Dawkins gets a break at last

At last the British press has given Richard Dawkins a break! In truth, I can’t remember the last pro-Dawkins piece they’ve published, although there are dozens taking the other side, every one a carbon copy of the others.  Strident. Bigot. Racist. Superannuated.  You know the tropes. While people have every right to differ with Richard’s ideas, the wolf-pack behavior of the British press is more like a feeding frenzy than a reasoned assessment of his ideas.

But in the August 24 Spectator, British journalist and author Nick Cohen analyzes this phenomenon in a piece called “Richard Dawkins attacks Muslim bigots, not just Christian ones. If only his enemies were as brave.” He not only decries the press for its herd mentality, but indicts it for cowardice: its refusal to defend liberal Muslims who stand up against their oppressive and conservative coreligionists.

How refreshing is this beginning?

It’s August, and you are a journalist stuck in the office without an idea in your head. What to write? What to do? Your empty mind brings you nothing but torment, until a thought strikes you, ‘I know, I’ll do Richard Dawkins.’

Dawkins is the sluggish pundit’s dream. It does not matter which paper you work for. Editors of all political persuasions and none will take an attack on Darwin’s representative on earth. With the predictability of the speaking clock, Owen Jones, the Peter Hitchens of the left, thinks the same as Craig Brown, Private Eye’s high Tory satirist. Tom Chivers, the Telegraph’s science blogger, says the same as Andrew Brown, the Guardian’s religious affairs correspondent. The BBC refuses to run contrary views. It assures the nation that ‘militant’ atheism is as fanatical as militant religion — despite the fact that no admirer of The God Delusion has ever planted a bomb, or called for the murder of homosexuals, Jews and apostates.

Sharp operators could sell the same piece a dozen times without changing a word. Read the papers, and you will suspect that is exactly what sharp operators have done.

Cohen then recounts the case of Nahla Mahmoud, a Muslim woman in England about whom the press has been curiously silent.  For less than two minutes of criticism of sharia law in Britain, she’s suffered vicious criticism and appears to be in serious danger. Her brother was attacked and her mother threatened, and now she lives in fear.

She is a Sudanese refugee who became a leading figure in the British Council of ex-Muslims. Earlier this year Channel 4 gave her one minute and 39 seconds precisely to talk about the evils of Britain’s Sharia courts in Britain. In these institutions, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man’s, a man can divorce his wife by simple repudiation, and women who remarry lose custody of their children. One minute and 39 seconds may not sound long enough to list their vices. But it is one minute and 39 seconds longer than the BBC has ever given her.

Nahla described how she grew up under Sharia. She was ‘always dealt with as a second-class citizen, always bought up to believe that I am an incomplete human being [who] needed a man as a guard.’

She was shocked to find the same system here in her land of refuge. ‘Muslims have been living in Britain for hundreds of years and never needed sharia courts,’ she concluded. ‘Everyone should have equal rights and live under one secular law.’

I’m only dimly aware of sharia law in Britain, how it’s implemented, and to what extent it supersedes civil law. Perhaps some reader can enlighten me. Can a British Muslim really divorce his wife according to that law, or lose custody of her children? Is a woman’s testimony in those courts worth (as it is in other Muslim countries) only half that of a man’s? If so, the British should be ashamed.

The British press, like the American, is simply afraid of criticizing Islam, and if sharia law is a going thing in the UK, how come its press writes about Richard Dawkins’s stridency instead of the oppressiveness and misogyny of Muslim law? Which is more important?

We know the answer: any criticism of Islam by the press is liable to bring down on them the opprobrium and attendant physical threats of Muslims. Everyone is well aware of the violence following publication of the anti-Muslim cartoons in the Danish press.

If we construe “Islamophobia” as “fear of Muslims” and not “hatred of Muslims,” then the press is guilty of it far more than is Dawkins. In the end, they pick on the easy victim, for Richard isn’t going to kill his journalistic critics.

Cohen has a nice finish to his piece:

My point is that women like Nahla are being terrified and abused every day in Britain. I have seen Richard Dawkins speak up for them as a matter of honour and a matter of course many times, but have never heard a peep of protest from his opponents.

One day there will be a reckoning. One day, thousands who have suffered genital mutilation, religious threats and forced marriages will turn to the intellectual and political establishments of our day and ask why they did not protect them. The pathetic and discreditable reply can only be: ‘We were too busy fighting Richard Dawkins to offer you any support at all.’

