I just posted in the comments thread at this post on RD.net (original BBC article here). The article is the latest development in the February suggestion by Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, that Islamic sharia law could have a place in the UK.
In parts of Australia, some civil matters involving Aborigines are resolved using their tribal laws (within the limits of Australian law, of course – noone gets speared in the leg for theft anymore). However, Aborigines are the indigenous inhabitants of the country and they are the only group of people permitted to do this.
If, hypothetically, you allowed sharia law in the UK it should only be among consenting muslims, within the reasonable laws of the UK and absolutely not applicable to anyone unwilling to go along with it. However (again), given traditional Islamic attitudes toward women I don’t see anything positive coming out of using sharia to mediate disputes between married couples or any dispute involving a man & a woman. How many times have we seen muslim men take sharia into their own hands and just execute an offending female and feel justified in doing so? Every one of my neurons is saying “forget extreme caution, do not approach sharia AT ALL.” As was already expressed, if you want to live under sharia, go to a country that already uses it.
I’m just waiting for this issue to come up in Australia. Islamic clerics have in recent years (well, one cleric anyway, who has since been relieved of his position as mufti) been very vocal about how Australians should live and it may only be a matter of time before sharia law is mentioned. I sincerely hope that if/when it does, it receives about as much consideration as would my idea about paying tribute to the wishes of the Great Galactic Squid (hallowed be His tentacular glory).
It’s not that it’s Islam. Not entirely. Certainly, Islam demeans women routinely and discriminates in almost every way against anyone who’s not a straight muslim male, so it’s nowhere near a suitable set of laws for Australia – especially if it’s some kind of dispute between a man and a woman, whether father/daughter, husband/wife, whatever. It’s the fact that any set of laws based entirely on any religion won’t be based on reason or rationality or fairness or common sense. If you’re going to be handing out punishments or penalties based on what you think your god wants, you’re not going to be approaching the case in the most open-minded & impartial way, with the most just outcome for everyone involved foremost in your mind. You’ll be looking to resolve the case in a way which fits best with your, or your temple’s, interpretation of whatever holy scroll you live by. Whatever the resolution, it will be anything but impartial because whatever happens, it will have necessarily have to conform to your god’s supposed will. Regardless of what happens to the humans involved in the case, your god will always win, because anything that’s done will be in deference to him and in his glorious name, amen.
Of course, I’m not expecting any religious court to supersede any Australian court – I don’t imagine, for example, a muslim defendant could have his jury trial moved to an islamic court – but I’m always wary of any religion attempting to impose itself on the laws of my country. I’m seeing case after case of disproportionately represented Christian bigots in the US attempting to force religion into every aspect of public life including government, armed forces and especially science education in schools (but only biology for some reason – they don’t seem to feel as threatened by physics or mathematics) and to see fundamentalist religion get a similar foothold in this nation would be my worst nightmare. Despite my wariness I don’t think it’ll happen though. I like to think people in this country are a little more attentive to matters like this than Americans are. We don’t like religious wackos, pure and simple. We laugh heartily at the kind of weird macho religious nationalism displayed frequently by Americans of all stripes, while simultaneously being a tad scared of it – after all, Dubya’s strong faith has reportedly guided him more than once during his occupancy of the President’s mansion and this has led to our nation once again being dragged into an illegal & farcical American war.
Also, let’s face it, there’s a strong undercurrent of xenophobia and racism in parts of this country – how else would Pauline “We are in danger of being swamped by Asians” Hanson have ever become elected? And – Australians, all together now for the in-joke – where else but Queensland? 🙂