Ayes to the Right
The present chapter looks at centre and far-right opponents of Shari’a, including political parties (UKIP, the BNP), street protest movements (EDL) and think tanks (Civitas, Centre for Social Cohesion).
Civitas and the Centre for Social Cohesion
Civitas, the ‘Institute for the Study of Civil Society’,1 has published numerous reports on welfare benefits, education and immigration, and a booklet, Sharia Law or ‘One Law for All’? (Green 2009), which emphasized the threat of Islam (and immigration) to British society and culture.2 Supporters of the Cox Bill drew heavily on the booklet’s findings which were welcomed by, among others, Terry Sanderson of the NSS.3 Stating that the ‘underlying problem’ is that Shari’a ‘reflects male‐dominated Asian and Arabic cultures’ and is therefore unacceptable as the basis for settling disagreements in Britain, the booklet’s Introduction asserted that ‘Our system is based on moral and legal equality or it is nothing’ (Green 2009: 5). The main section (pp. 9–127), written by an Islamic expert, Denis MacEoin,4 develops this theme: ‘Elements in Islamic law are seriously out of step with trends in Western legislation that derive from the values of the Enlightenment and are inherent in modern codes of human rights that are in force throughout Europe and in democratic countries elsewhere’ (MacEoin 2009: 11).
Concerning Shari’a courts or councils (the booklet alternates between the two), and drawing on reports inter alia about the Somali gar, MacEoin claims that they have ruled on criminal matters, and that while family and personal law issues, including marriage and divorce, predominate, nevertheless:
judgements made in this sector may touch on and can take us into sensitive and even illegal or semi‐legal territory. Marriage in itself invites rulings on whether the bride may be underage or not; whether the husband may have sex with his wife even if she is underage; whether a husband may marry more than one wife; how much the dowry should be; and whether the bride’s consent is needed in what is regarded as a civil contract between her male guardian[s] … and the groom (2009: 41).
Referring to the MCB’s opposition to the Muslim Marriage Contract (see p. 45), and remarking on the ‘incidence of honour killings within some Muslim communities’, MacEoin contends that it is ‘nearly impossible for women and girls to access or assert [their] rights without suffering penalties’ (p. 47), and concludes that ‘since Islamic law – regardless of what its apologists argue – discriminates against women in and out of the married state, it can never be in conformity with British legislation’ (p. 52). Furthermore, ‘if sharia can be established in principle within a non‐Muslim legal system, it will only be a matter of time before the range of its application is extended beyond whatever was originally intended’ (p. 56). This would be:
a recipe for a dichotomous legal system that holds Muslims and non‐Muslims to different standards. This is not a matter of eating halal meat or seeking God’s blessing on one’s marriage. It is a challenge to what we believe to be the rights and freedoms of the individual, to our concept of a legal system based on what parliament enacts, and to the right of all of us to live in a society as free as possible from ethnic‐religious division or communal claims to superiority and a special status that puts them in some respects above the law to which we are all bound (p. 73).
In an influential passage, MacEoin attempted to count the councils:
… an indeterminate number of sharia courts or tribunals have emerged and are currently working in the UK. Their decisions are legally binding and can be enforced by county courts and high courts provided both parties in a case have agreed to be ruled by sharia law. Most reports cite five courts as working in this way, based in London, Birmingham, Bradford, Coventry, and Manchester. However, our investigations indicate that a considerably larger number – 85 at least – are operating, mainly out of mosques dotted around the country (p. 69).
He recognized this is a highly speculative figure, but it has been widely thought authoritative and cited in thousands of reports, articles and speeches. That councils operate unofficially, beyond the purview of the civil authorities, MacEoin added, ‘arouses concern as to the legality of their rulings’ (p. 70). Lacking evidence for their activities, he turned to online fatwa websites which he found ‘advise illegal actions and others that transgress human rights standards as they are applied by British courts’ (ibid.)
MacEoin does not offer solutions, but the pamphlet’s editor concluded that ‘nothing less will suffice than the exclusion of sharia courts from recognition under Britain’s Arbitration Act’ as in Ontario (Green 2009: 7). Although the report was criticized by many Muslims,5 it was highly influential, and the number ‘85’ was engraved in the heart of the anti-Shari’a narrative.
