On Meeting of Women’s Rights Campaigners with Law Society

On Tuesday 13th January, women’s rights groups, including Southall Black Sisters, One Law for All, Nari Diganta and the Iranian & Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO), met with Mark Stobbs, the Law Society’s Director of Legal Policy at the SBS office. Our organisations welcomed the Law Society’s decision to withdraw its guidance on ‘Sharia’ compliant wills that endorsed discrimination against women and children. We also thanked the Law Society for making a public apology. The Law Society showed that it had listened to the voices of BME women’s rights campaigners and other secular organisations that had been alarmed by the original decision.

At our meeting, we raised our growing concerns, shared both by ourselves and the Law Society, about the devastating impact of the legal aid cuts on access to justice, which have been particularly detrimental to some of society’s most vulnerable groups, including BME women, many of whom are represented by our organisations. We welcomed the opportunity to work together with the Law Society to address the issue of access to justice. We stressed that any access to justice also means addressing the rise of parallel legal systems and religious-based arbitration and mediation.

We expressed our concern that in the past the Law Society has providing training courses on ‘Sharia’ and family laws and sought assurances that they would not provide further training or guidance in this area. We explained that many of our clients, unable to access the mainstream legal system, due to numerous barriers including legal aid cuts, have found themselves subject to pressure to use community based religious arbitration forums, including Sharia courts and tribunals. These forums seek to establish parallel legal systems, in which women and children are routinely discriminated.

To prevent discrimination and ensure equality before the law, we stressed that religion, which is inherently patriarchal and discriminatory, must be excluded from any mediation and alternative dispute resolution forums in respect of family matters, irrespective of whether they lie within or outside of the formal legal system. We were heartened by the Law Society’s willingness to hold further discussions with us about our concerns on this matter.

We look forward to working with the Law Society in the future to ensure that BME women are not discriminated against in law, mainstream or otherwise and have full and complete access to justice.

For more information, contact
Pragna Patel
Southall Black Sisters
pragna@southallblacksisters.co.uk
020 8571 9595
@SBSisters

Maryam Namazie
One Law for All
maryamnamazie@gmail.com
077 1916 6731
@MaryamNamazie

Latest Issue of Fitnah Unveiled on Sharia law and Law Society, Execution in Iran and more

A Publication of Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation
November/December 2014; Volume 2, Issues 8 and 9
Editor: Maryam Namazie; Design: Kiran Opal
See PDF Version here.

In this Issue:
* Sharia law is incompatible with human rights, Interview with Chris Moos, Pragna Patel and Gita Sahgal on the victory against the Law Society
* Execution is itself the murder of a human being, Interview with Mina Ahadi
* Reyhaneh Jabbari was executed: International Committee against Execution Press Release
*News Flash: October/November 2014 By Emma Robertson
*ArtsCorner
* Editorial: The Answer to Inhumanity is not more inhumanity, Maryam Namazie
* International Conference on the Religious-Right, Secularism and Civil Rights a huge success
* Manifesto for Secularism

Sharia law is incompatible with human rights
Interview with Chris Moos, Pragna Patel and Gita Sahgal on the victory against the Law Society

Maryam Namazie: The Law Society has now withdrawn its Sharia-compliant guidance on wills and issued an apology. Why did you initiate a campaign against it? Was it not a lot of fuss over nothing as some initially said?

Pragna Patel: It is easy to characterise this campaign as a ‘fuss about nothing’. The same was also said about our campaign against gender segregation in universities. What both incidents have in common is the ways in which so-called Sharia laws and values are normalised in public and institutional life as a ‘way of life’. Education and the law are key sites of control that religious fundamentalists and conservatives target. If we allow these forces to capture these sites, it will become impossible for us to challenge gender discrimination and inequality. The Law Society and its supporters argue that the Practice Note merely reiterates the fundamental principle in law that testators are fee to leave their property to whomsoever they wish. This misses the point entirely that the Law Society does not exist to maintain discriminatory values in society but to challenge them. Our argument all along has been that it is a key legal institution that should be promoting a rights-based culture within the legal profession and the wider society and not a profoundly discriminatory Sharia-compliant culture. [Read more…]

The Problem with Sharia

Here’s Bread and Roses second TV programme in English on Sharia Law with Fariborz Pooya, Bahram Soroush and myself. We have already bought good microphones (on credit card) so the sound quality is a lot better than the one before on nude protest.
Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters is interviewed here on the issue of Sharia. We hope you enjoy it!

If you like our programme and want to see more, support our fundraising campaign for a much needed video mixer and computer…

Sharia law is madness

maryam-namazie-photo by Mallorie Nassrallah-smallThe below is Maryam Namazie’s editorial published in the April 2014 issue of Unveiled: A Publication of Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation.

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.”

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…]

Sharia Law: Extremism the Government Ignores

In her latest Huffington Post article, One Law for All Spokesperson Anne Marie Waters concludes:

One Law for All has repeatedly asked the government why it allows sharia councils, with their blatant disregard for human rights and democracy, to yield power in such important areas as family and criminal law; the government response? It doesn’t prevent people from living in accordance with culture and faith. I have yet to receive an answer as to the limits of what can be defined under these headings. Is child rape covered by “culture” and “faith”?

David Cameron once said that multiculturalism had failed – he has yet to prove that he means it. There is no better opportunity than this; he should shut down the sharia councils (or any other body that facilitates the rape of children and encourages violent misogyny) that his government currently defends in the name of culture, prosecute hate speech and incitement to murder, prosecute child marriage as rape, end cultural relativism and racist separatism once and for all….. and enforce One Law for All.

To read the full article, click here.

The absurdity of debating Sharia law

I find it absurd that tonight – and for the umpteenth time – I must argue that Sharia law negates human rights at a ‘debate’.

It reminds me of my ‘debates’ with campaigners at a women’s rights meeting more than 20 years ago. They kept excusing FGM as a cultural matter that needed to be respected whilst I argued otherwise. Having lived in Sudan for two years with roommates who were mutilated, I can still hear their screams when they were having sex or menstruating. (I lived there from 1988 until 1990 when I was evacuated by my employer after being threatened by Sudanese security but that’s another story). [Read more…]