Beneath the deceptively placid surface of everyday life, the British population is engaged in a momentous encounter with Islam. Three developments of the past week, each of them culminating years' long trends – and not just some odd occurrence – exemplify changes now underway.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith describes terrorism as "anti-Islamic."
Second, and again culminating several years of evolution, the British government now recognizes polygamous marriages. It changed the rules in the "Tax Credits (Polygamous Marriages) Regulations 2003": previously, only one wife could inherit assets tax-free from a deceased husband; this legislation permits multiple wives to inherit tax-free, so long as the marriage had been contracted where polygamy is legal, as in Nigeria, Pakistan, or India. In a related matter, the Department for Work and Pensions began issuing extra payments to harems for such benefits as jobseeker allowances, housing subventions, and council tax relief. Last week came news that, after a year-long review, four government departments (Work and Pensions, Treasury, Revenue and Customs, Home Office) concluded that formal recognition of polygamy is "the best possible" option for Her Majesty's Government.
Third, the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, endorsed applying portions of the Islamic law (the Shari'a) in Great Britain. Adopting its civil elements, he explained, "seems unavoidable" because not all British Muslims relate to the existing legal system and applying the Shari'a would help with their social cohesion. When Muslims can go to an Islamic civil court, they need not face "the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty." Continuing to insist on the "legal monopoly" of British common law rather than permit Shari'a, Williams warned, would bring on "a bit of a danger" for the country.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams says that Islamic law in Great Britain "seems unavoidable."
Although widely denounced (and in danger of losing his job), Williams may be right about the Shari'a being unavoidable, for it is already getting entrenched in the West. A Dutch justice minister announced that "if two-thirds of the Dutch population should want to introduce the Shari'a tomorrow, then the possibility should exist." A German judge referred to the Koran in a routine divorce case. A parallel Somali gar courts system already exists in Britain.
These developments suggest that British appeasement concerning the war on terror, the nature of the family, and the rule of law are part of a larger pattern. Even more than the security threat posed by Islamist violence, these trends are challenging and perhaps will change the very nature of Western life.