Will Moslem Law Stop Crime?
The Preliminary Results, as Seen in Iran
THE tide of revolution and the movements for freedom throughout the world have brought the laws of troubled nations into the limelight. Islamic law, in particular, has been a subject for discussion in the public press since the recent overthrow of the Shah of Iran. On this point, The Wall Street Journal remarked:
“Islam is on the march throughout the Moslem world. It affects governments in Iran, in Pakistan, in Algeria, in Tunisia, in Libya and elsewhere. . . . The Islamic eye-for-an-eye ‘Sharia law’ is being implemented in Pakistan and in Abu Dhabi. . . . [Algeria’s] constitution also emphasizes that it is ‘an Islamic state.’”
Speeches by Iran’s revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhalla Khomeini reveal that the new revolutionary government is not merely a “social revolution” or a political government by popular assemblies or a parliamentary system. It is primarily a religious government. In Khomeini’s “Islamic Government,” a collection of lectures given in 1970, he describes the difference:
“Islamic government is a government of divine law. . . . The difference between Islamic government and constitutional government—whether monarchal or republican—lies in the fact that, in the latter system, it is the representatives of the people or those of the king who legislate and make laws. Whereas, the actual authority to legislate belongs exclusively to God. . . . Since Islamic government is a government of law, it is the religious expert (faqih) and no one else who should occupy himself with the affairs of government. It is he who should function in all those areas in which the Prophet (Muhammad himself) functioned—neither adding nor diminishing from these in the slightest degree. He should implement the canonical punishments, just as the Prophet did, and he should rule according to God’s revelation.”
The questions many persons (mostly non-Moslems) ask are: Can a purely Islamic government operate and survive in a modern world? Can it adapt to modern technology and international intercourse? The Moslems say that it can. Though Iran was a materialistic nation, having adopted many Western ways and enjoying its modern developments, the Moslem feels that he can do without these if they corrupt the Islamic way of life. Is this forecast correct?
This question became a cogent one when Khomeini interpreted Moslem law with regard to women’s dress. Concerning women “in Islamic ministries,” he said: “Women should not be naked at work in these ministries. There is nothing wrong with women’s employment. But they must be clothed according to religious standards.”
“In many quarters,” reported the New York Times, in a dispatch dated March 8, “the religious leader’s statements were taken as a command for Moslem women to wear the head-to-toe veil that orthodox custom dictates. Today, International Women’s Day, there were several demonstrations in the capital protesting Ayatollah Khomeini’s interpretation. In a driving snow, more than 6,000 women, many of them in jeans or Western dresses and boots, staged a four-hour march from Teheran University to Mr. Bazargan’s [the prime minister’s] ministry. Some chanted: ‘In the dawn of freedom, there is an absence of freedom.’”
Will the Iranians feel freer, happier, if Islamic law is applied in its full strictness, as Khomeini advocates? “There is no room,” he said, “for opinions or feelings in the system of Islamic government; rather, the Prophet and the Imams (Moslem leaders) and the people all follow the wish of God and his laws . . . We want a ruler who would cut off the hand of his own son if he steals, and would flog and stone his near relative if he fornicates.”
In a world where the majority of nations have become more lenient—in places too lenient—in carrying out their penalties for crime, will there be truly friendly trade relations and tourist interchange with other countries? Will there be further unrest among the Iranians themselves? Khomeini took this into consideration when he said:
“[The Islamic reformers] cry, ‘Woe to Islam,’ when it decrees 80 lashes as a punishment for the wine-drinker, or 100 lashes for the fornicator of ill repute, or when Islam requires the stoning death of a male or female fornicator of previously chaste reputation.”
Since the success of the revolution, the Islamic law is apparently beginning to be enforced. A news dispatch datelined Teheran, Iran, February 25, 1979, stated:
“A thief who broke into a widow’s house in Zenjan, northwest of Teheran, was given 25 lashes in the main square after local Islamic leaders prescribed the sentence. Earlier in the week two men, aged 20 and 22, were given 80 lashes each for drinking alcohol at Kerman, in southeastern Iran.”
In a release dated March 6, the New York Times* reported: “Late last night, for the first time, there were executions for violations of Moslem law. Seven men were shot to death here in two cases involving the raping of young men. In one of the cases, the alleged rape victim, who was 16 years old, was also given 100 lashes. The Revolutionary Court did not explain the punishment of the alleged victim.”
Other governments, not Moslem, are also punishing with more severe penalties in an attempt to stem the tide of the crime wave. These punishments may seem extreme and out of place to outside observers. But these observers might take notice of the fact that, on the other hand, where leniency toward criminals has been the practice, the same or a worse problem with crime exists. What, then, can we say about law as a crime deterrent, and is there any way that crime can be completely eliminated?
March 7, 1979, p. A8.