Voluntary sharia law in Canada no threat to its democracy

Mona Eltahawy's argument against the adoption of voluntary sharia-based family arbitration in Canada ("Ontario must say 'no' to Islamic law," Feb. 2) was well-argued, well-written, well-intentioned - and wrong.

Free societies ought to allow voluntary contracts among residents according to their value systems. Every day we face social coercion, but a free society permits us to work this out. Religious freedom means the right to risk unhealthy choices and commitments.

There is a night-and-day difference between imposed sharia and agreed sharia, though the concerns are understandable - even meritorious. But the risks of public restriction of religion and free association usually outweigh the risk of private coercion.
Matthew Hogan
Silver Spring, Md.

Giving hope to Muslim Americans

Thank you for John Tirman's Opinion piece on the sociopolitical difficulties faced by American Muslims ("A focus on facts ought to dispel mistrust of US Muslims," Jan. 31).

When ideas are voiced that contradict mainstream conventions or beliefs, as occurs when Mr. Tirman speaks out on behalf of a wrongly marginalized Muslim American community, it reinvigorates my trust in humanity's commitment to truth and justice.
Rasha Ali

Leaders: we're watching your behavior

Regarding Jeffrey Shaffer's Jan. 28 column, "This is my 'no name-calling zone' ": The lowering and coarsening of behavioral standards in America are both alarming and preventable. While there are many factors contributing to the decline in civility, at the top of the list must surely be the models set by our leaders.

When leaders in the White House, Congress, corporate board rooms, and on sports fields regularly demonize, denigrate, and intimidate their opponents, they model and reinforce values, attitudes, and behaviors that are inimical to a healthy democratic society.

The ripple effects of these practices spread throughout the culture and normalize incivility. Leaders on and off the field, in and out of the corridors of power must be held accountable for their words and actions, which in fact have powerful, cumulative consequences.

Regular citizens, mental-health professionals, teachers, and the press can all play a crucial role in bringing to light the way the "humiliation dynamic" insidiously lowers the quality of life by assaulting the dignity of countless men, women, and children.
Akiba Mermey
Manchester, Maine

That's not the Iraq he saw

Regarding the Jan. 27 article "In US, patience over Iraq thins": I have a friend who has just returned from Iraq, where he was a major program manager for a southern region. He had a $500 million budget to fix infrastructure problems and he said they were accomplishing great things.

Now that he is home, he is watching the evening news in disbelief. He says it does not look like the place he just returned from. He and I believe that a little more balance in news reporting (the good with the bad) would help lift the sagging public opinion in the US of American efforts in Iraq.

After all, if you placed a bunch of foreign news teams in East Los Angeles and they only covered crime, it might not properly reflect America.

I don't want to diminish the tragic loss of life in this war; I just want to see some of the good things that my tax dollars are accomplishing.
Stephen Parfet
Jamestown, R.I.

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