Fancy that! Trevor Phillips – Shariah expert!

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Trevor Phillips

Trevor Phillips of vaulting ambition has a problem with Muslims. His progressive instincts extend to West Indian causes and needs, but to others he is patronising and judgemental. This prejudice must rule him out as the next boss of the Commission for Equality & Human Rights, the body soon to subsume his current empire, the CRE.

He finds Muslim cultural norms threatening – why can’t they be like one of us, he seems to be saying. Why do you insist on your own faith schools? Why do you wish to dress differently? And now Mr Superior is telling Muslims what they can and cannot do in the ‘mother country’.

That Trevor Phillips has a problem with Muslims is clear from his contradictory statements. For example it is OK for segregated classes for black youth – they should be singled out for special booster classes because they were under-achieving (7 March 2005, The Times). However Muslim schools are undesirable because they are a threat to the “coherence” of British society! (19 January 2005, The Guardian).

Then in April 2004 he sounded off: ‘The word (multiculturalism) is not useful, it means the wrong things’. Shall we kill it off? ‘Yes’. ‘Multiculturalism suggests separateness. We are now in a different world’. By September 2005, the agenda became clearer ‘In recent years we’ve focused far too much on the ‘multi’ and not enough on the common culture. We’ve emphasized what divides us over what unites us. We have allowed tolerance of diversity to harden into the effective isolation of communities, in which some people think special separate values ought to apply’.

His bug bear seems to be a fear that Muslims have an urge to separate from the rest of British society. In October 2005, he claimed ‘We are becoming more segregated residentially’ to the formation of communities that are shut off from the outside world; that simply makes the situation worse. But that is what we are seeing emerging’.

However statistics tell us that far from living in ghettoes, the probability of a Muslim having a non-Muslim neighbour is greater than say a Jew having a non-Jewish neighbour. No wonder you see Sylhetti restaurants from Land’s End to Stornoway!

His latest finger-wagging came a few days ago: ‘Muslims who wish to live under a system of sharia law should leave Britain, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality suggested yesterday. He rejected the idea that British Muslims should be allowed to live under sharia law in their communities. “I don’t think that’s conceivable,” he said. “We have one set of laws … and that’s the end of the story. If you want to have laws decided in another way, you have to live somewhere else.”

This was a reference to a Sunday Telegraph poll published on 19 February 2006, that reported ‘four out of 10 British Muslims want sharia law introduced into parts of the country’.

Trevor Phillips did not quote other findings: while 40% backed introduction of Shariah, 41 per cent opposed it.

His words are an echo of a speech by our Home Secretary to the Heritage Foundation in the US, where ñ presumably speaking to the gallery rather than from the heart – he said ‘THERE CAN BE NO NEGOTIATION ABOUT THE IMPOSITION OF SHARIA LAW’. Mr Phillips is whiter-than-white, a greater royalist than the king.

Here are 5 questions for Trevor Phillips:

  1. Why convey the impression that Muslims are undermining British society? Is this really helpful? In any case why not reflect the opinion poll accurately – that more were against the idea than for? Why the obsession with getting Muslims to prove their ‘loyalty’?
  2. Sharia law is not a single monolith that is either implemented in totality or not at all. Jews operate their own courts in the UK – the Beth Din or religious courts that make rulings on matrimonial/divorce issues. Why can’t there be a level playing field for Muslims?
  3. There are aspects of Sharia law that are operative in individual and community life and other aspects that are only operative if there is an Islamic polity or state. Does he appreciate this? By not making this distinction he is alienating Muslims. There is a lot of misinformation and orientalist propaganda about the ‘barbarity and misogynistic tendency’ in Islamic law – has he really tried to seek the views of Islamic scholars? There is a rich debate going on at present between scholars about the development of Islamic law- it is evolving and adapting.
  4. He is not aware of the positive developments – the introduction of shariah Compliant financial instruments – in fact the government voucher baby bond (£250 for every child born after 2001)  – there is now a version for Muslim parents offered by the Childrens Mutual called the Shariah Baby Bond!5 . Who is he to ask British-born Muslims to leave their country because of their beliefs? Are progressive anti-racists like him now saying they are going to make a break with Muslims –  even though Muslims form 1/3 of the country’s non-white population? Why shouldn’t they be allowed to hold their views?
  5. There was a suitable response from a Guardian reader: ‘So Trevor Phillips thinks that those Muslims who wish to live under Sharia law should leave (Report, February 27)? I’m neither a Muslim nor a supporter of Sharia law, but surely democracy is about accepting different views, albeit minority views, otherwise we are all destined to live under an elective dictatorship. If I don’t want ID cards should I leave? If I object to internment without trial should I leave? Surely we shouldn’t all leave because we want something that’s important to us, even if it’s unlikely we’ll get it’.

Trevor Phillips of vaulted ambition may have his eyes set on heading up the Commission for Equality & Human Rights. Sorry Mr Phillips, you are the weakest link.