...a blog by Richard Flowers

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Day 2593: Will Nobody Rid Me of this Turbulent Beardy Weirdy!


Looks like it is the week for tossing out our traditions of British Justice, Liberal Democracy and the Rule of Law. Now the Archpillock of Canterbury is having a go!

This has caused quite some considerable discussion already, and a few brief words from my Daddy Alex.

The Archpillock's suggestion is that rather than one law applying to everyone, we might like to try having different groups of people – and by different groups he means religions – running their own brands of laws in a sort of competition to control most souls.

Let's start with the BIGGIE: this is ILLEGAL.

That is illegal in the sense that the European Court of Human Rights ruled that a scheme "to establish a plurality of legal systems based on differences in religious belief, to institute Islamic law (the Sharia)" (sound familiar?) was a pressing threat to democracy, indeed it was incompatible with fundamental democratic principles.

They further described the Sharia as "a system of law that was in marked contrast to the values embodied in the Convention [the European Convention on Human Rights]"

Let me just say that again: that's the EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS. Not some never-heard-of-them Liberal milksops; not some politically correct pinko commentariat. The CONTINENT'S top court; some of the most senior legal opinions IN THE WORLD.

Now, let me just get this out of the way first: the Sharia law is NOT incompatible with English Law because we are a CHRISTIAN Nation, and more importantly it is DEFINITELY NOT because our laws are based on the "Ten Commandments" (printed and published by Mr Moses on behalf of Mr God, Number 1 Mount Sinai Gardens, Mount Sinai, the Desert).

At least HALF of the "Ten" are completely IGNORED by our laws:

#1: I am the Lord thy God: thou shall have no other gods before me

Always good to get the culturally sensitive existential statements in up front, but these days, just as terms and conditions apply, other deities are available.

#2: Thou shall not make for yourself an idol

Pop Idol, however, not actually illegal.

#5: Honour thy Father and Mother

Good advice, but in fact not required by law.

#7: Thou shall not commit adultery

Grounds for divorce, maybe, but not for criminal prosecution.

#10: Thou shall not covet thy neighbour's house, ass or wife

Actually, what with envy being the basis of all Capitalism, and almost all advertising relying on us doing a BIT of coveting, far from being illegal this one is pretty much obligatory…

And there's one…

#9: Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbour

…that's only a BIT against the law. Perjury is, of course, illegal, but only in a Court of Law. And Certain Christians seem to have some difficulty understanding that denying evolution or making up stories about gay daddies might get them in hot water if it WAS against the law to "bear false witness".

Then there's another couple of Commandments that actually ARE in our laws but have fallen into disuse recently…

#3: Thou shall not make wrongful use of the name of Your God

It's those tricky blasphemy laws (Anglicans only, sorry Mr the Pope)

#4: Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy

Subject to Sunday Trading Laws, relaxed by arch Anti-Christ Mr Major Minor and his Heretical Conservatories. Or does the Church of Thatchianity worship Mammon!

Which only leaves us with:

#6: Thou shall not kill (or "murder" if you prefer the version with loopholes)

#8: Thou shall not steal

And it is difficult to think of ANY system of laws that would NOT proscribe at least one of those!

English Law (and I use the term English imprecisely, because I mean the Law in England AND Wales, although it is DIFFERENT from the Law in Scotland, though it IS the basis of the law in America [A: except Louisiana] and a lot of the Commonwealth) is based on the PRINCIPLES of EQUITY and CONSISTENCY.

That is, legal decisions should be FAIR and should be PREDICTABLE.

Our laws come from three sources: the "common law" (which means "those things that were generally supposed to be the law before the Norman's took over"); "statute" (or "things that the King said" which nowadays means all of that paperwork that the Labour spew out of Parliament every waking minute); and "precedent" (that's NOT "president" like the Monkey-in-Chief, it means decisions that judges have made before – it's that CONSISTENCY principle in action!)

Precedent is why lawyers are always going on about old cases (it's not vanity… well not JUST vanity).

But EQUITY overrules precedent (and also statute!) so even if it's been the law for centuries, or if the Labour have just made it up last week, if you can show that it's not FAIR, then you can get the law overturned.

(Although usually your lawyer will try to show that your case is significantly different to any that has ever come before.)

In CONTRAST the Sharia is a REVEALED system of law. Yes, like the Commandments. That is to say that it is supposed to be perfect and unchangeable. Which is why there are five different versions of it!

Okay, just to be fair, there IS a distinction between the Sharia itself, the perfect principle of the Law as spelled out in the Qur'an, and the Fiqh or "deep understanding" that is the main body of Islamic jurisprudence (i.e. the book of "what we think He meant").

(And far be it for me as a humble soft toy to suggest that an OMNIPOTENT creator god ought to be able to create a set of laws that are COMPREHENSIBLE without the need of interpretation.)

