Below is my speech at the 22 September National Secular Society conference in London:
Sometimes I really don’t know what more to say.
What else can be said about Sharia law that– at least in your gut – you don’t already know?
It is based on the Koran, the Hadith and Islamic jurisprudence. Its criminal code includes stoning to death for adultery and execution for apostasy and homosexuality. In Iran, for example, there are over 130 offences punishable by death.
Its civil code – which is imposed by Sharia courts in Britain – is discriminatory and unfair particularly against women. Basically it is a code of death and despair.
Not breaking news, is it? After all it is religious law. And that’s what – in my opinion – religion does best. A court based on the Bible and Torah would be similarly discriminatory and barbaric.
Yet the numbers of people who continue to defend Sharia courts in Britain as people’s ‘right to religion’ is staggering.
And of course – any excuse – will do. The best I have heard recently has to be ‘I have a Muslim friend who says Sharia is not as you say it is’. End of. Their skepticism seems to apply to everything but Islam.
But the Islamic Sharia Council in Britain itself explains for example why a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s.
‘If one forgets, the other can remind her.’ It’s the difference between a man and a woman’s brains.’ ‘A woman’s character is not so good for a case where testimony requires attention and concentration.’
And this also applies to divorce as men have unilateral right to divorce and only need to say talaq thrice whereas a woman have limited recourse to divorce.
The website says: ‘Women are governed by emotion; men by their minds so he will think twice before uttering talaq [divorce].’ It goes on to say it is not ‘derogatory’ but ‘the secret of women’s nature.’
In a Sharia court in Britain, a woman can’t even sign her own marriage contract; a male guardian must do it on her behalf. Child custody goes to the father at a pre-set age irrespective of the welfare of the child. Marital rape is seen to be the prerogative of the husband – a sharia judge recently said calling it rape is the act of aggression. The rules here in Britain are the same as the ones women in Iran face in family courts.
And they are also dealing with child marriages, which is nothing more than religiously-sanctioned child rape and paedophilia. In 2010, around 30 cases of child marriages were reported in Islington alone. At least three 11-year-old girls and two nine-year-olds had been forced into marriage with older men. The oldest girls were 16.
In the latest scandal, which by the way has only been covered by the tabloid rags like the Sun and Daily Mail, an investigation by the Sunday Times found imams in Britain willing to “marry” young girls after being approached by an undercover reporter posing as a father who said he wanted his 12 year old daughter married to prevent her from being tempted in to a ‘western lifestyle’.
Question these and you are often accused of Islamophobia, racism, intolerance, and denying people’s very right to religion and belief.
Before I go any further, I have a question for those who use human rights and anti-racist language to excuse and apologise for inequality, discrimination, violence against women and barbarity.
Even if it were people’s right to religion (most rights are not absolute and anyway Sharia courts are about politics not religion) – and even if they were real choices (let’s put aside the many threats and intimidation for now), what is your position on it?
Do you have one?
Do you think it’s wrong?
Whilst you may be very happy to promote it for the ‘other’ – what I call a racism of lower standards and expectations – would you like if for yourself and for your loved ones?
If not, then please stop apologising for it.
Hiding behind ‘rights’ and ‘choice’ to excuse misogyny is a betrayal of human principles. After all, years ago, certain men only had the ‘right’ to vote and own slaves.
Remember good old fashioned international solidarity – how I miss it – when we actually joined forces with those suffering under racial apartheid in South Africa for example.
Nowadays, many liberals and post-modernist leftists side with those imposing apartheid – sex apartheid – because it is considered the ‘right to religion’…
It’s a betrayal of human solidarity.
And this solidarity is fundamental particularly given that Islamism and Sharia law have killed a generation in what I call an Islamic inquisition. There is a difference after all between Christianity today and one during the inquisition.
Under an inquisition, there is no personal religion. You are merely told what to say and do and if you don’t abide you will pay the price for your dissent.
The ‘right to religion’ is meant to be the right to a personal religion and belief. But when religion is part of the state, or judicial system, it is no longer a matter of religious belief but of political power.
In fact, religion in the state, educational system or judicial system is the end of any form of equality, choice, rights, freedoms or democratic politics.
When I hear ‘the right to religion’ in the context of Sharia courts, to me it means the right of parasitical imams and regressive Islamic states and organisations to deem what is acceptable and what is not.
There is the assumption that the authentic Muslim is always reactionary, pro-Islamist, pro the veil, pro sexual apartheid, pro Sharia courts… But this is Islamism’s narrative.
As Palestinian professor Budeiri said following threats by Islamists for cartoons he had posted on his door: Islamists “choose to resort to abuse, and threats of physical violence, attempting to appropriate to themselves the sole authority of what Muslims can and cannot think, can and cannot do. There are and will remain as many different Muslims as there are unfettered minds.”
