Knowing better

I had thought I could leave the poor archbishop in peace now…but another item or two has come along to drag me back to his doings. One is the Crooked Timber thread on the subject. Harry B is commenting on a piece by Minette Marin in the Sunday Times.

The comment about wooliness of mind is, presumably, a charge that anyone who recognises complexity is stupid, or something like that.

No, it isn’t. The archbishop’s speech is indeed woolly. I’ve already quoted from it more than enough to illustrate (and demonstrate) that, so I won’t quote any more. Joe Hoffman – who can handle complexity – called the speech badly reasoned mud. The speech is not simply a clever academic recognizing complexity – it’s elegantly but also badly, pompously, tortuously, evasively written.

[T]here is nothing treacherous about the Archbishop’s comments. He is appealing to the long-established British tradition of muddling through, tinkering with institutions as is needed to achieve goals of stability and rough fairness (he’s the one who is “holding fast to that which is good”). The revolutionaries—or to put it far more harshly than I ever would, the traitors—here are, in fact, the Archbishop’s critics.

Oh really – all of us? Not just Minette Marin but all of us? That’s a large claim – but it will doubtless fall of its own weight. More to the point is that bit about ‘rough fairness’. Fair to whom? To the women who would be forced or intimidated or religiously blackmailed into relying on sharia courts for trivial items like marriage and divorce? Fair to the women who have been saying ‘No thank you!’ in no uncertain terms for several days? Or just fair to the men who like sharia courts for divorce because they are arranged by men for men?

Someone points out in the comments that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown doesn’t see it the way Harry B does; Harry replies, ‘So Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, too, didn’t bother to check what he actually said. Oh well.’ Right. A Muslim woman with experience of sharia and of talking to countless Muslim women with (very unhappy) experience of sharia needs to be set straight by a non-Muslim male academic; she has it wrong and he has it right; and he knows by intuition that she hasn’t ‘checked’ what Williams actually said. So low does the multicultural mindset (I almost said left, but that’s not left, it’s reactionary) stoop.

A lot of the commenters are not having it though. Daniel Davies is flinging the abuse around as usual, but it’s not having much effect.

The other item is Johann’s article.

Last month, a plain, unsensationalist documentary called Divorce: Sharia Style looked at the judgements [British sharia courts] hand down…Irum Shazad, a 26-year-old British woman, travels from her battered women’s refuge to a sharia court in East London. She explains that her husband was so abusive she slashed her wrists with a carving knife. The court tells her this was a sin, making her as bad as him. They tell her to go back to her husband…Then we meet Nasirin Iqbal, a 27-year-old Pakistani woman who was shipped to Britain five years ago to marry…”He tells me I’m stuck with him, and under Islam he can treat me however he wants. ‘I am a man, I can treat you how I want’.” We see how Imran torments her, announcing, “You are a reject. I didn’t want to marry you.” He takes a second wife in Pakistan, and texts her all day in front of Nasirin declaring his love. The sharia court issues a fatwa saying the marriage stands. She doesn’t seem to know this isn’t a court of law. “I can’t ignore what they say,” she cries. “You have to go with what they say.” These are the courts that Rowan Williams would give the stamp of British law. In his lecture, he worries that this could harm women – before serving up a theological gloop, saying that sharia could be reinterpreted in a way compatible with the rights of women. But if that happens, why would you need different courts? What would be the point?

Well exactly. The point of them is that they’re different, and that Williams thinks it’s only fair (since Christians get to claim ‘exceptions,’ at least he claims they do) that people should be able to have their different courts. But the way they are different is that they are unequal and, not to put too fine a point on it, unjust. We’ll make it so that they’re not. But then they’re not different any more – so we’re back where we started. What, indeed, is the point?

In other words Williams has recycled Susan Moller Okin’s argument in Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?, but without realizing he’s done so (and pretty obviously without being aware of Okin’s argument).

The argument that women will only have to enter these courts if they freely choose to shows a near-total disconnection from the reality of Muslim women’s lives. Most of the women who will be drawn into “consenting” are, like Nasirin, recent immigrants with little idea of their legal options. Then there are the threats of excommunication – or violence – from some families. As the Muslim feminist Irshad Manji puts it: “When it comes to contemporary sharia, choice is theory; intimidation is the reality.”

Oh, but surely the good clever non-Muslim males at Crooked Timber know better than Irshad Manji. Why would she know anything about it? Or why would Azar Majedi?

As the European-Iranian feminist Azar Majedi puts it: “By creating different laws and judicial systems for each ethnic group, we are not fighting racism. In fact, we are institutionalising it.”

No, that can’t be right. The guys at Crooked Timber must know better.

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