"While dictators rage and statesmen talk, all Europe dances — to The Lambeth Walk."

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Keep the Difference: Women & Sharia

A few days ago, whilst doing some research, I stumbled across an old interview with the British actress Roxanne Pallett (pictured below left). She starred in the soap opera 'Emmerdale' as farmer's wife Jo Sugden, and last year was heavily involved in a storyline about domestic violence in which her character's husband, mentally scarred by prison and troubled by various debts on their farm, subjected her to a campaign of violence, humiliation and psychological abuse.

I don't watch this programme myself, but I found a few of these episodes online, and they're genuinely harrowing in parts. Apparently they were also harrowing to film, because Miss Pallett was so moved she became an ambassador for Refuge, a charity set up to help women and their children flee abusive men. An admirable cause, surely. Domestic violence has become something of a cause celebre for celebrities and the fashionable, but obviously the charity is doing good work and providing a necessary service.

However, as my English History lecturer used to say; compare and contrast. On the same day I found Miss Pallett's interview, I found this video on 'Atlas Shrugs'. In it, a Muslim cleric goes into some detail about how to 'tame' a disobedient wife; beating a woman is apparently perfectly acceptable under Sharia law, as long as you stick to certain rules. You mustn't make her bleed, you mustn't bruise her, and you mustn't hit her face or 'sensitive areas'. Is this because Allah is most merciful?

Well, no. According to the sheik in the video, it's because hurting her in such a way might spoil your sexual pleasure, which, by the way, is your right whether you're currently even speaking to her or not, and regardless of her feelings on the matter. Because refusing sex on demand actually, er, counts as a form of disobedience.

I did a quick search on YouTube, and there are actually quite a lot of these videos, from various Imams, experts and religious authorities. Most of them have been found and translated by the fantastic MEMRI organisation, and they go into varying degrees of detail about just what rights a husband has according to Sharia law.

It's interesting to note that, according to the first video, there are various steps a Muslim husband can take to keep his wife in check, with violence generally being a last resort. However, all of them, as outlined by the sheik in question and countless others, tick most of the boxes on Refuge's 'Recognising Abuse: My partner doesn't hit me, am I still being abused?' section.
So in other words, this holy man is urging his audience to start a campaign of abuse against their wives should they err from the strict path Islamic law sets out for them. They should be ignored, isolated, humiliated, made vulnerable, and finally, if still they won't submit, beaten.

The Refuge website has much hand-wringing detail about how many women are actually abused each year, how many are estimated to be abused but remain silent, and how pretty much all men are potential abusers, so it's best to be safe and always be on the look out for the signs. However, one thing that is (in my opinion, at least) noticeably absent from their site is any mention of Sharia law, or other traditional or religious guidelines that stipulate 'domestic abuse' should be part of a couple's normal repartee.

Also absent is the fact that many, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lord Chancellor, have toyed with the idea of allowing facets of Sharia law to operate here in Britain.
The only nod to this at all is the section for 'helping women and children from a multicultural background'.

Am I alone in finding this unusual? This is a system of laws which normalises abuse, general ill treatment and second class status for women, actually being propagated by two men in high positions who should know much better - yet the usual suspects are silent. I somehow think that if Rowan Williams wanted to make divorce harder, or remove the advantages women have in custody battles over children, the good people at 'Refuge' would have an opinion.

I have a friend who has recently qualified to be a barrister for the Crown Prosecution Service. He is also a practicing Christian in the Church of England. Recently, during a friendly debate, he stated unequivocally that he supported Rowan Williams' call for 'aspects of'' Sharia to be normalised alongside British law. This is a man who thinks that executing a convicted murderer is unbearably barbaric.

Like the Archbishop, he is intelligent enough to know better. No matter what I quoted from the Koran, the Hadith and random Muslim clerics, nothing I said could convince him this was a bad idea. After all, he said, these people need tolerance and understanding, and having their own 'community courts' for civil matters might help them along.

Or... not. How is removing them further from the mainstream going to help them along? Help them with what, in any case? Apart from importing customs that should have died out with the 9th Century, of course.

The stock answer is that all of Sharia's more repugnant aspects would be left behind, and we would have a streamlined version, free from all the Middle Ages nonsense. But is that realistic? Some Muslims are openly calling for their own sovereignty, and this is the tip of the iceberg. A victory here will not satisfy them, but embolden them, whilst forcing into hiding or silence the more moderate and sensible members of their community (generally educated women), who actually came here to be free, to be like us, not recreate Mogadishu in the middle of Southall.

