It’s Sharia, Not Alcohol, That Threatens Women

The suggestion that drunkenness means it’s only non-Muslims who have a domestic violence problem ignores the sexism of Islamic laws

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Cologne aftermath: German women protest against the assaults (Elke Wetzig CC-BY-SA-4.0)

There is nothing wrong with moderate drinking, and I do not consider the amount I put away anyone else’s business than my own. Despite the government’s rather dramatic health warnings, I believe that the odd glass of wine or beer does more good than harm for most people. But soon, thanks to a growing dual legal system in Britain, we may have an alcohol-free parliament. It would seem that sharia courts and councils, on which I have reported previously in this magazine, are not the only example of how the UK law is being bent to accommodate Islamic custom.

Later this year, Members of Parliament move out of the Palace of Westminster while it undergoes renovations over the next decade. But the temporary building into which they will move is governed by sharia law. The building, located in Whitehall, was discreetly transferred to an Islamic bond scheme in 2014. Under terms of the lease, alcohol is banned on the premises. It is shocking but not surprising that any government buildings in the UK could be governed by Islamic law. 

Last month, the women’s rights organisation Muslim Women’s Network UK (MWNUK) demanded the resignation of the leaders of Birmingham Central Mosque after they dismissed the group’s concerns about domestic violence and forced marriages. According to MWNUK, the mosque’s chairman, Labour councillor and mayoral candidate for the city Muhammad Afzal, said that forced marriages were no longer a problem; that domestic violence only affected Christian communities because they get drunk; and that more men than women were the victims of domestic violence. Afzal has since withdrawn from the mayoral contest.

Alcohol is forbidden under Islam, although most Muslims in the UK drink it. When Islamists blame the West for the moral decay among young Muslims living in Western societies, alcohol is often cited. Alcohol was also blamed by some devout Muslims for the grotesque sexual assaults on more than 100 women and girls in Cologne on New Year’s Eve. Pressure group MuslimStern, which has 20,000 followers on Facebook, said its mission was to “highlight the way the media was using the incidents to promote racism against minorities”. The group complained that the female victims had brought the unwanted attention to themselves by dressing in a manner that North African men were not accustomed to.

Following the attacks, the group put a message to its 20,000 followers on Facebook which read: “The government should ban the consumption of alcohol because it leads to traffic accidents, violence and rapes, and is extremely damaging to health. But for capitalist societies, this is too much to expect. So long as alcohol is not prohibited there will be no discernible decline in these cases.”

After four decades of feminist campaigning against men’s right to beat their wives there is widespread disapproval of it among right-thinking British people. Legal sanctions against domestic violence do not allow alcohol as a mitigating factor. Even men’s rights activists tend to shy away from publicly justifying beating up women because they refuse to obey, even if they secretly condone such actions. Indeed, the only group that still publicly and shamelessly defends wife-beating is the Islamists. The cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, whom the then Mayor of London Ken Livingstone described as “one of the leading progressive voices in the Muslim world”, defends Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and said, of the verse in the Koran about how it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife to keep her in line, that he accepts corporal punishment as a method of last resort — though only “lightly”.

Those who agree with al-Qaradawi would also presumably excuse forced marriage, marital rape and other forms of male coercion of women — all in the name of sharia and Islam. There is a reluctance to admit that FGM, another form of domestic violence, is primarily carried out within Muslim countries and communities, which have been reluctant to assist the UK authorities to make arrests and bring prosecutions.

Women and girls living under Muslim laws face restrictions on what they wear, where they can appear in public, and on their education and work. The prohibition of alcohol in a building owned by a Muslim is a step towards creating Islamic enclaves that live under a different legal system — the no-go areas that the police deny exist. And the fact that MPs, the country’s legislators, are apparently powerless to do anything about it implies that we are losing sight of the idea of equality before the law.

Alcohol does not cause abuse and violence, though it is often used as an excuse for the violence. Not all alcoholics are violent, and not all abusers have a drink problem.

The reality is that the majority of abusers are not alcoholics. They use alcohol as part of their wider abusive behaviour. Over the years I have volunteered in women’s refuges and also interviewed the victims and perpetrators of domestic violence. I have learned that violent men often blame the alcohol rather than themselves for the violence; they will go out and get drunk to create an excuse to get violent, or pretend to be drunk when perpetrating violence and affect not to remember what they did when drunk.