Civitas was closely associated with the Centre for Social Cohesion of which Baroness Cox was a director; the two had offices in the same premises (also shared with Policy Exchange, publisher of MacEoin 2007, and Mirza et al. 2007). The Centre for Social Cohesion was until 2011 headed by Douglas Murray, author of Neoconservativism: Why We Need It (2005), and later an associate director of the Henry Jackson Society.6 In a prize-winning article published in The Times, Murray (2010) described Shari’a as ‘based on the writings and declarations of a seventh-century tradesman’.
Murray, who was also present at the Restoration Weekend in 2011, had previously addressed the Pim Fortuyn Memorial Conference on Europe and Islam in Amsterdam in 2006 on ‘What are we to do about Islam?’ ‘We inhabit a continent with twin problems’, he observed.
The first problem arises from a reinvigorated and re-emergent Islamic fundamentalism. Militarily, this is relatively easy to deal with, and in foreign lands there is a solution to the problem. But the reason why it is causing such difficulties at home is because this resurgence comes at a time when our societies in Western Europe are too weak-willed, tired and degenerate to act decisively.7
Quoting the Canadian-born writer Mark Steyn, who described radical Islam as an ‘opportunist infection, like AIDS’,8 Murray argued that Islam was advancing due to the ‘weak-willed, badly educated and ignorant men and women who currently hold intellectual sway over Europe – people who would rather die than appear politically incorrect, and would rather sacrifice their society than be absolutist in defence of it’. At the core of this, ‘the AIDS of the West’ was relativism:
It is the belief that all cultures are equal even while one culture (our own) is ridden over daily and even while another (Islam) is becoming uniquely violent. The belief that all things are relative has led to an inability among the cultural elites of Europe to stand up for what is right, or even to stand up for their own, because right does not exist in their vocabulary … Giving equal attention and respect to all-comers, not only can relativists (the politically correct) not defend their own, they end up drawing a parity across cultures, faiths and behaviours which diminishes the good, and elevates the malignant. When we stare in disbelief at tolerance of the intolerable and the slow turning of that tolerance into acceptance and then acquiescence in evil, we are seeing Europeans acting out the last stages of nihilist philosophy.
This philosophy will ‘ruin Europe if we do not rid ourselves of it. Ridding ourselves of our rotten thought-world is the first step … towards protecting ourselves from the threats which face us’.
The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)
UKIP was founded in 1993 as a focus for opposition to membership of the EU. Standing on that platform it achieved success in European elections, in 2009 gaining some 17 per cent of the vote and 13 MEPs. In 2014 it topped the poll with 27 per cent, beating Labour and Conservatives into second and third places, albeit on a turnout of 36 per cent. Like similar populist parties in Europe, it is strongly anti-immigration; a YouGov poll, published after the May 2013 local elections in which it won many seats, found that 76 per cent of UKIP supporters considered immigration an important factor determining their vote9 (see also Ashcroft 2013b). IPSOS-MORI polls regularly record that immigration comes second only to the economy among ‘Issues Facing Britain’.10
There are numerous studies of UKIP’s arrival on the British political scene, notably Ford and Goodwin’s Revolt on the Right (2014). Readers are referred to this as an authoritative and detailed guide, not only to the party, but the social and economic changes in British society which have led to its appeal to what they call ‘left behind’ voters, disenchanted with politicians and pessimistic about the future.11 This section discusses only the position that UKIP and its supporters take on multiculturalism and Islam in general, and Shari’a councils in particular.
Julian Conway, director of Friends of Israel in UKIP,12 commenting on Douglas Murray’s Neoconservatism, observed:
It is incredible just how many of the policy positions Murray implores the Conservatives to take-up were ignored by Cameron but adopted by UKIP. These include: cutting the unnecessarily high number of university places, slashing taxes by at least 10 per cent … opposing multiculturalism, restoring national sovereignty and opposing human rights jurisprudence.13
‘Many on the left’, he adds,
support a kind of moral relativism – the idea that in a liberal society no lifestyle can be looked upon by government to be objectively better than any other. For libertarians this leads to the strict value pluralism of Isaiah Berlin. For the left, it has led to support for state-sponsored multiculturalism. Murray challenges these ideas by stating that government must engage with society to nudge it in the right direction for the common good.
