Sharia law 'would undermine British society'
By Andrew Porter, Political Editor
Muslim Sharia law would undermine society if it was introduced in Britain, Conservative leader David Cameron said today.
"I don't believe that by introducing Sharia law, we will make Muslims somehow feel more British - more content with life here and more happy to work for a common good.
"In my view the opposite is the case: I think it would be to head in the wrong direction. The reality is that the introduction of Sharia law for Muslims is actually the logical endpoint of the now discredited doctrine of state multiculturalism instituting, quite literally, a legal apartheid to entrench what is the cultural apartheid in too many parts of our country.
"This wouldn't strengthen society - it would undermine it. It would alienate other communities who would resent this preferential treatment.
"It would provide succour to the separatists who want to isolate and divide communities from the mainstream. And it would - crucially - weaken, destabilise and demoralise those Muslims who embrace liberal values and desperately want to integrate fully in British society."
"I believe that state multiculturalism is a wrong-headed doctrine that has had disastrous results. It has fostered difference between communities. And it has stopped us from strengthening our collective identity. Indeed, it has deliberately weakened it.
"By concentrating on defining the various cultures that have come to call Britain home, we have forgotten to define the most important one: our own. So we now have a situation where the children of first-generation immigrants - children, let us remember, who have been born and raised here – feel more divorced from life in Britain than their parents."
"And here lies the rub - here lies the essential failure of state multiculturalism and the problem with what the Archbishop was suggesting.
"For too long we've caved into more extreme elements by hiding under the cloak of cultural sensitivity.
"For too long we've given in to the loudest voices from each community without listening to what the majority want.
"And for too long, we've come to ignore differences - even if they fly in the face of human rights, notions of equality and child protection - with a hapless shrug of the shoulders saying 'it's their culture isn't it? Let them do what they want'."
Extremism, individual rights and the rule of law in Britain
"It's a great pleasure to be here. The ideas we're discussing today - 'extremism, individual rights and the rule of law in Britain' - may be complex ideas, but the central question they represent can be articulated in a much more straightforward way: how do we all live together? How can people, from different backgrounds and who live by different cultural and religious codes, come together and live side by side?
In this country, there have been times when this question has been dominant. Conflict between Catholics and Protestant in Britain was often bloody. The Glorious Revolution and the two Jacobite rebellions were periods of crisis for our coherence. Catholic emancipation was a long and slow process. And in our more recent history, we have welcomed immigrants from all over the world - from Eastern European Jews one hundred years ago to Ugandan Asians in the 1970s. Each time, Britain has been able to rise to the challenge and sustain our coherence and unity. We have done so through a combination of a steadfast faith in our institutions and values, such as freedom under the rule of law, pluralism and tolerance- and because society - not only the majority community but the minority community too - were prepared to stand together as one.
One again we face that challenge. In its starkest terms, it comes from the direct security threat posed by a small minority who use terrorism to achieve their political aims. It also comes from the fact that there exists in our communities people - often children - who have been born and raised here though feel completely divorced and alienated from life in Britain.
But more generally, we need to ensure that delicate balance between church and state, faith and politics, religious identity and political identity that has developed in our country over centuries is maintained. Our generation must now answer these challenges with the confidence of our ancestors.
It is this context that I've been saying for a long time that we've been handing a victory to our enemies - to those who want to divide and those who oppose liberal values - through the doctrine we have applied to community relations.
It's the doctrine I call state multiculturalism.
It's the idea that we should respect different cultures within Britain to the point of allowing them - indeed encouraging them - to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream.
In the voluntary sector it means granting financial aid for artistic and other projects purely on account of ethnic background - with various groups, purporting to represent various minorities, competing for money against each other.
In public services it means not just essential information, but all information endlessly translated into numerous languages, to cater for numerous people, who can then continue to go about their daily lives without ever having to learn English.
More generally, it means treating groups of people as monolithic blocks rather than individual citizens.
Of course we should respect different cultures. But we shouldn't encourage them to live apart. As the Chief Rabbi has put it, state multiculturalism is best represented in the idea of Britain as a hotel…
…with separate private spaces so separate cultures can live behind locked doors and be merely 'serviced' by the hotel management - in this case, the state.
I believe that state multiculturalism is a wrong-headed doctrine that has had disastrous results. It has fostered difference between communities. And it has stopped us from strengthening our collective identity. Indeed, it has deliberately weakened it.