The problem is not alcohol, but attitudes towards women. The fewer rights women have in relation to men, the worse the domestic violence and other forms of abuse at the hands of men.  But women and girls living under sharia law in the UK are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence. Forced and early marriage, polygamy and draconian attitudes towards the role of women in the home result in wives having little or no power and husbands exerting theirs in any way they choose. In addition, the widespread practice of using patriarchal sharia courts to settle disputes between family members has resulted in a free-for-all within conservative Muslim households.

It is estimated that there are currently around 85 sharia courts operating in Britain. They enjoy the support of a number of non-Muslim establishment figures, including the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who said in an interview in 2008: “There’s a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law, as we already do with some other aspects of religious law.”

In terms of dealing with domestic abuse, sharia courts tend to take the side of the abuser and often tell the victims that they need to examine their own behaviour to try to find a way to stop provoking the violence. My research into sharia courts found that the clerics rarely, if ever, advise reporting the perpetrators to the police, but rather advise the men to take anger management classes and receive mentoring from so-called community elders so that marriages can be “saved”.

In 2011, the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (Ikwro) found, following Freedom of Information requests to police forces across the UK, that 39 out of 52 forces had recorded a total of at least 2,823 “honour” attacks by family members on women and girls during 2010. Some forces showed an increase of nearly 50 per cent in such cases from 2009. This is the context in which hardline Muslims in the UK claim that wearing the burka is simply about freedom.

The status of Muslim women in relation to men is unlikely to improve unless Muslim women are better represented within the political system. Last month MWNUK wrote to the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn asking him to look into allegations of “systematic misogyny displayed by significant numbers of Muslim male local councillors”.

MWNUK says that female Muslims were discriminated against and blocked from seeking office by Muslim male Labour councillors operating under the patriarchal “biradari” caste system, and that the problem had been an “open secret” within Labour, which it accused of being “complicit at the highest levels”. In the letter to Corbyn, the organisation said: “Labour politicians have deliberately turned a blind eye to the treatment of Muslim women because votes have been more important to them than women’s rights.”

During my time with Naz Shah, the Labour MP for Bradford West, during the 2015 election campaign, I heard from Muslim women who complained that they had been undermined, sabotaged and blocked from becoming councillors, with many selection “deals” decided behind closed doors.

When MWNUK launched a report, last year, on sexual exploitation in the Asian community, it had a major impact because its publication coincided with the revelations of child sexual exploitation by Asian gangs in Rotherham. It challenged the view that the the issue was purely one of race and that somehow Asian girls were left untouched by abusers because of loyalty to their own culture. MWNUK found that a worrying number of Asian women and girls were slipping through the net, as agencies, including the social services and the police, grappled with the difficulties of gaining victims’ confidence because of cultural sensitivities — those same points of faith which are exploited by their abusers to ensure their victims’ silence.

It confirmed what many already knew — that many Muslim girls and women are trapped in a cycle of abuse and violence because of a lack of services. What’s more, it recommended that a helpline be set up as an outlet for them to confide their problems and seek advice.

It seems incredible that after more than four decades of feminism in the West so many on the Left are willing to sacrifice women’s rights, in particular the rights of Muslim-born women, in the name of so-called religious freedom. Speaking out against sharia law in the UK is often viewed as racist. I have been listed on the website Islamophobia Watch since I published my first article about Pakistani grooming gangs in the north of England in 2007, despite the fact that I made it clear the men were committing such crimes because they knew the authorities would probably turn a blind eye.

I am tired of hearing from so-called Western feminists that to criticise the myriad ways in which Muslim men oppress Muslim women and girls is tantamount to Western imperialism. Feminists (many of them of Muslim heritage) who oppose the aspects of Islam that have institutionalised and normalised gender apartheid also oppose sexism within Christianity and Judaism.

It would be inconsistent and hypocritical if defenders of human rights and gender equality were not to expose and condemn the misogyny within Islam, yet many on the Left will defend grotesque and misogynistic practices and beliefs within Islam for fear of being accused of racism or Islamophobia. For what I have written about the anti-women doctrines within fundamentalist Jewish communities I have not been labelled anti-Semitic. In opposing some Catholic practices and naming them as discriminatory towards women I have never been accused of being against Catholic individuals, and have had the support of the progressive Left.

The creeping acceptance of sharia law in the UK has serious ramifications for every single Muslim woman and girl. It is also a sign that all women’s rights are under threat, because to support sharia — which many liberal and left-wing men in the UK appear to do — is to be against equality. To accuse feminists of being “anti-Muslim” because we campaign against sharia and its apologists is to suggest that the Muslim girls and women it affects do not count.