"We don't need to speculate about what these British sharia courts would look like. They already exist in some mosques across Britain, as voluntary enterprises.
These are the courts that Rowan Williams would give the stamp of British law. In his lecture, he worries that this could harm women – before serving up a theological gloop, saying that sharia could be reinterpreted in a way compatible with the rights of women. But if that happens, why would you need different courts? What would be the point?
The argument that women will only have to enter these courts if they freely choose to shows a near-total disconnection from the reality of Muslim women's lives. Most of the women who will be drawn into "consenting" are, like Nasirin, recent immigrants with little idea of their legal options. Then there are the threats of excommunication – or violence – from some families. As the Muslim feminist Irshad Manji puts it: "When it comes to contemporary sharia, choice is theory; intimidation is the reality."
These courts highlight in their purest form the problem with multiculturalism. It has become a feel-good doctrine mindlessly celebrating "difference", without looking at what that difference actually means.
Multiculturalism was formed with good intentions as a counter-reaction. But it has become a mirror-image of this old racism, treating Muslim women – and others – as so different that they do not deserve the same rights as the rest of us. As the European-Iranian feminist Azar Majedi puts it: "By creating different laws and judicial systems for each ethnic group, we are not fighting racism. In fact, we are institutionalising it."
When people talk about defending Muslim culture, ask them – which culture? The culture of Irum and Nasireen, or the culture of their abusive husbands? Multiculturalism patronisingly treats immigrants as homogenous blocks – when in fact they are as diffuse and dissenting as the rest of us.
The job of a liberal state is not to stamp The True National Essence on its citizens, nor to promote "difference" for its own sake. It is to uphold the equal rights of every individual – whether they are white men or Muslim women. It has one liberal culture, with freedoms used differently by different people."
Johann Hari, Independent, 11 February 2008
Here's the same piece on his website.
I'll throw in a comment that Irshad Manji made earlier this year:
"Superficial diversity reduces all of us to external markers of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and the like. Far more meaningful to elevate ourselves to different ways of thinking. It’s high time to popularize the distinction between diversity of thought, which recognizes individuality, and diversity of appearance, which glorifies only the group."