It seems that hardly a week goes by without some sort of debate about the Shariah or the discussion of the Shariah in the editorials of leading newspapers – frequently the Shariah is labelled as barbaric.
Following the comments of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, there was a vicious attack on the Shariah by politicians and journalists. Similar propaganda was seen following the detention of British schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons in Sudan and the media often examines the alleged implementation of Shariah in Nigeria, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran, amongst others.
The attacks on the Shariah became more pronounced since the advent of the “war on terror” – leading politicians of the West like the former British Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, said that the West would not negotiate over the implementation of Shariah law – others have sought to depict it as backward, medieval and oppressive. The leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, even went as far as comparing those Muslims who advocate Shariah to the British National Party.
While attacking the Shariah, many in the West have sought to assert the superiority of its own civilisation. Shortly after 9/11, the Italian PM Berlusconi said, “We must be aware of the superiority of our civilisation, a system that has guaranteed – in contrast with Islamic countries – respect for religious and political rights”. At the same time a writer in the International Herald Tribune wrote that, “Islamic society, the West’s equal at the time of the European Renaissance, failed to make the transition to a modern society…Islam since 1914 has failed to make a serious intellectual response to the modern West. Culture and intelligence, not power, decide the quality of societies.”
Is this superiority warranted? Has the West’s success been so huge that it can claim that its values and ideology are a panacea for the masses? While Western scientists have certainly made progress in the field of medicine, science and technology, has the West been able to produce stability, happiness and tranquillity in its societies?
The Crime Epidemic
The well known cases of criminality in the West are undoubtedly a shocking indictment of Western society. However to focus on the likes of Harold Shipman, Josef Fritzl or Fred and Rosemary West would lead to the defence that these were isolated cases of psychopathic individuals who exist in every civilisation. Although this is debatable, it is better to therefore focus on the wider picture to establish the West’s record of nurturing harmony and security in its societies.
The record of Western governments in creating security for their citizens is appalling. Crime continues to spiral out of control and despite a plethora of Government statistics the public is not reassured. While statistics may suggest that knife crime is relatively stable, that is neither the perception or practical experience of millions. While Mark Twain wrote of “lies, damned lies and statistics” he would have written of “lies, damned lies, statistics and Home Office statistics” had he lived in twenty first century Britain. It is well known that many people do not bother to report crime and some incidents of crime are not even properly recorded, even when reported.
Even these unreliable statistics show that one offence involving a knife is committed every 24 minutes of the day – on average, there are 175 robberies at knife-point in England and Wales every day. In the first half of 2008, twenty teenagers have been stabbed to death on the streets of London. On Thursday 10th July four men were stabbed to death in London alone.
The Youth Justice Board says that a third of 11- to 16-year-olds “occasionally” carry a knife. The average age of homicide victims overall has been falling. In May 2008, the Old Bailey heard that 14-year-old Martin Dinnegan had died last June after exchanging “dirty looks” with another group of boys; a victim of what the prosecuting QC called “the growing scourge of urban posturing”. Two members of a gang interviewed on Sky News said, “If you kill someone that just makes you bigger or something,”
Crime figures show that annually there are over one million thefts of cars or from cars, nearly one million burglaries, and almost three-quarters of a million violent crimes. It is no exaggeration to say that crime has become a normal and expected feature of daily life in Western societies. Crime is not the preserve of the lower socio-economic classes or particular ethnic minorities but occurs at all levels of capitalist society – the massive financial scandals at Enron and WorldCom were crimes on a much higher level than those committed by petty thieves and shoplifters.
The use of illicit drugs is also out of control. 1 in 10 teenagers smoke cannabis daily and three-quarters of people in the UK say drugs are a problem in their area, according to a BBC survey. The value of the illegal drugs market in the UK is put at £5bn a year, and the cost of drug-related crime in England and Wales is estimated at more than £13bn.
Off the streets, each year there are over 100,000 domestic violence incidents in London alone. 2 women a week are killed in the UK as a result of domestic violence. Alarmingly some surveys have shown that as many as 1 in 5 young men in the UK believe that abuse or violence towards women is acceptable (Zero Tolerance Charitable Trust, 1998). Every minute of every day in the UK, police receive a call from the public for help at the scene of domestic violence – however only about 35 per cent of violence is reported. 1 in 20 women has been raped in the UK and over the last few years there has been a reported 82 % increase in the amount of rape in the UK, although the Home Office says this is due to a new way of collecting statistics. Alarmingly, the conviction rate for rape is only 7 %.
What can be done?
It would seem that the crime epidemic cannot be stemmed – superficial and patchwork solutions are proposed by politicians including self-defence classes, neighbourhood watch projects, improved street lighting and the electronic tagging of offenders. In response to the latest wave of stabbings, the British Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, outlined her plans to tackle the problem, including the suggestion that offenders could visit stabbing victims in hospital as part of their rehabilitation. The Government’s crime tsar, Louise Casey, suggested that people undertaking community sentences should be marked out by wearing high visibility bibs. The solutions tend to swing like a pendulum between harsher punishments and community rehabilitation – however whichever way the pendulum swings, the crime epidemic continues unabated.
