The backlash against Britain's constellation of Islamic tribunals, now adjudicating civil disputes under the Arbitration Act of 1996, has stepped up this month with the launch of the One Law for All campaign. Yet while it provides a service by highlighting the discriminatory nature of Shari'a "justice," the group may face a backlash of its own due to a broad, anti-religious agenda.
Let us start with the good. In its declaration, One Law for All takes a no-holds-barred stand against Shari'a courts, focusing on their inherent biases:
Under Shari'a law a woman's testimony is worth half that of a man; a woman's marriage contract is between her male guardian and her husband. A man can have four wives and divorce his wife by simple repudiation, whereas a woman must give reasons, some of which are extremely difficult to prove. Child custody reverts to the father at a preset age, even if the father is abusive; women who remarry lose custody of their children; and sons are entitled to inherit twice the share of daughters.
However, One Law for All runs aground when it calls on the government to "recognize that Shari'a and all religious laws are arbitrary and discriminatory against women and children in particular." It then demands "an end to all Shari'a courts and religious tribunals," which should be "banned from operating within and outside of the legal system."
By lumping Shari'a courts together with Jewish Beth Din courts and others — which, as Britain's race relations minister noted recently, do not exhibit similar problems — One Law for All actually hinders public understanding of how Shari'a presents a unique threat to Western values at this time. Why punish a wide array of tribunals due to the injustices of Islamic ones?
A hint may be found in the claim that "all religious laws are arbitrary and discriminatory against women and children." This statement is both expansive and inaccurate, suggesting a broader anti-religious agenda at work here. Instead of pursuing a narrow battle against Shari'a, One Law for All seems intent on conducting a war against religion in general — a strategy that will alienate many would-be sympathizers to the anti-Shari'a cause.
It also must be noted that the campaign's organizer, Maryam Namazie, and a number of its endorsers are members of the central committee of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran, a group that dreams of replacing one form of tyranny with another. Interestingly, several organizations listed as supporting One Law for All — including Children First Now, Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, Equal Rights Now, International Committee Against Stoning, and Iranian Secular Society — appear to be run by the same far-left coterie.
The scant media coverage of its December 10 rollout at the House of Lords indicates that One Law for All is a long way from being viewed as a leader in the anti-Shari'a movement. But based on the group's many problems, this may not be a bad thing.