Sharia councils in the UK … Was the Panorama expose flawed? …No.


sharia-lawJohn R Bowen, the Dunbar-Van Cleve Professor at Washington University in St.Louis (USA), has an article in the UK’s Guardian in which he argues that the recent Panorama expose by the BBC of Sharia councils in the UK was flawed and did not tell the full story.

In same ways his argument reminds me of the Monty Python skit in which the Black Knight has his arm chopped off in a fight. His opponent, thinking they are done now demands he stand aside, but the Black Knight refuses to yield. His opponent points out, “But your arm is off“. The Black Knight responds, “No it isn’t, this is just a scratch“. His opponent then points at an arm lying on the ground, “What’s that then“.

Essentially his argument boils down to (in my words) … “Well OK, yes, they are out of touch, but they are getting better”. Does that remind you of anything, for example the catholic response to endemic child abuse, “Ah well yes, we kind of goofed up, but you can trust us now, we are getting better”. As for any evidence to confirm this assertion … nope, none at all, it is just wishful thinking at best, but then what else can you do except exactly that when attempting to defend the indefensible.

OK, lets look at the details, he examines several of the key points raised by the Panorama program.

Discrimination

Do the councils discriminate against women? Well, the major monotheisms do discriminate against women, each in its own way. Muslim men and women have unequal divorce powers: a man can divorce his wife without her consent, whereas a woman needs to either persuade him to do so or to ask a judge or, in lands without Islamic judges, a sharia council, to end the marriage.

So that’s a “Yes” then, and that is quite frankly appalling. The fact that other beliefs also practise such overt misogyny does not justify it.

He then goes on to claim …

the sharia councils did not create this particular divorce inequality; they are a response to it.

This is simply not factually correct, under Sharia law, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s, men have unilateral rights to divorce whilst women have very limited rights to divorce. Women must give up their dowry if the husband refuses a divorce. Child custody goes to the father at a pre-set age and violence is not considered so if it leave no marks. The Sharia councils have made this very clear as have proponents such as Women for Sharia.

Sharia is not the response to a discrimination problem, it is the problem.

What about unequal fees?

Do they charge women higher fees than men? Yes, generally twice as much

Enough said, nothing can justify such blatant discrimination.

Violence.

Do they encourage violence toward women? No: as the Leyton council member said, even in the highly edited Panorama report, “this is not allowed”. Councils do urge couples to reconcile (although they rarely do) and to attend joint meetings, but most often these meetings do not occur, and phone interviews are conducted with the absent party.

The problem here is that this counter claim is also not factual. As was clearly demonstrated in the Panorama program  …

The undercover reporter is told not to contact police when she asks a senior cleric Suhaib Hasan (who has advocated stoning and amputation) whether she should report the violence she has suffered at the hands of her husband. Mr Hasan also wrongly tells her that if she were to report the violence to the police, she “will have to leave the house”. This is entirely untrue. In fact, an abused spouse may apply to the Court for an Occupation Order, which can remove a violent spouse from the home – or a defined area surrounding the home – and can impose criminal sanctions if the order is not obeyed. Mr Hasan’s advice is misleading and deliberately aimed at frightening women in to adhering to the Sharia Council’s authority. Hasan also repeats the Sharia position that a man has the right to hit his wife provided he leaves no marks. He asks if her husband beats her “severely”. When she questioned what was meant by “severely”, Hasan asks “it leaves some bruises on your body?”.

If asked, they might indeed claim that violence is not tolerated, but the problem is that a man hitting his wife in a manner that does not leave marks is deemed to be just fine and is not considered violence; this belief in itself is the core of the problem here. The facts are, Domestic abuse within Islamic culture is very high, and the reason it is like this is because much of the violence is not just tolerated, it is not even deemed to be abuse by many strands of Islamic teaching.

Finally

Do some councils seem out of touch with gender roles in the UK? I think so.

He then goes on to argue that things will change as a new generation take up roles in the councils, but don’t hold your breath on that one, is is simply unfounded wishful thinking that has no basis in reality. If the current generation has managed to embrace misogyny as a jolly good idea, you can be darn sure that those they let sit on such councils will only be those that think the same way.

One Key Point – an important one

The core problem with Sharia, is not that it imposes religious rules, some of which are noble and just, but many of which are highly questionable and can and should be ethically challenged, but rather that there is no consensus on what it actually is. Yes, all Muslims want Sharia, but if there is no agreement on what it actually is, then any who submit to the process are tossing themselves into a cauldron that is randomly shaped more or less at the whim of those who dispense judgement, you are completely at the mercy of what they might believe or which specific school of Islamic thought they adhere to.