Sharia law is profoundly undemocratic and contemptuous of human rights. It should not be practiced in the UK at all, regardless of whether Muslims consider it a “tradition.” It’s time the press, like Cohen, gets its priorities straight.


  1. gbjames
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 5:13 am | Permalink


  2. Posted August 22, 2013 at 5:18 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on hitchens67 Atheism WOW!! Campaign and commented:
    Most true atheists are pro-Dawkins!

    • Posted August 22, 2013 at 6:31 am | Permalink

      I think Dawkins is one of the more coherent and calm atheists out there.

      However, I am not entirely sure what you mean by “true atheist”. Sounds a bit religousy and dogmatic to me.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      What “true atheists”? After the A+ “toe line party test” I think most atheists are very suspicious of seeming political ideas.

    • JBlilie
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      But what about True Scotsmen™?

  3. Posted August 22, 2013 at 5:20 am | Permalink

    If Dawkins is “Darwin’s representative on earth,” where does Cohen think Darwin is if not in the earth?

    • Notagod
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 6:08 am | Permalink

      I’m hoping it was intended humorously but, I agree with you the humor tends to need to be made explicit lest the christian and muzzleman take it literally.

      • moarscienceplz
        Posted August 22, 2013 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

        “Muzzleman” heh!

  4. Posted August 22, 2013 at 5:30 am | Permalink


  5. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    Owen Jones, the Peter Hitchens of the left…


  6. bonetired
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 5:36 am | Permalink

    Sharia law has no legal standing in Britain whatsoever. End of discussion.

    • Taz
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      It’s only the end of the discussion if you’re prepared to claim that there is no coercion, particularly of women, inherent in the Sharia courts in Britain. The experience of Nahla Mahmoud seems to indicate otherwise, which makes it the responsibility of the civilian authorities.

    • darrelle
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 7:30 am | Permalink

      Enforcing the law is another matter entirely. Lots and lots of room for discussion there.

    • Howard Kornstein
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      I live in Britain my friend. Your statement “Sharia law has no legal standing in Britain whatsoever” may be technically true, but it is totally false in PRACTISE – because law without enforcement is not really law. Political correctness, fear of authorities about antagonising sections of the Moslem community, oversensitivity to accusations of Islamophobia creates such lack of enforcement and totally negates you claim.
      End of discussion.

      • Posted August 23, 2013 at 12:44 am | Permalink

        Hear, hear Howard.
        After this film went out, you would have thought the police would have investigated? They did – THE FILM-MAKERS! I am so angry at the gutless wonders in this country , I too am a brit.
        For the information of Muslims, we are NOT:
        RACIST – Islam is not a race, but a worldwide religion:

        XENOPHOBIC – Britain is the most multicultural country, with foreigners integrating from all over the world. Not so Muslims. They live in enclaves, some would say ghetto’s, won’t mix and give anything to the country of adoption:

        ISLAMOPHOBIC – that means an irrational fear of Islam. The fear is very justified. Muslims are taking over every country in the world. Oil riches are financing Mosques in every city worldwide. If that is not preparation for a caliphate, what is?
        Against ISLAM Well yes when when their Imams encourage murder on the streets. Watch YOU TUBE Vids from Luton London etc.

        INSULT The Quran, claiming a religion of Peace. Is quoting their holy book wrong. The early Surahs convey a peaceful Islam. But later surah’s (which over-ride) tell Muslims to Kill unbelievers, Christians and especially Jews. Again watch Arabic TV station on YOU TUBE, with anti Jew incitement!

        So, it seems they are free to march our streets with banners inciting hatred and violence etc. but if one British person marches, we would be arrested.

        • godsbuster
          Posted August 23, 2013 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

          In the Netherlands certain politicians who call a spade a spade e.g. Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Geert Wilders, require around the clock police protection from practitioners of the religion of peace.

          Politician Pim Fortuin filmmaker Theo Van Gogh were murdered. Geert Wilders -a member of the Dutch Parliament was barred from entering the UK lest the caliphate be offended.

  7. David Cutler
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 5:38 am | Permalink

    For a pretty good description of the status of Sharia law in the UK take a look at : http://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2013/04/29/sharia-and-the-english-legal-system-the-governments-view/

    • Michael Johnson
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      This is very informative, thanks!

