Nearly 200 signatories call to dismantle parallel legal systems

15 June 2015

Women’s rights and secular organisations urge the new government to take concerted measures to stop the development of parallel legal systems and to facilitate full and proper access to justice for all citizens and to one secular law for all.

For decades, successive governments have appeased undemocratic religious power brokers in minority communities who have sought to gain power through multicultural and now multi-faith social policies. These policies have led to the homogenisation of minority communities including the ‘Muslim community’ and have recognised and legitimated ‘non-violent’ Islamists as ‘community representatives’, outsourcing legal justice to what are in effect kangaroo courts that deliver highly discriminatory and second-rate forms of ‘justice.’ Over the years, we have witnessed with increasing alarm the influence of ‘Sharia courts’ over the lives of citizens of Muslim heritage.

Any government inquiry into ‘Sharia courts’ must also examine the impact of the draconian cuts in legal aid that have adversely affected access to justice for the most vulnerable. Many abused women from minority backgrounds, for instance, are increasingly forced to either represent themselves in court in what are often complex family legal proceedings or go to ‘Sharia courts’ that operate entirely outside the rule of law. The loss of legal aid contributes to a context that is conducive to the consolidation of privatised and unaccountable forms of justice and ‘Sharia courts’ are amongst the main beneficiaries.

Though the ‘Sharia courts’ have been touted as people’s right to religion, they are in fact, effective tools of the far-Right Islamist movement whose main aim is to restrict and deny rights, particularly those of women and children. ‘Sharia’ laws are highly contested and challenged in many countries, including in Muslim-majority countries across the globe – from Iran to Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Pakistan. Those of us in Britain who oppose ‘Sharia courts’ and all other religious forms of arbitration over family matters, are part of the same movement that challenge the religious-Right and defend the principle of one law for all underpinned by the notions of universalism, human rights, secularism and equality.

Opposing ‘Sharia courts’ is not racism or ‘Islamophobic’; it is a defence of the rights of all citizens, irrespective of their beliefs and background to be governed by democratic means under the principle of one law for all. What amounts to racism is the idea that minorities can be denied rights enjoyed by others through the endorsement of religious based ‘justice’ systems which operate according to divine law that is by its very nature immune from state scrutiny.

We have seen recent victories against the accommodation of ‘Sharia’ codes within law and policy in the UK. Using equalities and human rights legislation, we have successfully challenged both the Universities UK for issuing guidance that condones gender segregation in universities and the Law Society for endorsing discriminatory ‘Sharia’ codes in the area of inheritance. As well as challenging draconian state measures that criminalise whole communities and aid and abet xenophobia, anti-Muslim bigotry and racism, it is vital that we also push back the Islamist narrative and challenge ‘Sharia courts’ since they clearly represent yet another assault on our civil liberties.

We also urge the government to withdraw from its intention to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998. Such a move will represent a break from what was the most important social contract to have emerged between European States and citizens, following the Second World War. The agreement to sign up to a simple set of standards that uphold human decency and universal values led to the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to standards that protect and uphold the rights of all people in the face of state and non-state abuses of power. Now more than ever, we need the Human Rights Act to challenge the arbitrary and unaccountable power of ‘Sharia courts.’

We, the undersigned, therefore, call on the new Government to:

1. Reinstate legal aid in all areas of civil and criminal law to ensure equal access to justice for all.
2. Recognise that ‘Sharia’ and other religious courts deliver arbitrary and unaccountable forms of ‘justice’ that discriminate against women and children in particular. Citizenship and human rights are non-negotiable.
3. Abolish the use of ‘Sharia courts’ and all other religious arbitration forums, including the Beth Din, in family matters since they undermine the principle of equality, non discrimination and universal human rights that must be enjoyed by all citizens.
4. Reject calls for state regulation of ‘Sharia’ and other religious courts and tribunals. This will only legitimate parallel legal systems in the governance of family matters.
5. Re-affirm the principle of the separation of religion and the law. The law is a key component of securing justice for citizens and one law for all.
6. Desist from repealing the Human Rights Act 1998. This move will strip all vulnerable people of their right to protection and justice.

