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paranoid theory of the week :: are parts of britain living under de facto sharia law?

it sounds too crazy to be true. or it sounds too crazy to not be true. are there really areas of london, one of the world's great cities, a centre since roman times, origin of the vast majority of white, western culture, where even the duly appointed police are afraid to tread?

this is one of those rumours that has implications beyond being "true" or "false". if true, it is surely an indication that democratically elected governments have skewed so far in the direction of accommodation that they've ceded power to local "warlords", religious extremists bent on exterminating ideas different than theirs, even if those ideas are the prevailing ones in the country at large. if false, it is an ugly example of the most ignorant sort of racism, perpetrated with the informed consent of mass media in britain and elsewhere.

what i'm saying is, there's no way you're going to feel good about the end result, no matter what we discover.

the theory ::
there are areas of london where islamic religious patrols form the de facto police, enforcing sharia law and where actual law enforcement feel unable to perform their duties.

the origin ::
this has been kicking around for a while, especially since september 11, 2001 when... ok, i'm just going to assume that i don't have to explain what happened on that date. my point is that stories about muslim-only enclaves in britain, france, germany and all over western europe started to emerge in the wake of events that day. parties like france's front national and the u.k.'s britain first have made political hay by sharing stories of the dangers of cultural conflict that arise when too many members of a very different racial and cultural group are allowed to immigrate into generally white, western, democratic countries like britain and france. american journalist daniel pipes claims that his articles in 2006 were the first ones to comprehensively deal with "no-go" zones for non-muslims in europe, however, since he's actually gone to those zones, he's backed off on his claims.

but the theory gained a lot more visibility earlier this year when fox news guest steve emerson claimed that there were areas of britain, including the entire city of birmingham, that were operating under sharia law at that very moment.



fox and emerson later backtracked like a videotape being rewound [just ask your parents what that means], but the idea got a phenomenal amount of coverage.

the believers ::
hard to gauge. the daily mail, the right-oriented newspaper who have pushed the story the most in the united kingdom, and fox news, their american television cognate, have big audiences. that's really as specific as i can be. former louisiana governor bobby jindal repeated the fox news claim as fact. the other republican guy, the one with the opinions and the hair, hedged a little, saying that there were areas that were so radical, police feared for their lives.

the bad guys ::
conservative muslims.

the evidence ::
well... how about video of actual people being abused in the whitechapel district of london?



that's not the only video, either. in 2013, a group calling itself "the truth about saturday night" posted multiple videos of men harassing passersby in east london, insulting women for their choice of clothing, knocking drinks out of people's hands and, as you see above, intimidating gay men who crossed their path. it's kind of hard to deny that there are so-called "sharia patrols" happening when the men doing them are posting the evidence themselves.

now, you could try to argue that those videos are faked, which is fine, things like that happen. but that hasn't been the general reaction. members of the london muslim community condemned the videos, saying that such actions were unwelcome and that they would be monitoring the situation to try to prevent anything similar from happening.

in fact, three young men were arrested and convicted with regards to the videos and the "sharia patrols". they patrols themselves appeared to be the work of a group called al-muhajiroun an illegal extremist group led by a man named anjem choudary. they received sentences of between six months and two years in prison for their actions.

two of the men convicted for participating in the london sharia patrols
and it's that last part where the evidence kind of turns on itself. the videos of men conducting a "sharia patrol" exist, but so do the court records of them being detained by police and sentenced by the british court system. it's difficult to argue that these patrols have so much power that the police are afraid to enter their claimed neighbourhoods when the only people known to have engaged in such patrols were captured by the police.

it's a little unclear where the assertion that the police are afraid or unable to enter certain muslim-controlled zones originated. daniel pipes, who points to himself as the source of the claim, now denies that what he said- that there were/ are parts of major european cities over which their national governments had no control- was false. however, earlier this year, nigel farage, leader of the anti-immigration united kingdom independence party said that there were 750 zones in france that are "no-go" for non-muslims.

there is just the teensiest grain of truth there. let's give nigel the benefit of the doubt and say that he's misunderstood the french term "zones urbaines sensibles". literally translated, it means "sensitive urban areas". in practice, it means... well, it means exactly that. there are 750 zones, primarily in poor suburbs, designated as "sensitive" by the french government. that designation means that they are targeted for infrastructure repairs and increased spending on community resources. many of these zones are home to immigrants, not just muslims, but from all over, who aren't able to afford to live anywhere else. it doesn't mean that the police don't go there. it doesn't mean that sharia law has been imposed. all the designation is meant to indicate is that the government is aware that the area needs more attention.

pipes himself visited a number of these zones himself and had to admit that, far from lawless frontiers, the neighbourhoods seemed pretty tame, especially in comparison with the rougher areas around american cities.

the likelihood :: 0/10
the fact that there are men roaming around london on a saturday night recording themselves as they harass women and homosexuals doesn't mean anything other except that sexism and homophobia are still problems. if these individuals hadn't connected with choudary's vitriolic riff on religion, chances are they'd still be out harassing people on the streets of london anyway. all he's given them is a reason to feel like they're bullies for a higher power. [sort of like christian priests claim that those who bomb abortion clinics and murder doctors are doing god's will.]

and i believe that this sort of violence is a problem. i've written here before about my thoughts on outbursts of isis-inspired violence and the people who perpetrate it. but it only makes things worse when you try to make that violence and the anger behind it seem like something it isn't. and it makes things much worse when you try to use that to cast aspersions on a group of people.

if you're not convinced by what i've laid out here, you can also check out the argument from snopes, who likewise found that the claim had no merit.

[for what it's worth, i've been to the whitechapel area of london a few times, like any good acolyte of the jack the ripper murders. i had one of the best meals of my entire life at a bengali restaurant on brick lane and watched the rush as observant men headed into the mosque for afternoon prayer with a pint of beer in my hand. no one tried to assault me, which would have been pretty easy, since i was too full to move.]

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