One of the best things about Britain is that everyone is equal before the law, but if Sharia were to occur here, it would only be a matter of time before a Muslim tried under British law went before the European Court of Human Rights, demanding that as he can have a Sharia divorce he can have a Sharia trial (bear in mind that under strict Sharia, transgressions are ranked not in terms of the seriousness of the act, but who it was committed against; Muslim men are at the top, then Muslim women, then Dhimmis etc).

I've also heard the argument that it's already happening, so making it official is a mere formality. That something is happening does not automatically make it right; there will always be murder, but that's no justification for legalising it. There is no excuse for operating a secondary legal system, even for civil cases; if a Muslim is desperate to live under Sharia, they can't be too enamoured with Britain in the first place, and they have options, such as finding a country which operates their preferred legal system and moving there.

I think this entire debate is what has been termed 'soft Jihad', a probe, as it were, to test our resolve. There was a similar one several years ago in which some prominent British Muslims demanded we accept polygamous marriages as legal (only for them, naturlich). But this issue isn't, as some claim, a triviality about mortgages or divorce; there could well be terrible consequences, and I've seen them first hand.

After university, I spent 9 months teaching English at a school in northern Germany. The school in question was a Berufschule, and catered for people of all ages, but usually ranging from 14 - 24. Many of the classes were made up of individuals primarily of Turkish, Arab or Kurdish descent, as well as recent immigrants from such places. There were many striking things about teaching in those conditions, but the one that came to my attention the most was attitudes to women.

Because it was a 'technical school' specialising in woodwork, women were very much in the minority among the pupils (the ratio was generally something like 22-3 males to females per class). However, the teachers were overwhelmingly women. When the female teachers attempted to control a class, there was outrage. It apparently offended the male pride of these individuals that a woman might dare challenge them. On one such occasion, a 26 year old Turkish man spent almost an entire period ranting at a middle-aged female teacher about how he was going to find and rape her daughter, simply because she'd asked him to stop talking sharply. There were no sanctions, and the lady shrugged it off afterwards.

'It's their culture', she said.

On another occasion, an older Turkish male who had been harassing a Kurdish female of around 17 by verbally abusing her and ruining her work, finally went too far and broke her wrist. This was simply noted in the 'Klassenbuch', alongside trivialities such as people talking and not sitting up straight, whilst she was sent off to a clinic. Again, the general consensus among the teachers was 'it's their culture'.

But before his abuse, she had been bright and outgoing, eager to learn just for the sake of it, as well as with the goal of making something of herself and becoming a paediatrician. As it went on, she became withdrawn, lost all confidence and interest, and began to see school as the others did, a pointless waste of time, a sort of daytime holding pen.

Hopefully you can see just how dangerous this 'it's their culture' nonsense is already. Does it really need to be written into law, formally or informally?

I will provide one more example of how Islamic ideology can be dangerous to women, although frankly I could sit here writing indefinitely.

This Times article was published in 2007. Please do read it if you get a chance, then have a vigorous wash. It concerns gangs of Asian pimps preying on underage white girls, grooming them, then forcing them to take drugs and sell themselves. You see, the paper correctly identifies the problem, that the police and a Channel 4 documentary makers refused to face up to out of fear; there is a recognisable element here. But it has little to do with 'Asians', and everything to do with Muslim Pakistanis. Sikh girls are preyed on by similar gangs both in the UK and India, and Sikhs too are 'Asians', a generic term for people from the Indian sub-continent in British vernacular. As the link states, it has little to do with colour, and everything to do with Muslim men seducing the 'kuffar'.

The article is deeply disturbing; first it's a travesty that this is occurring at all, but more so that it took the girls' mothers to make a stand, as the authorities were too afraid of being accused of racism.

Now, this is a problem with some, and not all Muslims are responsible, that much should be obvious. But having read that article, I do see a pattern, just as when I read about an Australian Imam mocking Australian girls gang-raped by Muslim Lebanese, or the 'guide to humane wife beating' videos. I see certain Muslims throughout the Western and Muslim worlds trying to enforce a supremacist ideology on us, at the expense of our own freedoms. I see groups of immigrants who the police are afraid to question, but seem to think that us, their erstwhile hosts and our sisters and daughters are little better than cattle or playthings for their amusement.

