Thursday, 27 November 2008

Sharia law- On the road to madness?

Interesting to see the piece on Stephen Hockman QC's views on Sharia law (as below, though it was the Birkenhead Society and not Islam4UK that organised the debate). Currently Sharia law is applied by lay tribunals for certain commercial and family disputes. Contrary to Stephen Hockmann QC's view that full sharia law needs to be brought in to prevent alienation of Moslems, there is a strong case to be made that its inclusion would have exactly the opposite effect. Its inclusion would lead to further fragmentation of the law and, in turn, a lack of social cohesion. This is because we would be enforcing and exacerbating the differences between communities by creating different laws for different people. This would further unedify the idea of nationhood and the importance of having a singular identity which is currently provided by having one law of the land.

A singular system of law protects a singular system of values, despite differences in view as to what some of those values might be. In a our democracy once one value is chosen through the political process it is the value we all adhere by. A simple example of this would be the making certain forms of fox-hunting illegal. Different systems of law would make enforcing the disparate systems extremely difficult, and would undermine the great values associated with traditional British democracy. It would also undermine the working of the Parliamentary process, that has a monopoly over the law where rule-making is done through debate and discussion. It would allow other
law-making processes to take place, and taken to the extreme, permit an oppressive law-making regime to function freely in a separate community or a separate part of the country.

The importance of having a singular law to govern people of differing races, cultures, and religions is vital to the functioning of any society, such as Britain, that values pluralism, the freedom of ideas and toleration. It is also important in providing social cohesion where there are peoples from varying backgrounds and culture, and to promote extra-ordinary values of the great intrinsic British culture and heritage. Further, only through a singular rule of law that is not arbitrary in its form, content or application can fair system of Government operate. This is particularly important where there is, as in Britain, different peoples from different backgrounds. The rule of a singular law provides the vital cohesion needed for a variety of people to work and function together. To bring about different rules to different parts of the populous is to fragment both state and society. It would leave open the possibility of apartheid, on the basis of ideas and culture. In turn this would encourage isolationism towards national interest and the lack of cohesiveness would unedify interest in the function of our nation state.

The alienation of the Moslem community from the mainstream of our society that a Sharia law would bring about would also increase further the chances of younger members of the Moslem community being radicalised. It would leave fundamental Islam unchecked as it would be left to be self-judged within a distinct system of values. The end result, due to enforced differences between community groups may lead to distrust, fear and loathing. The notion of one nation may quickly fade away.

Hockmann also conveniently forgets what radical forms of Islam stand for. Alienation and abuse of women are rife amongst some countries that follow Islamic law. These proposals would leave open the risk of marginalising progressive and moderate Moslems who wish to practice their religion through our secular state. It would leave to rot Moslem women who have been campaigning for reform in their own community and through the world through the platform provided by British liberalism. If radical elements of Islam are to be dealt with, then giving a carte blanche to unlimited application of the Sharia is certainly not the way forward.

On the other-side of the spectrum there is a need to evaluate whether the rise of political support for other extreme groups such as the BNP is linked to the institutional quasi-liberalism that Hockmann represents. Quasi-liberalism is being liberal for the sake of liberal and forgetting the responsibility of making a value-judgment. The rise of the far right is another form of fragmentation that undermines the cohesive of the nation state. It may bring plurality, but at the cost of undermining that which the plurality of ideas is supposed to serve- the nation state. This is by giving further unneeded assistance to extremism. Quasi-liberalism of this type is not Gladstonian liberalism. It is a form of gratuitous sentiment that has no regard to the large historical processes that gave rise to the nation state, and alienates its people by forgetting or disregarding their history and culture. Thus quasi-liberalism of leading figures such as Hockmann fuels extremism, such as that found in the BNP, by undermining the British identity.

Britain is an extra-ordinary country with a unique and powerful history. It needs to remain one nation in order to promote its political ideals of free-speech, toleration and democracy to the world. The unedification of disparate legal systems does not have to be brought in to undermine this. Mr Hockmann QC needs to sit down and re-think the implications of his suggestions on such a difficult and complex issue.

(For Hockman QC’s views:
APG Pandya ©

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