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Saturday 9 February 2008
Letters: Religion and US politics
Don't write off the power of religion to sway US elections
Sir: Mary Dejevsky suggests that the success of the somewhat religiously neutral Republican candidate, John McCain, might signal the end of the dominance of Christian fundamentalism in American politics ("We are seeing a return to the politics of America before Bush – and about time too", 7 February).
There are, believe it or not, a lot of citizens of the US who would like to think she is right. But, unfortunately, the obituary she wrote may have been premature.
Most of the religious right in the US are more concerned with power than religion, and their goal is, simply put, to take over completely. They are well on their way. No politician, Democrat or Republican, can get anywhere without paying homage to them. Even if the economy fails, the Democratic candidates will have to pray publicly at every breakfast they eat between now and the election to have a hope of winning.
The rise of Mike Huckabee (a nut who believes Darwin was one) with his poorly funded campaign is proof enough that the Christian right is alive and well. There is substantial evidence that he and McCain are already working together. Huckabee could well end up as vice-president to President McCain, who is no spring chicken. The game would be nearly over.
Moderate people in America have not given up entirely, but they have grown weary of trying to reason with a group that knows it is absolutely correct on every point and answers every rational argument with a quote from the Bible.
Corvallis, Oregon, USA
Archbishop sparks debate on sharia and secular law
Sir: The introduction of self-governance for British Muslim communities in the form of sharia law would prove disastrous for social cohesion.
The Archbishop of Canterbury overlooks the fact that British Muslims are not a homogeneous community; they are divided along numerous lines, such as ethnicity, cultural practices, geographical origins and, most importantly, their interpretation of basic Islamic principles, often with stark differences over sharia law and its practical implications for the lives of Muslims.
Many components of sharia law also contradict the civil liberties and basic human rights that are enjoyed by British Muslims under the Western secular and liberal democratic system. Any introduction of sharia law would almost certainly lead to the curtailment of women's rights in cases such as inheritance, reducing their share to less than half of what a male heir would expect. Similarly the testimony of a woman would be valued at half of that of a man in a sharia court. Modern forensic evidence, DNA technology and CCTV footage would be deemed inadmissible, should a case of alleged adultery be under trial; instead, the court would have to rely solely on the testimony of four credible male witnesses.
The majority of British Muslims, who have come to realise the benefits of living under the existing British justice system, will certainly resist any imposition of an alternative justice system that is based not on logic, science and equality but on twisted interpretation of religious text and ideas.
Dr Shaaz Mahboob
Sir: The Archbishop of Canterbury must be applauded for his support of sharia law in the UK.
The misconstrued image of sharia is unfortunate and many individual Muslims and even Muslim countries can be blamed for aggravating this. Sharia is the fundamental way of life for every Muslim and up and down the country and throughout the world it is being followed meticulously to provide justice in people's lives. The Archbishop's comments are brave but realistic. Muslims as a minority community in multicultural Britain will implement sharia in their lives whether that is recognised by common law or not.
This does not mean that Muslims are working against the law, but rather sharia is used to ease the lives of Muslims and complement the British justice system. Recognition would enable clarity and proper regulation of the now informal systems, rather than the much-feared deterioration to the just principles of the laws of this land.
Goldsmiths Islamic SocietyLondon SE14
Sir: The Archbishop of Canterbury said "accommodation with" rather than "imposition of" sharia law.
This already occurs in some areas such as mortgages. Strict Muslims should not borrow money and pay interest. It is already possible to have a sharia mortgage, whereby the bank buys and owns the house and the "mortgagee" contracts to rent the property for a fixed period, after which tenure transfers to them. This means stamp duty should be payable twice, at purchase and at transfer of tenure, but UK law has reached an accommodation by reducing this to once.
Where is the problem? Let's not get overheated, envisaging the amputation of the hands of thieves and all women having to cover their faces.
Sir: Can someone explain to me why highly intelligent people such as the Archbishop of Canterbury can be so incredibly stupid at times? Has the Archbishop never heard of the expressions "When in Rome do as the Romans do" (Saint Ambrose) and "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" (Matthew 22:21)? Both seem to me good manners and common sense.
What possible reason is there why we should ignore these injunctions and change British laws to incorporate sharia laws? If I chose to emigrate to a Muslim country, I would expect to have to obey Islamic laws. If a Muslim comes to the UK, they must surely expect to obey our laws. What is wrong with that?
Sir: After this latest fruitiness from the Archbishop of Canterbury, perhaps those who have so far opposed the disestablishment of the Anglican Church might now consider changing their views. Disestablishment is inevitable anyway, so can we now please just get on with it and let the dear old Anglican Church go on its batty way?
Sir: Some politicians have said that there should be one law in Britain, and it should be the one made by Parliament. This admirable response echoes quite precisely the views put forward by Marsilius of Padua (d 1342) against papal claims to intervene in states and their laws. In his significantly titled The Defender of the Peace, Marsilius argued that the only source of valid legislation is the association of citizens (universitas civium), based on their own calculations of their interests.
What is most repugnant to me, as I think it was to Marsilius, is the idea that rules purporting to come from God by revelation should have any standing whatsoever in a state. One wonders if that was not the very point that attracted the Archbishop of Canterbury's support.
Politics Programme, University of Dundee
Sir: The many politicians and others who have responded to the Archbishop's speech by saying that it is "impossible" to have two systems of law operating in the same country do not take account of examples that exist.