Signatories [Read more…]

Against Forced and Child Marriages

Here is my speech against forced marriages and child “marriages” given at a January 2015 event organised at the Swedish parliament by the brilliant Sara Mohammad​ who organised a series of events to mark the 12th Anniversary of Fadime Sahindal’s honour killing in Stockholm, Sweden. She is founder of Never forget Pela and Fadime National organisation- GAPF. 

Here is video footage of a panel discussion which followed our individual presentations with myself, Chaz Akoshile of the British Forced Marriages Unit and Houzan Mahmoud, Iraqi Kurdish women’s rights campaigner.

Fitnah Unveiled: On Sharia Law

fitnah-UNVEILED28-apr14-A4_Page_01Unveiled: A Publication of Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation
April 2014, Volume 2, Issue 4

Editor: Maryam Namazie. Design: Kiran Opal. Layout: Jim Sharples.

PDF VERSION OF FITNAH UNVEILED APRIL ISSUE: fitnah-UNVEILED28-apr14-A4

Editorial
Sharia law is madness
Maryam Namazie

Sharia law is highly contested and vehemently opposed in many places across the globe.

In Algeria, women’s rights activists singing for change label 20 years of Sharia in the family code as 20 years of madness.  They sing:

“I am telling you a story
Of what the powerful have done
Of rules, a code of despair
A code obsessed with women…”
“This law must be undone…!”

In Iran, after the establishment of Sharia law there, the Iranian Lawyers’ Association came out in full force against the new religious codes only to be met with arrest and exile; some opponents were even charged with apostasy, which is a “crime” punishable by death…

How tragically ironic, then, that the British Law Society, has decided to side with the Islamists and issue Sharia-complaint guidance which matter-of-factly endorses discrimination against females, non-Muslims and “illegitimate” children.

Rather than being at the forefront of defending equality before the law, they legitimise inequality and bring back patriarchal and archaic concepts of “justice” that deny rights to women merely because of their gender and children merely for being born out of wedlock! A recent film called “Bastards” shows single mother Rabha El Haimer, an illiterate child bride, in her fight to secure a future for her “illegitimate” child in Morocco.

Thanks to the Law Society, this will be the fate of British children and women too!

How very shameful!

“Muslim feminists” tell us that the Law Society has accepted de facto an Islamist interpretation of Sharia law – which is true. It is always those in power who determine the laws and rules, and when it comes to Islam, due to the power and influence of Islamism, it is their brutal version that affects innumerable lives.

“Muslim feminists” also tell us that there are more women-friendly interpretations out there, which the Law Society has ignored. That may well be the case (though I have never seen one that is favourable or fair enough). In my opinion, no religious law can ever give 21st century women and men the full equality they deserve.

In any case, a focus on interpretations misses the point: which is that religion is a private matter open to as many interpretations as there are believers. Once it becomes part of the state or law, it becomes a matter of repressive political power and control with women and girls as its first victims.

The real point is that religion – be it Islam or Judaism or Christianity or what have you – must be kept separate from the state and law if women and everyone else are to be protected and considered equal.

Clearly, there is no place for Sharia in Britain’s legal system just as there is no place for it anywhere.

The fight against the Law Society is part and parcel of the fight against Sharia and religious laws everywhere. And don’t be mistaken. This is not just about opposing institutionalised discrimination. It is about 21st century humanity rejecting a code of law that belongs to the Middle Ages, that sees women as sub-human, that deems sexuality, sex and women’s bodies as illegal whilst legalising child marriages, stonings and misogyny.

Sharia – like all religious laws – is based on a 1400 year old dogmatic and regressive philosophy and its warped understanding of the concepts of equality and justice. Where Islamists have control over the state, Sharia law terrorises the population to submit by showing the damnable nature of dissent.  It is a primitive and patriarchal system based on inequality, retribution and religious [im]morality. It is not a rule for equals and has no place in a modern state or system of law.

Only a few days ago, a representative of Khamenei , Iran’s “Supreme Spiritual leader” (absurd titles that only come with religious rule) said: “Sadly, over the past three decades we have seen many working to establish a secular state [in Iran] which will undermine people’s Islamic values and culture”. Of course we have. No one opposes Sharia law more than those who have lived under, fled, or resisted it.

I am sure the Islamists are very grateful to the Law Society for upholding their values at the expense of the many others who demand equality and secularism.

Law Society listen up: you must immediately withdraw your shameful guidance. Withdraw it now!