The majority of UKIP voters oppose multiculturalism.14 As UKIP MEP, Gerard Batten, put it in his speech to the party’s annual conference in 2009:
A significant proportion of immigrants and their descendents are neither assimilating nor integrating into British society. Encouraged by official policies of multiculturalism we are creating parallel societies: not only with their own traditions and customs but now demanding their own legal systems. We are witnessing the Balkanization of the UK with unknown consequences for the future. Academic research shows that on current demographic trends the English will be an ethnic minority in their own country within two to three generations.15
As support for UKIP surged in opinion polls in 2013–14, its candidates came under increasing scrutiny, notably from within Conservative Party circles.16 Thus an article in the Telegraph17 headlined: ‘[UKIP] is facing questions over its vetting after campaigners criticized the “far-right connections” and “cuckoo conspiracy theories” of some of its potential councillors’ cited candidates’ views on hanging or chemically castrating paedophiles, and on the need to take precautions against disease when immigrants from Bulgaria and Romania arrive. During the European and local elections of 2014, there were many reports of similar sentiments, often focusing on Islam, which one candidate described as a ‘totalitarian ideology against everything modern Britain stands for’.18 To be fair, UKIP’s leadership reacted firmly to these and other outbursts, denying that the party was in any way Islamophobic or racist.19 When, after the 2013 elections, UKIP representatives on Lincolnshire County Council declined to sign an anti-racism declaration, on the grounds that it ‘pushes forward the chance of multiculturalism, one of the fundamental things that’s wrong with our society’,20 they were suspended from the party, though several broke away to form their own group.21 Nonetheless, according to a YouGov poll,22 83 per cent of UKIP supporters confessed they felt ‘uncomfortable’ about the numbers of people from ethnic minorities living in Britain, and the party certainly attracts those to whom such sentiments appeal; Ford and Goodwin (2014) observe that while UKIP sought to distance itself from the BNP23 as a racist party, it also sought to attract its former supporters.
For some, matters Islamic are of crucial concern especially in relation to national security and the British way of life.24 Thus, the Telegraph quoted from one UKIP candidate’s blog25 (subsequently deleted):
Muslims go to war warring the same cloths as ordinary people who they hide behind they cover their faces, they hide behind women and children they set up rocket launches in school yards they use children to push wheel barrows into crowds and soldiers then detonate it killing innocent people SO WHO ARE THE COWARDS … It’s about time the Government and the Police stopped pandering to these so called British Muslims and other foreign nationals.
During the local elections in 2014 several UKIP candidates were obliged to withdraw or resign because of anti-Islamic and/or racist remarks, and, earlier, the Daily Mail26 had reported that one councillor was forced out after posting racist cartoons and messages on Facebook, one with a picture of a nuclear weapon exploding emblazoned with the message: ‘Some cancers need to be treated with radiation, Islam is one of them’. He also shared an image of a Muslim being roasted over a pile of burning Qur’ans.
By contrast with the 2014 local and European election manifestos which made no mention of Muslims, that for the 2010 general election took a strong line on Islam. ‘Sharia courts must not override UK law’, it said, and called for banning the burqa/niqab in public buildings, the deportation of radical preachers, and monitoring the curriculum of (Muslim) faith schools. ‘Those of us who want a tolerant, peaceful democratic Europe have to recognize the threat posed to those values by radical Islam’, said Gerard Batten.27 Lord Pearson, a Eurosceptic and opponent of same-sex marriages, who had been elected UKIP leader in 2009, received a ‘raucous standing ovation’ for his speech to the 2010 Spring Conference, in which he warned:
We must also be prepared to talk openly about the advance of Sharia Law in this country, and the huge problem of Islamism world-wide. Like it or not, when we talk of ‘terrorism’ nowadays we are nearly always talking about a problem which comes from within Islam. We are not talking about a threat which comes from the Buddhists, the Hindus, the Sikhs, the Jews or Christians; not even Irish Catholics; we are talking about Islam.28
To an extent, this anti-Islamism reflected Lord Pearson’s personal agenda (Ford and Goodwin 2014: 80–89). He was, of course, a staunch supporter of Baroness Cox when she was denied the Conservative whip in 2004, backed her over the invitation to Geert Wilders and intervened on numerous occasions in the Lords on Islam-related matters. In March 2009, for example, he asked then Minister (Lord Bach) to agree that
one of the greatest threats to our civilization, perhaps the greatest threat, comes from violent Islamism? Does he further agree that all must be equal under our law, including women, gays and those who wish to convert from Islam to another faith, and that Sharia law should therefore not be allowed to go on holding sway in this country? Will this or any more urgent legislation achieve that?29
Three months later he asked whether the government ‘support[ed] the implementation of Sharia Law in the United Kingdom’30. Lord Bach (again) replied that Sharia had no part in UK law, and the government had ‘no intention of making any change to that position’. That answer, Lord Pearson responded:
Suggests that the Government may be disturbingly complacent about the fact that Sharia law is incompatible with the values and law of this country, as it denies not only equality before the law between men and women, Muslim and non-Muslim, but also freedom of religion. So, first, will the noble Lord give your Lordships a clear assurance that Sharia law will never be allowed to take precedence over British law? Secondly, and for instance, will Her Majesty’s Government take steps to ensure that resident Muslim men will no longer be allowed to commit bigamy by bringing in their second, third and fourth wives and all their children to enjoy the benefits of our welfare state?