  8. Kevin
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    The Catholic church refuses divorce and will not recognise a legal UK divorce. Its not a question of legal authority, but a practising Catholic will still give weight to the ‘institutional’ decision. I presume that Sharia is the same: no legal authority but adherents will ‘feel’ bound by it. Unfortunately that also comes into the realm of ‘choice’ at least if the punished person is an consenting adult. Circumcising a child could actually be seen as an illegal act since the child is below legal age. That could be covered under state law, whereas the Sharia divorce would be unrecognised under British Law (assuming that the marriage was legally registered somewhere in the first place and not just a religious pact). You would have the ‘paradox’ of a person having been legally divorced but still ‘feeling’ married. This is inevitable when religious practice is not in line with the state laws.

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 6:18 am | Permalink

      There’s a difference though. The Catholic Church is a relatively toothless institution in terms of controlling wayward members who flout its rules. If a Catholic gets divorced and remarries, there is nothing the Church can do about it except waggle its finger and cry into its teacup. You would be hard-pressed to find a Catholic community anywhere in Europe that feels itself duty-bound to coerce private citizens to abide by Canon Law, let alone punish those who have decided to ignore it.

      Someone living in a community that endorses Sharia law may not find themselves in quite such a comfortable position should they choose to flout their religious law.

      • Kevin
        Posted August 22, 2013 at 7:51 am | Permalink

        That’s true of the modern Catholic church, which in time past coersed Jews to convert at pain of expulsion, torture or death: Inquisition. I was talking however of the modern time, though I was referring more to the psychological control exerted by religious leaders and the tendency of followers to follow church teaching notwithstanding the state laws.
        Just left living in Northern Ireland: seeing the problems my supposedly co-patriot, supposed ‘Christians’ can create for themselves, I don’t find it easy to pronounce judgement on other religions. Never felt so socially uncomfortable in a place. Went there with optimism hoping that attitudes were improving.

        • JBlilie
          Posted August 22, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

          Very sorry to hear that they haven’t …

      • Ion Ion
        Posted August 22, 2013 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

        I beg the difference. How about Poland? A country that went for decades for the contraceptive rights of the woman during the Communist era to change back to the Dark Ages morality. In terms of participation Poland is the Pakistan of Catholicism.

        • Sally
          Posted August 25, 2013 at 3:13 am | Permalink

          “I beg the difference. How about Poland? A country that went for decades for the contraceptive rights of the woman during the Communist era to change back to the Dark Ages morality. In terms of participation Poland is the Pakistan of Catholicism.”

          Ion Ion is absolutely correct – the position of women throughout the former “Eastern Bloc” has gone a long way downhill since the end of Communism. Since that time, women have lost most of the benefits they enjoyed – they were often the first to be fired, for example, with the overtly expressed purpose of forcing them to return to the traditional roles of wife and mother (East European and Eurasian women are once again being thought of in pre-Soviet categories – as the mothers, daughters and wives of good East European / Eurasian men … or as whores), child- and health-care has been ‘westernized,’ rights to divorce and abortion restricted by the renascent churches, and, in the ‘newly-independent’ Islamic states, they have frequently been forced back into the burqa.

          And the same fakers who call themselves ‘leftists,’ who now kowtow to the islamist trash in the name of anti-imperialism, were the ones who lined up behind Solidarność, the Vatican-CIA “trade union,” as it marched under “holy pictures” in the name of anti-Stalinism – they trashed the name of socialism then and they’re trashing it again now.

  9. Stevan
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    I agree with most of this article. The British media does use Dawkins like a punch bag, and the blasé naivety of the Left towards Islam is infuriating.

    However, much of the recent criticism of Dawkins follows his Twitter adventures. Specifically Dawkins’s incendiary but otherwise meaningless declaration that so few Nobel Prize winners were Muslim.

    It seems perfectly reasonable for critics to call Dawkins out for that.

    • Posted August 22, 2013 at 5:54 am | Permalink

      Dawkins’s incendiary but otherwise meaningless declaration that so few Nobel Prize winners were Muslim.

      Why is it “meaningless”? It seems a valid issue to raise, indeed some Islamic scientists today are raising the issue of the lack of science in Islamic countries.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 6:15 am | Permalink

      The tweet that so many chose to take exception to was part of a much longer exchange of views, and in that context not worthy of the outrage that was wished upon it.

