Any deal that forces women and human rights to take a backseat to profit and trade should be a non-starter. But right now, the United States is negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement with 11 nations including Brunei, a country that recently adopted a vicious new penal code threatening the rights and lives of women, lesbians, and gay men.
If human rights abuses really were the metric by which we decided on trade and travel, the U.S. should be banning Americans from visiting our staunchest allies and our most popular vacation spots (including much of the Caribbean, where homosexuality is illegal, though it's not illegal in Cuba). It would literally be much of the globe.
Historically, effective resistance to excessive Islamization in Muslim-majority countries has often been headed by the military, as champions of secularism. This has been obvious in the modern history of the Middle East. Where monarchies have reigned, Islam's role has been harder to predict. And so in Brunei, a stable country living off oil wells, the sudden implementation of hudud has left many baffled. The government has suppressed social media response against the sudden imposition of hudud. Whether the whole exercise is simply the whim of an autocrat or long-term strategic politics is too early to determine.
Instead of using hashtags or the military, what if we could debate with the Sultan or Boko Haram about what Sharia demands? What if we could ask them to reflect on how their definition of Sharia could be updated to reflect today's world? To ask such questions is not only to critically know and engage the Islamic tradition, but also to remove the monopoly that Boko Haram claims on defining what Sharia is for everyone.