So what is really going on here is that Sharia courts have nothing to do with the right to religion and everything to do with political power. They can and will of course continue to do whatever they wish, but it needs to be clearly understood that they will also face a continuous barrage of fact-based criticism directed against their attempts to impose misogyny through fear, and they will also not be granted any legal status in the UK … ever.

Links

One Law for All Press Release

This week’s BBC Panorama programme “Secrets of Britain’s Sharia Councils” confirms why One Law for All has been campaigning against the discriminatory parallel legal system running counter to British law for nearly five years.

As has been repeatedly stated, including in “Sharia Courts in Britain: A Threat to One Law for All and Equal Rights”, women are being held to ransom, told to remain in violent situations, blamed for the violence they face, refused divorces over many years, and placed under undue pressure including with regards child access and welfare.

The programme confirms this. The undercover reporter is told not to contact police when she asks a senior cleric Suhaib Hasan (who has advocated stoning and amputation) whether she should report the violence she has suffered at the hands of her husband.  Mr Hasan also wrongly tells her that if she were to report the violence to the police, she “will have to leave the house”.  This is entirely untrue.  In fact, an abused spouse may apply to the Court for an Occupation Order, which can remove a violent spouse from the home – or a defined area surrounding the home – and can impose criminal sanctions if the order is not obeyed.  Mr Hasan’s advice is misleading and deliberately aimed at frightening women in to adhering to the Sharia Council’s authority.  Hasan also repeats the Sharia position that a man has the right to hit his wife provided he leaves no marks. He asks if her husband beats her “severely”.  When she questioned what was meant by “severely”, Hasan asks “it leaves some bruises on your body?”.

Mr Hasan goes on to advise the undercover reporter to question herself as to what she had done to provoke this violence.  He suggests she ask her husband “is it because of my cooking?”, “is it because I see my friends?”.

Women’s rights organisations have for many years been working to end this disgraceful victim-blaming when women are abused, and great strides have been made.  These strides, however, do not seem to apply to Muslim women.

Whilst Chief Crown Prosecutor for the Northwest, Nazir Afzal, asserts that “most of them are absolutely fine but there are some clearly, like this one, who are putting women at risk”, One Law for All believes that all Sharia Councils and Muslim Arbitration Tribunals put women at risk. This is because the problem lies not with rogue councils or judges disrespecting the tenets of Sharia but is the result of a strict adherence to the Sharia.

Under Sharia law, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s, men have unilateral rights to divorce whilst women have very limited rights to divorce. Women must give up their dowry if the husband refuses a divorce. Child custody goes to the father at a pre-set age and violence is not considered so if it leave no marks. The Sharia councils have made this very clear as have proponents such as Women for Sharia.

Sharia Councils continue to deceive the public by asserting that they adhere to protections available under British law when exposed; however in practice much of their rulings contravene available protections under civil law.  They also attempt to intimidate those who expose or question their rulings. The Sharia Council has accused the Panorama programme of libel, reminded them of the lessons of the Leveson enquiry, and accused them of feeding into racism against Muslims. Clearly, though, the women whose rights are being violated are also Muslim and a demand for equality and one law for all aims to put an end to the racist practice of having separate and different standards and laws for those deemed to be “different”.

Whilst all people have a right to religion or atheism, Sharia courts have nothing to do with the right to religion and everything to do with political power.  Saying Sharia Courts are a right is like saying discriminating against women is a right. There is no right to oppress and discriminate against.

Nonetheless, the Councils have managed to get away with murder.

Both the previous government (which allowed them to evade investigation) and the current one, which asserts that existing legislation is sufficient to address this matter have shown nothing but moral cowardice and betrayed a large segment of British society.

It is enough now.

The British government must put the rights and equality of all citizens over and above any religious laws and put an end to this human rights scandal once and for all.

The public are urged to continue to exert pressure on the Government. Clearly our message is getting through. We must keep fighting till we win.

You can also sign One Law for All’s petition against Sharia law, which has 29000 signatories.

Support Baroness Cox Equalities Bill, which was inspired by One Law for All, here.

For more information, contact:
Maryam Namazie
Anne Marie Waters
Spokespersons
One Law for All
BM Box2387, London WC1N 3XX, UK
tel: +44 (0) 7719166731
email: [email protected]
web: http://www.onelawforall.org.uk/

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