European Commission President Manuel Barroso and President of the European Parliament Hans Gert Pőttering hosted a lunch in Brussels on Friday 26 June 2009 with philosophical non-confessional organizations in the Commission’s efforts towards strengthening European values. Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, was among the guests. Keith is also an International Representative of IHEU. Porteous Wood spoke of the worrying trends prevalent at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. His greatest concern was the undermining of Universal Human Rights by the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam being strongly promoted by the Islamic states.
Presented as “complementary” to the Universal Declaration, the Cairo Declaration is no such thing, referring exclusively to the Islamic Sharia as its sole source of interpretation. He also referred to attempts to set up alternative Muslim human rights monitoring mechanisms. Freedom of expression was also under growing threat from the Islamic states and their allies. He cited the recurrent attempts to outlaw defamation of religion worldwide – a kind of super blasphemy law that would remove religion from criticism. Indeed, any mention of Sharia had been banned in the Council other than by so-called religious experts.
A further concern raised with President Barroso by Porteous Wood was the growing pressure on Muslims in the UK to use so-called “official Muslim Arbitration Tribunals” rather than the established justice mechanisms. He said that those using these tribunals often did not know they had alternatives. Women were particularly vulnerable as they are forced to submit to these tribunals yet Islamic law treats women less favourably than men. It was essential, he said, that there was One Law for All in every country: and that the law must be democratically established and human rights compliant. Sharia law demonstrably failed that test, he said.
Mr Porteous Wood pointed to the positive experience in Canada, where some provinces troubled about these issues had outlawed all kinds of religious arbitration in recent years. (See http://www.secularism.org.uk/uploads/shariainontario.pdf) He asked President Barroso to consider similar measures for the EU.
In his concluding address, President Barroso acknowledged these concerns and said that he would give the matter further thought. The National Secular Society presented him with a copy of Civitas’s newly published One Law for All which sets out these concerns in more detail and admirable clarity, and Porteous Wood proposed a vote of thanks to President Barroso for a most fruitful meeting.
Following the meeting, Mr Porteous Wood said that the problem of burgeoning Sharia law tribunals, always run by men, is becoming more acute in the United Kingdom, and the need for action has become urgent, concluding: “Shamefully, neither the Government, Parliament or the judiciary are prepared to take on Sharia law for fear of upsetting Muslim leaders. This is a betrayal of those forced to be subject to these laws, which have no place in a modern democratic society.”
Keith’s comments on Sharia were picked up in a mass circulation UK newspaper, the Mail on Sunday on 5 July 2009: http://www.mailonsunday.co.uk/news/article-1197478/Sharia-law-UK–How-Islam-dispensing-justice-side-British-courts.html