Friday, February 08, 2008

What Did the Archbishop of Canterbury Really Say?

Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has caught a lot of flak for saying that Sharia law should become the law of the land, that land being England. From reading the news reports and blogs one would think the Archbishop of Cantebury actually is advocating the adoption of the Islamic Shaira law and that Sharia's triumph over English Common Law is already a fait accompli. Nothing could be further from the truth. But we wouldn't know that without reading the lecture Dr. Williams presented at Lambeth Palace, February 7, 2008.

A commenter on the Times Online column, Article of Faith , Andrew Holden wrote, "The most that can really be said is that it's time [Dr] Rowan realised that he can't say anything complicated or difficult without overreaction and misrepresentation from those who can't be bothered to find out what he actually said and really engage with it."

You can read the Archbishops lecture at Indigo Continuum. Be warned, it is a long, dense, tradtional academic lecture chock full of arcanery.

There was another article the BBC had on its website, but all links to that story take the searcher to a different AoC story in which Williams is pilloried and expresses genuine surprise that his remarks should have caused such a ruckus. The following is the article that has essentially disappeared from the Internet in favor of the more inflammatory stories:

Brown 'rejects' Sharia law in UK

Downing Street has distanced Gordon Brown from the Archbishop of Canterbury's belief that some Sharia law in the UK seems "unavoidable".

The prime minister's spokesman said Mr Brown "believes that British laws should be based on British values".

Dr Rowan Williams told Radio 4's World at One the UK had to "face up to the fact" that some of its citizens do not relate to the British legal system.

He said adopting parts of Islamic Sharia law could help social cohesion.

For example, Muslims could choose to have marital disputes or financial matters dealt with in a Sharia court.

Dr Williams said Muslims should not have to choose between "the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty".

In an exclusive interview with BBC correspondent Christopher Landau, ahead of a lecture to lawyers in London later on Monday, Dr Williams argues this relies on Sharia law being better understood. At the moment, he says "sensational reporting of opinion polls" clouds the issue.

He stresses that "nobody in their right mind would want to see in this country the kind of inhumanity that's sometimes been associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states; the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women as well".

But Dr Williams said an 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".

"There's a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law, as we already do with some other aspects of religious law."

Dr Williams adds: "What we don't want either, is I think, a stand-off, where the law squares up to people's religious consciences."

"We don't either want a situation where, because there's no way of legally monitoring what communities do... people do what they like in private in such a way that that becomes another way of intensifying oppression inside a community."

Multiculturalism 'divisive'

Under English law, people may devise their own way to settle a dispute in front of an agreed third party as long as both sides agree to the process.

Muslim Sharia courts and the Jewish Beth Din which already exist in the UK come into this category.

Dr Williams' comments are likely to fuel the debate over multiculturalism in the UK.
Last month, one of Dr William's colleagues, the Bishop of Rochester, said that non-Muslims may find it hard to live or work in some areas of the UK.

The Right Reverend Dr Michael Nazir-Ali said there was "hostility" in some areas and described the government's multicultural policies as divisive.

He said there had been a worldwide resurgence of Islamic extremism, leading to young people growing up alienated from the country they lived in.

He has since received death threats and has been placed under police protection.
This is very important to the discussion: "Under English law, people may devise their own way to settle a dispute in front of an agreed third party as long as both sides agree to the process...Muslim Sharia courts and the Jewish Beth Din which already exist in the UK come into this category.

Also, the whole idea that Archbishop broached is not new in English law discoarse. The BBC program, Law in Action, aired "The end of one law for all?" in November 2006.

A number of parallel legal universes have been quietly evolving among minority communities. As well as Somali customary law, Islamic and Jewish laws are being applied and enforced in parts of the UK.

Islamic and Jewish law remains confined to civil matters. But the BBC's Law in Action programme has learned that the Somali court hears criminal cases too.

One of the most serious cases it has dealt with was the "trial" of a group of young men accused of stabbing a fellow Somali.
The fact that Somali customary law, Jewish, Islamic, and I would suspect Hindu, Buddhist, Catholic religious law are also being practiced in England, the Archbishop's call to "face up to the fact" that some Sharia in English law is "unavoidable" is really no more than a truthful observation and honest conclusion, not an advocacy.

The life of Indigo Red is full of adventure. Tune in next time for the Further Adventures of Indigo Red.


Gayle said...

I hope it's not an advocacy, Indigo. That is exactly the way it has been presented by the media and many bloggers. If it is an advocacy, then the Archbishop would be a prime candidate for a rubber room! I also don't believe that if it is begun to include only "some" Sharia law that it will end that way. These things have a way of getting out of hand, and Sharia in it's totality is dispicable.

Indigo Red said...

This reminds me, Gayle, of the flap over remarks made by Pope Benedict back in September 2006.

Islam took his remarks completely out of context, rioting ensued, Muslims killed Muslims as Muslims will do, and still damned few folks actually read what Benny had written - Faith, Reason and the University - Memories and Reflections.

Benedict was quoting 12th century Emperor Manuel II Paleologus speaking with an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. Manny 2 said, "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached".

The reference was interpreted in the umma as the words of the Pope, but certainly when put in the context of the lecture, they were not. Without context we can't even understand that Il Papa was simply, albeit clumsily, inviting Islamic scholars to dialogue on the similarities betwixt the two religions.

The Archbishop of Canterbury was simply saying, albeit clumsily, that Sharia is already being practiced in England. That being fact, what shall be done? The AoC suggested that perhaps some aspects are best left to the Mosque, such as non-violent, non-criminal family matters as is already the fact with the Jewish and Somali communities.

At no time and in no way did Dr. Williams suggest or advocate scrapping English Common Law, or statutory law in favor of Sharia.

Much the same is done here in the U.S. Many aspects of life are dealt with in religious community hearings and the decisions are not in conflict with the secular law. The Catholic Church has the power to annul marriages, even if those are decades old and involve produced children; Mormons have their own religious councils; the Mafia have a system of justice; street gangs practice their own law which is often more just than the secular; American Indians are often heard by councils of elders for crimes committed off the rez. Indeed, even the secular law has an extra-judicial system not involving courts, judges, and juries in which decisions are binding. They are often called Family Court or some such, and involve issues of divorce and child support, as well as minor financial disputes.

In each of these extra-judicial examples, the judges decide not on the basis of established law or the Constitution, rather on the circumstances of the particulr situation in question. It's very personal and is often arbitray bearing little relationship to any other case.

This may be a tempest in teapot, but many a tempest has undone Mother.

(Colloquial note: While serving English tea, whether in mixed company or single sex tea gatherings when there is no hostess, someone is chosen to serve the tea. That person is termed 'mother'. This is probably more archaic than common today.)