The most obvious instance, and one with which I am familiar, is Malaysia, where the minority non-Muslim population are not subject to sharia law. While Malaysia retains the Western legal system handed down by Britain at its centre, the majority Muslim community, in varying degrees according to locality, is required to conform to Islamic law.
No one in Malaysia thinks of these arrangements as perfect, but they most certainly exist. They are not "impossible".
Sir: Thomas Addison once quoted a Scottish proverb: "An ounce of mother-wit is worth a pound of clergy". The latest pronouncement of the Archbishop of Canterbury suggests that the exchange rate has been subject to considerable inflation over the years.
Sir: The Archbishop's remark that the adoption of sharia law in the UK is unavoidable is about as helpful as Private Frazer's "We're doomed – we're all doomed!"
Wakefield, West Yorkshire
Sir: Lord John Russell, making a speech in the Commons, once saw fit to quote in aid the then Archbishop of Canterbury. The Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, leant over the peers' gallery and, in a piercing whisper audible to all, said: "The Archbishop of Canterbury is a damn fool, Johnny."
Sir: I don't understand why people are objecting to the Archbishop of Canterbury's suggestions. I think forum-shopping for preferred aspects of different legal systems is a splendid idea. Where do I sign up for the Cayman Islands' tax laws?
Afghanistan is now ruled by gangsters
Sir: I support wholeheartedly your efforts to save the life of Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, a journalist sentenced to death by an Islamic court in Afghanistan for downloading an article about women's rights, who had the courage to expose the hypocrisy and the dictatorial mentality of an undemocratic regime. Hamid Karzai's weak and unstable position has obliged him to share power with the most detestable war lords and criminals, using Islam and religion as a cover for their archaic tribal customs.
Democracy in Afghanistan is a sham. There is no law and order. It is a lawless country ruled by local and foreign gangsters.
Imperial occupation powers have always created more divisions and disunity, more chaos and turmoil, more hunger, misery and poverty among the people under occupation. When people are poor, weak and vulnerable, they are easy prey for warlords and bigoted mullahs.
Mushtaque Khan Kayani
MPs' hypocrisy on the prison bugging
Sir: It takes one of their own being bugged to make our Parliamentarians worry about the impact on the rest of us of surveillance laws a majority of them voted for. I look forward to the day the first MP is detained for 42 days without charge to see something done about another creeping attack on our liberty.
Philip C James
Sir: David Davis and the Conservative front bench have made an issue of the bugging of a Labour MP by the police. Their cynical opportunism has put national security at risk, besides undermining the police in their fight against all kinds of crime.
Lower leagues have some great football
Sir: From a football point of view, the proposals to schedule Premier League games overseas are a nonsense, but, of course, football has nothing to do with it (8 February).
Perhaps now is the time for supporters of Premier League teams finally to realise that their clubs care little or nothing for them. This afternoon, I shall be at Griffin Park, where I have been going for many years, to watch Brentford play Shrewsbury Town in League Two. There is plenty of good, exciting football from Championship level down.
Those who disagree with these proposals should give up on the money-grabbers and go where they will really be appreciated.
Sir: I was interested and amused to see that the Premier League's website item on overseas games carries a prominent advert for the Government's carbon-footprint calculator. Does this mean we can expect the clubs to be offsetting the additional carbon emissions that this proposal will inevitably lead to?
Kingston upon Thames
Deportation is our loss
Sir: Damilola Ajagbonna (report, 6 February) seems to have exactly the qualities that we should be encouraging in this country – so we deport him. Ah, well, Britain's loss will be Nigeria's gain. Or perhaps not; I foresee a scholarship to Harvard and America's gain.
Too much tooth care
Sir: It's not just the liberal use of botox that is affecting film stars' acting abilities (Johann Hari, 7 February). What about the fortunes they must be spending on cosmetic dentistry? James Mangold's otherwise excellent remake of 3.10 to Yuma, set some 150 years ago, lost most of its credibilty for me when the girl serving in the saloon in a fly-blown one-horse town flashed a set of teeth at Russell Crowe that any young woman today would die for.
Sir: With reference to nest-building blue tits ("Animal kingdom puts in an early appearance", 5 February), they are actually a little late. On my walk to the paper shop on 4 January, I was interested to see a pair of magpies about halfway through building a nest. However, this did strike me as a little optimistic. I also have a great many bees feasting on our winter-flowering clematis.
Making radio waves
Sir: BBC Radio 3 is for grown-ups with highbrow tastes; BBC Radio 4 ("In a class of its own", 8 February) is for grown-ups with middle-brow tastes; all other British stations are for grown-ups who have psychological problems in accepting that they have passed the age of 16 (except of course for Classic FM, which is for Hyacinth Bucket).
Price of cheap chickens
Sir: Tesco should come clean on why it has reduced the price of its standard chicken to £1.99. When sales of higher-welfare and free-range chicken leapt following the TV coverage of chicken production, Tesco had to apologise for its empty shelves. Reducing the price of standard chicken is a sure way of shifting a product when demand has fallen. Instead of providing families on a tighter budget with more choice, Tesco is actually widening the divide between high and low welfare.
RSPCA, Senior Farm Animal ScientistJohn Callaghan, Director of programmes, Compassion in World Farming Horsham, West Sussex
Misappliance of science
Sir: Having seen the latest pictures of the "scientific" study of whales (8 February), I shall be very wary of any Japanese sociologists.
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