Saturday, February 09, 2008

Rowan Williams and Sharia

A lecture on Thursday by the Archbishop of Canterbury, suggesting that Islamic law, or sharia, might need to be introduced in England in some degree, has sparked outrage, and calls for his resignation.

I heard snippets of the lecture on television the other night, and it did not initially strike me as that remarkable. He seemed to be saying that, in cases where issues unique to Muslim faith arise, where both parties are in agreement, and where there is no violation of fundamental human rights, then it might be worthwhile, even desirable, to allow sharia to be applied.

In light of the scandal, I have resolved to sit down today and read the transcript of the lecture, and I invite you to do so as well. For some reason, the hyperlink is not working, so you will need to cut and paste:

You might also be interested in reading some of the commentary that has ensued, which you will find here.

Once we have read the lecture, and only then, I would welcome discussion.

Toward the beginning of his lecture, the archbishop raises the issue:

"(T)here remains a great deal of uncertainty about what degree of accommodation the law of the land can and should give to minority communities with their own strongly entrenched legal and moral codes. As such, this is not only an issue about Islam but about other faith groups, including Orthodox Judaism; and indeed it spills over into some of the questions which have surfaced sharply in the last twelve months about the right of religious believers in general to opt out of certain legal provisions -–as in the problems around Roman Catholic adoption agencies which emerged in relation to the Sexual Orientation Regulations last spring."

Further on, he lays out a precondition for such accomodation taking place, a precondition that it would seem his detractors have overlooked:

"If any kind of plural jurisdiction is recognised, it would presumably have to be under the rubric that no 'supplementary' jurisdiction could have the power to deny access to the rights granted to other citizens or to punish its members for claiming those rights."


Albion Land said...

Okay, folks, I've read it. And it was one hard slog. But I would say it was worth it, as it was very thought provoking for someone who lives in a religiously pluralistic society.

Firstly, I think it would be incorrect to assert that Rowan Williams is recommending the acceptance of sharia, in all, or in part.

Instead, he is operating from a premiss that minority groups within larger societies may, and do, form their views of reality in different ways, and that, consequently, those views are not always, and need not always, be identical.

He seems to be arguing that the larger society should engage in a debate as to whether, and to what extent, those minority views should be accommodated by the legal system.

But he takes great pains to stress, at several different points in the lecture, that no one should be compelled by any "subsidiary" (minority) jurisdiction to forego rights guaranteed by the universal community.

Again, though, I can't help but ask myself why it was that the Archbishop of Canterbury felt it was incumbent upon him to raise these questions.

Albion Land said...

From the archbishop's website:

The lecture, which was given before an audience of about 1,000 people and which was chaired by the Lord Chief Justice, was the first in a series of six lectures and discussions which are being given by senior Muslim and other lawyers and theologians at the Temple Church on the general theme of 'Islam in English Law'.

Albion Land said...

I couldn't resist this, which is the lead to a piece in the Times of London by Matthew Parris:

You say,” said Lord Napier (confronted as Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in India by locals protesting against the suppression of suttee) “that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom; and then we will follow ours."

poetreader said...

Well, now I've read it also, and it was indeed a hard slog, but I'm not sure I think it was worth the effort.

I believe William's argument is predicated upon a misconstrued question, predicated upon a set of assumptions alien to British or western democaritic society more benerally.

The question appears to be as to what status sharia law might have in a Western legal system. The model taken as background by the Islamic packers of these discussions would seem to be the model that has been and still is basic to Islamic jurisprudence, and that is a corporate model. The typical Islamic state hs had a legal ststem in which the only mechanism for permitting variance from the majority standards is membership in a subsidiary distinct community. The individual is seen primarily as a part of his community, and distinct liberties are granted to communities.

In the West, the legal assumption has developed that there is a direct relationship between the government and each of its individual citizens, and distinct liberties are thus granted to individuals, among them the right to free association in communities.

In the Islamic pattern, therefore, the rule of each community has a legal status and authority over its members, whereas in the West one voluntarily submits to the decisions of the community so long as one is part of it. This is a very distinct difference.

