Yasmin Alibhai-Brown on arbitration

While we’re on the subject of people who pretend to be Muslims and presume their opinions on Muslims and Islam count, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has her take on the Ontario arbitration affair printed in today’s Evening Standard (London’s only evening paper, published by the same company as the right-wing and notoriously sanctimonious Daily Mail):

Ontario, in Canada, was planning to allow sharia law to be used in domestic disputes. One reason given was that Christians and Jews had that right. A global anti-sharia campaign by human-rights activists, including many Muslims, has forced its premier, Dalton McGuinty, to captulate. He has just announced there would be no religious arbitration in Ontario, a blow to the deadly ideological Islam which has spread fast into the heart of the West, partly because some Western governments have fed and watered it for reasons of political expediency.

For anyone wondering, Alibhai-Brown comes from the Ismaili sect, which is unanimously recognised by Muslims as being outside Islam. This, of course, isn’t recognised by non-Muslims in the media, which is why they are allowed to pontificate in papers like the Standard on how “many Muslims” oppose measures like extending to Muslims the same rights enjoyed by other religious communities. At the risk of getting into a controversy like that which followed by comments on Shiv Malik, I think this is a little bit dishonest, to say the least. Her opinions, like Rushdie’s, count for nothing in the Muslim community.

In any case, the so-called “global anti-sharia campaign” has included a fair number of noted anti-Islamic activists, such as those who pose as “progressive Muslims”, who are in fact often not Muslims at all. Some of them may be known for their Arab-American rights activism, but if you don’t believe in Islam, you aren’t Muslim, even if you drink mint tea or eat felafel or biryani. In fact, two of the women prominent in the Ontario anti-Shariah campaign are members of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran (hat tip: Bob Pitt of Islamophobia Watch); you can find three articles by, or involving, Homa Arjomand on the front page of the WCPI’s site at the time of my writing this. Members of the WCPI were also involved in the “dodgy dossier” on Dr Qaradawi ([1], [2]) in January this year.

And “deadly ideological Islam”? The notion of allowing Muslims to settle their disputes in their own ways is hardly deadly, even if (as I understand was not to be the case in Ontario) people have to declare their religion on some official form and then the judgement of any Islamic court would be binding. This system was to be voluntary. The two communities who already had religious arbitration in place are hardly known for having a progressive family law: the problem of “chained” Jewish women is well-known, as is the way Catholics achieve equality in their divorce law - they do not allow it to anyone. The issue of women having difficulty getting divorces in Islam is not unacknowledged, and I don’t believe the Muslim Shariah Council is the only forum to which a Muslim can take his or her arbitration issues.

She also offers the astounding claim that “we are today detested even by other black and Asian citizens, who are incredulous that instead of fighting for equality for all, Muslim leaders (unelected) spend their time calling for privileges, using wicked politicking to get their way”. The “privileges” she is talking about include the proposed “religious hatred” law, which has not even been introduced yet and quite possibly won’t ever. More likely to be among the “bribes” she speaks of was Jack Straw’s performance in Gujarat during an official visit in February, during which “he made much of Home Office proposals to make it easier to get visas to visit relatives”. This probably had more to do with us not witnessing a “Portillo moment” in Blackburn than the hate law proposal.

And besides, she offers no example of Muslims being detested by other blacks and Asians, although they have always been largely separate from each other - although there are some mixed areas (Peckham, Croydon), their main centres in London are in totally different places. Given that Asians and blacks have distinctly different cultures, languages and religions, this is something that should not really surprise anyone. I’ve not heard of any major incident of violence between blacks and Asians (gang violence incidents between different groups of Asians, yes, but not between blacks and Asians). The article is a classic example of not letting the facts get in the way of a good story, by someone who presumes to speak for a community whose values and beliefs she does not share.

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