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Operation Nehemiah: News Update #236

Operation Nehemiah: News Update #236

8 June 2016

UK: Review into shari’a courts could formally recognise them

Home Secretary Theresa May has announced what she termed “an independent review” of the application of shari‘a law in England and Wales. This comes in response to concerns raised, particularly by Barnabas Fund’s patron Baroness Cox, about the operation of shari‘a councils (i.e. courts) in the UK.

The committee’s terms of reference include exploring “whether, and to what extent, the application of Shari‘a law may be incompatible with the law in England and Wales.” However it has also been tasked to “seek out examples of best practice among Shari‘a councils” - suggesting that the government already knows in broad terms the result it expects the “independent review” to reach.

The review committee will consist of two Muslims and two non-Muslims and be advised by two imams. The role of the latter will be “to ensure the panel has a full and thorough understanding of the religious and theological issues relating to specific aspects of Shari‘a Law, and the way it is applied.” It will be chaired by Professor Mona Siddiqi, a liberal Muslim who is a well known media apologist for Islam.

In announcing this review Home Secretary Theresa May claimed:

“Professor Siddiqui, supported by a panel with a strong balance of academic, religious and legal expertise, will help us better understand whether and the extent to which Sharia law is being misused or exploited and make recommendations to the government on how to address this.”

Yet the academic and religious “balance” is exactly what this review does not have. It consists of six people of whom four are Muslims. Even more concerning is the fact that both advisors on Islamic theology and shari’a are imams. The government has chosen not to include any non-Muslim academic experts on Islam who might provide a more critical or even independent perspective.

The government’s press release announcing this “independent review panel” stated that:

“The terms of reference set out the review’s intention to explore whether, and to what extent, the application of Sharia law may be incompatible with the law in England and Wales. It will examine the ways in which Sharia may be being misused, or exploited, in a way that may discriminate against certain groups, undermine shared values and cause social harms.”

Whilst the first statement – examining whether the application of shari’a is compatible with law in England and Wales - is welcome, we have a number of serious concerns here.

First, the term “application of Shari’a” is far too vague for a legal inquiry. Shari‘a is a whole way of life and much broader than anything that can be enforced in a court. The issue the inquiry should be focused on is not the broad application of shari’a by individual Muslims choosing to live their lives that way, but the enforcement of shari’a. Specifically, it should be clearly focused on whether shari’a courts should be allowed to claim that they are issuing legally binding decisions.

Secondly, the suggestion that the problem is that shari’a is “being misused” appears to presuppose a view that there is nothing incompatible between shari’a itself and values such as equal treatment of all people regardless of their faith or gender. That is not our experience after more than 25 years of supporting persecuted Christians in Muslim majority contexts across the world. It is however, the stated view of the review committee’s chair, Professor Mona Siddiqui, who in her 2007 book How to read the Qur’an (London:Granta,2007):90 wrote:

 “Shari’a is the divine legislation of God which man must try to understand and implement and it comprises both law and ethical behaviour. Shari’a is an ideal.”

To be fair to her, Professor Siddiqui has also argued that “there is no unified vision of implementing shari’a”. However, herein lies the danger. The liberal version of Islam which Professor Siddiqui espouses can allow her to talk about shari’a in terms that makes it, at least initially, appear compatible with values such as freedom of religion and equal treatment of all people by the law. But this is a government review on shari’a courts and among those likely to sit as shari’a judges, few if any are likely to hold Professor Siddiqui’s liberal views.

There is therefore a very real risk that by picking a review committee that may present a positive view of shari’a, the Home Secretary may be opening up the UK to the formal recognition of shari’a courts. This would lead to immense damage to historic British rights such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech and the equal treatment of men and women and members of different faiths by the law.



EU/Germany: Turkey and the EU – the growing crisis after the German Bundestag votes to recognise the Armenian genocide

Two weeks ago we reported on the growing crisis between Turkey and the EU which is likely to come to a head after last week’s almost unanimous vote in the German Bundestag to formally recognise the Armenian genocide and Germany’s complicity in it as a WW1 ally of Turkey.

Prior to the vote President Erdogan telephoned German Chancellor Angela Merkel to “warn” her about the Bundestag’s forthcoming vote to recognise the Armenian genocide, which Turkey not only vorciferously denies even happened, but also has a law criminalising anyone who even refers to it.

Ahead of the vote the Turkish President also implicitly threatened to withdraw from NATO warning that the resolution could damage "diplomatic, economic, business, political and military ties" between the two countries. This was a threat that we earlier warned was a real possibility.