Muslims after all are not a homogeneous community as Islamists portray. When you give group rights to the ‘Muslim community’, you basically give further power to the dominant elite – the imams and Islamic ‘scholars’ [as Richard Dawkins says, you do need to read more than one book to be considered a scholar] – at the expense of women, and many others.
Conflating Islamism (and its Sharia courts) with Muslim is part of the effort of feigning representation and is the narrative peddled by Islamists. In fact Islamism or political Islam is part of the project for controlling the population at large and is not an exercise in people’s rights and choices.
To accept the Islamist version and narrative is to hand over countless individuals – many of them dissenting – to the far-Right Islamic movement and to ignore the resistance, the political, social and civil struggles, and class politics. Conflating Muslim and Islamist is like conflating Christian or English with the English Defence League or the British National Party.
Very often also a criticism of Islamism, Sharia or Islam is touted as being racist, discriminatory, and Islamophobic.
Let me give you an example of this. When a British court told a Muslim hospital consultant that he must pay his ex-wife maintenance even though under Sharia he believed he owed her nothing, the doctor said that the ‘Family law in Britain is biased against Muslim people’ but isn’t his wife Muslim too?
It does all depend on how you look at it and whose side you choose to take.
This has nothing to do with racism.
Such accusations of racism are particular to the west.
If you are criticising Islam, the veil, Sharia law, or Islamism in Iran, Egypt or Afghanistan the debate is not framed in the context of racism or Islamophobia.
When the Saudi government arrests 23 year old Hamza Kashgari for tweeting about Mohammad, it doesn’t accuse him of racism, it accuses him of blasphemy – an accusation punishable by death.
But that same government will accuse critics of Saudi policy at the UN Human Rights Committee as Islamophobic and racist.
What I’m trying to say is that Islamists and their apologists have coined the term Islamophobia – a political term – to scaremonger people into silence.
These bogus accusations of Islamophobia and offence serve Islamism in the same way that Sharia law serves them where they have power. It helps to threaten, intimidate and silence criticism, solidarity and dissent.
They work like secular fatwas and are used not to defend Muslims from bigotry but to defend Islam and Islamism.
Criticism of religion and that which is taboo is always important but particularly so during an inquisition.
Then it is often a matter of life and death.
Take the recent cartoons in the French weekly Charlie Hebdo.
In a climate where Islamist murder, violence and intimidation is cowering many into silence and submission, Charlie Hebdo’s insistence on poking fun at Islam on par with all religions and its refusal to back down despite calls for censorship is one that will be remembered.
It has been said that the magazine’s aim to reassert its leftwing secular tradition in this climate is more anti-Islamic than anti-clerical.
But anti-Islamism is this era’s anti-clericalism.
We are told the cartoons are ‘unhelpful’ [thank you Guardian] in a ‘climate of religious and racial prejudice’ but to say so misses the point.
What is ‘unhelpful’ is Islamism’s murder and mayhem.
Criticising Islam and Islamism is not about prejudice – that is Islamism’s narrative – which has been bought hook, line and sinker by those calling for censorship.
And what this lot forget is that those facing the most threats from the vile Islamist herds are not satirical French publications or even US and French embassies worldwide but the many countless human beings who are living under Islamism and Sharia law – like Saudi Hamza Kashgari, Indonesian Alex Aan, Egyptian Alber Saber and Pakistani Asia Bibi. And many of them are Muslims.
Of course Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons are different from the racist Christian-Right film, ‘The Innocence of Muslims’. But free expression is not just for those we agree with. And let’s not forget a very very bad film is just that.
The real problem that needs to be addressed head on is Islamism not more censorship and submission.
If you think that the mob violence against the film and cartoons are merely about bad manners, and even about religion, you are mistaken. They are about politics.
It’s the same with Sharia courts in Britain. They are not about religion but political power.
If we are to succeed, we must, as the wonderful Salman Rushdie says, ‘be braver’.
But we have to move beyond polite and comfortable debates around Christianity to a renewed anti-clericalism and an uncompromising secularism which aims directly at Islam, Islamism and its Sharia laws and religion itself.
As the late Marxist Mansoor Hekmat said:
“In Islam … the individual has no rights or dignity. In Islam, the woman is a slave. In Islam, the child is on par with animals. In Islam, freethinking is a sin deserving of punishment. Music is corrupt. Sex without permission and religious certification, is the greatest of sins. This is the religion of death. In reality, all religions are such but most religions have been restrained by freethinking and freedom-loving humanity over hundreds of years. This one was never restrained or controlled.”
Restraining it – controlling it – in this day and age – that is our task.