That is precisely what is at stake, and it is encouraging to see an editorial of this nature in a major newspaper. “Sharia-UK: Brits head toward Islamic law,” by John O’Sullivan for the New York Post, September 18 (thanks to Awake):
Is Britain heading straight for disaster?” George Bernard Shaw once began a BBC radio talk. “That is a question I can easily answer. Britain is not heading straight for anything.” The reply works for the question: “Is Britain heading straight for sharia law?” It’s heading that way – but by a winding path.
News reports this week have given a much stronger impression. They allege that sharia got a legal OK from the government and is already being enforced. A Muslim college in the English Midlands supposedly runs a sharia court that has so far decided more than 100 civil disputes.
In fact, that “court” made its rulings legally binding by a clever dodge: being accepted as a “voluntary arbitration tribunal.”
Under British law, any two people can agree to take their dispute to such a tribunal rather than to court; the tribunal’s decision is then binding on them. It can even be enforced by the official courts and the police.
Faisal Aqtab Siddiqi, a commercial-law barrister, had the bright idea of establishing a sharia court as the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal. He acknowledges that it so far only handles civil cases such as divorces and inheritance disputes, since British society isn’t ready for such innovations as public floggings and hand-choppings. But these are early days.
The story generated appropriate outrage. Some came from liberal Muslim women: Writing in the Independent, Yasmin Alibi-Brown points out that many immigrants left home to get away from sharia to a country like Britain, where all are equal before the law. Non-Muslim Brits probably feel at least as indignant.
But this outrage may be misplaced – or at least premature: It’s not at all clear just how legal the sharia tribunal really is. Dominic Grieve, the Tory Party’s legal spokesman and a top lawyer, flatly denies that sharia could be legal in Britain.
Yes, arbitration tribunals can settle some disputes and have their judgments enforced. But they must act within the principles of English law: They can’t forbid girls to attend mixed classes in school or award sons the bulk of inheritances merely because the parties agreed in advance to accept the verdict – any more than a regular court can enforce a voluntary contract of slavery or prostitution.
So, while the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal may like to think it’s a sharia court, its judgments have legal force only insofar as they conform to the law of the land. Unfortunately, that is far from settling the matter.
The police have reportedly been enforcing the sharia court’s questionable judgments even though they lack legal force – for example, they’ve stopped questioning women who’ve accused their husbands of domestic violence once the tribunal has “settled” the case.
That is contrary to usual police practice and arguably illegal, too. It also ignores the well-documented reality that Muslim women sometimes suffer immense social pressure – up to and including murder, a k a “honor killings” – to make them bend to male authority, forced marriage and beatings. Their legal consent to sharia judgments can’t be presumed without serious investigation.
But the police sometimes break their own rules in such cases out of a desire to avoid appearing “Islamophobic” and to deal with Muslim communities through unelected “community leaders.” Yet these leaders are often extreme figures. Thus, by degrees, sharia becomes effective law, even though it’s actually illegal. […]
And if sharia is to apply to marriage law, then law in Britain will inevitably discriminate between the sexes in favor of men. There goes equality before the law.
These arguments reflect a wider set of illogical beliefs held by British (and to a lesser extent American) political elites: that there’s no real problem with immigration or multiculturalism – and any concerns are either xenophobic or paranoid; that immigrant groups will soon assimilate to British tolerance even if official multiculturalism is persuading them to remain secluded in ghettoes (or, in the case of women, in purdah).
It would be comic – if it didn’t threaten the integrity of an Anglo-American legal system that has probably given ordinary citizens greater access to justice and fairness than any other system in the decreasingly civilized world.