This is not Islamism; this is Sharia, which is a world view as well as a legal system. The supremacist beliefs and chauvinism responsible for all the above actions are inherent in it, and the belief that even non-believers should submit (or be treated as if they have). We should all be aware of the dangers if it ever gets any sort of a legal foothold, because too many are acting as if we're beaten already. But given what's at stake, can we afford to be? We should be preventing any Muslim who feels that women or Westerners are inferior from living here, not giving into their medieval legal code.

Otherwise, where will it end? 'It's just their culture, give them their rights'. But what about our rights, or the rights of Muslims who have fled such oppressive laws? Are we second class citizens already?


Derius said...

I think you might find this link most informative. It is a Islamic justification for the appalling treatment of Women you desribe, and it written by Muslims for Muslims.

In fact, the whole website is a mine of information about Islam, if you can stomach it:


Incedentally, how do you define "Islamism", and how does it differ from Islam itself? I am curious as you have used this term in your article, but did not define it.

The Venerable 1st Earl of Cromer said...

Thank you for the link, I will look into it in more detail.

Wikipedia defines Islamism as 'political Islam', but in this context I meant it as a catch-all term for Islamic militancy, extremism, supremacism, etc.

I did so because a remarkable number of people seem to believe that the sort of things I described in my post are only believed or practiced by a small number of Muslim extremists, zealots and bigots.

In my experience, a fair majority of Muslim men have an attitude problem when it comes to women, as well as cultural values which aren't founded in their own tradition. I would also add that this problem doesn't seem to be solely confined to the uneducated or 'marginalised'; I've met intelligent, educated Muslims who have identical attitudes.

Derius said...

The term "Islamism" is a redundant term. The most unpleasant aspects of Islam itself are labelled "Islamism" by those who do not understand that those aspects are actually derived from the Qur'an, Hadith and Sira.

For example, some of what is deemed to be "Political Islam" is found in the Qur'an (mainly Sura's 2,3,4 and 5). Therfore, to argue that Political Islam is not orthodox Islam is to argue that those Suras are not truly Islamic. Try finding me a devout Muslim who would agree that that conclusion!

You should also not be surprised that educated Muslims believe in such notions as wife beating. Just because someone is educated does not mean that they are not religious. Therefore, as Sura 4:34 actually says that a husband can beat his wife if she is disobedient, then there is no reason why a devout Muslim who is well educated will not believe that this is acceptable.

Who are we to argue with the word of God? We do argue against it because we don't believe it is the word of God at all, but a devout Muslim will believe that it is.

Such people do not use reason and logic to form their beliefs. If it is endorsed in the Qur'an, then it is good, and if it is forbidden in the Qur'an, then it is bad, and that's as far as their thought processes go.

The notion of "universal" values is a myth. Many people do not believe in those values at all. It is up to people like us who do believe in those values to make a stand against these people. And you are doing a very good job of that on this blog!

The Venerable 1st Earl of Cromer said...

I fully agree. Islam is in itself all about political control and imposing values in order to suppress older ones. This is how it originally grew and why it enjoys the status it does today. So I too find 'political Islam' a redundant term. What always makes me sigh in frustration is just how the apologists of Islam use that term to excuse its wilder excesses, but they would not do so for any other religion, Indeed, in the US, even opposing abortion as a Christian is enough to earn you the title of 'swivel-eyed-right-wing-maniac-who-wants-to-impose-a-theocracy'.

What you said about interpretation is very important. If you check the 'Sharia' article on Wikipedia, you will find a lengthy section where it is compared to common law based on tenuous historical links, and because both involve a degree of 'setting legal precedent'.
The difference of course is that Sharia is based on the Qur'an, Hadith and Sira, which is the word of God and actions of his prophet. Therefore any judge who challenges it is by definition an apostate, and liable to be killed. Also, common law is about taking the law away from a privileged few and applying it equally to all; Sharia seems the very opposite.
It is very hard to argue with alleged 'perfection' in any case.

"The notion of "universal" values is a myth. Many people do not believe in those values at all. It is up to people like us who do believe in those values to make a stand against these people. And you are doing a very good job of that on this blog!"

Indeed. Thank you for your kind words. It is nice to hear from like minded, rational people and have a debate. It's also very good to know I'm not just shouting into the wind!