In the words of Algerian women singing for change:

“We aren’t asking for favours.
“History speaks for us.”

 ‘Equality before the law’ is not just an empty phrase
On the Law Society’s Discriminatory Guidance on Sharia-Compliant Inheritance and Wills
Interview with Pragna Patel

Maryam Namazie: British law already allows people to leave their estates to whomever they choose so why does a statement signed by a number of groups and individuals label the Law Society’s guidance on Sharia-compliant inheritance and wills discriminatory?

Pragna Patel:  The practice note (guidelines) issued by the Law Society is extremely problematic because what it seeks to do is to institutionalise a profoundly discriminatory approach to the question of property settlements, disputes and trusts concerning women and children in minority communities. It is at best a misguided response but nevertheless dangerous, because it is yet another way of reflecting the growing view that civil matters and disputes in minority communities are to be addressed within a religious framework.

The practice notes states: ‘This is the first time guidance has been published for solicitors to assist them with the intricacies of Sharia succession rules, which is the code of law derived from the Quran and from the teachings and examples of Mohammed’.

The immediate question that needs to be asked is why does the Law Society not leave it to clerics to clarify the ‘intricacies’ of ‘Sharia’ rules outside the law for those who want it? How can it possibly think that its role is to guide on religious matters? More importantly, why does the Law Society feel that it needs to support and be seen to publicly support the drawing up of discriminatory wills? Quite apart from the fact that it cannot possibly know what is and isn’t ‘Sharia compliant’ given the many contested interpretations of so called ‘Sharia’ law, it actually wades into religious territory and gives succour to the view that religious and secular laws can operate in parallel with the former applying to minorities and the latter to the white majority society.

The role of the Law Society is to promote legal professional standards so that the law is upheld in a fair and non-discriminatory way. The phrase ‘equality before the law’ is not just an empty phrase. Justice must not only be done but seen to be done. The law is symbolic and aspirational at the same time; it is an important means by which just and democratic societal norms are established. The Law Society has no business in normalising ‘Sharia’ principles in British legal culture. The Law Society also has no business in endorsing and promoting discriminatory religious norms and values for minorities because in doing so, it enhances profoundly patriarchal and unequal social arrangements in minority communities.

Maryam Namazie: If it’s not binding, how can it seriously undermine the Equality Act, citizenship rights and one law for all?

Pragna Patel:  Those who argue that it is ‘not binding’ and that it is ‘all a fuss about nothing’, miss the point entirely.  The guidance signals the view that no matter how discriminatory and abhorrent certain aspects of minority cultures may be, they must be tolerated and even supported! We cannot underestimate the ways in which religion is creeping into the very fabric of legal structures in our society and it is minority women and other vulnerable sub groups who pay the price. By issuing such guidance, the Law Society is helping to create a context that is conducive to the practice of patriarchal oppression and to the legitimisation of anti-human rights religious norms. Religious norms dictate strict gender roles and codes of conduct for women – codes that deny their right to freedom and equality in the family in a range of matters such as marriage, divorce, children and inheritance. [Read more…]

Britain should ban the niqab

Interview-photo-by-Shokooh BakhtiariHere’s me on Channel 4thought.tv on whether Britain should ban the niqab/burqa? Err yes. See it here.

By the way, Fitnah’s third issue is almost ready for publication and will focus on secularism. It’s good to remind everyone to look at the November issue of Unveiled which focused on the veil and burqa. I am posting my editorial as well as an interview on it with Marieme Helie Lucas below for those who haven’t seen it.

Neither Veil nor Submission
Maryam Namazie

The niqab (and burqa) must be banned to protect women’s rights and secularism – and not just out of concern for security. It’s a shroud, strait jacket, and mobile prison for women and girls who are bound and gagged and made invisible. According to Algerian writer Karima Bennoune, the veil represents ‘the ever-encroaching fabric erasure of women’s bodies.’

Calling it a ‘right’ and ‘choice’ is as formal as formal can be when it is often deemed compulsory and imposed and policed by Islamists – often using brute force. Also, let’s not forget, the veil is a tool like many others to control and restrict women and girls. To me, saying it is a right and choice is like saying FGM, the chastity belt, foot-binding, or Suttee are such.