      • Celtic Atheist
        Posted August 22, 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink

        Exactly! The various articles having a go at that tweet all implied that it just appeared in isolation as if he woke up that morning thinking “how can I be nasty to muslims today?”.

        It’s just bad journalism and it really gets on my nerves. A decent journalist (like Nick Cohen) would check out the circumstances and wider context before passing comment. I wonder if there’s more of this sort of thing these days with the rise of sites like the Guardian’s Comment is Free which seem to me to blur the line between journalism and comment.

    • Notagod
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 6:22 am | Permalink

      If you focus on why there are few muslim Nobel Prize winners instead of how muslims could find offense then Dawkins should be applauded for making the statement. The muslims (if they lived in reality) would be offended by the conditions that have kept them from having the opportunity to be educated NOT be angry at Dawkins for standing up in their defense.

    • ridelo
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 6:23 am | Permalink

      Belgium and The Netherlands are comparable countries qua number of inhabitants. If a Dutchman points out that they have more Nobel prize winners than we, Belgians, I could do two things. First, feeling insulted. Second, try to figure out why this is so. Notwithstanding we are neighbours we have a different history. There could be some explanations and maybe incentives to do something about it.
      Methinks the second behaviour is the most productive one.

      • Marvol
        Posted August 22, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

        Don’t feel too insulted though – you guys have won more Tour de Frances, not a mean feat either :).

      • JBlilie
        Posted August 22, 2013 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

        And, beyond the TdF victories (and Eddie Merkx, full stop), you have better and more diverse beer!

        Belgium: Beerland! 🙂

        • M'thew
          Posted August 23, 2013 at 3:25 am | Permalink

          If someone points out that Belgians have better and more beers than we, Dutchmen, I could do two things. First, feel insulted. Second, try to figure out why this is so. Notwithstanding we are neighbours we have a different history. There could be some explanations and maybe incentives to do something about it.
          Methinks the second behaviour is the most productive one.

          So there are lots of initiatives in the Netherlands to catch up in terms of beer. Personally, I think we’re doing OK.

          • staffordgordon
            Posted August 23, 2013 at 4:17 am | Permalink

            Hello there Jerry.

            Read and loved your book, need no convincing and fully support R D, but I have to clear the decks here and have tried to “unsubscribe” but without success.

            Nothing personal, I’m just rather busy at present.

            Fraternally and sororally,

            Stafford Gordon.

          • JBlilie
            Posted August 23, 2013 at 4:39 am | Permalink

            No one will ever catch up with Belgium — unless the Belgians allow their own brewing craft to fall into disrepair by drinking such horrible facsimiles of beer such as Budweiser (the USian kind, not the real deal from České Budějovice, though that has nothing on Kriek, La Chouffe, Orval, Westmalle, St. Sixtus, Delirium Tremens, Silly (esp. the Scotch [sic] Ale), Duvel, etc., etc., etc.).

            I hear that the beer drinkers of the UK have returned to real ale (after a foray into Bud-land) and I’m heartily glad to hear that. I hope it’s true!

    • Dominic
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 6:45 am | Permalink

      But it is a fact!

      • Dominic
        Posted August 22, 2013 at 6:46 am | Permalink

        A refusal to acknowledge this is like ‘respecting’ traditional beliefs – beliefs that are complete bollocks.

    • Acleron
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      When Mehdi Hasan raised exactly the same point there was no outcry at all. Double standards.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 9:41 am | Permalink

      Meaningless? Haven’t you read ridelo’s link?

      The point was to point out the inconsistency of 2 common islamism claims: 1. “There are 1.6 billion Muslims, nearly a quarter of the world’s population, and we are growing fast.” 2. “Islamic science deserves enormous respect.”

      RD: “Twitter’s 140 character limit always presents a tough challenge, but I tried to rise to it.”

      So far from meaningless, and any criticism that claims that can be disregarded.

      As for incendiary, anything an atheist says is “incendiary” or “strident” today. So the default is that atheists have to disregard that as well.

      Did you have any tangible criticism?

    • Posted August 22, 2013 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

      They criticize Dawkins as though they feel it’s Dawkins’ fault that there were no more Muslim Nobel prize winners.

    • bdallmann
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

      There is nothing to indicate that Dawkins was calling Muslims stupid, which is what most of the media is claiming when they condemn him. I’m more willing to believe that he was pointing out the prohibitive nature of Islam when it comes to science.

