“Of course, you immediately run the risk of being called ‘Islamophobic,’ etc.” but “we speak the truth in love,” stated Baroness Cox of Queensbury while recently addressing her political activism at a private Washington, DC, gathering. Her work in her native United Kingdom and beyond shows that the wider world needs much more such loving truthfulness concerning all matters Islamic.
Cox is wont to distinguish between Islam as a private faith and Islamism as an ideology in the political realm, as during her May Washington, DC, visit with appearances at venues like the DACOR Bacon House. Speaking to about 20 listeners at the National Press Club (NPC; audio recording) on May 9, she emphasized that the “vast majority of the world’s Muslims are peaceable, law-abiding, extremely hospitable, and culturally delightful people.” In contrast to Muslims like her London neighbors, she worried about dangers from a “political, strategic Islam.”
Cox’s distinction between Muslim people and politics became evident while discussing her longstanding advocacy as a House of Lords member for the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill. Motivated by mounting public concern over private Islamic sharia bodies in Britain, her legislative proposal would increase government regulation of religious arbitration and mediation tribunals. Phenomena such as polygamy and doctrinally-justified domestic abuse demonstrate that “sharia law has inherent in it gender discrimination,” she stated at NPC.
Yet Cox’s private address linked her objections to sharia with love for its female victims; in Britain, “I love these Muslim women. I cry with these Muslim women. They come to me and they tell me their stories.” Her remarks recalled her previous public statement that she is “not arguing for the abolition of Sharia courts, because I believe in freedom of religion.” Rather, she seeks “prohibition of those aspects of the rulings which are incompatible with British law, values, policies and principles.”
Cox and others have assembled copious material supporting the Equality Bill at the website Equal and Free. Additionally, a Dutch doctoral candidate’s 2013 study of the Islamic Sharia Council (ISC) in London’s Leyton district recounted numerous wife complaints of physical and emotional domestic abuse. Nonetheless, “[n]o qadi [Islamic judge] acted surprised when a woman told about abuse, and the police are never mentioned.” Meanwhile, the “core business” (95 percent of cases) of such sharia councils is “women requesting an Islamic divorce.”
A 2016 article concerning Khola Hasan, an ISC senior Islamic scholar, gives cause for concern. Confirming Cox’s worries, Hasan noted that perhaps a third of all British Muslim religious marriages are not legally registered, meaning that the couples will have no legally recognized rights in case of divorce. Similarly, she stated that many smaller sharia councils are unregistered “private little organizations…completely below radar.”
Equally disconcerting, Hasan’s interviewer noted that “she concedes that the Quran does not rank the sexes equally, due to the fact that women carry children and men do not.” She also “openly defends polygamy,” although she personally rejects it, as do many Muslim women. In this context, her rejection of any misogynist “misinterpretation” of Islam such as Saudi Wahhabism was not completely convincing.
Hasan’s father, Sheikh Suhaib Hasan, who founded the ISC in 1982, also does not inspire confidence with his support for implementing sharia in Britain and radical background. A 2013 address by him advocated various Jewish conspiracy theories, such as a nineteenth-century Russian book that supposedly “exposed the Jews and their conspiracy to eliminate the Christians.” While arguing that Muslims, not Jews, had better claims to “Palestine,” he repeated the canard that a Jew in 1969 committed arson against Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque (an insane Australian was the real culprit).
Looking beyond Britain, Cox’s NPC address discussed her visits in the past year to Syria, wracked since 2011 by a jihadist-dominated insurgency against the dictator Bashar Assad. Her travels to regime-held territory documented that Syrians
are all terrified. Of course, we all know that President Assad has done terrible things. But if we have regime change, there is no moderate armed opposition left. It will just become another Iraq, another Libya. Please do not inflict regime change on our people. Let the people of Syria choose their own future. We heard that message wherever we went.
Cox said that most Syrians shared her view that supporting Assad against his opposition, increasingly led by groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is a classic choice between the “lesser of two evils.” She recalled one Syrian who said that “in one side you die from shellings, on the other side you die from shellings and beheadings, and we don’t want the beheadings.” A report on her visiting delegation distributed by her similarly noted a conversation with the Assad regime’s Minister of State for National Reconciliation Affairs, Ali Haidar. “The only difference between armed Opposition groups is their method of killing: One slaughters by beheadings, the other by shooting,” he said; the “atrocities perpetrated by ‘moderates’ are as bad as those of Daesh” (ISIS).
By contrast, Cox’s NPC comments called Assad the “one president who does and will protect the rights of religious minorities” such as Syria’s Christians and she referenced the report’s documentation of her delegation’s meeting with him. He claimed therein that his “priority was to promote culture and individual freedoms and to open the minds of citizens so they can accept differences such as a woman with a bikini working alongside a woman in a burka.” A young Damascus woman in the report agrees that Syrian women under Assad “have the total freedom to dress the way we want, to eat what we want and to get appropriate education and medical care.” As Cox noted at NPC, the report cites one Syrian who “never voted for him [Assad] but now I would fight and die to support him.”
Critics might contend that Cox’s rhetoric sometimes veers too far towards Assad in her choice of evils, such as when at NPC she spoke of Syria having a “right of a democratic future” under Assad. Her report also lacks critical commentary on the regime supporters who met with her and other delegation members, thereby omitting their dangers that surely must weigh upon her realpolitik calculations. Syria’s Sunni Grand Mufti Mufti Ahmed Badereddine Hassoun, for example, has threatened the West with terror attacks, slandered Israel, and manifested Assad’s alliance with perhaps the Middle East’s greatest jihadist threat, Iran.
Accordingly, in response to her NPC address, audience member Akbar Shahid Ahmed from the ever Islamophile Huffington Post attacked her “affection” for Assad. He maligned Cox as part of an internationally growing “fear of Islam” that is prone to “exaggeration and bigotry.” He particularly noted her role in bringing Dutch politician Geert Wilders in 2010 to the House of Lords for a screening of his film Fitna despite strenuous attempts at censorship.
Yet stubborn facts, not fear, support Cox in being what Ahmed unflatteringly calls an “Islam skeptic.” If objective observers believe that Egyptian strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi enjoys the support of the majority of his countrymen even amidst enormous human rights abuses, then support for Assad in similar circumstances is no surprise. Meanwhile at home in Britain, the Manchester Arena ISIS attack a week after her private address made her discussion of a gynecologist friend appear prophetic. The friend had related how a Muslim woman paid an office visit with a schoolboy guardian who then discussed his madrassa teaching about blowing up a soccer stadium full of non-Muslim kuffars (infidels). Muslims and non-Muslims alike need more critical inquiry from courageous individuals like Cox, not less.