By concentrating on defining the various cultures that have come to call Britain home, we have forgotten to define the most important one: our own. So we now have a situation where the children of first-generation immigrants - children, let us remember, who have been born and raised here - feel more divorced from life in Britain than their parents. In America, 47 percent of Muslims think of themselves of Muslim first, American second. In Britain, it's nearly twice that - with 81 percent of Muslims thinking of themselves as Muslim first and British second.
I believe we can move away from state multiculturalism - indeed we must - in a way that is sensitive to everyone who calls Britain home. This generation doesn't have the hang-ups of the past. People today don't worry that criticising multiculturalism is coded racism.
The modern alternative to the 'hotel' of multiculturalism is not a castle of traditional patriotism - pulling up the drawbridge and forcing everyone into a parody of late Victorian Englishness.
Instead, we need to think of our country, as the Chief Rabbi has put it, as a house we build together, with the common foundation of the values of a liberal society, but perfectly capable of alterations and additions so long as these changes are compatible with the existing architecture. This is, I believe, a more British approach.
We must not fall for the illusion that the problems of community cohesion can be solved simply through top-down, quick-fix state action. State action is certainly necessary today, but it is not sufficient. But it must also be the right kind of action, expressed in a calm, thoughtful and reasonable way.
Multilculturalism was manipulated to entrench the right to difference - which is a divisive concept. What we need is the right to equal treatment despite difference - that's a unifying concept. But in seeking to atone for past mistakes, we should not lurch, with the zeal of the convert, into a simplistic promotion of 'Britishness' that is neither in keeping with our traditions, nor likely to bring our communities closer together.
Grounds for Optimism
So this should be our mission: building a house together, everyone in Britain contributing in their own way to the creation of a shared public realm, while enjoying respect for their own private realm. And as we make this move away from state multiculturalism, there are real grounds for optimism. It's not just me, not just the Conservative Party, not just the Chief Rabbi saying this: it is fast becoming the consensus view. In the Labour Party, I believe that this is an issue grasped by David Blunkett sooner than most. He introduced citizenship ceremonies for new British citizens.
I went to my first ceremony just the other week. The people who were being welcomed as British citizens felt really honoured, proud and part of something. They wanted to return the honour by giving something back to their local community and their adopted home. And across government, the issue of citizenship and nationality seems to be being taken seriously at last, with papers and policies emerging from Whitehall that just a couple of years ago would have been unthinkable.
The idea that immigrants who come to live here must know they have responsibilities - as well as rights. The importance of everyone who lives here having a basic grasp of English - after all, it's through talking that we overcome our differences.
I'd also like to pay tribute to Trevor Phillips. In your previous position as head of the Commission for Racial Equality and your current position as head of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, you have constantly, unreservedly and unswervingly stood up against separation in our communities.
At times you have received criticism for what you have said…not least from the current Mayor of London who crudely suggested that you would "soon join the BNP." But you have persevered. That's real leadership.
It is in this context that I want to talk about the Archbishop of Canterbury's recent intervention, in two speeches and a radio interview. He called for a debate, and I think we should take him at his word. I have looked carefully at exactly what the Archbishop said, and have tried in good faith to understand what he meant.
Rowan Williams was indeed wrestling with complex issues of law, identity, faith and their place in a secular society. At certain points in his argument, he does seem to suggest that sharia law could be introduced to parts of Britain, offering a parallel system of justice.
He said that the introduction of sharia law in parts of Britain was "unavoidable" and talked of a "kind of plural jurisdiction" with a "higher level of public regard being paid to communal identity" and "to the rights of religious groups" through "something like a delegation of certain legal functions to the religious courts of a community". But at other points, he makes the opposite case.
He also said: "if any kind of plural jurisdiction is recognised, it would presumably have to be under the rubric that no supplementary jurisdiction could have the power to deny access to the rights granted to other citizens". Where does this leave us?
If he was saying that it's fine for two Muslims to agree a contract in line with the principles of Sharia law, but under the ultimate jurisdiction of English law - then that can happen today. English law and English courts already allow individuals, by mutual consent, to settle private disputes in many ways, including informal religious arrangements. Currently under our law, it is possible to enter into a contract and have it arbitrated under Sharia or other law - such as a Jewish Beth Din - and the English courts will enforce the judgment as long as it is does not fly in the face of our core legal principles.
