Charlotte Rachael Proudman recently wrote a very important article entitled ‘The New Muslim suffragettes of the United Kingdom’. In it she highlights the plight of members of a new and progressive movement within Britain’s Islamic community. She compares these courageous women with the Suffragettes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The comparison is well deserved. The article reports:
“An increasing number of Muslim women activists are receiving death threats, fatwas and even hate-mail from extremist male and female Muslims. Their crime: Rescuing fellow Muslim women from violent and life threatening situations.”
The anti-sharia movement has been campaigning on these issues for many years now. During that same period, successive governments have been pandering to the whims of Islamists who claim to be representatives of the entire Muslim community rather than putting their weight behind genuine liberal Islamic reformers. It is not straightforward for the government because anyone can claim to be a ‘moderate Muslim’ and it appears that most of the political class does not have the wherewithal or even the desire to tell the difference and in any case appear to have a tendency towards gullibility.
Time is long overdue for politicians to end their infatuation with Islamists and reach out to and empower their victims – the liberal Islamic reform movement, and others who question sharia orthodoxy. The backing that governments have previously given to Islamic orthodoxy made it impossible for a genuine liberal Islamic reform movement to emerge. Thankfully things are beginning to change, but the government needs to move more quickly.
Slowly but surely the desire to tackle the abuses inflicted by the application of sharia principles and other ‘culturally sensitive’ issues is beginning to become mainstream. British Prime Minister David Cameron recently gave a speech that covered the issue of forced marriage:
In the speech he said:
“Forced marriage is little more than slavery. To force someone into marriage is completely wrong and I strongly believe this is a problem we should not shy away from addressing because of some cultural concerns.”
Aneeta Prem, the founder of Freedom Charity welcomed this move and said of forced marriage that “…we have been too culturally sensitive in the past in this country and now we need to say what it is…”
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It is quite clear from these comments that political correctness has been a barrier to the tackling of serious social problems within the United Kingdom. This is another reason why it is so important to protect freedom of expression and oppose initiatives like the ‘Istanbul Process’ that seek to deprive us of this important guarantor of freedom and justice in our society. If people are afraid to speak their mind then the consequences are very rarely good.
A great deal of damage was done to the cause of liberal Islamic reform by the statements made by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips who both appeared to be suggesting that sharia could become part of the British legal system. Statements such as the ones they made only served to embolden Islamists while simultaneously weakening the position of liberal reformers. Members of the British Establishment should certainly consider being more thoughtful about the implications of their words in the future.
Of course, British legislators did let sharia into the legal system via the Arbitration Act 1996. Sharia discriminates against women because under sharia the testimony of a woman is worth half that of a man and this Act gave it a degree of power. Thank goodness that the Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill sponsored by Baroness Caroline Cox has been put before Parliament. This Bill should start the process of reversing some of the damage that has already been done. It is a pity that this Bill could not have been put forward by the Government, which seems to drag its feet on these issues and appears to lack courage to do the right thing in a timely manner. If passed, this Bill should also help take the process of empowering Muslim women forward. The Christian Institute reported that Tehmina Kazi, director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy has given her support to the Bill. Are we now witnessing the emergence of genuine interfaith dialogue, a process that can only take place when Islamists are sidelined?
Liberal Islamic reform is only possible if future Government policy is made responsibly. Such policy needs to make it absolutely clear that sharia law has no role, and will never have a role, to play in British society. It is important that liberal Islamic reformers are empowered and supported, as the conditions under which they operate is obviously made very difficult due to Islamist intimidation.
The work that has been done by Sara Khan of Inspire, and Shereen Williams of the Henna Foundation is inspiring and should be encouraged and supported. It is not clear whether they and other Muslims mentioned in this article regard themselves as liberal Islamic reformers, but their work is very positive and worthy of great respect.