I find it difficult to believe that Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had no idea of the furore he would create when, in an interview on Radio 4, he posited that the adoption of Sharia law in the UK was “unavoidable“. Clearly, as a man of faith, he is well accustomed to immersing himself in a land of the fantastical, but if he genuinely believed that someone in his position would be able to make such comments without provoking a maelstrom of media frenzy then he must have a very slender grasp on reality altogether.
How bizarre that the head of the Church of England should endorse the legitimacy of a legal and social framework of an entirely different – but equally absurd – religious belief. Talk about a lack of focus to the job at hand – I thought the first commandment specifically stipulates that there is only one god, yet here is the Archbishop of Canterbury implicitly stating that there is at least one other worthy of state recognition. Remember that the Church of England is officially the religion of the United Kingdom as defined by our constitutional arrangement because the reigning monarch (much to my never ending contempt) is both the head of state and the head of the church. So by arguing that Sharia law should also be recognized in some circumstances he is sanctioning much more than simple multicultural pluralism. By endorsing multiple constructs he is undermining our entire legal framework.
Now clearly the archbishop was not advocating the public beheadings, lashes and lopping off of limbs which is commonplace in the parts of the Middle East and Africa that adhere to a fundamentalist, savage and barbaric interpretation of Sharia law, but that doesn’t make his comments any more welcome in my view. With its Medieval views on women, sexuality and social mores it has no more relevance to modern Britain than the reintroduction of trial by ordeal to determine if someone is a witch or not. Its unsuitability to modernity is the official decree of the European Court of Human Rights, which regards Sharia as incompatible with democracy.
Indeed, the introduction of parallel legal systems is incompatible with common sense. The archbishop believes that it will be necessary for the social cohesion of people who find themselves torn between the practice of their faith and their requirement to live according to British law. Well, boo hoo. I could not disagree more strongly if my life depended on it. Surely we only have a hope of social cohesion if we live as one people under one rule of government and law, with no exceptions? Some have pointed to the existence of the Beth Din, which already settles matters on behalf of Orthodox Jews. Well, there should be no place for that either. Like I said, no exceptions. Where would it end? I know of another group of people who live their lives according to their own code and rules. They operate outside of state jurisdiction and, when their own codes are broken they deal with it internally to the exclusion of all others. They’re called the Mafia and the code they follow is Omertà. Shall we sanction the introduction of this, too? After all, it might help to assimilate some Sicilians who are struggling to adapt to the British way of life.
There is only one way to ensure social cohesion: one law – determined by an elected body, not a Stone Age text obsessed with beard length and the different ways of slaughtering beasts – applied universally to everyone in equal measure. Anyone who is unhappy with that arrangement is of course entirely free to live somewhere more to their choosing.
Thankfully, the archbishop’s thoughts do not seem to be shared by the majority of British Muslim opinion so this teacup will soon be without a storm. For the time being, anyway.
I pretty much agree with you there CS.
But one small point I have to make is that both Islam and Christianity believe in the same God, and so Williams wasn’t advocating the recognition of another almighty. Both are mono-theism’s, therefore the disagreement is about what god really means, who he loves and what his address is, etc.
There is also the fact that Islam is pretty much based on Christianity and can be considered an offshoot. Muslims think that Mohammed was the ‘last’ prophet of god, as opposed to Jesus, who is no longer on speaking terms with the man upstairs.
As to Williams expectation of the backlash he’d receive for these comments, I agree, there is no way he didn’t see this coming. I’m not entirely convinced that this is not what he wanted. You see, in some respects Williams seems like quite an intelligent bloke (doesn’t mind gay clergy), and I find it difficult to comprehend how an intelligent person could also be truly religious. I think he probably sees his role as one of a social harmoniser, he’s there to make sure that everyone is happy, cosy, and has a nice scone to go with their tea. And to this end, i think he was simply trying to placate many muslims who think that Britain has it in for them and that the west in general is engaging in a war with Islam. It’s very difficult to hold such beliefs when the head of the church of England is inviting you in through the front door. I think Williams may believe that lives could be saved by his words.
Ridiculous as his comments may have been and despite the fact that I’m almost physically sickened by the idea of any infringement on the state by religion (be it CofE or Islam), I can’t help but think that the old fella may have been trying to do something clever and that the politicians who are publicly scolding him are secretly thanking him.
Yes, I was being facetious with the “two gods” comment but it’s still a tad contradictory for the leader of the CofE to be exploring ways to assimilate followers of a religion that, by definition, he has to believe is wrong. And if he doesn’t think they’re wrong, then what does he believe?
Perhaps you’re right, perhaps he doesn’t believe any of this old guff anyway and he’s more interested in social engineering. He is, by his own admission, a “hairy lefty”. Either way, I think this ill advised foray could cost him his job.
Anyone who thought that multiculturalism was the way forward (and I would say anyone who has voted New Labour or Liberal in the last decade) should accept that the introduction of differing judicial systems to represent different cultures is emminently sensible. If these folk balk at the idea then one can only imagine they embraced multiculturalism in state of stupidity or never really liked the idea, but thought it made them look trendy.
On a slightly different tack I like the idea that local communities can sort out their own problems without keep going winging to The State. Unfortunately howvere we have now such a diverese population that the state will have to ineterfere more and more just to keep a sense of equaity.
Speaking personally, I used to consider “multiculturalism” the idea of celebrating and embracing the idea of people from different countries and cultures living in one place, in harmony and with tolerance of others. That’s the ideal for me.
But when you get cultural ghettoisation and the marked reluctance of some groups to assimilate into general British society then you realise what a pernicious idea it has become and the price we are now paying in some areas.
Talk of different legal systems for different religions and cultures is dangerous nonsense. In all honesty. I don’t believe Williams was arguing for the wholesale introduction of competing legal systems but I still think what he is proposing should be unequivocally condemned and dispatched forever.