Friday, December 01, 2006


Express Delivery

I was shocked to read the headline in the Daily Express yesterday, “Muslim Law Reaches Britain.” It is unusual for a tabloid headline to irritate me quite so much as this one did, but I think it’s pretty outrageous that so-called “journalists” can get away with this blatant religious prejudice and half-baked explanation of the facts.

The article describes how Sharia law “allows people to be stoned to death, beheaded or have their limbs amputated” and how Sharia courts are now becoming established in the UK. It completely ignores a number of facts, such as:

1) People have lived and are living by religious laws of all persuasions right across the UK. Which is why lots of Express readers don’t want Camilla to be Queen (a divorcee on the throne? Good Lord no!)

2) Jewish courts such as the London Beth Din have been operating successfully and in line with UK law for many years. The Express don’t mention this, preferring instead to give the impression that unsuspecting middle-class Brits are about to be executed by angry Muslims for not dressing modestly.

3) The article neglects to mention the fact that the courts are NOT a substitute for the English legal system, and that all participants give their consent to accept the court’s jurisdiction.

All this from a paper who’s response to all forms of criminality is almost as draconian and illiberal as even the most hard-line Islamic regime!

There are a couple of things that I find hard to believe. First, that there are people who give their professional lives to write the type of one-sided, jaded and sensationalist articles contained in The Express. And second, that there are people out there who believe them unquestioningly! Intelligent, reasonable people who seem to take in this stuff without blinking!

The letters page on the on-line edition asks “Was Diana Murdered?” “Yes! It was a cover up!” screams Evelyn from Australia, ignoring the opinions of the experts who have spent years analysing the evidence. “Should Muslims be allowed to have their own laws here?” it asks, “Definitely not. What is going in Great Britain? Another reason why I left the country,” argues Liz from Germany, adding a very reasoned point…

What’s going on here? How can a multi-million selling newspaper be allowed to spout this kind of stuff...? I don’t know if Diana was murdered, and neither does Evelyn from Australia. I suspect she wasn’t, but Evelyn is convinced that she was. And so the Daily Express scream from the front page that she must have been! Should Muslim Sharia courts have legal precedence over English courts in criminal matters in England? No, of course not. But that was never on the cards. So why are the Express giving the impression that it is? How does this kind of insane headline do anything but enflame prejudice, raise tension and foster ignorance?

I think the Daily Mail should run a poll to see if we should ban it!


Excellent post. It's important to point out that even though members of Jewish and Muslim communities can choose to live by Halacha or Sharia law, it doesn't have the status of the law of the land - it's a voluntary code that people can choose to live by, and the corresponding courts don't have legal status per se. It's also important to note that a lot of the work those courts do is mundane, technical, and in a completely different sphere from what secular courts get up to. If I set up a Kosher restaurant, and want an expert opinion about whether or not the food's prepared in accordance with the minutiae of Jewish law, I wouldn't get very much help if I went to the local magistrate!
I'd agree with you up to a point. The Express was sensationalising (no one seriously thinks Sharia 'courts' in the UK should be able to inflict stonings etc).

Yes, there already are religious courts deciding civil matters as binding arbitration, and religious matters (not covered by UK law).

However the Express article does seem to suggest that a number of people are using sharia courts to deal with criminal acts committed by Muslims on other Muslims, which I think is different. In the UK a criminal act is not just between the victim and perpetrator but between the perpetrator and the rest of society (represented by the Crown). People who should have been pursued in criminal courts would get away without a criminal record or the proper involvement of probation etc which has public protection issues. There is also the issue of whether people feel coerced into using this form of court rather than the UK courts of law. I have no problem with sharia courts or the Beth Din being used for civil disputes, but if criminal cases are not being pursued in courts of law, but addressed through a para-court, then that is a very different issue.
My mistake, the case I've heard of involved people using a 'court' operating somaili customary law as an alternative to the criminal process, rather than a Sharia court. The point about the dangers of parallel criminal systems still stands though.
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