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Arizona Outlaws International Law to “Protect” Women’s Rights

In yet another vainglorious display of state sovereignty, Arizona lawmakers have pronounced the state above international law. No less than 21 (Republican) members of the legislature are sponsoring a bill that would bar courts from considering the “legal precepts of other nations or cultures when making judicial decisions.” In other words, they want to make sure that Arizona’s judicial system adheres to the same standards of cultural chauvinism that the legislature has made such a point of embracing over the last year.

The measure would seem to be in response to a recent deluge of international criticism regarding the state’s egregious immigration policies. Last year, United Nations experts denounced Arizona’s SB 1070 (Arizona’s infamous immigration law) and HB 2281 (the ethnic studies ban) for violating international human rights standards—in particular: migrants’ rights and basic prinicples of non-driscimination and humane treatment. A few months later, the U.S. State Department ruffled the nationalistic feathers of Arizona’s leading Republicans when it included SB 1070 in a human rights report submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council (Governor Jan Brewer made sure to have a very public conniption at the “downright offensive” news). And, even before all of the hullaballoo over SB 1070, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights cited Arizona detention centers for violating the rights of immigrant detainees, especially those of women, children and LGBT.

But, despite being on blast by the international community, state lawmakers are claiming that the bill that has nothing whatever to do with Arizona’s immigration laws or the numerous lawsuits challenging those laws. State senator Linda Gray (R), one of the bill’s chief sponsors, told New America Media that the measure is actually about protecting the rights of women:

Senator Gray said the law was inspired by the case of a 20 year old woman who was allegedly run over by her father, an Iraqi immigrant, in what prosecutors labeled an “honor killing”, because the father claimed his daughter had dishonored the family by becoming too westernized. […] Gray said that if judges consider cultural differences and international law in their decisions, it could result in protecting the aggressor in such cases.

A likely story, isn’t it? Leaving aside Gray’s total lack of faith in the justice system, it’s terribly unlikely that this bill would have any bearing whatever on the “honor killing” case to which she refers. That case has already gone to trial in Phoenix (as of today) while the bill, which was only introduced two weeks ago, requires 2012 voter approval.

But, even if we take her explanation at face value, there are plenty of other reasons to suspect that the measure is much more politically motivated than she suggests. In the first place, this “women’s rights” bill has 21 Republican sponsors (including SB 1070 author Russell Pearce and a host of other avowedly anti—immigrant lawmakers). Never in Arizona’s history has “protecting women” been so popular with Republicans. That said, Republicans do have a track record of championing women’s rights—when doing supports their own political agenda or buttresses their own projections of racial or cultural superiority.

This bill, which is now publicly associated with the “honor killing” case, is a perfect embodiment of that. In addition to invoking politically embedded American sympathy for the oppressed Muslim Woman (remember: we are at war to save the women), it reinforces flagrant tropes about the depravity of immigrants and their presumed aversion to assimilation. To that end, the bill certainly—if implicitly— supports an anti-immigrant agenda, even as Gray parades it as a bill about women’s rights. More obviously, though, it smacks of the legislature’s characteristic chauvinism, and dovetails squarely with its most criticized (and purportedly unrelated) immigration laws.

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