  10. Phillip Brookes
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 5:43 am | Permalink

    From what I can find out, sharia law is not ‘legal’ (certainly not legally binding in any way) but seems to be common among muslim communities. It seems they settle disputes using sharia principles, and people don’t complain (presumably they’d be ostracised within their community if they did).

    There has been a recent BBC feature critical of it, and I found this, which includes government comments:


  11. Nick Evans
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 5:43 am | Permalink

    re: sharia law in the UK, people can agree among themselves to have disputes resolved by a form of arbitration instead of by the civil courts. This is usually adopted in specialist fields so that, e.g, construction disputes are dealt with by a specialist in the field rather than a judge who may be a legal expert, but doesn’t know much about mixing concrete.

    This ability is sometimes also used by people who want their contractual disputes to be decided by a religious body – whether a sharia council or a beth din. Strictly speaking, it should only be available where this has been agreed in a contract. If people have contracted a religious wedding, but not a civil one, then they might agree to be subject to the religious rulings, but if there is a civil marriage too, then this remains subject to the family courts. The courts will usually give appropriate respect to the agreement and the principles which the parties wanted to apply, because they generally prefer people to resolve disputes themselves before litigating. However, the courts won’t necessarily rubber-stamp rulings of a religious body, especially where the welfare of children is involved. The court’s jurisdiction can’t be ousted by agreement. There’s a decent exposition at http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2013/02/01/court-opens-way-to-divorces-by-sharia-hold-on-a-minute-james-wilson/

    So, if people only have a religious marriage, then they can get divorced through the religious rules, no matter how sexist or otherwise unfair those rules are. If people also have a civil marriage, then the civil rules need to be followed too. If kids are involved, then the religious rulings are unlikely to apply, as the UK Courts are required to put the welfare of children first in relevant proceedings.

    However, that’s the position in principle. In practice, people may be intimidated into not availing themselves of their legal rights.

    • lkr
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      I don’t buy the “you can give away your civil rights in a marriage contract” — remember this also involves communities with forced marriage, marriage of very young women to older men, dowry, etc, etc. If one or more of the parties to the contract are under duress at its initiation, it should be enforced.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted August 22, 2013 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

        Don’t you mean “it shouldn’t be enforced”? If a contract is entered into under duress, then a court will consider it null and void. At least that’s what I understand to be the case.

  12. Posted August 22, 2013 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    I’m only dimly aware of sharia law in Britain, how it’s implemented, and to what extent it supersedes civil law.

    It doesn’t supersede the normal law. However, British law does allow people to appoint an arbitrator to civil disputes (this has long happened in the Jewish community for example).

    Thus the Sharia law only has standing to the extent that people voluntarily submit to it. However, for some people (for example women) the social pressures from their community can make this not so “voluntary”. They may have a choice of submitting to a Sharia tribunal or being ostracised by their family and community.

    Further, some people may genuinely not know that they have a choice; some immigrant communities can be fairly insular in this regard,

    And of course for a genuinely religious person they might consider themselves obligated to submit to Sharia law whatever.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 7:27 am | Permalink

      Yes, the pressures on women to confirm must be monumental, especially where the group proclaims that it only recognizes Sharia Law and not human law.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 22, 2013 at 7:27 am | Permalink

        Ugh. Conform not confirm.

    • Sally
      Posted August 25, 2013 at 3:39 am | Permalink

      “They may have a choice of submitting to a Sharia tribunal or being ostracised by their family and community.”

      Or being shipped off ‘home’ to disappear…

  13. Posted August 22, 2013 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    This kicks ass! Sharing

  14. Posted August 22, 2013 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Stooshie's Blog and commented:
    A voice of reason.

  15. teacupoftheapocalypse
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 6:27 am | Permalink


  16. Alex Shuffell
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    The Bible doesn’t prohibit acts like rape or slavery because it would contradict the first half. These writers can’t start defending Dawkins because for the same reason. It’s far too profitable to criticise intelligent and respected people. I have not yet seen anyone do so with any purpose.

  17. lanceleuven
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    “One day there will be a reckoning. One day, thousands who have suffered genital mutilation, religious threats and forced marriages will turn to the intellectual and political establishments of our day and ask why they did not protect them.”

    That is pure excellence.

  18. Dominic
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 6:50 am | Permalink

    Nick Cohen is a pretty sensible fellow. Cohen/Coyne – surely the same name originally?!

