Sunday, February 10, 2008

Rowan Williams, Sharia Law and a Storm in a Teacup

Predictably there has been a media storm over Rowan Williams' comments regarding Sharia law and the UK legal system. The word 'Sharia' has far too many connotations for it to be used in a rational, sensible debate. Thanks in no small part to the tabloid press, Sharia has become overtly linked to hand chopping, beheadings and stonings. Of course, the reality is that this isn't necessarily the case. The practices in Saudi Arabia, for example, are more to do with the despotic regime and its own particular interpretation of Sharia than Sharia law itself. Besides, this was not the point that Williams was actually trying to make. He actually made reference to civil practices, rather than the medieval criminal justice that is handed down in some Islamic countries.

What Williams was actually suggesting was that elements of Sharia should be acceptable under UK law. He argued that UK law should always take precedence in any legal dispute but, where Sharia and UK law are not directly in conflict, recourse to Sharia should be an acceptable alternative for the Muslim population. This would, for example, allow Sharia Law Councils to deal with divorce and other civil disputes and the outcomes would be recognised by English law. There is no real revolutionary concept behind this. There is no real threat to 'our way of life', whatever that might mean. Jewish citizens of the UK already have such a system in place where they can refer to a recognised court for civil actions via the Beth Din. It is surely possible to having a working comparable for those of Islamic faith.

Perhaps the oddests side of this whole debate has been the typical reaction from the reactionary right. They have been very quick to rubbish Williams and his arguments whilst demonstrating a compete ignorance of his arguments. Just this morning I saw two laughable attempts by a pair of jokers on this morning's Big Question (I know, shite programme, shouldn't expect anything less). This morning, both Kelvin McKenzie and Douglas Murray (I believe the collective word for such people is cunts) spewed utter vile straight to camera. Both of them used particularly hilarious attempts at attacking Williams and the concept of Sharia. What makes there arguments particularly amusing is the methods by which they attacke Sharia. Suddenly, out of the blue, McKenzie has become concerned with equal gender rights and human rights abuses. Suddenly, he is concerned with how women are treated and how criminals are punished. Laugh?? I nearly coughed up my internal organs. This is a man who presided over The Sun for fuck's sake, he didn't seem to bothered about gender equality back then did he?? Not to mention is repeated calls to 'string up' various criminals. What a joke this man really is. Furthermore, he claimed that if Christians were living in an Islamic country, they would have to live by Islamic law and deal with the consequences. Wrong. As Jason Burke points out in today's Observer:

Elsewhere accommodations have been found, often based on original settlements by colonial powers. So in India, which does not have a state religion, 140 million Muslims, like other communities, have retained their own civil laws governing marriages, divorces, deaths, births and inheritance. In overwhelmingly Muslim majority Egypt, religious minorities are governed under separate personal status laws and courts. The Coptic Christian minority in the country marry under Christian law and foreigners marry under the laws of their countries of origin.

Yes, in an Islamic country Christians can marry under Christian law. They are not forced to accept Islamic law as the be all and end all. As for Douglas 'Smug Arse' Murray, he came out with a real pearl. Apparently, elements of Sharia should not be permitted as we shouldn't accept laws that originate from a 'fictional book'. Whilst I agree that this should not be the case, aren't our current laws based on Christian law and therefore derive from a 'fictional book'??? Oh sorry Douggie, did that just shoot down your pathetic argument??

Ooops, I went off on a bit of a tangent then. Anyway, whatever McKenzie, Murray and the other neo-fascist conservatives argue is entirely irrelevant. This was not the argument that was set out. The argument revolved around civil disputes and the best way of handling them, not some ridiculous artificial argument about stonings and mutations. We already have some acceptance of Islamic modes of living within the UK, particularly in regard to halal meat and Sharia-compliant mortgages. Personally, I am opposed to religion having any role within the law whatsoever. However, it seems absurd that Muslims cannot have the same rights bestowed upon them as with other religions. If two Muslims (with emphasis on the two - both have to want it) wish to deal with their personal disputes with a Sharia court, let them. I really couldn't care less. If it is good enough for Jews it is good enough for Muslims. As long as English law is primary (and the likelihood of some interpretations of Sharia ever being recognised is slim to say the least - not least because it would lead to our withdrawal from the EU), there is no problem. Rowan Williams' only fault is in believing that the public were ready for a mature debate on the issues. With the press firmly anti anything Islamic, the chances of a rational debate where zero. Particularly when shits like Murray and McKenzie continue to draw breath.

Incidentally, there was a fascinating article in The Guardian a while back regarding a Sharia Law Council operating in the UK. It proved quite enlightening on what the system actually means in practice. I would heartily recommend reading it here.

You can also read the .pdf file of the speech given by Williams here.

Oh yes, apologies for the McKenzie/Murray rant. I had a belly full this morning what with Amanda Platell, Kelvin McKenzie and Douglas Murray all on BBC1 within 60mins. That is more than one person can handle without public warnings by the BBC beforehand.