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Monday, 22 September 2008

Sharia – the disturbing story continues

More concern over the reach of sharia courts in Britain comes in today's (London) Times, in which, under the headline Sharia courts are extending their reach, Stephen Pollard puts forward the view – one taken by this blog – that, irrespective of a sharia court's standing in British law, Muslims who are on the end of an arbitration decision by such a court may not get a fair deal.

He writes:

If two parties agree to be bound by an arbitrator – a Sharia court, for instance – that is their business. But what if community pressure forces their acceptance? In one recent inheritance dispute Sharia judges gave the sons twice as much as the daughters. In English law, the shares would have been equal. We do not know what pressures were put on the women to accept the ruling. Peer pressure can be overpowering. And the very point of Western freedoms is to protect people against such unjust pressures.

Once again, it seems, the case is made for keeping religion out of the courtroom. Judgments handed down based on religious belief cannot equal those handed down by independent arbiters or judges whose training equips them – or should equip them, and there will be some whose impartiality may be called into doubt – to deal with a situation with regard to law and fairness.

Pollard raises another issue:

But arbitration over property disputes is one thing; assault, however, is a matter for the criminal law. Yet Sharia courts have dealt with at least six cases of domestic violence in which they simply ordered the assailants to take anger management classes and to talk to community elders. The female victims then withdrew the complaints they had made to the police. They were thus forced to accept the primacy of an unjust religious law over the law of the land. And if you believe that the victims were not coerced by peer pressure into withdrawing their complaints, then you also believe in flying pigs.

Sharia courts have not been granted powers by the State to deal with criminal behaviour. But in ensuring that the victims' complaints were withdrawn, they took de facto control. This, clearly, is the means by which Sharia will extend its reach. And the longer we acquiesce in it, the longer that reach will be.

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