The University of Minnesota Law School hosts a Human Rights Center. By its own description, the HRC “assists human rights advocates, monitors, students, educators, and volunteers access effective tools, practices, and networks to promote a culture of human rights and responsibilities in our local, national, and international communities.” The description requires some translation, but you probably get the drift.
The HRC has just established an Islamic Law and Human Rights Program. The announcement of the Islamic Law and Human Rights Program at the University of Minnesota Law School was widely covered by outlets including the National Law Journal, Minnesota Public Radio, and the University of Minnesota Daily. The stories left some basic questions unanswered. A week ago yesterday I wrote HRC co-director Kristi Rudelius-Palmer to ask a few of them:
I’m a 1979 graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School and a contributor to the Web site Power Line. I read last week about the new Islamic Law and Human Rights Program for the study of Shariah that will be operating under the auspices of the Human Rights Center and wondered if you would be willing to answer these questions:
1. From where is the funding to support the Program (and its new positions) derived? Is any of it derived from public funds? I see the Center’s list of supporters in its annual reports. Is that a comprehensive list of all sources of funds?
2. How does the study of Shariah relate to the mission of the Human Rights Center?
3. I have read the materials posted on the Human Rights Center site about the work of the new Program. Can you give me an example of how it will function as a think tank for issues related to Islamic law, human rights, etc.?
4. What local groups do you anticipate the Program will “partner” with?
5. I see you are quoted to the effect that you hope the Program can help open Minnesota culture and traditions to immigrant communities. Would you please explain how Minnesota culture and tradition are closed to immigrant communities?
I also asked a few questions that were geared to Program director Abdulwahid Qalinle, a graduate of what he describes in his short bio as “the prestigious” International Islamic University in Islamabad. Taking a look at the university Web site, it appears to me that the university has separate campuses and faculty for men and women. If so, I guess it’s a separate but equal kind of a deal. I wrote to Ms. Rudelius-Palmer
6. Professor Qalinle is quoted as describing the Program’s “role in what is unfolding in Egypt” as “shed[ding] light on the intersection of Islamic law and human rights.” He further referred to the potential for the Muslim Brotherhood to implement some elements of Islamic law, or Shariah, if elected to the government succeeding the president. Is Professor Qalinle inspired by the prospect? How does he think the implementation of Islamic law has worked out in Iran? In Saudi Arabia? In the Gaza Strip?
7. I see that Professor Qalinle intends to have research done, for example, on whether or not men and women have equal rights in Islam. Is this an open question? Are separate faculty and educational campuses for men and women consistent with Shariah? With equal rights for women?
I concluded with the request that Ms. Rudelius-Palmer promptly respond to the questions that were within her personal knowledge (questions 1-5) even if we have to wait on answers to 6 and 7, and with a request that she direct me to the right person to field the questions if she was not the person.
When I received no response to my message last week, I also wrote HRC co-director/University of Minnesota Law School Professor David Weissbrodt as well as University of Minnesota Law School Dean David Wippman. I also called Dean Wippman, who told me that Ms. Rudelius-Palmer was traveling and that he would make sure she responds to me when she returned. Ms. Rudelius-Palmer in fact responded to my message yesterday. Here is her response:
Thanks for your email. I have been traveling and apologize for not responding sooner. The Islamic Law and Human Rights program is one of a number of programs run by the Human Rights Center. The Center’s complete funding sources are detailed in its annual report, which can be found at http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/center/report.html.
Among other things, the Center supports research and teaching on the relationship between different legal traditions and international human rights norms. The new program will look at the relationship between Islamic law and international human rights. The Center partners with a wide variety of organizations interested in human rights, many of which are listed on the Center’s website. I trust that the program’s goals will become clearer once the program has had time to develop.
Human Rights Center Co-Director
University of Minnesota Law School
I find this response deficient. It doesn’t say much of anything. Ms. Rudelius-Palmer does not sound like a director of a human rights center who seeks to promote a wide understanding of her work. Rather, she sounds like an obfuscatory government bureaucrat. As director of a human rights center, she must be protecting her right to remain silent.
I forwarded Ms. Rudelius’s message both to Professor Weissbrodt and Dean Wippman, asking if they cared to expand on the response and noting I would be writing about it today. They too are exercising their right to remain silent.
Ms. Rudelius-Palmer received several email messages about the new Program in the initial wave of publicity about it, and not all of them were supportive. “As some of the negative responses came out, I guess it just had me recharged for the importance of having the Islamic Law and Human Rights program in existence,” Ms. Rudelius-Palmer told MPR. “Because if there really is that much fear out there, then it’s obviously a program and these conversations are things that we need to have.”
Was Ms. Rudelius-Palmer projecting a bit? Let the conversations begin.