Islamism,  UK Politics

Sharia, again

The Times reports:

A female Muslim councillor has been subjected to a hate campaign by Muslim men in her ward, leaving her unable to visit some of the streets that she represents.

Hasina Khan, 38, the only Muslim councillor in Chorley, Lancashire, said that she had suffered a barrage of threatening phone calls, verbal abuse and insulting graffiti because the men objected her public role.

Mrs Khan, a mother of three, said: “I’ve had to totally change the way I go about my job. I used to do ward walks all the time, but now there are some streets I can’t even walk down.”

The hate campaign began when she put herself forward as a Labour candidate three years ago. “It is just a few members of the community who think I should be at home with a veil over my face, although if other people choose to do that, then I respect their choice,” she said.

“However, I feel that if it was a male Asian councillor then he would be treated as a hero. Because I am a woman I get the opposite treatment. They can’t understand my mainstream views and those of ‘live and let live’ and how the British culture should be respected … It has been extremely hard for me and my family and if it wasn’t for my British constituents, I don’t think I would have been able to get through it.”

Terry Brown, the Mayor of Chorley, who represents the same ward as Mrs Khan, said: “Because she’s a female Asian woman their view is that she should be at home producing babies.

“It’s a shame. She’s a well-respected member of the community and … an exceptionally talented woman.” …

Mrs Khan, who blames the smear campaign on a small minority of Muslim men, said that she would not give into the threats. “This has gone on for too long and I will not sit back and let it happen any more … Nobody should have to go through this, especially an Asian Muslim woman, as Islam is very protective and fair with women. It isn’t just about me any more – it is about thousands of other women who are being held down by people who refuse to wake up to the reality that it is the 21st century.”

Dukandar Idris, the imam of Chorley’s Dawat ul Islam mosque, said that Mrs Khan should have taken her grievances to the mosque’s elders, rather than speaking out. He also questioned some of her claims: “Which streets can’t she walk down?”

He said that, as imam, he could not forbid Muslim women from standing for election, but he would be entitled to forbid his wife. “Because this is Britain, you cannot tell anyone what to do. I can tell my wife, but cannot tell other women, ‘You cannot do this and that’,” he said.

The imam of the Dawat ul Islam mosque knows that “because this is Britain”, he cannot tell other women what to do. Instead, he favours a system of domestic, communal conflict resolution, administered by the “mosque’s elders”.

He is not alone.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips gave a speech at the London Muslim Centre last night. The London Muslim Centre is the base of a south Asian clerical fascist party called Jamaat-e-Islami. Jamaat is weak in Bangladesh, because it perpetrated horrendous war crimes during that country’s War of Liberation. However, through the Young Muslim Organisation, it has had more success in recruiting in the East End.

In his speech, the Lord Chief Justice stressed that Britain was not about to see “sharia courts” applying draconian criminal punishments “such as flogging, stoning, cutting off hands, or killing” to British Muslims. Neither would sharia be able to effect divorce.

However, like the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chief Justice supported the right of “individuals to opt to resolve certain disputes under their own choice of jurisdiction”.

I strongly defend the right of individuals, both to live their lives according to any religious or non religious code they choose. I also support the right of parties to arms’ length commercial disputes electing arbitration as an alternative to litigation. It is no concern of mine, or of the state, if people decide that they will not eat pork. Likewise, if two businessmen formally agree that they will be bound by the ruling of a religious authority on some contractual matter, they should be held to that procedure.

However, the LCJ and the ABC appear to be going further than that. Lord Philips appears to have said that:

[I]t was not “very radical to advocate embracing Sharia in the context of family disputes, for example. Our system already goes a long way towards accommodating the Archbishop’s suggestion.”  

The problem with allowing a religious code, and sharia in particular, to be used as the basis of solving “family disputes” is clear. First, the law itself systematically discriminates against women. Secondly, the people who will be doing the “deciding” will be misogynists: “mosque elders” and people with the mindset of Dukandar Idris.

At the moment, Mr Idris knows full well that he has no power to force women like Councillor Khan to obey religious cultural norms. Were he and his ilk given the power to arbitrate in “family disputes”, some women would voluntarily agree to be bound by his decision.

Others will be subject to threats, both social and physical, to take their “family disputes” to these men. English law would criminalise any threat of violence against a woman who refused to submit to the jurisdiction of sharia-based arbitration in “family disputes”: although whether such matters would be policed effectively is another question. However, others will be subject to a more subtle pressure. They will face potential estrangement from their family and community. They will be treated as traitors to their faith. Their morality will be questioned. In short, with the exception of certain rather brave women, like Councillor Khan, most will be bullied into accepting the judgement of the “elders”.

I do not think that it will always be this way. Women in Britain achieved formal legal equality only recently. The struggle for social and economic equality still has some way to go. Yet many of the most important battles have been won. They were won by women like Councillor Khan, and by other progressives.

This is why I am proud to belong to the Labour Party: a party whose members include Councillor Hasina Khan and Mayor Terry Brown.

It is also why I am depressed to belong to a profession whose members include Lord Phillips, who last night attended an cultural centre run by a theocratic fascist party, appeared to endorse the use of sharia in “family disputes” and apparently had not a word to say about the position of women who are likely to be bullied into institutionalised gender discrimination.