by Mary Jackson (March 2008)
Recently a panelist on QI, our impossibly arbitrary and magnificently funny TV quiz show, observed that the British measure hot and cold on different scales. On the rare occasions that we enjoy a hot day we say “It was in the Eighties”, meaning eighty degrees Fahrenheit. But when it’s cold we say, “Brrrr – it’s minus five, you know.” “Brrrr- it’s twenty-three,” won’t do. This is inconsistent, but so ingrained that we don’t notice we’re doing it. Equally British, paradoxically, is a sense of fair play: a belief that inconsistency is wrong. But fair play only works when everyone plays by the rules.
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent idiotic call for Sharia law in Britain provoked a storm of protest, in the newspapers, on television and radio, by our office water cooler and on the blogs. With the exception of demented loons like Madeleine Bunting, the response has been a resounding “no”. Some of the blogs, notably Harry’s Place, have called for the disestablishment of the Church on the grounds that religion and law must be kept strictly separate.
The established Church is an anomaly in our largely secular society. It is odd that we have bishops in the House of Lords. But then it’s odd that we have a House of Lords. And a Queen. And Black Rod. And red letter boxes with E.R. or sometimes G.R. on them. It’s odd that cricket stops for tea. It’s odd that our judges wear wigs, and that we put litres of petrol in our cars, but the speedometer shows miles per hour. It’s odd we drive manuals and drive on the left. It’s odd that we use Fahrenheit for hot weather and Centigrade for cold. And even Americans, who use measurements that I so enjoy calling imperial, think it odd that we measure our weight in stones. The Queen may be an exception: she probably measures her weight in gold. But isn’t it odd we have a Queen? And what about those corgis?
None of it makes any sense. If you were to start from scratch you wouldn’t do it like this. But why should we change any of it because of Islam?
At Dhimmi Watch, reader Morgaan Sinclair argues that we must get rid of Beth Din courts, otherwise “we have no argument” if we oppose Sharia courts:
The only way the Canadians were able to prevent the imposition of shari’a law on Muslim women in Canada — and it came within 24 hours of going into law there — was to disallow all religious exceptions to Canadian civil law, and that meant Jewish family law.
Hugh Fitzgerald makes a very strong case that the two are not comparable, and of course Judaism is benign, with none of the expansionist ambition of Islam. But even if the treatment of Jews versus Muslims is anomalous, so what? It is one of many British anomalies, and why should we change it because of Islam? Beth Din courts are not broke, so let’s not fix them. The abolition of Beth Din courts would be a victory for Islam even if Muslims don’t get Sharia courts.
Morgaan Sinclair raises the injustice faced by so-called “chained” Jewish women, whose husbands would not give them a “get” or Jewish divorce. In the UK, a few years ago, a pragmatic solution was found: the civil decree absolute is not granted until the Jewish divorce has gone through. This legislation, arguably, mixes religion and civil law in a way that may seem anomalous. But it is an excellent solution, and a fine example of “muddling through”, something the British have traditionally been very good at, along with buggering on, buggering off, hanging on in quiet desperation, afternoon tea and decent pubs. The British haven’t generally gone in for Utopian consistency, and are the better for it.
We should keep our muddles and our irregularities, keep our Beth Din courts and our established Church. And if we change anything at all, it should not be to accommodate Islam. The goal of Islam is not fairness, although it may speak the language of equality to further its expansion. Islam does not seek equality with Christianity and other religions, but dominance. To make concessions on grounds of fair play, of ironing out inconsistencies, would be a serious error.
In the long run the Archbishop of Canterbury’s remarks on Sharia may work to our advantage. First, if this is what he thinks, then it’s best that he says it. More importantly, it has got everybody talking. Tariq Ramadan is not pleased. “These kinds of statements just feed the fears of fellow citizens,” he said. Ramadan would rather we were not afraid, because if we are afraid we are alert. Ramadan believes in what Hugh Fitzgerald terms the “slow jihad”, which requires infidel complacency.
The newspapers and blogs have been full of Sharia. The comment in London’s Evening Standard is typical:
The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’s claim that aspects of sharia law could be accommodated with British legislation has prompted an outcry from not only those astonished to see the head of the Church of England expressing such sentiments but also from many across the political spectrum who are alarmed at the implications. The principle that there should be one law for everyone is not “a bit of a danger”, as the Archbishop has described it, but a foundation of our society. Without it, the powerful – including religious leaders – will pick and choose which laws they choose to obey. There can be no rule of law unless the law of the land is accepted by all. There may be rules which certain communities choose to abide by in their private lives – but they do not have the status of law and are subordinate to it.
Reference has been made, by Rowan Williams and others, to willing parties “consenting” to Sharia arbitration. This is misleading. In Islam, humans are slaves of Allah, and consent has no meaning. If Sharia is available, Muslims are obliged to follow it. Only when forcibly prevented from doing so can they claim exemption. This is why headscarfs must be forbidden for Muslim women in Turkey and Tunisia, but wigs need not be forbidden for Orthodox Jewish women. Because Islam itself is anamolous, inconsistency in the treatment of Islam is the only way to guarantee fairness.
Allowing Sharia in a limited way – Sharia-lite – is very dangerous. Sharia is not limited. It makes no distinction between civil and criminal offences, between public and private life and between the trivial and the serious. Any concessions will be perceived as weakness. What is needed is a resounding “No!”. Let the tabloids continue to shriek in the most vulgar way possible. Here’s The Sun with a liberating absence of nuance:
Bloody minded vulgarity may help save Britain from Sharia. But even the more refined among us can see that our quirks and anomalies, still not eliminated by the malign forces of the European Union, can be a bulwark against Islam.
The established Church makes no sense. Good. Let us give three cheers for antidisestablishmentarianism. For all their Establishment Clause, Americans may like to join in. Even if they can’t spell it.
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Mary Jackson contributes regularly to The Iconoclast, our Community Blog. Click here to see all her contributions, on which comments are welcome.