Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
2008.02.09: Pretty Much My Take on the Archbishop of Canterbury's Calls For Islamic Law in the United Kingdom, From a Recent Exchange

For some reason, this issue, which was rather explosive in the UK, seemed not to be covered at all by the American media. In very short form: Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and (thus) head of the Church of England, gave a speech in which he predicted that the adoption of some parts of sharia (Islamic religious law) within the UK were "inevitable", and suggested exploring a "constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law as we already do with aspects of other kinds of religious law."

Two excellent pieces on why this is an atrocious idea can be found in the Independent. One is by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: What He Wishes on Us is an Abomination, in which she writes, "Many women, gay men and dissidents came to Britain to escape Islamic tyrants and their laws. Dr Williams supports those laws and, by default, makes the refugees victims again." Another is a leading article which has to point out the blindingly obvious: "In a liberal and open society all citizens must be equal before the laws of the nation."

Here was my intemperate response, on the day – when a friend wrote, excited about Williams' ideas.


■■■■■■■■ ■■■■■■■ wrote:
> I am agog to know what you think about what
> I consider to be one of the braver, though
> politically fraught, interventions of a
> Christian cleric into national life that I
> can remember.

Two words: For shame.


> I suppose that if all religious tradition is merely
> heteronomy, i.e., the wholesale and unambiguous
> abdication of responsible humanity, then any space made
> for religious tradition (in fact, any human tradition at
> all) will seem akin to some kind of demonic "theocracy".

That's bullshit, though. Theocracy is a word with a
definition, which I suggest you reference. It needn't
have a scary modifier to be scary. And, much more to the
point, there's an enormous space made for religion -
it's called the private sphere. Hugely ironically,
this space is protected (for religion) by a tradition
which you egregiously assault by trying to inject
religion into the public sphere. Reference that, too:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberalism

Then again, this is your country, and I can always
retreat to what may end up being the last refuge of
liberalism and Enlightenment values. And, speaking of
values, it sadly seems that at a certain point they
actually become irreducible - and inarguable. Either you
believe in things like equal justice under the law and
secular government, or you believe in some other things.


> In defence of the archbishop, he went out of his way in
> the interview (and no doubt the lecture) to stress he
> was not suggesting abandoning or even weakening the
> overarching universality of British law, and related
> traditions of human rights, for all British citizens.

In defence of the archbishop - whose essay evidently
only one of us has read - he wasn't being evil, merely
horrendously, clownishly wooly-headed. And I for one
don't give a damn if he steps down or rides it out until
he's the last congregant of the state church (which I
probably needn't underscore was set up for the connubial
convenience of tyrants). But whether or not Britons
repudiate his suggestions will tell a lot of the tale
for the future of this country.

mf

Addendum: Britons – in the form of the media, politicians, the person on the street, and even other church leaders – have seemed to move overwhelmingly to confront and repudiate Williams' ideas. The net effect seems to me to be positive: increased understanding that 7th-century religious dictates have no place in the laws of a free society.

Additional Addendum: As usual, it was worth waiting for the Great Polemicist to weigh in. In To Hell with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Christopher Hitchens argues,

Picture the life of a young Urdu-speaking woman brought to Yorkshire from Pakistan to marry a man – quite possibly a close cousin – whom she has never met. He takes her dowry, beats her, and abuses the children he forces her to bear. She is not allowed to leave the house unless in the company of a male relative and unless she is submissively covered from head to toe. Suppose that she is able to contact one of the few support groups that now exist for the many women in Britain who share her plight. What she ought to be able to say is, "I need the police, and I need the law to be enforced." But what she will often be told is, "Your problem is better handled within the community." And those words, almost a death sentence, have now been endorsed and underwritten – and even advocated – by the country's official spiritual authority…

You might argue that I am describing an extreme case (though, alas, now not an uncommon one), but it is the principle of equality before the law that really counts. And just look at how casually this sheep-faced English cleric throws away the work of centuries of civilization:
[A]n approach to law which simply said "there's one law for everybody and that's all there is to be said, and anything else that commands your loyalty or allegiance is completely irrelevant in the processes of the courts" – I think that's a bit of a danger.
In the midst of this dismal verbiage and euphemism, the plain statement – "There's one law for everybody and that's all there is to be said" – still stands out like a diamond in a dunghill. It stands out precisely because it is said simply, and because its essential grandeur is intelligible to everybody. Its principles ought to be just as intelligible and accessible to those who don't yet speak English, in just the same way as the great Lord Mansfield once ruled that, wherever someone might have been born, and whatever he had been through, he could not be subject to slavery once he had set foot on English soil. Simple enough?


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about
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (2014); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of spec-ops zombie apocalypse dark action thrillers. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

You can reach him on .

THE MANUSCRIPT by Michael Stephen Fuchs
PANDORA'S SISTERS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
DON'T SHOOT ME IN THE ASS, AND OTHER STORIES by Michael Stephen Fuchs
D-BOYS by Michael Stephen Fuchs
COUNTER-ASSAULT by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book One - Fortress Britain, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN, Book Two - Mogadishu of the Dead, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN : Genesis, by Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Three - Three Parts Dead, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Four - Maximum Violence, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Five - EXODUS, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book Six - The Horizon, by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
ARISEN Book , by Glynn James & Michael Stephen Fuchs
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