He pursued that theme in July 2009, asking ‘what measures they intend to introduce to prevent polygamous households where there is a divorce of convenience under United Kingdom law but an Islamic marriage under Sharia law’,31 and in 2103 he asked why Baroness Cox’s request for an ‘ad hoc committee into religiously sanctioned gender discrimination against women’ had been ignored, when some 70 peers had supported it.32 Then when Channel 4 TV decided, to much criticism,33 to broadcast the morning call to prayer during Ramadan, Lord Pearson asked what assessment the government had made of the effect on community relations in the United Kingdom. Baroness Warsi replied:
Channel 4 has a long history of alternative programming. Freedom of worship is an important British liberty, and we should show respect to all faiths, especially during their festivals. Religious practices of many faiths are featured in the media from time to time, and there is a long tradition of religious tolerance in this country.34
On the occasion of the murder in Woolwich, London, of a young British soldier, Drummer Lee Rigby, by two self-proclaimed Islamists,35 Lord Pearson asked the government: ‘whether they will encourage an international conference of Muslim leaders to address the issue of violent extremism within that religion’.36 This led to the following exchange:
Baroness Warsi: My Lords, this country is resolute in its stand against violent extremism. As the Prime Minister has made clear, there is no religious justification for these acts, and he has stressed that al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism has taken more Muslim lives than any others. We are working with international partners and religious leaders worldwide to combat violent extremism.
Lord Pearson: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that fairly helpful Answer. I would have thought that, as a Muslim, she is well placed to lead such an initiative. As we think of Drummer Rigby, I ask if the Government are aware that there have been many thousands of fatal Islamist attacks worldwide since 9/11, and that most of the victims have been Muslims? … Secondly, if Islam is a religion of peace, could not a gathering of grand muftis and others agree to issue a fatwa against the jihadists, so that they are cast out of Islam and are no longer Muslim?
Lord Pearson’s penchant for asking challenging questions was further illustrated when he enquired: ‘What assessment have [the government] made of the extent to which the Islamic tenets of abrogation and Al Hijra are promoted by Muslim clerics in the United Kingdom; and what effect this may have on the cohesiveness of community relations’.37 Abrogation refers to the assertion that later passages in holy texts may be understood as overriding earlier ones, notably concerning the justification for violent jihad.38 Baroness Warsi replied that the government ‘does not generally conduct assessments of matters of theological concern, and has not done so in this case’. Lord Pearson pressed home his point about abrogation in a later speech when he added: ‘the dark side is moving strongly within Islam’.39 Similarly, in early 2014 he enquired what evidence was there for a statement by Baroness Warsi that ‘the essential lesson taught by Islamic history is that extremist groups are ejected from the mainstream of Islam’.40 Baroness Warsi: ‘It is the business of historians to determine the evidence with regards to issues concerning the history of religions. However if the noble Lord approaches the academic research with an open mind he will find ample evidence to confirm my statement’.41 Lord Pearson was not a success as UKIP leader and after the 2010 election made way for the return of former leader, Nigel Farage MEP, who in an interview in July 2013 cast doubt on his predecessor’s performance: ‘Poor old Malcolm Pearson he had a bit of a problem last time. It was like a Not the Nine O’Clock News sketch. [The BBC presenter] asked him the question and he said: gosh you’ve got me there old boy’.42
When Panorama 2013 was advertised, the UKIP deputy leader, Paul Nuttall MEP,43 spoke in support of Baroness Cox’s Bill, noting her opposition to ‘concurrent legal systems operating in this country’ and Shari’a’s discrimination against women: her ‘determination in following through on this issue which is not an easy thing to do in these politically correct times’ should be applauded, he added.44 Nonetheless, later that year Nuttall announced that UKIP no longer supported banning the burqa: ‘our view is pretty much that if people need to see your face, then quite frankly it should be shown’, but, as libertarians, the party objected to legislation.45 Some supporters believed this meant the party was becoming ‘soft’ on Islam,46 and indeed Farage was obliged to affirm that what Britain needed was ‘a much more muscular defence of our Judaeo-Christian heritage’.47 Muslims who did not speak English, or who wear the veil were not welcome. In early February 2014 The Guardian broke another story concerning Gerard Batten (who had previously called for a ban on mosque-building) when it reported that he had endorsed a ‘charter’ (originally prepared in 2006) which called on Muslims to sign a code of conduct that rejected violence and recognized that ‘parts of the Qur’an that promote “violent physical Jihad” should be regarded as “inapplicable, invalid and non-Islamic”’.48 The charter also expected Muslims to ‘prohibit and abolish the practice of takkiya’ [taqiyya, see p. 233], a doctrine which, he claimed, justified lying and deception to promote Islam. Batten’s support for this charter was widely criticized and rejected by Nigel Farage who said it was Batten’s private opinion and not UKIP policy.