  19. jesperbothpedersen1
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 7:05 am | Permalink


  20. Christopher
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    I was excited until I read the article was by Nick Cohen. Nick is one of ‘us’! And always has been.

    By the way, he is also one of the few that isn’t afraid to tell things like it is. His two books ‘What’s Left?: How Liberals Lost Their Way’ and ‘You Can’t Read This Book: Censorship in an Age of Freedom’ are ESSENTIAL reading.

    • Marvol
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      That book (Censorship) is sitting in my Kindle waiting to be read.

      Now after learning this excellent piece is written by that very same author, it has jumped up to the number 1 position of “next to read”, it’s the very least I can do to reward Mr Cohen for his sensibility.

  21. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    Here is an interesting read from the Stanford Journal of International Relations about civil arbitration that focuses on Sharia courts in Canada and England. A few years ago there was a demand for Sharia in Canada that was met with great opposition to those that value the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In Ontario, the Premier banned all civil arbitration, including Jewish and Christian tribunals.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 7:39 am | Permalink

      good grief what is it with the little words today – not opposition to but opposition from

  22. Rik Bailey
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 7:38 am | Permalink

    If you marry in a mosque your marriage is not recognised as a legal marriage unless you get a marriage cert from the registry ofoffice well. As your technically not married with only a Muslim marriage it means Muslims can divorce as they are allowed according to Islam with out notifying the council or registry office as most Muslims don’t get a register office marriage as well.

    I would think that they could take the case up as a civil partnership if any one really wanted to, but I’m not sure about that.

    In regards to custody that would only only be legal if they have gone to court and some one has attested it. I. E a mosque can say that a farther has custody but that has no bearing on English law and so the mother could go to the courts and fight it out there instead. government.

  23. Lianne Byram
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    Professor Dawkins certainly deserves the break. A number of years ago the Ontario government gave serious consideration to allowing Sharia courts to operate in the province. Thankfully there was a huge protest and they decided against it. Speaks to the need for vigilance to protect our hard won secular rights and freedoms. We need people like Richard Dawkins to keep us focused on these issues. It’s too easy to be complacent and take our secular good fortune for granted.

  24. Posted August 22, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on SkepDirt and commented:
    “If we construe ‘Islamophobia’ as ‘fear of Muslims’ and not ‘hatred of Muslims,’ then the press is guilty of it far more than is Dawkins.”

  25. Posted August 22, 2013 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    As several people have pointed out, what they have in Britain is ARBITRATION – rather than going to the legal courts, two people in a dispute can mutaully agree to have another institution\tribunal mediate about a dispute. The results of that arbitration are not legally binding, and no one can be legally compelled to engage in the arbitration process. For example, in the UK two Jews can agree to go to a “Jewish tribunal” and try to settle a marriage dispute outside the actual legal courts. Two Muslims can volunteer to do the same in a “Muslim Tribunal”. So it is very misleading to call this “Sharia Law in the UK”. There is no Sharia law in the UK.

    There is, of course, the potential problem of people (e.g. a Muslim woman) being socially pressurised to partake in the arbitration, and socially pressurised to accept the outcome of the arbitration. But that is a potential problem with all abritration.

    But does Jerry Coyne think that the Muslim ArbitrationTribunals should be abolished but the Jewish Arbitration Tribunals left in place? That’s fairly unsatisfactory. Or does he think that the all the arbitration tribunals, including the long-established Jewish ones, should be abolished? That would also be unsatisfactory.

    • Gordon
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

      Without wanting to comment on the position of arbitration in English family law the point of most arbitration, and especially commercial arbitration, is that it is legally binding.

      A number of people noted that custody arrangements may be upset by the courts. Does this also apply to relationship property if there has been undue influenece etc

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      “There is no Sharia law in the UK.”

      I think you are sending your protest to the wrong address. A better place to take that statement would be the British Council of Ex-Muslims, or Maryam Namazie, or perhaps The Muslim Law (Shariah) Council UK.

      • Gordon
        Posted August 22, 2013 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

        If I may make a slightly wider comment. One of the main problems that arises in areas such as family law (and many others)is that access to the courts is increasingly out of the reach of ordinary people, let alone those of low income. This is made worse by the gradual reduction in legal aid contributions(in the UK as well as here in NZ and no doubt other countries). One policy approach is to encourage alternative dispute resolution (ADR)such as mediation and other mechanisms-and sometimes self-representation. This approach is highly likely to encourage the use of informal bodies such as sharia courts, but also other civil or private bodies,and in the longer term they may well obtain powers to make binding decisions or to certify the parties agreements as binding. Such a patterns can be seen in other areas of law. This of course opens up considerable room for process abuse unless there are strong legal protections which are practical and affordable.