Now that the Bundestag has formally voted to recognise the Armenian genocide, in a sign of the deepening crisis Barnabas Fund predicted back in April was likely to occur over this vote, Turkey has gone well beyond withdrawing her ambassador. In remarks broadcast on Turkish state television President Erdogan accused German MPs who voted to recognise the Armenian genocide of being linked to terrorists and German MPs of Turkish origin as being of “impure blood”. While a number of German MPs have received death threats. German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported:

“German members of parliament Özan Mutlu (Greens), Mahmut Özdemir (SPD), and Cemile Giousouf (CDU) have now had their Turkish identity called into question by Erdogan…(who) has now called for them to take a “blood test”, saying their Turkish identity should be checked as “their blood is impure”. Many of the MPs have also received death threats. We find death threats and blood tests abhorrent,” the national chairman of the Turkish Community, Gökay Sofuoglu, told the dpa press agency. “I thought that defining people by blood stopped in 1945.”

“On the internet, MPs of Turkish origin who hold a German passport have become victims of hate speech and defamation. A “wanted” poster featuring portraits of the parliamentarians is spreading rapidly and has attracted over a thousand likes. The image appears under the heading in Turkish, reading "SIRTIMIZDAN VURDULAR" (“these parliamentarians have treacherously stabbed us in the back”). The phrase recalls Nazi propaganda which claimed that Social Democrats, international Jewry, and “Democrats without a fatherland” had been a “stab in the back” to the German Empire in post-World War I Germany.”

However, President Erdogan’s “outrage” is proving popular in Turkey and this may well be part of the Turkish president’s plan.

Prior to Mr Erdogan’s rise to power, Turkey was leaning towards the West, it was also seen by many western leaders as a model of how Muslim majority countries could develop, it had a secular constitution, is a member of NATO and aspires to join the EU.  However, since Mr Erdogan became first Prime Minister and then President, the Turkish government has increasingly looked east, rather than west. It has taken a decidedly authoritarian and increasingly Islamist approach as well as a somewhat ambivalent attitude towards jihadist groups in Syria. All of which suggests that President Erdogan and his Islamist AK Party wish to reanimate the Ottoman Empire’s role as leader of the Islamic world.

Now that the German parliament has almost unanimously voted to recognise the Turkish genocide of Christians a century ago President Erdogan is predictably overreacting and making a theatrical show and has threatened to end the migrant deal that Angela Merkel negotiated between Turkey and the EU.

The collapse of that deal would end the prospect of visa free travel to Europe that the EU had promised Turkish citizens – and the sense of disenchantment that is likely to create among ordinary Turks who had been promised “fast track EU membership”, could push them in exactly the direction President Erdogan wants to take them, towards the Islamic world and away from the West. This is almost certainly the game Erdogan wants to play, manipulating Turkish opinion in an anti EU direction to create popular support for the Islamist agenda he wishes to bring in.

This will undoubtedly make the human rights situation in Turkey, particularly for minorities such as Christians, even worse than it now is.

Meanwhile, the Turkish government has continued to crack down on anyone voicing even mild criticism of the Turkish president. In the latest developments more people have been arrested for being perceived to have criticised the president. They include a former Miss Turkey who was at the end of last month was given a 14 months suspended prison sentence after posting a poem on her Instagram account which included verses from the Turkish national anthem, which although not mentioning President Erdogan’s name were deemed to be insulting to him.



UK: Oxford professor says Jesus Christ would be banned from UK universities today

An Oxford University professor has claimed that Britain has become so "feeble" at standing up for free speech, including in universities, that Jesus Christ would be banned from preaching on university campuses if he were alive today.

Professor Timothy Garton Ash, professor of European Studies at Oxford University, was commenting on the increasing trend for students to demand "so-called safe spaces" free from opinions they disagreed with. He said free speech was being eroded from all sides, with even students insisting on shutting one another's opinions down.

Professor Garton Ash, who is the author of Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World, said there were several reasons that free speech was being eroded including an increasing fear of violence against those who chose to share their opinions and government legislation restricting free speech.  He also observed that there was an increasing trend for a small number of offended individuals to be able to shut debate down. He said:

"It's not just the state saying that's offensive," adding "It's a subjective veto act in which one person or a small group of people can say 'I'm offended' and that's held to be sufficient reason to not show that thing.”

He emphasised that it was important for both universities and the government to halt the erosion of free speech saying: "We as universities really have to hold the line. Our free speech in Britain is gradually being salami-sliced away.”

"This country, which in a way invented the modern version of free speech in the 17th century, is in my view much too feeble when it comes to standing up for free speech."

Professor Garton-Ash’s comments are enormously important.  Free speech is central to both universities and democracy. University education is about opening minds to explore and debate ideas one has not considered before. In other words, it is the opposite of prejudice – prejudging other’s ideas without examining them. In fact, the fundamental difference between a western university education and a madrassa education is that while the latter seeks to present a certain set of beliefs, which is why much of the education if delivered through rote learning of set textbooks, in universities students are encouraged to develop their own opinions.

