How can we be a multicultural society if we do not accommodate sharia law? That is one of the most common questions I am asked when travelling the UK as spokesperson of the anti-sharia 'One Law for All' campaign (www.onelawforall.org.uk). It accompanies 'why are you picking on a vulnerable minority?' and cries of 'Islamophobe' and even 'racist'.
This is not unreasonable; it is right that people stand up and say so if they think a minority is being picked on, it is right that racism be held in check, and it is right that we accommodate people's beliefs provided they do not impede on the rights of others - the problem is, none of this applies here, because the sharia law I'm talking about is itself is racist and imperialist, it severely compromises human rights, and it is sharia that helps make life miserable for minorities in Britain (particularly female ones).
So, how can we be multicultural if we do not accommodate sharia? The first point to make is that sharia law does not tolerate multiculturalism. It does not tolerate dissent or difference or individual rights. Take for example Saudi Arabia, a country with a declared sharia-based constitution, and a country where apostasy, blasphemy, and 'witchcraft' carry the death penalty. Under Pakistan's sharia laws the same applies - death for blasphemy. It is widespread across the sharia-controlled world; as is the brutal treatment of women.
Due to colonial guilt, we in Europe are loath to 'tell other people what to do' so we stay away from making judgments on the practices of cultures and religions we deem alien to ourselves. But what if those practices are against the law? What if they are violent, misogynistic, homophobic and brutal? This is leaves us in an uncomfortable place. As a society, we reject violence and misogyny and homophobia, but we also reject racism and imperialism and on these matters, we are convinced that we have met with a clash and we must now choose between rejecting misogynist violence or rejecting racism. This is not the choice of course; the opposite is true.
By opposing sharia law, we are standing up for the right of Muslim women and girls not to be pressured, pushed or coerced in to attending a sharia council or tribunal where their rights will be severely undermined. In sharia councils in Britain, a woman's testimony is worth half of a man's. In practice, this means she must produce a witness for anything she alleges or the man she opposes will automatically be believed. Domestic violence is the right of husbands and marital rape is 'impossible.' Women have no right to divorce or child custody, and children live with their fathers from a preset age regardless of the consequences. This is happening while we watch. If this is what multiculturalism means, then we should reject it - we should insist that all women receive the same protection from violence, and all children. Instead, sharia is growing and is even hearing criminal cases, including at least one stabbing. It was revealed recently that little girls - some as young as five - are being 'married' in sharia bodies in Britain. This should cause a national outcry.
This is not a matter of accommodating differing cultures; it is a matter of tolerating violence and rape.
On the cries of 'Islamophobe' and 'racist' I have this to say. Islamists - those who wish to impose sharia law upon British Muslims - have deliberately hijacked these words and created a situation where criticising violent and brutal misogyny is now equated with despicable racism. The truth is that the real racism lies in our refusal to get involved. To watch while a woman we deem 'different' has her rights removed and is treated as not more than a slave.
The real racism is in believing that certain men cannot be expected to behave with respect towards women - the underlying and deeply racist implication being 'they're not as civilised as us'.
The real racism is in justifying violence and believing that women and girls within minority communities don't mind being beaten and abused, or having their genitals butchered, or being forced to marry a stranger and serve him for life.
We must reject this vile treatment of women and girls in Britain. We must do so by standing up against all misogyny - no matter its source. This is not about picking on Muslims, but standing in solidarity with them. Millions of Muslims the world over live in fear of sharia law. Many are standing up and fighting for human rights. If we truly believe in those rights - if we believe in a common humanity - we must stand up and fight with them.