And there are a myriad of institutions which have their own rules and own tribunals, such as schools, professional bodies like the General Medical Council and governing bodies of sports. The right of individuals to settle private disputes in a number of ways under the supremacy of English law has existed, does exist, and will continue to exist.
But, on the other hand, if the Archbishop was not talking about the status quo - about what already exists - the danger is that he was actually suggesting else…something more akin to different laws for different communities.
This would be dangerous and illiberal. It would be dangerous because in Britain, all citizens are equal before the law. That concept is absolutely fundamental to our democracy - itself developed and nurtured over centuries. It protects us from disorder. It serves to enshrine the rule of law that is so vital to our collective security. And it prevents preferential treatment.
That's why when it came to the Equality Regulations I voted in favour - and rejected the case for making exceptions, including the call by Catholic adoption agencies to be exempted. Aside from the issue of equality before the law - regardless of sexual orientation - it was an issue of uniformity across the law - so no one person or one group can opt out.
I know there are laws where we have made exceptions for issues of conscience - such as Sikhs being allowed to carry a ceremonial sword in public. I am not arguing for their reversal. But I do think, as we look to the future and try to chart a common purpose between the various people who call Britain home, uniformity across the law should be a principle we adhere to.
Exceptions to things that only affect the individual - like turbaned Sikhs not wearing crash helmets are one thing. Exceptions that have a broader impact are quite another.
What must not be sanctioned - in any way, shape or form - is the idea that people living in England can, through identifying themselves as members of a particular group - religious or otherwise - exempt themselves wholly or partly from the jurisdiction of English courts and opt into a parallel jurisdiction.
Such an approach - different laws for different people based on their religious belief - would also be illiberal, because it undermines the well-nurtured and well developed relationship between faith and state.
This country does need a debate about faith and the secular society. It's not an issue we can brush under the carpet and ignore. Contrary to popular opinion, Britain is actually becoming a more religious country. There's been a significant rise in Catholicism, bolstered by immigration from Eastern Europe and Africa. There's been a boom in the growth of Pentecostal churches. And attendance at mosques is rising.
But I don't believe this should mean any abandonment of the fundamental principle of one people under one law. Religious freedom is a cardinal principle of the British liberal tradition. But liberalism also means this: that there is a limit to the role of religion in public life.
The sacred and the secular are different and they occupy different parts of the public space because that is one of the ways we can guarantee the rights of everyone - and not just a few.
For over 300 years Britain has had to adapt to the existence of pluralist views and religious difference, which has created the tolerant and inclusive society we enjoy today. That's how it should be and that is the best way to preserve the religious freedom that we prize.
But I'm not a religious scholar - nor a Constitutional expert. So the reason for joining the debate with the Archbishop is this. I think that his approach is wrong in terms of the big question in our country today: how do we end state multiculturalism, enhance cohesion and build a stronger society. The Archbishop seemed to suggest that his approach - the introduction of Sharia law in some of our communities - would strengthen our society. An absolutely vital quote from his speech on this point is the following. He says that though it is "uncomfortably true" that the introduction of sharia law in some of our communities "introduces into our thinking about law what some would see as 'market' element, a competition of loyalty…if what we want socially is a pattern of relations in which a plurality of diverse and overlapping affiliations work for a common good … it seems unavoidable".
I don't agree. I don't believe that by introducing Sharia Law, we will make Muslims somehow feel more British - more content with life here and more happy to work for a common good. In my view the opposite is the case: I think it would be to head in the wrong direction.
The reality is that the introduction of Sharia law for Muslims is actually the logical endpoint of the now discredited doctrine of state multiculturalism……seeing people merely as followers of certain religions rather than individuals in their own right within a common community……instituting, quite literally, a legal apartheid to entrench what is the cultural apartheid in too many parts of our country - a cultural apartheid enhanced by multiculturalism.
This wouldn't strengthen society - it would undermine it.
It would alienate other communities who would resent this preferential treatment. It would provide succour to the separatists who want to isolate and divide communities from the mainstream. And it would - crucially - weaken, destabilize and demoralise those Muslims who embrace liberal values and desperately want to integrate fully in British society.
