The No Sharia: One Law for All campaign was launched at the House of Lords on International Human Rights Day (10 December 2008). I attended the launch and, yesterday, I marked International Women’s Day by joining several hundred protesters at the anti-Sharia demo in Trafalgar Square for a march to Red Lion Square.
I generally find demonstrations uplifting experiences and certainly most of speakers at the start of the march were inspiring. They included many women who had fled their homelands because of Sharia. But on the march itself, my spirits were dampened by a man who was walking alongside us and who suddenly decided to engage me in conversation.
He criticised the campaign organisers for not making it clear that the British government aren’t actually planning to introduce Sharia Law in this country. My response was that this is beside the point. Some mosques in the UK hold Sharia courts and these discriminate against women.
“You can’t stop people from going for some kind of private adjudication if they want it,” he countered, “but if it has no status in law it means that a woman has legal redress.”
“Legal redress is no use to them if they don’t know about it,” I said.
Goodness knows, we’d heard enough stories about women appealing to these religious tribunals over forced marriages and domestic violence only to be told to stay with their husbands and, believing that the Sharia court had the final say on the matter, that’s what they did. It doesn’t matter what rights they may have in reality if they don’t have the freedom — and in some cases the language — to access them.
All this went over the head of my detractor who just repeated ad nauseam the point about women having rights in this country and the volume of my equally repetitive responses increased until I was yelling at him.
I can’t remember how it ended but I do remember feeling quite downhearted that even the exposure to the No Sharia campaign, which is well-informed, well-organised and very well-supported by ex-muslims, didn’t invoke in this individual sufficient human empathy to even begin to try to imagine being in the place of those women.
I urge all right-thinking people who live in liberal democracies not to be complacent. Sharia is already being used in the UK and elsewhere to keep women locked into lives of oppression and abuse. Resist religious tribunals and support the campaign for one secular law for all.
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