  26. Posted August 22, 2013 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    If we construe “Islamophobia” as “fear of Muslims” and not “hatred of Muslims,” then the press is guilty of it far more than is Dawkins.

    It doesn’t mean either of those things!

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      By “construe” I take it Coyne is referring to actual use, not some unstated definition – like you do.

  27. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Cohen has a clear analysis, a good beginning and an excellent ending. It certainly made my day and I hope Dawkins’s as well!

    • JBlilie
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 1:20 pm | Permalink


  28. Hempenstein
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Re. Dawkins outlook on Islam and the relative silence in the British media, the latter might look to Denmark’s Queen Margrethe in support of Dawkins standpoint (quote from her authorized biography, on her Wikipedia page):

    “We are being challenged by Islam these years. Globally as well as locally. There is something impressive about people for whom religion imbues their existence, from dusk to dawn, from cradle to grave. There are also Christians who feel this way. There is something endearing about people who give themselves up completely to their faith. But there is likewise something frightening about such a totality, which also is a feature of Islam. A counterbalance has to be found, and one has to, at times, run the risk of having unflattering labels placed on you. For there are some things for which one should display no tolerance. And when we are tolerant, we must know whether it is because of convenience or conviction.”

  29. Rudi Preston
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    With regards to your query about sharia law in the UK it does not supercede civil law. Sharia weddings and divorces are not recognised by law. The CofE is the only none civil organisation who can officiate a wedding outside of the government. This means that whilst a sharia wedding (unless they also go to a registery office) is technically not valid in UK law and any women wanting a divorce will receive no help from the law as none of it is legally recognised. It’s shit and most muslim women do not understand the reality of the situation and so are brow beaten into sharia weddings with no corresponding civil wedding so they have no legal rights regarding it. The One Law For All campaign has more info as they are an anti-sharia organisation.

    • Gordon
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      Only the CofE or registry offices can marry people. You sure about that? Must be a lot of catholics, baptists etc queuing up at the town hall.

      • mmurray57
        Posted August 22, 2013 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

        wiki: “From the Marriage Act 1753 until 1837, only marriages conducted by the Church of England, by Quakers, or Jewish marriages, were recognised in England and Wales. This was changed by the Marriage Act 1836 which, in addition to introducing civil marriage, also allowed ministers of other faiths (Nonconformists and Roman Catholics) to act as registrars. The civil marriage law was superseded by the Marriage Act 1949.”

        Not sure about Islamic marriages. Does anyone know ?

    • mmurray57
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

      Rudi these comments are not correct. See my replies below to Gordon.

      • mmurray57
        Posted August 22, 2013 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

        Oops. See my replies above.

      • Gordon
        Posted August 22, 2013 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

        Of course the important bit is that ministers etc “act as registrars”, ie the state delegates a civil/secular function to ministers that they are permitted to carry out while performing a religious ceremony. The two functions are however quite different- a point I kept making during gay marriage debates here when I pointed out that churches could perform only the religious ceremonies they chose. The secular recognition of marriage has nothing to do with religion

    • Rudi Preston
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

      Apologies I had a fact-check fail haha thanks Gordon and mmurray57 for the information it’s always good to increase your net knowledge of something you might be ignorant about. Marriage laws are not something I’ve ever delved too deeply into as I have no disire to get married and the only reason I know something about sharia is a documentary done with one of the politicians pushing for the One Law For All.

  30. staffordgordon
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Apropos of Sharia or “God’s Law:

    On June 15 1215 at Runnimede on the River Thames near London, Magna Carter was signed: Full details @ Wikipedia.

    Principal among the Charter’s statutes was/is One Law For All; including the Monarch.

    Sharia Law would seriously and possibly fatally undermine that principle.

    Please visit: http://www.onelawforall.org.uk.

  31. Posted August 22, 2013 at 10:43 am | Permalink


  32. staffordgordon
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Grammatical error: “God’s” not “God’s.

  33. Mike Walton
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, I just don’t get it.

    Aren’t there laws against criminal conspiracy in GB? I don’t care what private agreement has been reached.