A ban is not a violation of the right to religion. Whilst the right to religion and belief is absolute, the right to manifest and express one’s beliefs can be and is at times restricted for a number of reasons, including protecting public security, health, order, and the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

Men in Shi’a Islam might have the ‘right’ and ‘choice’ to marry four permanent wives and unlimited temporary wives, for example, but it is nonetheless banned in many places because it is deemed to be exploitative. Uniforms are another way in which the right to dress is restricted in society for health reasons.

The European Court of Human Rights confirmed this when it ruled in favour of Turkey’s right to ban the veil at universities (now under question due to Erdogan’s efforts to Islamicise the country). If dress can be restricted to protect health or public safety, why not to protect women’s rights and secularism?

Moreover, rights often conflict with one another. What about the adverse impact of the niqab and burqa on the rights and choices of unveiled or differently veiled women? It is not as harmless as is often portrayed. In the Shabina Begum case, the House of Lords granted that restricting Shabina from wearing the jilbab to school was permissible in order to protect the rights of others who feared being coerced into veiling. As Algerian sociologist Marieme Helie Lucas says: “The ‘right’ to veil is always followed with the right to beat up women who do not.” Clearly, the right to veil has a corresponding right to unveil or not veil at all. The unveiled or improperly veiled woman is always held up adversely in comparison to the chaste, veiled woman.

Moreover, this is more than merely a question of ‘dress.’ It is important to remember that the niqab (as well as the burqa and the veil in general) is a highly contested political and social symbol. Many Muslims or those labelled as such are at the forefront of the fight against the burqa, niqab and veil – often at great risk to themselves.

In Iran, the slogan ‘neither veil nor submission’ has become a rallying cry in the ongoing fight between women and Islamic regime’s morality police. In another recent case in Sudan, Amira Osman Hamed who faces flogging for refusing to wear the hijab says: ‘I’m Sudanese. I’m Muslim, and I’m not going to cover my head.’In this day and age, the veil in general and the burka and niqab in particular are associated with Islamism’s efforts to limit rights and impose Sharia law. The enormous increase of veiled women and girls across the world and in Europe is a direct result of the rise of the contemporary Islamist movement and the ensuing pressure on women and girls to veil. Women are always the first targets of Islamism. And veiling restrictions on women is a particular signifier of things to come. The lawyer putting forth Turkey’s case for restricting the veil at universities said it well: ‘the hijab is not just a dress but a sign of political conviction; it shows near and present danger.’

A good case in point is Madani Free school in Derby where girls as young as 11 have to wear the burqa; all teachers, including non-Muslims, must wear the veil. Those who criticise the fuss over a ‘piece of clothing’ miss the point. The niqab and burqa are the most visible signs of Islamism’s war on women. It also represents sex apartheid and Sharia law and all that follows. In Madani School, burqa-clad girls must sit in the back of the classroom. On school trips, they must give way to boys and male teachers who cut in front of them in queues. Music is banned… (As an aside, child veiling is tantamount to child abuse. In the same way that children are not labelled Conservative or Marxist children because of their parents’ political beliefs, children should also be free of religious labels and faith schools until they are ready to make a choice of their own upon reaching 16.)

Calling for a ban on the niqab or burqa is not about criminalising Muslim women anymore than banning FGM criminalises girls and women who are mutilated. Whilst a ban won’t solve everything (there has yet to be a single prosecution with regards FGM) changes in the law, including bans, are important steps in changing culture and attitudes and defending rights.

Moreover, calling for a ban is not about cultural imperialism or colonialism. Islamist efforts in many places are forms of colonialism too. The burqa and niqab are not traditional forms of dress but newly imposed ones for a majority of contexts. Plus there are bans on the niqab or veil in a number of countries outside of Europe. This is not about East versus West. In Egypt, the Ministry of Health has prohibited the wearing of the niqab by nurses in hospitals. Egypt’s top Islamic school, al-Azhar, has issued a ban on wearing the niqab in classrooms and dormitories of all its affiliate schools and educational institutes. Al Azhar also obliges women to show their faces in court via a decree issued in 1880. In Iraq, the niqab has been banned by a fatwa. In Kuwait, women wearing the niqab have been banned from driving. In Azerbaijan and Tunisia, veils are banned from public buildings and schools. In Syria, until recently, teachers were banned from wearing the niqab…

Unfortunately, many secularists in Europe have shown a lack of clarity and moral courage when it comes to banning the burqa and niqab. Secularism is a human right (as philosopher AC Grayling says) and one that needs to be actively defended, promoted, and articulated; it is a fundamental precondition for women’s rights and equality.

