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,
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?