Anti-Discrimination Law ensures intellectual and legal framework for direct action against offenders
The UAE has taken a major step in standing up for tolerance by introducing an important new law that criminalises inflaming religious hatred or insulting religion. The Anti-Discrimination Law also makes a specific provision that anyone who accuses other religious groups of being “infidels” or “unbelievers” is breaking the law and will be punished.
The importance of the law is that it comes at a time when sectarian violence is increasing in the Middle East. The law allows the authorities to act in cases where they find such acts and it also serves a wider political purpose of standing up for the open-minded values for which the UAE has worked so hard over the decades.
The law is careful to prohibit discrimination over a very wide range of categories — including religion, caste, doctrine, race, colour or ethnic origin. As such, it articulates the intention of the UAE government to support a tolerant and open-minded society, which is host to people of many nationalities and religions who live and work in the UAE. But the current focus of hatred and violence in the region comes from the minority of religious extremists within Islam and the new law makes clear that such hatred will not be tolerated in the UAE.
From the beginning, Islam has been able to tolerate many interpretations of religion, which were later codified into formal schools of thought — ranging from the very conservative, which insisted on textual support for any ruling, to the more pragmatic that were more open to the jurists’ own interpretations. The mutual acceptance of each other between all Muslims included both the major doctrinal differences between Shiites and Sunnis, but also included the different schools within those two major strands of Islam.
One modern articulation of this tolerance was the Amman Message, which was signed in 2004 by more than 200 scholars from more than 50 countries and made a point of recognising all four major Sunni schools, as well as four Shiite schools, and added the very important point that it was forbidden for a Muslim to pronounce disbelief, takfir or excommunication on any other Muslim.
This is a fundamental point that the terrorists of Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) have had the arrogance to break. They have tortured and used gross and savage ways to murder Muslims whom they have captured and whom they said are non-believers.
In recent years, tension has risen between some Shiite and Sunni communities, with violence and mass murder from extremists on both sides seeking to inflame this division. One important example of actions taken to resist the horror of sectarian violence was when earlier this month, the Emir of Kuwait, Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, immediately visited a Shiite mosque in Kuwait after it had been bombed and a week later attended joint Shiite-Sunni prayers at the Grand Mosque. He was joined by thousands of Kuwaiti Shiites and Sunnis, as well as the crown prince, parliament speaker and other ministers and lawmakers, in a powerful demonstration that citizenship came before sectarian differences. Similar joint prayers were also held in Bahrain where sectarian issues have also been a major problem.
It is also interesting that the law includes an appeal to anyone involved in any activity that violates the new law to come forward and voluntarily submit themselves to the authorities. The law also makes it clear that the courts will waive any penalties on someone who voluntarily comes forward. This is important as it means that anyone involved in such activity and who wants to return to mainstream society can act with much greater confidence because he or she will have the legal right to have the penalties waived. For some people, this can be a crucial incentive to break with any radical with whom they have been associating.
The UAE Anti-Discrimination Law is designed to build an intellectual and legal framework that will support direct action against discrimination and hatred. The law has been written to complement other UAE laws, which, for years, have banned things like inciting hatred between communities. The new law makes it clear that hate speech and inciting violence are against the law whether it is done in speech or written in any form including books, pamphlets and through online activity.
This last stipulation may be the most important since terrorists have been effective in using social media to recruit people to sympathise with them and even work for them. Nearly all recent cases of terrorist acts included an element of online activity, sometimes at an early stage, as the individual reached out to the cell or sometimes at a later stage when the individual was given special instructions.
Enforcement of law online is notoriously difficult as it is hard to achieve legal control over content and messages entering the jurisdiction from all over the world, but the UAE’s new law makes clear that anyone in the UAE welcoming such content is committing a serious crime.
By Francis Matthew, Editor at Large
23, July, 2015