Saturday, July 5, 2008

Sharia Law

Britain's top judge, Lord Phillips, has expressed support for certain aspects of Sharia law.

Is cosying up to Muslim extremists the best way to defeat terrorism?

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, was nice about sharia this week. It is not "only about mandating sanctions such as stoning, flogging, the cutting off of hands and death to those who do not comply with the law", he said. And the provisions of sharia "do not include the repression of women".

Lord Phillips admitted that he did not claim "special expertise" in the field, but he had been to see some sharia chaps in Oman and they had seemed very civilised.

Anyway, his main point was that sharia might be useful here in mediating disputes about things such as marriage.

And it is true that sharia is not "only" about nasty punishments. But such punishments are indeed part of sharia (40 lashes for drinking alcohol is a widely accepted tariff, for example; 100 lashes for fornication), even if they are not always applied. Lord Phillips also did not mention that sharia upholds polygamy for men, prescribes a lower compensation for injury to a Muslim woman or a non-believer than to a Muslim man, and gives less value to their testimony in court. A little bit of repression of women there, Lord Phillips?

Sharia also traditionally insists on a second-class status of citizenship for Jews and Christians. All four main schools of sharia say that the penalty for apostasy - abandoning the faith - is death.

He also quoted from the Koran to show the importance of justice in Islam. I looked up the two quotations. The first appears in a chapter called "Women", which says things like: "The male shall inherit twice as much as a female". The bit about judging with fairness appears just after the following: "Those that deny Our revelations will burn with fire." The second quotation, also about judging with fairness, comes in a passage about how Jews who believe the wrong things must be punished.

Of course, you could find some blood-curdling things in Jewish and Christian scriptures, but the difference for our society today is that neither Jews nor Christians are trying to establish a state based on the political implementation of their religion. Islamists are.

There is a similar problem with the Government's efforts against terrorism. A huge programme called Contest, with a subset called Prevent, is supposed to address the hearts and minds of young Muslims. If you read its latest strategy document, you find that its definition of "shared values" has little idea of Britishness. Its section on "grievances" implies that the root causes of extremism are Britain's own racism, inequality or foreign policy. Its proposed "structures" to prevent violent extremism are a cat's cradle of interdepartmental confusion.

So the solution to extremism is that extremists become the official representatives of Islam in this country. Islamist mosques, organisations and spokesmen will be treated as the true voice of Muslims (and woe betide those Muslims who disagree). Then we shall get a lot more sharia than Lord Phillips has bargained for.

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