I know that outsourcing things to India is all the rage in the world today and how the world is getting to be flat (thanks, Tom Friedman, what would we do without your wisdom) but this is getting a bit ridiculous. Apparently Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, wants to outsource the idea of how the legal system should be run in a democratic state to India. His idea is that the state should recognize sharia, the Islamic legal system, for those who profess Islam in the UK. India discriminates among its citizens based on their professed beliefs and Mr Williams clearly considers it to be an excellent model to follow.
Predictably and thankfully, most people were outraged at Willams’ statements. The Guardian reported that the prime minister’s spokesman “insisted British law would be based on British values and that sharia law would be no justification for acting against national law.” The report explains that “Sharia law sets out a broad code of conduct for all aspects of life, from diet, wearing of the hijab to marriage and divorce.” It does indeed. Consider just these recent reports which reveal some aspects of sharia.
CBS News reports that “an American businesswoman was carted off to jail by religious police in Saudi Arabia for sitting with a male colleague at a Starbucks in Riyadh.” Hauled before a judge after her arrest and interrogation, she was told that “You are sinful and you are going to burn in hell.” Seems fair to me: hang out with unrelated males for a coffee and burn in hell for all eternity. Saudi Arabia does look like an Islamic paradise to me — at least for the women. Don’t know about the men, though.
Here’s one from CNN about the treatment of women in Iraq.
The images in the Basra police file are nauseating: Page after page of women killed in brutal fashion — some strangled to death, their faces disfigured; others beheaded. All bear signs of torture.
The women are killed, police say, because they failed to wear a headscarf or because they ignored other “rules” that secretive fundamentalist groups want to enforce.
Basra’s police chief says
I think so far, we have been unable to tackle this problem properly. There are many motives for these crimes and parties involved in killing women, by strangling, beheading, chopping off their hands, legs, heads.
When I came to Basra a year ago, two women were killed in front of their kids. Their blood was flowing in front of their kids, they were crying. Another woman was killed in front of her 6-year-old son, another in front of her 11-year-old child, and yet another who was pregnant.
Makes you wonder, doesn’t it, whether the Archbishop has lost his marbles. Nick Anthis of Scienceblog tells him to “Take Your Fancy Schmancy Legal Tradition and Shove It.” Why? Because what the UK has is incomparably precious compared to a medieval barbaric code.
The idea that the UK–a society that like Europe at large has almost fully rejected the shackles of religious tyranny–would take such a huge leap backwards is almost unthinkable. Not only that, but one of the fundamental pillars of the British legal tradition is equal treatment under the law. While multiculturalism is a fact of life in the modern world, there’s a fine line between multiculturalism (good) and exceptionalism (bad). Recognizing sharia law would cross that line… and then some.
But why, WHY would you want to do this in the UK of all places? British common law is by far Great Britain’s most valuable gift to the rest of the world. Much more than just outrageous white wigs, it’s a system that has evolved to promote fairness, equality, and justice while effectively balancing the often competing forces of change and stability. It forms the basis of law in the United States and in countries across the world, and it is the bedrock of stable democracies worldwide.
Although colonialism was a morally bankrupt endeavor–one that colors some of the darkest chapters in the history of our globe–former British colonies by and large escaped much better off than others, to a great extent due the stable legal systems left behind. Of course, the net gains and losses of British colonialism can be debated endlessly, and the picture that emerges is far less rosy. Regardless, British common law is at least one tick mark on the side of the positives.
Some civilizations actually commit suicide when barbarians knock on their gates. Londonistan could be the capital of Eurabia. Pity really as the Enlightenment was pretty neat while it lasted.