Some of the weekend papers (Daily Mail,Daily Telegraph, Daily Express) covered the second reading of Baroness Caroline Cox’s Arbitration and Mediation Bill in the House of Lords last Friday headlining with the peer’s incendiary remark that ” in some [Muslim] communities with high polygamy and divorce rates, men may have up to 20 children each.”
The Bill, which Baroness Cox first introduced into the last Parliament was re-introduced on 1 June, following the 2015 general election. Baroness Cox has advanced the idea that the Bill is intended to assert the “primacy of English law” in relation to the operation of religious tribunals mandated under the Arbitration Act and to enhance gender equality, on the presumption that such religious tribunals, whether Shari’ah or Beth Din, neglect equality duties on gender equality in access to justice.
But the Bill has been mired in an exclusive, and at times, Islamophobic, debate about the role of Shari’ah tribunals with comments such as consent to mediation being likened to “consent to rape” and indeed, Baroness Cox’s own remarks that the proliferation of Shar’iah tribunals could lead to the “destruction of democracy” and “Brutal punishments like whipping and stoning becom[ing] widespread in Britain if Islamic Sharia law is allowed to thrive”.
Note that in the entire debate in the Lords last week, Shari’ah tribunals were mentioned 80 times in the course of the exchange on the floor of the House, but Beth Din courts, which operate on exactly the same legal privilege and which have been singled out for precisely the same criticisms about gender equality, were not mentioned once. Beth Din courts are used by British Jews, particularly Orthodox Jews, as means to settle civil disputes.
If there was any doubt that Cox’s Bill was anything other than another means for the Baroness to pursue her Islamophobic disposition, the debate in the Lords last week would certainly put paid to that.
Cox is of course no stranger to Islamophobic rhetoric. Last year, at a conference hosted in Israel she proclaimed that, “Islam is using the freedoms of democracy to destroy it.”
Her association with Islamophobe Anne Marie Waters, who contributed to a publication endorsed by the Baroness on Shari’ah tribunals, and the rabidly Islamophobic Gatestone Institute would be sufficient grounds to question her authority in discussing anything related to Islam and Muslims when her links point to disturbing affiliations with individuals and organisations which perpetuate anti-Muslim hatred. Her claims to be sympathetic to the mistreatment of Muslim women by Shari’ah tribunals is surely a sham when her associations point to more disreputable sympathies with leading players in the ‘Islamophobia industry’.
Baroness Cox’s most recent outburst is based on this nugget of authoritative information: She claims, “my Muslim friends tell me that in some communities with high polygamy and divorce rates, men may have up to 20 children each. Clearly, youngsters growing up in dysfunctional families may be vulnerable to extremism and demography may affect democracy.”
Apart from the permissive use of what is merely ‘anecdotal evidence’, the newspapers appear to have published her claims without scrutinising their basis more closely.
Indeed, one would be minded to ask, given the Baroness’s distasteful association with Islamophobes, whether her “Muslim friends” are “friends of Muslims”?
And one is also minded to ask, in regards to the press coverage of the Baroness’s remarks, if a similar outburst about Orthodox Jews would be given the same headline attention?