Ross Clark explains in today’s Daily Express: “The real scandal is not that a British teacher has fallen foul of Sharia law in a Muslim country but that Sharia law is being practised beneath our noses in Britain and the police are doing nothing to stop it. A youth worker from Woolwich recently told the BBC about the case of a South London stabbing victim. Rather than let the police investigate the case and bring a prosecution, the victim’s family said they would settle the matter privately, in an unofficial Sharia court, and no official prosecution followed. Whether the culprit was lashed, murdered or given a slap on the wrist she didn’t say.”
Clark continues: “Britain has a deserved reputation as a tolerant country but that should not extend to tolerating private courts and legal systems.”
In fact, Britain has a long history of “tolerating private courts and legal systems”. Beth Din courts have operated for years within the Jewish community in the UK. And, as is the case with Sharia courts, their role is in fact restricted to arbitrating in civil disputes.
However, while rabbinical courts have attracted no interest at all from the Express, the supposed “threat” of Sharia law has become something of a theme in the paper. Last April the Express featured a front-page report with the scaremongering headline “Now Muslims get their own laws in Britain” (illustrated). Characteristic articles in the paper have included: “Muslim law reaches Britain“, “Shocking secrets of Sharia ‘courts’” and “We cannot sit back and let Sharia law take root in Britain“.
Needless to say, the Express has been unable to come up with a single example of a British citizen being lashed or murdered by a Sharia court in the UK.
Ross Clark’s limited grip on reality is further demonstrated when he writes: “While we shake our fists at the Sudanese for threatening a well-meaning teacher for inadvertently insulting Islam, we shouldn’t hide our eyes from the possibility that a British teacher in a British school could soon find herself in trouble for the same offence. The government has yet to bring into force the Religious Hatred Act, which struggled through Parliament nearly two years ago, but when it does come into force comedians have warned that it has been worded in such a way that they face arrest for poking fun at religious figures.”
Faced with stupidity and ignorance on this scale, it is difficult to know where to begin. Even in its original form the religious hatred bill sought to criminalise the incitement of hatred against people on the basis of their religious belief. It didn’t place any restrictions on “poking fun at religious figures”. Furthermore the bill was sabotaged by a House of Lords amendment, with the result that the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 restricts the offence of inciting religious hatred to threatening words and behaviour and requires the prosecution to prove intent. Not only is it in practice impossible to convict anyone of an offence on this basis but it is highly unlikely that any case will ever be brought to court under the Act. And, although it evidently escaped the attention of fact-finding journalist Ross Clark, this toothless law came into force nearly two months ago, on 1 October.