As we all know, the fundamentals of a free society and a successful economy are the rule of law, property rights, and enforceable contracts. But above all, the Rule of Law. That is why many concerned citizens worry about the spread of alternative legal systems, and especially of Sharia Law, which is applied increasingly.
Of course citizens are entitled to reach private agreements between themselves, provided that that does not involve any breach of the Law of the Land. So in theory there can be no objection to two Muslims agreeing to settle a dispute according to Sharia Law and under the ægis of their Imam (again, provided that the Sharia Law solution is consistent with the Law of the Land). But in practice, there are serious concerns that within the Muslim community, great social and cultural pressure may be put on individuals, and especially on women, to “agree” to a Sharia solution, especially in family matters, when left to a free choice, they might decide otherwise.
But I must confess that I was a bit shocked to read a story in the Daily Mail, which reports that a Muslim preacher attempted to strangle his 16-year-old daughter when she refused an arranged marriage, and threatened to murder her, but was excused a custodial sentence on the grounds of his strong family, cultural and religious convictions. The Mail reports: “Sentencing Hussain, Judge Michael Leeming said: ‘You’re a man of high standing in the local Asian community and take your family, culture and religion very seriously”.
Apparently we have created a legal precedent that we are entitled to break the law (or to be treated leniently when we break the law) because of “strong religious and cultural convictions”. This is intolerable. The Law of the Land must be the same for all, or it ceases to have value and to command respect. How long before someone recreates an ancient religion requiring human sacrifice, and demands an exception to the law against murder based on religious belief?
It may well be that Abid Hussain takes his family, culture and religion very seriously. Perhaps Judge Leeming should take the Rule of Law equally seriously.
But it’s not just Sharia Law. I was struck by a story in the Daily Telegraph of August 19th, headlined “Addicts have a human right to take drugs, say peers”. The added twist here is that the peers’ opinion is based on European Human Rights Conventions, and in particular — you guessed it — on “the right to private and family life”. I very much doubt that those who drafted these high-flown conventions ever imagined for a moment that “the right to a private life” necessarily included the right to break the law in private. Does the right to a private and family life include the right of Abid Hussain, privately and in the bosom of his family, to assault his daughter and threaten to murder her? I think not.
As a libertarian, I think there is a legitimate debate to be had over drug laws, and I think that a well-thought-out legalisation policy could well take the profit out of the illicit drugs trade, and thus, counter-intuitively, reduce use and reduce harm. But that’s a debate for another day. If we believe in the Rule of Law, then it must apply equally to every citizen, regardless of religion, culture or addiction status.