L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 239, September 21, 2003

Evil is as Evil Does

Free Amina Lawal
by Todd Andrew Barnett
libertarianman@comcast.net

Special to TLE

One of the crucial distinctions between conservatives and ideologically pure libertarians lies in the fact that, unlike conservatives, libertarians — religious and secular — do not call for the state regulation and incarceration of law-abiding individuals who engage in immoral and unethical conduct, particularly when said conduct does not infringe upon the peaceful affairs of other individuals. Libertarians may frown upon such immoral and unethical conduct and sometimes will attempt to persuade — in lieu of force — others to modify their behavior and to see the errors of their ways. They may not concur with it, but they will not employ the power of the state to mete out punishment to those who have not violated the rights of others.

Unfortunately, religious conservatives, who do not and cannot see the distinction between immoral actions that cause harm to others and immoral actions that do not cause harm to others, do not see the harm in conjoining both the power of the state and the power of their Christian God — a joining which is used to penalize such behavior. The recent conviction of Amina Lawal, a 32-year-old Nigerian woman, is such a compelling example.

According to various reports, including those filed by USA Today, the New York Times, and Reuters, a Nigerian court in Bakori convicted Lawal in March 2002 because she had sex out of wedlock in 2000. Although she has been divorced from her husband for four years, she engaged in an intimate relationship with a man, became pregnant, and gave birth to her daughter Wasila in 2001(who is now two years old).

So, what was her sentence? She was to be buried in sand up to her neck and stoned to death.

Amnesty International for Schools and Universities has recently pointed out that, according to the provisions of the country's Islamic law (also known as Sharia), a practicing Muslim woman who commits adultery or engages in sexual conduct outside of marriage "constitutes sufficient evidence for a woman to be convicted of adultery" and must be sentenced to death. Lawal, of course, allegedly confessed to bearing a child while divorced and was thus arrested, incarcerated, and tried for practicing such an illegal conduct.

The man with whom Lawal allegedly had an affair and who is said to be Wasila's father reportedly denied having any sexual relations with Amina and was acquitted on the charges. Obviously one gets the impression that he has also denied that he's the father of the child as well and does not want to have anything to do with either Amina or even the child.

At first Lawal attempted to appeal to the court's decision in August, but it was denied. From there on, she attempted to file appeal after appeal, which has led to no success. While appeals have been continuing to mount, the courts had ordered that she would not be executed until Wasila had been weaned. Nevertheless, it is more than likely that the postponement of her execution will last until 2004, as mandated by Sharia law.

Then on Wednesday, August 27, 2003, an Islamic appeals court in northern Nigeria's Katsina state decided to postpone the ruling on the appeal until September 25. A tearful, heavily veiled and draped Lawal, sitting on a bench while cuddling and nurturing her toddler at the front of the court, watched as one of her attorneys — Aliyu Musa Yawuri — argued for a second appeal. He said that, under Islamic law, it is assumed that a Muslim woman could carry a "sleeping embryo for a period of five years commencing from the date of divorce."

Then Yawuri, clad in traditional British-style barrister's wig, tells the five judges clad in white turbans and black-and-gold robes, presiding this case in the Hausea language: "Amina was divorced about 10 months when she delivered her child, so the courts ought to have applied that law in her favor." It should be mentioned that this point was unfortunately never brought up in her earlier appeals, but at least it was brought up in this one.

Apparently, that argument didn't deter the court's prosecutor from pursuing the case. Sharia prosecutor Nurulhuda Mohammad Darma, standing before the judges, said that the accused's pregnancy and martial status were "evidence enough" of a crime. "There is no other excuse that is acceptable," said Darma. Then, in his closing remarks, he mentioned that he "would not object if the court finds a good reason to set Amina free." One would have to see it in order to believe it.

As soon as the court was adjourned, as Lawal and her attorneys walked out of the courtroom and made their way past the police and the press, Amina, with tears streaming down her cheeks, said, "I've never been this afraid. I'm tired of all this." One cannot blame her for feeling this way at all, given her difficult plight.

Interestingly enough Human Rights Watch points out in its August 20, 2002 press release that a small number of northern Nigerian states have been, at an alarming rate, enforcing Sharia law on criminal cases, particularly when they involve theft and adultery. It also points out that Nigerian Sharia courts have mandated amputations and capital punishment by stoning for adultery and sex-out-of-wedlock cases, although said stoning sentences have not been carried out to date.

Because of these cases, men and women have been targeted by the state for engaging in nonviolent activities — activities that are abominable and unholy in the eyes of the religious Nigerian statists. If anything, these actions should be deplored and looked down upon, as these prosecutions are nothing more than simple violations of their individual, civil, and human rights.

This case is the epitome of the brutality, the barbarism, and the cruelty of state regulated nonviolent behavior. Whether or not one believes the act was immoral, unethical, or even sinful, one cannot deny that this saga serves to distinguish libertarians and conservatives. Conservatives, especially those in Nigeria, believe that the state should enforce its power to mete out punishment to those who engage in immoral, offensive conduct such as committing adultery, using drugs, having sex out of wedlock, or even engaging in gambling, prostitution, or pornography.

Point of fact, religious conservatives, who might as well be considered the Taliban wing of the Republican Party, truly and seriously believe that there is nothing wrong with combining their Christian God and the state and allowing them to act in cahoots with one another. Because of this, this creates an alliance between the two, thereby empowering the state, for all practical intents and powers, to employ its power by punishing its citizenry for committing nonviolent acts.

Unfortunately, conservatives fail to fathom the fact that this brand of punitive approach to nonviolent conduct, even if it is immoral and sinful in their eyes, serves to implicitly condemn what human beings — especially religious Christians and Wiccans — identify as free will. (The libertarian tenets of my religion say that, all things being clearly equal, this is a wonderful gift bestowed upon us by the Lord and the Lady.)

Perhaps many people should have noticed that this has become an irrelevant monumental concept to conservatives residing in both Nigeria and the United States. Nevertheless, honestly, should we be stunned — even surprised — with their sentiments on the subject?

Fortunately religious libertarians — namely Christians and Wiccans — rightfully clamor for the abolition of such laws on the books because such policies interfere with the peaceful conduct and actions of law-abiding individual human beings. They believe that individuals are and ought to be free to do what they wish, so long as their actions are peaceful and are committed upon mutual consent. We may not approve of, concur with, or even condone their choices, but we recognize and acknowledge that human liberty and free will entail the right to make said choices.

In the end we also recognize and acknowledge that a society that embraces and adopts such precepts is a society in which such mores as compassion, love, caring, responsibility, conscience, and morals are not only developed, nurtured, and cherished, but are also a cornerstone of a free and civil society.

For that, it is time for the people of Nigeria to free Amina Lawal and to repeal the diabolical state-mandated policy, which tyrannizes their society.



copyright © 2003 by Todd Andrew Barnett. All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint any portion of or the entire article is hereby granted, provided that the author's name and credentials are included.

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