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.