LETTER : Crime and punishment: Islamic law versus Western values

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From Mr Bassam Alloni

Sir: The editorial in today's issue, "The Gulf widens over executions" (9 October), and your reporting of the controversy surrounding Filipino maids ("The maid on death row," 9 October) will do little to change the situation in the Gulf to which they refer. Islamic law and the judgments made under Islamic law cannot be compared with entirely culturally different Western values. By Western standards the executions in Saudi Arabia this year may seem shocking, but it must be realised that Saudi is an Islamic country, and as such cannot radically change its judicial system.

The workings and practices of courts in Islamic countries are so little understood in the West that there is often total incomprehension at the way decisions are reached and cases conducted, and then a complete over- reaction when the judgments of the courts are carried out. Muslims have a deep respect for their judicial system and a desire to live in an Islamic society, whether this meets with approval in the West or not. It is also worth noting that crime levels in Saudi Arabia are far lower than in the West.

It seems to be forgotten in the hysterical publicity surrounding the isolated cases reported that there are well over 1.5 million Filipino migrant workers in the Gulf. They will contribute much of the $6bn sent home annually by the 4.2 million Filipino workers worldwide. The impact of the workers in the Gulf is acknowledged by the Filipino Minister of Labour, who visits the region every year to sign further employment treaties. His government must be satisfied with conditions or it would not encourage so many of its citizens to work in the Gulf.

Of course there are exceptional cases, but they constitute a tiny minority. Such charges, levelled against the Gulf, constituting a sweeping and extremely unfair generalisation, will not help the Filipinos, and will not change Islamic law or the desire of Muslim people to live under their chosen jurisdiction.

Yours faithfully,

Bassam Alloni

Gulf Centre for Strategic Studies

London, EC1

9 October

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