The predominance of man-made systems throughout the world has led to the belief by some that the laws need to be constantly changing – this is a fallacy and is nothing more than an illustration of the weakness of man-made systems and ideologies. After shooting massacres like those at Dunblane, Columbine High School or Virginia Tech, there are always calls for the tightening of gun controls or even the banning of firearms. Similarly, after the recent spate of knife killings in London, the UK government announced £3 million of funding for an “anti-knife campaign”. Responding to the recent series of knife attacks, one medical expert, Dr. Mike Beckett, went as far as to argue that it is time to remove sharp knives from kitchens altogether. He says there is no need for the pointed tips that make knives fatal. “What people want in a kitchen knife is the edge,” he told the BBC. “The point on the end of the knife actually serves little culinary purpose, but it is the point that kills people.” However, the banning of knives or other weapons does nothing to address the underlying values that have led to an epidemic of crime. In reality there are many objects which can be used to kill – guns and knives are common examples but cricket bats, baseball bats, cars, metal bars, chemical gases and even planks of wood can be used to kill.
It also appears that many of the solutions proposed seem almost absurd. The government minister, Hazel Blears, has said in the past that alcohol accounts for 44 per cent of violent crime. In order to tackle this, what did the government propose? 24 hour opening for pubs and clubs. Similarly, the issue of problem gambling was identified – the solution included the relaxation of gambling laws and the opening of super casinos. This was despite a confidential police report that noted that these changes would increase antisocial behaviour and divert police resources, increase organised crime and money laundering and increase access to gambling for children and vulnerable groups. While the government bans the so-called ‘glorification of terrorism’ to silence critics of its colonialist foreign policy, it does nothing about the glorification of knives, guns, drugs and sexual violence by the entertainment industry.
The entrepreneurial spirit has led many to take advantage of the crime wave that characterises capitalist nations; sales of security systems and CCTV have never been better, insurance companies have never made more money and martial arts clubs are overflowing with new recruits. Almost every house in the country is equipped with sophisticated door viewers, latches, infra-red halogen lights, deadlocks, and the like to keep unwanted visitors at bay. Some have suggested better street lighting, kung fu classes for women and building inner cities with fewer places to hide for burglars.
There are differing opinions about the balance between punishment and rehabilitation. Some believe that burglars should do community service, whereas others argue that they ought to do time behind bars. However there is a consensus that nothing seems to work. Jails are 20 per cent overcrowded, with some prisons accommodating almost double the amount of inmates they were built for. In accordance with the entrepreneurial sentiments of capitalism most thieves go to jail not to be reformed, but rather to emerge with better ways of avoiding being caught, and much bigger schemes than mugging the local vicar. There seems to be no answer – if you jail them they end up staying in a school for criminals and become submerged in a life of crime – if they are not jailed, then there is no deterrent against committing crime.
Is there any real debate about the causes of these problems?
What is it that has led crime to spiral out of control? Britain, like other Capitalist nations, has been unable to deal with these problems in an effective manner. The solutions put forward fail to realise that the real cause of the crime epidemic is the underlying values that permeate throughout every facet of Western society – capitalism, individualism, materialism, personal freedom.
Western liberal values have a close association with the widespread mentality of instant sensual gratification, encapsulated by the famous Latin phrase, ‘Carpe Diem’, which roughly translates to “enjoy the present day”. As such, there is often little need to worry about the future or the consequences of one’s actions. Instant sensual gratification is what is required, and as much of it as possible. While one individual’s quest for sensual gratification may be realised through drugs and binge drinking, some try to find solace in fast cars and the acquisition of vast amounts of material wealth while others engage in ‘retail therapy’, building up large debts in the process.
The notion of being accountable only to oneself and that material wealth and sensual pleasure are the markers of success in life, make up the very fabric of the society we live in. Life is short – you live and then you die – so seek pleasure and avoid pain – you are free to do what you want. At the extreme end, it is this pursuit of pleasure, benefit and joy that drove the likes of Harold Shipman and Fred and Rosemary West to their actions.
It is this mentality that has turned Capitalist nations into jungles of wild animals in which the strong devour the weak and man degenerates to the level of the animal as a result of the unleashing his instincts and needs. Consequently rehabilitation is not just required of the individual but rehabilitation is required of all the values that are present within Capitalist societies. The root problem therefore is not drugs, illiteracy, social deprivation, poverty, crime or a decline in moral values – the real problem are these values. The drug causing the greatest addiction in the West is not heroin or even crack cocaine, but rather the slogan of freedom. It is a slogan behind which politicians hide whilst subjugating a society to their whims and desires.
Those who live in glass houses, shouldn’t throw stones
Muslims, whether in the West or the Islamic world, need to call into question the record of the West rather than developing an inferiority complex in the face of the barrage of propaganda that is spun about the Shariah.
The failure of the capitalist ideology to create harmony, tranquillity and security in Western societies cannot be in doubt. Despite this poor record, some Western politicians, journalists and thinkers are quick to criticise the Islamic Shariah, labelling it backward, regressive and unjust. This brings to mind Chaucer’s famous proverb – “Those who live in glass houses, shouldn’t throw stones”.