11 JANUARY 1992, Page 5



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It would be wrong to invest the so-called Muslim parliament, which met last week- end and called for selective disobedience of

British laws not congenial to Muslims, with any credibility. It is unelected, accountable to no one, and utterly unrepresentative of a broadly law-abiding and industrious section of British society. The opprobrium heaped upon its progenitor, Dr Kalim Siddiqui, by other Muslims is the best indication of how little regard he and his organisation have among his own people — let alone among the rest of the British. There is, though, a disturbing question raised by the decision of this collection of agitators to challenge our laws in seeming to want to stand out- side them: that is whether the social climate in Britain has through its permissiveness become one in which disregard for the law and for authority is more natural than respect for them.

It is very much in the British character (which, despite attempts by the witch- hunters of racialism to paint it otherwise, is essentially a tolerant and humorous one) to laugh off the actions of Dr Siddiqui and his friends. That does not, though, mean that we should be complacent about the reasons that persuaded them to call for limited civil disobedience in the withholding of payment of taxes. Ostensibly, this call was made because the Muslims involved were angry that the Government refuses to create vol- untary-aided schools for their faith. Since the Government has, rightly, no wish to encourage a system of separate develop- ment within our supposedly unified society, and since such schools would openly pursue such a philosophy (notably in the treatment of girls, who in the Muslim ideal are brought up in a manner quite different from that of their Christian sisters with 'equal opportunities'), this decision is entirely defensible. However, once Muslim extremists (or any other agitators, for that matter) note the effect that the anti-poll tax protesters had on the survival of that par- ticular policy, it is easy to understand why civil disobedience becomes increasingly attractive. A government cannot be seen to give in so readily to extra-parliamentary pressure on such an important issue as the financing of local government and then expect other fanatics, firing at apparently softer targets, not to fcci that they might profit by this anarchic example.

Britain has become a society in which many people are no longer shocked by defi- ance, or by the advocating of defiance, of the law as made by our democratically elected parliament. The responsibility for this degeneration belongs mainly to our governors, but it must be shared too among all those who form opinion and pontificate upon standards for behaviour in society — parents, teachers, the judiciary and magis- tracy, and even writers of leading articles in our liberal newspapers. There is a long his- tory of civil disobedience in Britain, from the time of the humbling of King John down to the antics of Mosley, and beyond. With the coming of universal suffrage and the welfare state, many Britons supposed the need for those with grievances to resort to such behaviour had passed: perhaps many Britons were wrong.

Some members of the Muslim parliament argued that many of the laws and customs of Britain — such as those to do with homosexuality, women's rights and the teaching of religion — were inimical to the interests of their community. They were, too, in the eyes of some Muslims, further proof that the moral base of British society was so weak as to make it, and the laws it supposedly underpins, unworthy of respect from upholders of so rigorously moral a faith as Islam. The reasoning is understand- able (and would, to a limited extent, be sympathised with by many Christians and Jews, not to mention many of the Tory MPs so aggrieved by Dr Siddiqui). What is at issue is the remedy of an 'opt-out' society that the Muslim parliament seems to be suggesting. While persisting in its admirable view of the superiority of our constitutional arrangements, and pointing out that the Muslim parliament's way is the way to anarchy, the Government should begin to address the fundamental problem of the growing inclination among the Queen's subjects to treat without any great regard some of the laws made in her name.

Governments are ill-equipped to give moral guidance, this Government (which was seen, whether it likes it or not, to have vindicated the poll-tax rioters of Trafalgar Square) more than most. The Church of England, as Archbishop Carey demonstrat- ed in his ill-considered remarks on the riots on Tyneside last year, is even less sound in its morality than the Government, which at least maintains a vague distinction between right and wrong. It must be left to individu- als to reconcile with their consciences what does, or does not, constitute morally defen- sible behaviour with regard to the law in a democratic society. All this, or any other, Government, can do is to insist that laws once made will only be unmade by the Gov- ernment of this, country acting in accor- dance with the mandate given it by the elec- tors of this country; and that, in the inter- ests of maintaining the Queen's Peace, those laws apply, and always will apply, to everybody in this kingdom.