    If someone thinks that they have been taken advantage of they can go to the police and the courts. Access to the state justice system is a common human right. (Except in the UK?) Anyone that tries to promote a campaign of intimidation againt such persons can be viewed as seeking to suppress those right by actual/threatened/implied violent means.

    Surely that is against the law?

    • Gary W
      Posted August 22, 2013 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

      I’m pretty sure that merely “taking advantage of” or “intimidating” someone is not a crime in either the UK or the US. It would have to involve some kind of unlawful act like fraud (in the legal sense — not just ordinary lying) or a threat of violence in order to be a criminal matter. If a woman is coerced into a certain kind of behavior through threats of ostracism from her family or religious community, there isn’t much the government can do about it.

  34. Posted August 22, 2013 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    Guys, I need some help in a discission a oit a book review over at Amazon. It has nothing to do with this particular post from Jerry, but it’s about evolution. I have a really hard time with people who don’t accept evolution and calls it a faith. This is what is happening by a Jeriame Zensayer here:


    There on page 19 there is my (a Martin) latest two posts from August 21st, then comes his two long posts of quotes and ideas that tries to degrade evolution.

    Anybody with an Amazon accoint and some time care to chime in? I just thing it’s frustrating that people like him wanders the Earth thinking they’re smarter than they are… 😦

  35. Posted August 22, 2013 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    Sorry for mistypes in my above post. I’m on a tablet and it’s quite late here…

  36. Howard Kornstein
    Posted August 22, 2013 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    I do hope that all my chums of the leftish persuasion do take note of the fact that The Spectator, which is the journal making such a strong stand for Dawkins, is a political magazine of strong right wing orientation – indeed it shares ownership with the Telegraph (which our illustrious leader Jerry often enjoys calling The Torygraph). I only point this out because of the standard assumption that only those of the left have any atheistic or humanistic tendencies. Wrong! Of course we all believe that putting people into boxes is a very irrational thing to do, eh brothers and sisters?

    • lisa parker
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      Absolutely! Never generalize!

  37. Posted August 23, 2013 at 2:16 am | Permalink

    The Muslim Arbitration Tribunals cannot override UK law – the rulings must conform to UK law and cannot contravene UK law. If they do so then they are breaking the law. Both parties to a dispute can voluntarily agree that the arbitration ruling will be “contractually” binding. But no contract is binding if it breaks the law – if it breaks UK law the contract is null and void. Individuals have an inalienable right to challenge the arbitration rulings in a law court, and that right is codified in article 58 of the Arbitration Act. I agree that that if there are examples of UK courts enforcing illegal (or even unfair) arbitration rulings then would be a serious problem – if it were to happen.

    On a broader point, is it not better to have formal, official Muslim Aribration Tribunals operating under UK law, as other religious groups have, rather than excluding Muslims from officail processes, which would probably lead to informal, unofficial “Muslim Courts” springing up, and operating outside UK law? I would suggest that the Brits are playing a long game, and that they know exactly what they are doing here.

    • Howard Kornstein
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 6:52 am | Permalink

      “If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble,… “the law is a ass—a idiot.”

  38. Posted August 23, 2013 at 2:48 am | Permalink

    While Sharia law has no legal standing in Britain, as many have said, we should still be ashamed. Our government likes to pretend that Sharia courts are a choice, but there are many women who are unable to choose for obvious reasons. First, they are intimidated by family and fear of community shunning. Second, there are many Muslim women in Britain who can not speak English. Third, many will not understand that they have a choice at all.

    We should be doing more to protect these women and give them a voice.

    • Howard Kornstein
      Posted August 23, 2013 at 7:35 am | Permalink

      Absolutely right latsot.
      I once met such a young lady, an ex-Muslim, at a meeting of our local London Skeptics group. After much soul-searching and emotional turmoil she turned from her religion and became, “out of rational self-struggle” as I remember she put it, an atheist and a humanist. Her family have disowned her, she is a pariah for them and many of her old neighbours. I wonder how many of us, who made our own far less traumatic break with our families religion, would have the bravery to do this.
      Anyhow, what she said that she now finds particularly painful and frustrating are those apologists who excuse the excesses of the Muslim faith, particularly in the subjugation of women, in terms of cultural relativism… and who are willing to make exceptions that pander to such abuse.

  39. Posted August 23, 2013 at 5:58 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Write Idea.

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