Quite a lot of what is written about Islam by those who aren't muslim is wrong; at best it is misleading, at worst an outright lie. Usually the focus is on things which differentiate between Muslim people and 'us'. A way of distancing and dehumanising people with emotions who live, work, and play under the same sky, above the same grass and who drink the same water as we do.
A good case in point is the notion of defining Islam by punishments. This is a little like me defining you by the colour of your coat.
While it is true that all cohesive societies which maintain stability over time require a justice system, consequently laws, there is much to learn yet about Islam and the philosophy behind the punishments meted out for crimes. The first reaction to hearing for example that someone is chopping off a persons hand is to recoil in revulsion, then there is often pity, and a sense that this should not happen again. Least of all to someone you know or care about.
Muslims feel the same way!
The reasons that allow this sort of thing to continue as that despite the apparent barbarity of the act, it's ability to draw dread makes it a perfect deterrent. And the perfect deterrent isn't much of a deterrent if one doesn't know whether it will be excercised. In societies which do not implement a panopticonic 'big brother' style of social behavioural condition, i.e societies which respect the soul, the narrative element of human justice remains intact, and so you get punishments which are visual, but also -crucially - rare. That is important to bear in mind, often in the west the punishments in response to horrific crimes are relatively light, with remarkably low punitive content. This often leaves victims feeling that the court cares more about the criminal than it does about their welfare.
The treatment of rape victims is a very good example, up until recently in the UK the rape suspect had the right to cross-examine the victim on the stand, and while this idea is good in principle it's main use in reality is to terrify the victim into incoherence, rape victims are, understandably, traumatized by their attackers.
To the Muslim mind, and to a lesser extent the eastern mind, this is incomprehensible!
Justice should be swift, clean, total, and should leave all observers in no doubt that any member of society is as safe from attack as possible and in retribution the state will be firmly on the side of the victim. That is not to say that the accused has no rights! Before any punitive measures are even considered, the person must have been proven guilty under evidence laws that are tougher than they are in most western countries, including the UK. Once it is proven that the person is guilty then the state should pass judgement on the criminal, exact punishment on behalf of the victim, and also exact reparation for the victim.
Again, in islamic societies political stability of the system takes second place to justice within communities. I.E it is better for people if an unjust system reforms than otherwise. The challenge here then becomes how to reform a system with the balance of forces which shape a society, internal, external, environment, historical, and prospective.
I want to make this distinction, because people often think their inherited views of religion, society, and politics apply to islam, and get confused when they see it working. This causes hostility because islam is evolutionionarily stable. You can see this in the growth of islam in the modern day, despite the inhibitory factors of war, economic deprivation, and massively blacked out, and negative media representation. There is more going on than meets the eye, and much of the appeal comes from the straightforward moral nature of Islam.
I.E : The morality in Islam is very strict, there is no blaming society except in cases where it is obvious society has failed, one MUST accept responsibility for one's actions. A sentiment sadly unshared in the rest of the world.