An exercise in sharia-compliance

Gita Sahgal on the Home Office inquiry into Sharia courts:

Feminist campaigners from minority women’s organisations in Britain, backed by prominent women human rights advocates from all over the world, wrote an Open Letter to Theresa May, then Home Secretary, criticising the way she was intending to carry out a long-awaited review of sharia in Britain.  May was forced to defend ‘one law for all’ when she became Prime Minister.

An investigation shows that the concerns of campaigners such as myself were well-founded. The Home Office has established a panel which is fit for the purpose of a theological exercise rather than a human rights investigation. The appointment of a theologian to chair it and imams as advisors to the Review Panel, was a thoroughly bad sign as far as feminists were concerned.

Having imams as advisors is not unlike putting foxes in charge of the hen house, or bankers in charge of bank regulation. Imams have an interest.

If the Sharia Review Panel is examined as an outcome of counter-extremist measures, as well as the battle of the Church of England to create religious exemptions from secular law, then its composition makes perfect sense. That probably explains why the Home Office and the panel Chair, the theologian Mona Siddiqui, have remained unmoved as evidence of discrimination on the panel emerges.

They’re doing an inquiry that ensures a particular finding.

The One Law for All campaign looked into the backgrounds of the imams. One of them, Said Ali Abbas Razawi, has a disturbing tendency to talk about end times in apocalyptic and very sexist terms:

“Homosexuality will increase, zinaa [adultery] will increase in society; illegitimacy will increase in society. Men will look like women; women will look like men. What does that mean? What does that mean? That means men won’t be manly anymore….. Heralding the last days… they will be wearing clothes which are tight and will be see through. They will have clothes but they won’t have clothes on.”

It’s like putting Catholic priests in charge of investigating child abuse in the Catholic church. Guess what they will find!

Mona Siddiqui, Chair of the Reveiew Panel, told the Independent that imams are on the panel because they ‘have the ear of the community’; a remark that lead to such outrage, that we decided to call for a boycott of the inquiry.

But the same Imam. Said Ali Abbas Razawi, leads delegations to Iran, and attacks ISIS. His apocalyptic views on the end times are simply not alarming to officials dealing in counter-extremism. The dominant view of counter-extremist officials is that fundamentalists or what they like to call ‘non-violent extremists’ or sometimes ‘moderates’ are part of the solution.

It’s a very low bar. Just “not into blowing people up” is not good enough. Non-bombers who want to keep women subordinate are still a threat to women, even if the women do get to keep all their limbs.

The Home Office responds to all inquires by saying the imams are experts, yes really, experts, they know all about the theology, they’re experts. But that’s not the question.

The government has carefully restricted what the independent panel is supposed to do. Rather than examine the dangers of legal pluralism, as campaigners had suggested, it endorsed ‘sharia law’ as ‘a source of guidance to many Muslims, ‘and limited the panel to ‘assessing whether Sharia may be being misused, or exploited, in a way that may discriminate against certain groups, undermine shared values or cause social harms.’  The focus on group rights and social cohesion gives the game away. Harms to women are to be investigated, but only in the most limited way.

Because women’s rights aren’t among the group rights the Home Office is seeking to protect.

Then the Home Office added a judge who is a Christian theocrat to the panel.

Sir Mark Hedley is a former Judge of the family division. He is an active Christian in the Church of England, the Deputy Chair of the Clergy Discipline Commission, Deputy President of Tribunals and is associated with the Lawyers Christian Fellowship. His knowledge of ecclesiastical courts, and the values of a fundamentalist organisation makes him the closest thing to a sharia court judge that it is possible to find in the English judiciary.

Lawyers associated with the Fellowship vigorously oppose equality legislation. They vocally oppose the removal of religious privilege, and are vitriolic about ‘the homosexual lobby’. They have fought hard to exempt religious individuals or groups from complying with legislation on same sex marriage, adoption by single sex couples and other issues important to Christian fundamentalists. The National Secular Society accuses them of bullying tactics. Their recent campaigns have largely failed, but not before both Anglican and Catholic Churches threatened to withdraw their services from vulnerable individuals and teamed up with Muslim groups to try and defeat the proposals which they claimed would force them to ‘actively condone and promote homosexuality.’

Gita made extensive efforts to talk to the people in charge, and they brushed her off.

At the end of this back and forth, all the organisations which had called for the boycott received letters from the Sharia Review. There was no acknowledgement of any of the criticisms made. The campaigners were blandly asked to give evidence at the Review on August 9th, ‘As well as speaking to yourself, the review team are keen to hear from people with first hand experience of the application of Sharia law. ‘

Not a single mention was made of the Open Letter, the boycott, or any of the concerns raised.

As it stands, the Home Office and the Review Panel fail to meet the most basic standards on impartiality, equality impact and safeguarding. It is an exercise in sharia-compliance and a dangerous tool of the government’s counter-extremism strategy.

There won’t be a single chicken left.

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