And here lies the rub - here lies the essential failure of state multiculturalism and the problem with what the Archbishop was suggesting. For too long we've caved into more extreme elements by hiding under the cloak of cultural sensitivity. For too long we've given in to the loudest voices from each community without listening to what the majority want. And for too long, we've come to ignore differences - even if they fly in the face of human rights, notions of equality and child protection - with a hapless shrug of the shoulders saying 'it's their culture isn't it? Let them do what they want'.
Take forced marriages. In Bradford, where I was last week, schoolgirls under the age of sixteen have simply disappeared from schools. Nobody knows where they are. Nobody knows what has happened to them. And, until recently, there has been little investigation - despite the fact it is likely they may have been drugged, imprisoned, kidnapped and forced into an unwanted marriage the other side of the world.
Last week, I met the victims of forced marriage. One of them was Jasvinder Sanghera, whose book "Shame" is one of the most powerful things I have read. She argued that police officers, social services, teachers in schools are sometimes not willing to intervene because they are worried about being seen as racist……about not understanding perceived 'cultural norms'. The latest example being schools in Derby refusing to put up posters about forced marriage.
Forced marriage isn't a 'cultural norm' - it's an abomination that flies in the face of womens rights and child protection and it must be stamped out. The cloak of cultural sensitivity is also one of the reasons why no one intervened in the case of eight year old Victoria Climbie. She was tortured to death by her Aunt and her Aunt's boyfriend. It's telling that part of the social services' explanation into why they did nothing was that "this was a family struggling to find their feet in a new country".
And the cloak of cultural sensitivity is also why there are currently numerous organisations that compete for Government funding which explicitly promote separatism and extremism within our communities. Whether it's doing nothing about forced marriages or giving disreputable organisations Government money, or introducing Sharia law in our country, all we have done - or will do - is strengthen the hand of those cultural separatists who want division.
This has got to stop - and it's got to stop now.
We've got to be on the side of a society which is held together by a strong sense of shared identity and common values. On the side of a society which encourages active citizenship, not a passive standing on the sidelines. On the side of a society which people are not bullied to join, but are actively inspired to join. Most importantly, we've got to be on the side of all who want this - be they Muslim, Jew, Christian, Black, White or Asian.
We've got to support them in public sphere - not undermine them. We've got to make clear that it's they the Government listens to - not self appointed community leaders who actually promote separatism. We've got empower the unifiers - not the dividers.
Most of what I've said today comes quite naturally to Conservatives. It's part of the narrative of Britishness - a confidence in the history and the institutions of our country, a basic belief that we're lucky to live here. This narrative is of course an organic thing.
And we Conservatives recognise instinctively and feel passionately about the importance of a common identity ahead of the existence of separate, conflicting ones. The challenge for today's generation of Conservatives is to evolve this narrative further - and it's this that is perhaps more unfamiliar territory for Conservatives.
We have to be equally passionate about equality for all, the rights of minorities - everyone who makes up our country. This is a very important part of the Liberal Conservatism which I stand for.
This Liberal Conservatism also recognises that when it comes to cohesion, as important as questions of citizenship, law and religion are the issues of poverty, social mobility and opportunity.
Cohesion is as much about rich and poor, included and left behind as it is about English and Scot or Muslim and Christian.
A society that consistently denies some of its people the chance to escape poverty, to get on in life, to fulfil their dreams and to feel that their contribution is part of a national effort: such a society will struggle to inspire loyalty, however many citizenship classes it provides.
In America, new immigrants feel part of something from the moment they arrive because they feel they have the opportunity to succeed.
Over the coming months, the Conservative Party will be outlining in more detail the specifics of how we will oppose the forces of separation in favour of community, belonging and equal rights.
Making sure immigrants can speak English. Promoting the rights of women in every community. Having school exchanges so kids who at the moment do not meet anyone from a different background actually do.
And looking in much closer detail which organisations should be granted central funding…and which bodies, under any circumstances, should not.
These policies will clearly follow from the overarching themes.
I want the Conservative Party to stand for a broad and generous vision of British identity.
Freedom under the law.
One law for all.
Standing up for minorities rights.
Promoting real social mobility.
Ultimately, it's about making Britain a welcome home for those who want to integrate - for those who want to share in our common endeavour - and a cold place for those who don't."
1) Sharia law 'would undermine British society'
2) Extremism, individual rights and the rule of law in Britain