Brett Mason, The Australian (Sydney), July 08, 2008
IT may begin with a chuckle, but it could easily end in tears. At least, if we are not careful. One may be tempted to scoff at the demand to legalise polygamy made recently by Khalil Chami of Sydney’s Islamic Welfare Centre. But with the recent announcement by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams that the adoption of sharia law in Britain seems unavoidable, the joke may turn out to be on us.
Britain provides an instructive lesson on the interaction between increasingly radicalised sections of the Muslim diaspora community and its Western host society.
From Dundee to Dover, traditional British values, already weakened to the point of collapse by a decades-long elite infatuation with mushy multiculturalism and cultural relativism, cannot provide resistance against the growing tide of extreme demands by radical self-styled community spokesmen.
The same way that the claim of racism has been used to shut down any debate on cultural identity, immigration and social cohesion, so is Islamophobia increasingly used to silence dissent. To merely raise certain issues is to give offence, and offending sensibilities is a hanging offence in our postmodern times.
While radicals agitate, a politically correct establishment, at pains to prove how enlightened and tolerant it is, even if it means tolerating the intolerance of others, usually stands on the sidelines, if not actively cheering on another challenge to the ostensibly oppressive, hegemonic Western culture and polity.
In January last year, Britain’s Channel 4 television broadcast a documentary on jihadi incitement in mosques throughout England. The material revealed by this undercover investigative report was quite incendiary in nature. One Saudi-trained imam called for British Muslims to “dismantle democracy” by “living as a state within a state” until they are “strong enough to take it over”.
Another Islamic radical praised the Taliban for killing British soldiers and argued that women who declined to wear the burka should be beaten into submission.
After the program was aired, British authorities wasted no time springing into action. The West Midlands Police lodged criminal charges, not against the extremist imams but against the TV network. Responding to a complaint by the Muslim Association of Britain, the police accused Channel 4 of inciting racial hatred by means of an ostensibly distorted documentary that demonised Islam. When the Crown Prosecution Service ultimately declined to pursue the matter, police referred the complaint to the British government broadcast oversight agency, OFCOM.
Earlier this year, an officer from the Wiltshire Police ordered a motorist to remove England’s flag of St George from his automobile because it was “racist towards immigrants”.
Stand-up comedian Ben Elton recently asserted that fear of “provoking the radical elements of Islam” caused the BBC to censor jokes about Muslim clerics. “There’s no doubt about it,” Elton said, “the BBC will let vicar gags pass but they would not let imam gags pass.”
This comes on the heels of a legion of other examples of often pre-emptive surrenders to yet unvoiced radical demands, such as some British banks withdrawing toy piggy banks or public institutions turning Christmas into an amorphous Winter Festival, all for the fear of offending Muslim sensibilities.
All this is rather ironic, since under the twin dogmas of multiculturalism and cultural relativism, all cultures and beliefs are meant to be equal. Like George Orwell’s animals, however, some seem to be more equal than others. Commitment to cultural diversity all too often seems to disguise contempt for the dominant national culture that historically bound the society.
No wonder such large sections of the British establishment don’t offer any resistance to the claims of fundamentalist radicals.
The case against Channel 4 was ultimately dismissed and the broadcaster won a pound stg. 100,000 ($206,000) civil judgment against the West Midlands Police. But even if sanity prevailed after much time and expense, the totalitarian echoes of this affair clearly have a chilling effect on freedom of expression. While a TV network has the requisite resources to wage a vigorous legal defence, less well-heeled victims of the thought police would be in real strife.
All this is worrying to the silent majority of Muslims who are not interested in political agitation but simply want to rear their families in peace, freedom and prosperity, so often lacking in countries where they or their ancestors have come from. It’s hard to blame the moderates within the Muslim community for not speaking out more against the extremists when they see the establishment and the authorities so often and so easily buckling to radicals.
In Australia, federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland summarily dismissed Chami’s demand for the legalisation of polygamy. But lest we feel too comfortable, it should be noted that the example of Britain demonstrates how quickly a national sense of cultural self-confidence can erode. Britain serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of unrestrained political correctness and cultural relativism.
After all, if Westminster democracy and Wahhabi theocracy are ethically equal, there is no reason to resist when freedom comes under assault from feudalism.
The essential question we face is not about the rule of law but about which law is to rule. Events in Britain teach us that Chami’s proposal represents the thin end of the wedge in the creeping campaign to introduce Islamic jurisprudence into our legal system.
A nation with two legal systems, reflecting conflicting social and political philosophies, is a house divided and, as history shows, it cannot stand.
We must be culturally self-confident enough to assert that the monopoly status of common law and democracy in Australia is entirely non-negotiable. As Peter Costello said not so long ago: “If a person wants to live under sharia law, there are countries where they may feel at ease, but not Australia.”