Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The worst and the best

Inayat Bunglawala writes about Sharia courts and, though he's slightly absurd, he has at least one point:

Today's front page headline "Now Muslims Get Their Own Laws in Britain" may sound familiar. That is because it is. The Express has simply done a rehash of other front page stories it has run on exactly the same theme. I wrote about this "dual system" being utter nonsense at the time.

The fact is that under English law people are free to devise their own way to settle a dispute before an agreed third party. The Shariah courts that exist do not - at all - deal with criminal issues which are a matter for the British courts, they entirely deal with civil matters such as marriage and divorce. The arrangement is entirely voluntary and the two parties have recourse to the UK courts at any time should they wish.

The British Jewish community has a similar - but more widespread and established system of courts - known as Beth Din.
So the allegation that there is a dual system is nonsense, although there is, er... a dual system.

But yes, there is a Jewish equivalent, and in fact there are equivalents in other religions including Christianity. This is a case of multiple wrongs making a wrong. But it's inevitable. I think the Express is wrong to single Islam out over this issue. Sharia is unusually disgusting in many ways. The word of a woman is worth less than that of a man. The criminal punishments are Iron Age. But the principle Bunglawala enunciates is a good one: if Judaism or Catholicism can do it, Islam should also be able to, insofar as it doesn't bring the Moslems involved into conflict with British law. This principle of reciprocity is one reason why the Lords Spiritual need to be abolished.

I think another principle emerges here. The fact that some Islamists, even if they constitute 20% of the Muslim population, are attacking everything that is enlightened and civilised doesn't mean we should discriminate against 100% of Muslims. We'd all feel better, Express headline writers included, if there was a proper recognition of the attacks, and a proper response - not the State funding of Islamist shills like the MCB and Mr Bunglawala. A deluded, sophist response to overt attack is going to generate a counter-reaction.

Having said that, we're still left with the fact that Muslims, even Muslims who aren't Islamist, are, in fact, Muslims. That's not going to change. If other religions can follow religious legal practices, then they should be able to do so as well. Rather than chase an arguably non-existent gender pay gap, genuine discrimination against women in immigrant communities should be attacked rigorously, even if it occurs in religious courts, and even if those religious courts are not Muslim.

To get the taste of that out of our mouths, I refer you to a competition being run by Discover Magazine to explain a scientific idea in two minutes or less. The shortlist for explaining string theory can be found here.

If you're interested in accessing genuine knowledge, the internet really does represent a quantum leap forward, even for those ideas and events that predate it. One of the really hugely enormously impossible-to-understatedly marvellous opportunities this includes is the chance to watch a series of lectures given by Richard Feynman a quarter of a century ago in New Zealand.

Feynman had tried to explain the principles of quantum electrodynamics, the field for which he won a Nobel prize, to his friend Alix Mauntner in casual conversation, but was unable to. So he promised her he'd work out a series of lectures that would explain it to an intelligent layman. She died before he completed this, but the lectures survive, and were brought out in book form.

But Feynman was one of the great teachers and lecturers. If you haven't ever seen these lectures, please consider watching them. They can be accessed online here.

1 comment:

alison said...

oh thank God (sorry) a sensible post on this issue. The first one ive seen. Great post.