Friday, September 19, 2008

Sharia's status in the UK

There has been a lot of talk lately in the blogs that Sharia courts are now recognized by higher courts in the UK. What this discussion has not made clear is whether the higher courts will enforce the decisions of Sharia "arbitration" courts if the latters' decisions are themselves contrary to British law.

This article by John O'Sullivan argues that British courts cannot recognize illegal (under British law) rulings and thus helps clarify the issue at stake, which is that ultimately Sharia, with its image of Islamic society (and its outsiders) as a ritually-bound hierarchy of distinct roles that determine each person's place and "rights" is logically and ethically incompatible with a legal system that would treat all members of a nation as free and equal individuals (and would similarly treat all nations as having equal rights and responsibilities internationally).

Thus any compromises made towards Sharia courts in what professes to be a society based on individual liberty is simply a cynical or cowardly deferral of hard choices, and an appeasement of those who refuse to adapt to modernity and its ethical absolutes rooted in the sacredness of the free individual and the kind of society that makes free individuals possible.

The fact that large numbers of the British political and policing classes are just so appeasing at present is not proof of Sharia's present legality in the UK. What we mean, in theory or practise, by "the rule of law" - as something distinct from the rule of arbitrary tyranny, or of multiculti legal pot luck (where you can't be sure which law will be determinative in any given time or place) - cannot be reduced to the political cowardice or bullying of an imperial officialdom. No, "the rule of law," as something freely recognized and widely respected must be ultimately recognizable in terms of a widely-understood revelation about the meaning of history, or its key events. The rule of law cannot be separated from a coherent and freely accepted vision of nationhood (and similarly of a truly inter-national order).

Ultimately, no enduring society, whether Islamic or Western, can be long ruled by bureaucratic fudging by post-national elites invested in an ethic of moral or legal, multiculti, relativism. Inevitably, there comes a place and a time when the meaning of a society and its law has to be clearly represented and renewed by some kind of iconic authority, an authority rooted in revelatory and widely respected events.

This re-presentation should not be dictatorial but rather must renew and hopefully expand the degrees of freedom, e.g. of rational debate, without which the long-evolving social order cannot be sustained. Our revelations thus must be open-ended, never entirely settled, or else they are in need of renewal. But we must not confuse true open-endedness with a kind of multiculti bureaucratic fudging that only limits the growth of a free society by re-ritualizing a system of differential rights.

King John is not yet resurrected as the Sheikh or Fatwa council of every demographically-appopriate British hamlet, if I may mix metaphors without too much bureaucratic incoherence. What is happening today in the UK is just a cowardly and dangerous postponement of some future day of reckoning. Does none of Britain's politicos and police officers have the balls to make clear whether or not all British women have a right to be protected from domestic abuse and third-class status in family law? If not, then the future belongs to others' superior generative capacities. It cannot belong to endless fudge, however distracting the promise of another little chocolate mint is at present.


Findalis said...

There is no equal justice under British law now. Women have no rights and neither do gays or non-Muslims.

That is what this means. Plain and simple.

truepeers said...

I think I agree with you findalis, but there is a certain ambiguity in how you say that that might help me clarify my argument: while we'd agree about the lack of real human rights under Sharia, and so while we'd agree that that lack is the reality in parts of Britain today, that doesn't make it legal.

Just because there is a certain hard reality that people are too cowardly to oppose doesn't mean that this reality conforms to the law in Britain. If I put a gun to your head and no one stops me, not even the police (because they don't want trouble), from taking your money, and no one comes after me, that just means we don't live in the kind of society that we would say is governed by "the rule of law", recognizing the sacred freedom and equality of every individual. It's not the kind of society in which "the law" (which is, apparently, that might is right) would have much legitimacy unless everyone saw you as deserving of that treatment, for whatever reason, and saw my action as part of a proper legal process.

Rule of law has to mean something other than might is right, or it doesn't mean anything. So if the difference between having access to rule by British common law or rule by Sharia is all about how much power I have in my family and community and not about certain inalienable rights, then I live in a world that is not that of a nation ruled by a common law. And if I'm ruled by Sharia then I'm not ruled by British law. Maybe you can say Sharia is the new de facto British law, but I don't think you can say Sharia is legal under the old British common law.

Sharia courts exist in Britain but I don't think they're legal if their rulings are incompatible with British law, whatever higher court legitimizes them. So I think many British officials, judges, and police are increasingly corrupted and turning a blind eye to illegal behaviour.