Tancredo’s “Jihad Prevention Act”

The perennially preposterous Tom Tancredo is moved to propose a new law:

Amid disturbing revelations that the verdicts of Islamic Sharia courts are now legally binding in civil cases in the United Kingdom, U.S. Representative Tom Tancredo (R-Littleton) moved quickly today to introduce legislation designed to protect the United States from a similar fate.

…Tancredo’s bill, dubbed the “Jihad Prevention Act,” would bar the entry of foreign nationals who advocate Sharia law. In addition, the legislation would make the advocacy of Sharia law by radical Muslims already in the United States a deportable offense.

So what counts as a “radical” Muslim? What counts as “advocacy” of Sharia law – would a non-polemical historical survey bar the author? What about US citizens who adopt such positons? What about other advocates of alternative, and repressive, religious-based legal systems (such as Christian Reconstructionists, to give the most obvious example)? etc. etc. Presumably we’re not supposed to ask about such details, lest we find ourselves accused of sympathy for Islamism.

The legal recognition of Sharia courts in the UK has inevitably been presented by the right as evidence of British “appeasement” of Islam; in fact, however, the courts’ new legal status is simply due to an already-existing legal provision concerning third-party arbitration. As the Daily Mail reported:

Islamic sharia law courts in Britain are exploiting a little-known legal clause to make their verdicts officially binding under UK law in cases including divorce, financial disputes and even domestic violence.

A new network of courts in five major cities is hearing cases where Muslims involved agree to be bound by traditional sharia law, and under the 1996 Arbitration Act the court’s decisions can then be enforced by the county courts or the High Court.

It should also be pointed out that the courts have no power to prescribe criminal penalties, although reports of the courts’ activities are certainly unencouraging: inheritances doled out unequally between male and female relatives, and women “persuaded” to drop complaints to the police about domestic violence. The obvious – and reasonable – fear is some women are agreeing to be bound by the courts’ decisions as a result of community and family pressure rather than giving true consent.

However, while the undesirability of this is being widely decried, what exactly should be done is less clear. Of course for Tancredo all that’s needed are some new repressive laws targeting immigrants, but that’s hardly a serious proposition in a free society. Perhaps in some cases anti-discrimination legislation can be brought to bear, but the simple truth is that undesirable things cannot be avoided in a free society.