Other UKIP members were by no means anti-Islam: ‘Candidate visits mosque snubbed by pupils over parents’ terrorism fears’, said a blog on the UKIP website.49 This followed the withdrawal of 28 (out of 90) children from a school trip to a local mosque for fear of violence after the murder of Drummer Rigby. The candidate (Jonathan Stanley) said:
I am in no way condemning these parents but I do not agree with this decision and so I want to go and reassure the Muslim community. UKIP is not a racist party and has a clear vision that someone’s religion is their own matter. We want to be clear as a party that we do not back any of the garbage uttered on the subject.
This was condemned by the BNP: ‘While Nigel Farage and the BBC still portray UKIP as speaking for millions of ordinary Britons over immigration and threats to our traditional Christian culture and identity, a boastful posting on UKIP’s internal party blog provides further powerful evidence of just how Politically Correct and pro-Islamist UKIP really is’.50
British National Party (BNP)
While centre-right and neo-conservative organizations (Civitas, the Centre for Social Cohesion, some UKIP members) supported legislating to restrict the activities of Shari’a councils, the far-right also actively opposed the recognition of Shari’a. Several groups have attracted media attention, though none are as important as they might seem. They include the BNP, whose influence diminished significantly after 2010, the EDL, discussed below, and fringe parties such as the National Front,51 English Democrats52 and Britain First.53
UKIP, it has been said, is the ‘BNP in blazers’,54 and certainly there is a family resemblance between some of the views both espouse. In connection with Panorama 2013, for example, the BNP website reported that their leader, Nick Griffin MEP, praised Paul Nuttall’s support for Baroness Cox and her Bill.55 ‘Sharia tribunals’, he added,
have no place in our country. It is really important that we don’t go down the slippery slope of compromising with those whose values are at odds with our own. I worry that women will be pressured into using these tribunals and face unfair treatment, Baroness Cox is defending the rights of women and the values which underpin our Justice system by bringing her Bill forward.
‘Islam and Western Society: A Meeting of the Incompatible’, say the BNP.56 Their 2010 manifesto summarized their policies under the heading ‘Counter Jihad: Confronting the Islamic Colonisation of Britain’ (BNP 2010: 5):
The BNP is implacably opposed to the Labour/Tory regimes’ mass immigration policies which, if left unchecked, will see Britain and most of Europe colonised by Islam within a few decades … the historical record shows that Islam is by its very nature incompatible with modern secular western democracy. The BNP will ban the burka, ritual slaughter and the building of further mosques in Britain. The BNP demands that Islamic immigration be halted and reversed as it presents one of the most deadly threats yet to the survival of our nation. The BNP is the only party to correctly identify the twin causes of Islamist terrorism in Britain: (a) mass immigration and (b) a biased British foreign policy which serves to incite Muslims living in Britain.
A later section elaborated:
Islam has, since its formation, been waging an almost constant war against Europe … Today Europe faces a renewed Muslim invasion. This time the weapons are no longer the steel blade or cannon: they are the passport, the visa stamp, corrupt liberal Western regimes who have allowed mass Third World immigration, and the baby’s crib. These things are the new weapons by which Islam now seeks to conquer Europe and the West (p. 30).
It claimed that ‘Thirty per cent of British Muslims would prefer to live under Sharia (Islamic religious) law than under British law’ (p. 32), presumably referring to a survey for a Channel 4 Dispatches programme (Attitudes to Living in Britain – A Survey of Muslim Opinion