Tories for Sharia - oh, and Enoch
It has been reported that the Conservative Party is to target UKIP members instead of UKIP policy. This mudslinging is apparently Lynton Crosby’s latest campaigning strategy; to conduct 'below-the-radar' surveillance of Ukip councillors in order to embarrass the party by exposing its fruitcakes, loonies, closet racists and, according to the Telegraph, paedophiles.
Mr Crosby has denied the strategy, but there was a very plausible first salvo in the Daily Mail over the weekend, which has been picked up by the Telegraph and had Nigel Farage hauled over the coals on last night's Channel 4 News.
It concerns the case of Dean Perks, Ukip prospective parliamentary candidate for Halesowen and Rowley Regis, who apparently favours the introduction of sharia law into the UK. According to the Mail, Mr Perks says sharia works as a 'preventative' measure, and he has previously praised Enoch Powell - labelling him a 'visionary'.
That's it: that's all they've got.
And so Nigel Farage is coming under pressure to sack Mr Perks. A brief statement was issued yesterday in an attempt to defuse the furore:
Halesowen & Rowley Regis UKIP PPC, Dean Perks has expressed “deep disappointment” that comments he made have been twisted by political opponents and newspapers to imply he supports Sharia law in the UK.The curious thing is that Dean Perks never advocated the amputation of limbs as a preventative measure for burglary in the UK. He said: "In my opinion, sharia law works as a prevention - and prevention is better than cure." He simply made the rather obvious point that it appears to work in those countries where this punitive aspect sharia law is applied in accordance with the letter of the law. If a man is to have his right hand cut off for stealing, is he not rather more likely to reflect on the potential consequences of committing the crime? Is this not more likely to deter than a warning or a modest fine?
“I reject Sharia Law and I firmly believe that British law should cover everyone in this country with no exceptions” said Mr Perks today.
“We in UKIP have come to expect our political opponents to play the man, not the ball, as they have realised that it is our common sense policies and not theirs which resonate with the voters.
“Of course if they want to continue ignoring the real issues while we push ahead with representing local people on issues that matter that’s fine by us but we will not permit distortions of the truth and I will be seeking clarification from the newspapers concerned.”
Does the Bible not say to obey is better than sacrifice?
And as for the attempt to tarnish Mr Perks with the racist brush for viewing Enoch Powell as a visionary, well, Lynton Crosby really ought to have done his homework. It transpires that Mr Perks has a Muslim godson, a Sikh brother-in-law and three mixed-race cousins. Presumably, family dinners aren't spent discussing rivers of blood.
The curious thing is that the Conservative Party itself has many members and parliamentarians who are rather fond of Enoch Powell. And the Party manifestly supports aspects of sharia law, not least in domestic arbitration and the financial sector.
In the book Enoch at 100 - a re-evaluation of the life, politics and philosophy of Enoch Powell (Biteback, 2012), there are fulsome tributes paid by very prominent Conservatives, including Lord Norton, Lord True, Lord Forsyth and Lord Lexden. The tome is edited by Lord Howard (of Rising), and carries a Foreword by none other than the Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith, who refers to Enoch Powell as 'a remarkable man, often remembered...for the wrong reason'.
Not a whiff of racism among them: it is eminently possible to appreciate the achievements of a man without endorsing every word he uttered.
And on Mr Perks' support of sharia law, well, for all Cameron's rhetoric of opposing it lock, stock and barrel, the Conservative Party is complicit in the incremental application of certain sharia provisions, not least because not all aspects of the code are barbaric. Sharia law is in fact profoundly complex, and varies in interpretation and application from Islamic community to Islamic community. In one place, one may be publicly flogged merely for being in the presence of a member of the opposite sex, in another, one may be hanged. And it is the women and children who are executed, since the word of the man outweighs all others. Sharia covers religious rituals, behaviour, dress codes, grooming and diet, and also legislates in matters of finance, trade, marriage and family – in short, it is a religio-political system for the whole of life.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams said quite distinctly that ‘aspects’ of sharia law might be incorporated into British law. He noted that other religions enjoyed tolerance of their own laws, and so called for ‘constructive accommodation’ with Muslim practice in areas such as marital disputes. But he stressed that it could never be allowed to take precedence over an individual's rights as a citizen. This is an important distinction, and one which Mr Perks upholds.
Asked if the adoption of sharia law was necessary for community cohesion, Dr Williams said that certain conditions of sharia ‘are already recognised in our society and under our law, so it is not as if we are bringing in an alien and rival system’. And the Conservative Party recognises this in its support of sharia councils and sharia finance.
Of course, they will insist that both conform to the law of England and Wales, but the reality is that Muslim women are frequently coerced into accepting the ruling of a sharia tribunal which invariably favours the men in issues of property rights and child custody. Religious adjudications do not form part of the civil law, which is why some Muslims are now opting for nikah marriages - an Islamic union quite distinct and separate from a civil marriage. It is far easier to divorce religiously when one has never been married legally: domestic law is thereby subject to sharia.
And our banks are adapting to sharia by offering products which do not charge interest or make investments in alcohol, gambling or pornography. Indeed, Barclays, RBS and Lloyds Banking Group have all established subsidiary companies specifically for Muslim clients. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this: one may argue that it simply market provision. Except that the increasing acceptability of sharia finance has the effect of legitimising other aspects of sharia law. How long before whole areas of cities are alcohol-free? Or the public advertising of women's underwear is banned? Or certain books are taken off the shelf because they offend? Or schools and restaurants serve everyone with halal meat?
How long before the non-Muslim population finds itself complying with sharia law, whether they like it or not?
Thankfully, the Ukip statement above is unequivocal: Nigel Farage rejects sharia law, presumably in its entirety.
Despite the rhetoric, David Cameron clearly supports aspects of it: there are Tories for sharia.
Lynton Crosby needs a better strategy: he might start with playing the ball; not the men.