Secularists have a responsibility to seize the initiative (particularly given the far-Right’s attempts at hijacking the issue to promote their anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim bigotry). Calling for a ban is not in and of itself racist though racism and prejudice are very real and need to be opposed on par with sex discrimination.

A ban has nothing to do with a ‘clash of civilisations;’ it has everything to do with a global struggle between secularists, including many Muslims, on the one hand and theocrats and the religious-Right on the other.

A Manifesto against Totalitarianism which I signed in 2006 with 11 others including Salman Rushdie on the Danish cartoon controversy still applies today:

“We reject the ‘cultural relativism’ which implies an acceptance that men and women of Muslim culture are deprived of the right to equality, freedom and secularism in the name of the respect for certain cultures and traditions.

“We refuse to renounce our critical spirit out of fear of being accused of ‘Islamophobia,’ a wretched concept that confuses criticism of Islam as a religion and stigmatisation of those who believe in it.”

And to that I must add the wretched concept that confuses a criticism of the niqab, burqa and veil as a stigmatisation of those who believe in it and wear it…

The veil is nothing but the flag of the Muslim far-right
Interview with Marieme Helie Lucas

Maryam Namazie: Limitations on the veil in schools and an all-out ban on the burqa or niqab are often seen to be authoritarian. Your views?

Marieme Helie Lucas: First of all, it is useful not to conflate the two issues: that of veiling girls in schools and banning the face covering. I will thus answer them as two separate questions.

When talking of veils in schools, one automatically refers to the veiling of under-aged girls, i.e. not the veiling of women. The question thus becomes: who is to decide on girls’ veiling – themselves or the adults who are in charge of them? And which adults?

I know of only one book that looks at this issue; it is a pamphlet entitled ‘Bas les Voiles’ (by Chahdortt Djavann, Gallimard 2003) that was published by an Iranian woman exiled in Paris at the time when the Stasi Commission in France was collecting the views of concerned women (and men) before the adoption of the new law on religious symbols in secular state schools. The author states that the psychological damage done to girls by veiling them is immense as it makes them responsible for men’s arousal from a very early age. This point requires special consideration given the new trend to veil girls as young as 5 as shown in the numerous campaigns throughout North Africa. The author goes on to explain that the girl’s body is thus turned into the site of “fitnah” (seduction or source of disorder) meaning that she cannot look at it or think of it in positive terms. This attitude builds girls that fear, distrust, and feel disgust and anguish at their own bodies. At such an early age, little girls have no way of countering this shaping of their self; they are entirely under the thumb of anti-women men. The women growing up from these psychologically damaged girls are likely to need a lot of help to be able to reconsider themselves and their bodies in more positive terms, to reconstruct their self image, to conquer their bodily autonomy, to abandon guilt and fear – and to give back to men the responsibility of their sexual acts. I think it would be very useful for more women researchers to delve into the psychological damage done to girls who are veiled from an early age. [Read more…]

A pioneering school indeed!

You must have all heard about the Al-Madinah School in Derby – the first Islamic free school in Britain?

According to a report:

As previously reported, concerns have been raised that female staff are being forced to wear head coverings, even if they aren’t Muslim. However, it has now emerged that lessons are routinely scrapped to make way for prayers, that singing is banned and children are prevented from reading fairy stories (because witches are un-Islamic)…

Girls are made to sit at the back of classrooms away from boys and some teachers claim that during Ramadan lessons are sacrificed to prayer sessions. Teachers claim the children’s education is suffering.

One anonymous staff member told the paper: “They have three prayers every day, an hour of Koranic studies and an hour of Islamic studies as well as Arabic. They are not following the national curriculum, there isn’t enough time”… [Read more…]

Strike!

Prime Minister Cameron says today’s public sector strike is ‘irresponsible and damaging’. Chancellor George Osborne says the strike will weaken the economy and cost jobs. Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude condemns the strikes as ‘irresponsible, inappropriate and untimely’ and regrets the ‘disruption to the lives of heard working parents and pupils’. Soon we will be told that the strike is responsible for the war in Afghanistan and world hunger… [Read more…]