November 29, 2006

Britons under Sharia Law? Or is this just another ghetto.

The Telegraph today reports a worrying fact: that Somalian youths are turning when they commit crimes against each other not to the police but to courts of elders who exact compensation from the perpetrator. The Telegraph reports this in the context of an assault. The police have issued a statement saying that if the charge of assault is removed by the victim then they often don't prosecute, but they are careful to preempt any concern about rape saying that in such cases the consent of the victim is not required for a prosecution to take place.

We need to beware of exaggerating what this means. Firstly the youths involved stress that this is a cultural or ethnic and not an Islamic order being imposed. Secondly what this is is not the contravention of sovereignty- the Police still have the final authority- but the use of other community sanctions. Rather than thinking that some areas of Britain have gone over to be ruled by the Sharia- one should think for instance of the Irish in America whose communities were often governed by priests and then by the police.

What is worrying then is not the myth of Londonistan but the concern that the police are ready to meet- which is cultural prejudice and bias against various kinds of crime- rape, sexual assault and domestic abuse being the ones that instantly spring to my mind. Community leadership by old men seems always to end up in the destruction of the rights of young women.

The other worrying aspect of this is the way that an immigrant community turns in on itself- as I've indicated above this has historically been fairly universal, the Jews in the East End of London for example were in their time a definite separate community- but we should not neccessarily assume that the evolution that took Jews in England and Irish in America from the margins to the centre of society will happen again with the Somalians. We shouldn't assume it won't but we shouldn't assume it will- and part of our task has to be to open possibilities to Somalian youths to take up the rights promised them by the law, evade the power of the community leaders and break the walls of the ghetto down.