The Archpillock turns logic topsy-turvy with his assertion that this makes the Sharia in someway an "unfinished" work. To suggest that legal positions derived from a fixed text can evolve requires a positively POST-MODERN attitude to interpretation and re-interpretation.

Because the PROBLEM with revealed law is that, ultimately – and you can't get MUCH more "ultimately" than "Mr God said it" – ultimately you cannot change the details just because you've decided that they're wrong.

And to try and WHEEDLE around it – as the Archpillock does – with weaselling words like:

" ...nobody in their right mind...would want to see in this country a kind of inhumanity that sometimes appears to be associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states [such as] the extreme punishments [and] the attitudes to women..."

…is ENTIRELY to miss the point. The Sharia is an ALL-OR-NOTHING job.

There is no NUANCE to be had in the requirement to BEHEAD gay daddies. (Despite the Wikipedia's almost HILARIOUS attempts to suggest that "smite off their heads" might actually be a mistranslation of "admonish off their heads".) You cannot WISH AWAY the imbalance of power between men and women that is implicit in the Sharia exemplified by the different rules for different genders on marriage and divorce and indeed dress and the fact that a woman's testimony counts as half the value of a man's.

The other fine principle of English Law, often quoted, is that everything is permissible unless specifically banned.

Often this is contrasted (satirically) with codified systems such as the Napoleonic Law that you find in France and other places in Europe [A: and Louisiana] (usually one conquered by, er, Mr Emperor Bonaparte) where allegedly NOTHING is permitted unless specifically allowed.

But the Sharia goes FURTHER – it doesn't just tell you what you CAN'T do: it tells you what you MUST do to. Often involving SCISSORS.

Freedom from Conformity is at the HEART of Liberalism; Laws that COMPEL behaviour are against everything that we stand for.

When it comes down to it, most Law is there to settle disputes between PEOPLE. In CRIMINAL law, the dispute is between ALL OF US and someone who is doing harm – because we cannot operate as a society if we let people do harm to others. But mostly it is because two people have a disagreement and they need someone to sort it out.

There is NOTHING to stop them going to their Priest or Vicar or Rabbi or Imam or Militant Atheist Baby Elephant and asking them to help them decide. Arbitration is to be ENCOURAGED and, so long as both sides are happy with the outcome, it would certainly cut down on all the cases that are clogging up our judges' calendars.

But what happens if the Vicar and the Baby Elephant have DIFFERENT answers?

[A: Nobody is a bit surprised?]

That is when you end up in court.

It's just no good if you have MULTIPLE legal systems, not all of which are based on equal protection for all parties. People will be unable to settle their arguments if one person insists on one law and the other demands the rights to use another.

That is why you need ONE set of laws.

The Archpillock of Canterbury, Mr Dr Row'n' Rapidly Backwards Williams, is very well supplied with expensive London homes, jewelled sticks, attractive frocks and a large staff. And yet he appears to have flown this kite without ANYONE warning him that it might be the TEENSIEST bit CONTROVERSIAL; and he seems to have gone out in public and said it without thinking to run it past ANYONE from the real world whatsoever.

As Mr Brian, quoted in the Londonpaper tonight, puts it: "For goodness sake, get someone who's got common sense to read your script before you say anything."

Although the Archpillock himself has apparently having gone into hiding, his apologist in chief Bishop "Lack of" Hulme-ity has been all over the media like a rash. His defence amounts to: "You're pig ignorant and you haven't listened to what he said!" Well, we HAVE listened and WE'RE not the ones sticking our fingers in our ears and saying "CAN'T HEAR YOU!"

This attitude of "you are too ignorant to question US!" is as old as the hills. For the best part of two thousand years, the church's response to any challenge has been "We know stuff that you don't – it's in Latin; don't you understand?"

The REAL outrage is NOT because people have not understood. It is because they HAVE.

Oh, and speaking of stuff that folks know: Bish Hulme said how dare we criticise the highest religious authority in the land. Well, that AIN'T the Archpillock – that would be his BOSS, Mrs the Queen. Go and look up what "established church" means sometime you ignorant, arrogant snob!

Apparently Mr Dr Row'n is VERY HURT by all of the criticism that has been heaped upon him. Perhaps he should retire to a monastery for contemplation and healing.

Or perhaps he should just RETIRE.


Unknown said...

There is much I could say, but if nothing else, please be careful when you say that equity is simply about "fairness". It is actually a highly developed system of rules that is just as much subject to precedent as the common law.

Jennie Rigg said...

Sorry for calling you Fluffy-cheeks:

Rob Clack said...

Beheading is too good for him!

Unknown said...

Mr Clack, I assume you said that for dramatic effect. Dr Williams, on the other hand, said what he did to provoke a much-needed debate. And yet it is he who has been vilified.