctioned punishments such as death by stoning; flogging; excessive use of force against demonstrators; violence by vigilante groups with ties to the government; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of judicial independence; lack of fair public trials; political prisoners and detainees; severe restrictions on civil liberties including speech, press, assembly, association, movement, and privacy; severe restrictions on freedom of religion; official corruption; violence and legal and societal discrimination against women, ethnic and religious minorities, and homosexuals; incitement to anti-Semitism; severe restriction of workers' rights, including freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively; and child labor.
U.S. Dep't of State, Iran: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2006 intro. (2007), available at http:// www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2006/78852.htm.
In the article, he criticizes the human rights abuses in North Korea and elsewhere (including Saudi Arabia), but notes that our own ability to criticize others has been undermined by abuses such as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. He seeks to restore our leadership on human rights in the world.
Of course, the right wing will remain unsatisfied by this mention of Sharia. They will complain that his aversion is to “a strict form of Sharia law,” and not a denunciation of all Sharia law itself. Such a denunciation would be remarkably obtuse. It would alienate the people whom we most need to staunch global terrorism. Equally important, it would suggest that no liberal interpretations of Sharia are possible. As Madhavi Sunder has shown in her Yale Law Journal article, Piercing the Veil, this is false. Women around the world are challenging fundamentalist interpretations of the Koran. Like all the great religions, Islam too is open to interpretation, some liberal, others quite oppressive. (For novices like me, Karen Armstrong’s introduction to Islam is also helpful on this front.)
As Dahlia Lithwick writes, if we allow such outrageously false claims to be made about human rights leaders like Harold Koh, when shall we speak?
Posted by Anupam Chander on April 2, 2009 at 09:29 AM | Permalink
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It may not matter whether he siad it or not, shariah is an absolute threat to the US. If you don't want to believe that, you're in for a rude awakening.
Take a look at the UK, its happening there now.
It can happen here.
If you feel the US Constitution will protect us.....then we have to stand together and fight for our freedoms.
Posted by: BlackbootJack | Apr 2, 2009 5:04:50 PM
We have the facts. Please don't preach to me about "not having facts". We know this guy, and his agenda is not what this country is based on.
Your an educated man, so far be it for me to tell you to "learn the facts"
Wait and see what happens, then we can decide who owes who an apology.
Posted by: BlackbootJack | Apr 7, 2009 2:11:49 PM
Don't kid yourself. It's a slippery slope from where Koh resides to real judicial abuse and possible disaster from which it will take years to recover. His academic credentials mask a lack of true wisdom when it comes to realism and past history.
Posted by: dexter aoki | Apr 11, 2009 10:01:00 AM
God help us get rid of all the marxists that now seem to be permeating our government!With people like Frank,Pelosi,Dodd and most of Obama's cabinet picks,we might not stand a chance of remaining a Constitutional led Nation.
Posted by: Mike | Apr 11, 2009 10:17:37 AM
"Here, Dean Koh shows the diplomat’s ability to separate the people of the country from their oppressive leaders. Like President Obama ..."
Or, for that matter, President Bush. E.g. (early hit from a google search for "bush 'people of iran' speech'):
"On December 20, 2002, President Bush sent warm greetings to the people of Iran through Radio Farda ..."
"Although a great percentage of the Iranian people support democratic reform ..."
A point often made by the dread neocon Michael Ledeen, who, contrary to misrepresentation, has long advocated not externally imposed "regime change," but support for revolution WITHIN Iran.
At least that's what he says/writes/argues ... it could be an elaborate ruse, I guess.
Posted by: Knemon | Apr 17, 2009 8:32:47 AM
Here is what I was told by a conservative relative: "Do you know that Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Harold Koh, believes in Sharia Law that says that a woman who is raped should be put to death?" I thought that was outrageously absurd and did a little research on Sharia Law and Harold Koh. This statement that was made to me reminds me of the gossip game where you would whisper something in someone's ear and they would whisper it into the next person's ear, and so on and finally the last person would say what they thought they heard - which would be humorously (or in this case not so humorously) unlike the original statement, i.e. the facts.
Posted by: Sally Dillon | Jun 6, 2010 11:11:44 PM
Advocates of sharia do not differentiate between a so-called strict interpretation of sharia and one that would be moderate. There is just sharia. If it finds women as unequal to men, it is because Allah has created them unequal. End of subject.
Posted by: libertasdon | Sep 22, 2010 5:00:33 PM
Sharia has been distorted by extremists and leaders in seek for power and control over political and social decitions.
I agree that some goverments have acted in a destructive way to be in control, doing it by taking Saria's law in a destructive nd unhealthy why
Posted by: Web Services | Jan 29, 2011 10:05:53 AM
The Real problem is an extremist goverment!!
Sharia law is not the problem, I agree that some muslim goverments have acted in a destructive way to be in control, doing it by taking Sharia's law in a destructive nd unhealthy way.
We can also see this bad path in many other goverments, not just muslim, See Chiles' history with a liberal dictator!!
Posted by: Miami auto repair | Jan 29, 2011 2:31:45 PM
This is the new era of freedom and liberty and we are not going to witness another epoch in the history of mankind. The voice of the majority is the voice of people so the oppressed should break free from the shackles of subjugation.
Posted by: Reverse Marketing | Jun 1, 2011 1:19:13 PM
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