Professor Garton-Ash’s claim that Jesus would be banned from reaching on university campuses today is not simply a theoretical hypothesis. A Christian student group at North Carolina State University has recently been told by the university authorities that they they must stop approaching other students to engage in religious discussions or invite them to attend group events and will have to apply for a permit from the university if they wish to do so.

Free speech is equally central to democracy as we decide what should happen by debating ideas, rather than locking up political opponents. That is why the EU should be so concerned about the fact that nearly 2,000 people have now been arrested for criticising President Erdogan.

We would also want to add that free speech is also foundational to freedom of religion. If one cannot debate ideas and beliefs then one has no freedom to choose. That may of course mean that people say things that will sometimes offend us – such as the Muslim who says Jesus is not God and did not die on the cross. While we may equally say things that offend others such as saying that there is a Heaven and a Hell and that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. Yet, these things are now under threat because some people claim they have the “right” not to be offended. The price of any law saying people may not be offended is very high indeed – it includes free speech, academic freedom, freedom of religion and democracy itself.



Germany:  Bishop wants Islam classes for Muslims in all state schools

The Leader of the mainline Protestant Churches in Germany and Bishop of the Evang. Lutheran Church of Bavaria, The Right Rev. Dr. Heinrich Bedford-Strom, Chairman of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) has called for young Muslims to be given lessons in Islam in all state schools to protect them from radical ideologies. Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, told German newspaper Heilbronner Stimme that this could be the best way to make young people immune to fundamentalist ideas:

"Tolerance, freedom of religion and conscience should be valid for all religions. These rules can be taught in the best way, if religion is seen as part of the state's educational mission."

He also claimed that this would mean:

"Young Muslim pupils should get the chance to critically analyze their religion's traditions,"

The bishop said Islamic organizations could take up the responsibility for such lessons, the same way churches did for schools.

Yet this is naive. Germany’s constitution requires that religion is part of the school curriculum. It does so for a very important reason, which is that at the end of WW2 the teaching of Christianity was seen as an important way of countering the future rise of any ideology similar to Nazism. The actual teaching of religion in schools was delegated to Protestant and Catholic churches, which was extended to Jewish organisations in 2003. For several years now suggestions similar to those of the bishop have been made – that Islamic organisations should similarly conduct religious education in schools for Muslims and currently 6 of Germany’s 18 states also offer Islam classes to Muslims. However, there are inherent problems with this approach.

First, as will be clear from Bishop Bedford-Strohm’s comments, there is an assumption that Islam is a religion of “Tolerance, freedom of religion and conscience”. There are of course many Muslims in the West who embrace these values. However, both the Islamic scriptures and early Islamic history make clear that Islam is fundamentally intolerant of all other faiths and teaches that Muslims should rule non-Muslims.

Secondly, it is extraordinarily naive to think that allowing mosques and Islamic organisations to teach Islam to Muslims in schools would lead to them being taught to “critically analyse their religion’s traditions”. In Islam the emphasis is on obedience not critical thinking.

Thirdly, it has been forgotten that Germany’s post war Chancellor Konrad Adenauer specifically sought to rebuild Germany on Christian foundations as an alternative to Nazi ideology. Whilst recovering that Judaeo-Christian worldview can help provide a counter narrative to radical Islam, Islam itself cannot for the simple reason that many of the core beliefs of the jihadists, such as jihad against non Muslims, death for apostasy from Islam and aspects of dhimmi status such as jizya, are specifically taught in the Qur’an.



IS threat to Spain

Islamic State has issued a specific  threat to Spain. Their statement at the end of May warning that more attacks are on the way against European countries and the United States also included a specific  a Spanish-language warning for the first time which stated:

“We are going to kill any Spanish infidel ‘innocent’ if we find them in Muslim lands, and if we do not achieve it in our lands, remember that men and women who follow our message [are] citizens of Spain and all Spanish-speaking countries,”

“Our religion and our faith live with us, and [we] do not even know their name nor what they look like and do not even know whether they are European in origin or not. [They will be] killed in their cities and towns as planned, in the same way that [they] kill our families,”

Spain is a particular target for Islamists because Islamic theology teaches that once an area has once been subjected to Islamic law and government – as the Iberian peninsula was until 1492, it becomes an act of defensive jihad to seek to re-impose it.

In March 2004 approximately 2,000 people were injured and 192 killed in the Madrid train bombings carried out by al-Qaeda inspired jihadists three days before the Spanish general election. The attacks were followed by a surprise defeat for Prime Minister José María Aznar’s Popular Party as Spanish voters instead opted for the Socialist Party led by Rodríguez Zapatero, who, the day after the election announced he would fulfil his election pledge to withdraw Spanish forces from Iraq. Since then, whilst Spain has suffered significant terrorist attacks from Basque separatists, it has until now avoided Islamist terrorist attacks. However, Islamic State’s specific warning to Spain is an illustration of how appeasement cannot deal with Islamism.