Taking Islamic Law Seriously: INGOs and the Battle for Muslim Hearts and Minds


Behind the doors of the most influential human rights organizations in the world, a crisis has been forming. It is a crisis that has become more acute with the increased global media, military, and economic focus on the Middle East/Muslim world since the September 11, 2001, attacks. The Middle East has long been considered a desert of non-compliance within the human rights community, often depicted as the region of the world least interested in international human rights law. The Middle East is, in fact, seen by some as the most rights-abusing region in the world. The growing sense in the West that something must be done about human rights in the Muslim world has pushed the region to the top of the priority list for major human rights organizations. At the same time, there is a sense within many international non-governmental organizations (“INGOs”) that the human rights movement’s response to recent events in the Middle East has been reactive, responding to an agenda set largely by the Bush administration and subject to the whims of global media attention. For many, it seems that human rights organizations are following the U.S. military into the Muslim world. Many also feel that the human rights movement’s rhetoric uncomfortably echoes that of the Bush administration, proclaiming disturbingly similar ends while espousing different means. Aside from making individual human rights professionals uncomfortable, this situation has brought a long-simmering dilemma within the Western-based human rights movement to the surface. This dilemma, yet to be openly addressed, concerns how the human rights movement should deal with Islamic law.