To ask what status sharia law should have in a Western democracy is to attack the whole basis of our legal theories. It, of course, can have none. It is for a citizen of the state to decide whether his life should be so governed, not, even by implication, for the state. To ask what freedom to act in accord with conscience, for a Muslim or any other citizen, should be recognized in a Western society is quite another thing. This should be discussed, both broadly and on a case by case basis.

The ABC is writing with a troubling confusion of terms and concepts in such a way that, regardless of the caveats he attempts to put in place, is likely to result in an undesired outcome: the setting up of parallel legal systems, each of them overly restrictive on citizens. Perhaps this come from the inherent confusion of his position as leader of a State Church that has no longer any kind of cohesive teaching or practice, nor the real confidence of its nation.

Why did he feel it necessary to raise these questions publicly? I submit that it may well be because there is little left for an ABC to do than to meddle in politics.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Dr. Peter Toon offers this assessment of +Rowan Williams’ recent public statement about Sharia Law in the UK: “We can say things in the family circle that are not appropriately said at the Town Hall Meeting. The Rector can say things to the Church Vestry that are not appropriately part of the announcements on Sunday. The academic can propose ideas and policies in the Senior Common Room that are not suitable for a public lecture. A parent does not speak to the five year old child in the same way as to a teenager. Human beings have long been aware that not every thought, good or bad, in the mind requires expression in words in any company on any occasion. We are to discriminate between what to say, when to say it, how to say it, where to say it and to whom to say it.

In his tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan has from time to time made public statements in such areas as sexuality, international politics and American foreign policy, that are perfectly rational in themselves if delivered to friends in an Oxford Common Room; but, with an attentive media and the Web, are read by many in politically populist or common sense way. That is, any subtleties or sub-themes are missed and his statements with little context are sent into the world to be understood at one level only, the crudest one.

With this experience under his belt, it is amazing that Rowan went a few days ago before the legal establishment in England and argued that it was time to allow the use of Muslim Sharia Law within British Law, just as Orthodox Jewish Law is allowed in certain areas. All perfectly reasonable and reflecting an appreciation of the powerful traditions of Islam, but a position which is a minority position in Church and State. Further, the Archbishop was not speaking to friends inside Lambeth Palace but publicly, with the press there to listen and report. Further, he was speaking within a country where tensions between Muslim areas and neighborhoods around them are ripe for explosion. Then also he was speaking as the leader of the bishops of the Anglican Family, and many of them live in situations where they face all kinds of difficulties and problems caused by the local imposition of Sharia Law.

Rowan did not have to make this speech and say what he did. By this one speech, Rowan has lost much support in Britain, the Church of England, and the Anglican Communion of Churches. It appears that he is not able to discriminate between when to share his (complex) thoughts with his friends and when to share them with the world. This failure to discriminate would seen to disqualify him from high office. Regrettably, this business casts another cloud over the forthcoming Lambeth Conference, weakening his leadership and making it now very difficult to persuade the Nigerian Bishops to attend!

Oh how very, very sad! More chastisement of the Lord upon the Anglican Family, already in such pain and confusion.”

I appreciate Dr. Toon's perspective on this.

Canon Tallis said...

In regard to both the statements of Archbishop Williams and the comments of The Rev'd Dr Peter Toon, what else should we expect from an archbishop appointed by a political party as a sop to its leftmost wing by a PM who subsequently suggests that it is impossible to give public expression to one's Christianity with out being considered "a nutter" and then decamps across the Tiber? After all, this is the same political party which has made defending yourself against serious and possibly deadly assault a felony while supplying the assaulters with public assistance so that they can sue those who have successfully defended themselves in the common courts.

We also need to remind ourselves that the presence of Muslims in Great Britain has already led to very real explosions with very real fatalities and that the British police are still in the process of foiling only too real plots by, yes, Muslims to do it all over again. It would seem to me that the Muslim community, individually and as a whole out to be reminded that if they want to live under Islamic law, they are very free to remove themselves to an Islamic state but their failure to do so will and should be seen as an acceptance of British law and the British legal system.

On the other hand, given the continuing problem which Muslim living any where in Western countries are going to be, those who have demanded that the archbishop should resign and that quickly have quite the right of it. He is and has been an Anglican embarrassment.

John A. Hollister said...

Rowan Williams is igorant of many things, including things with which one would have thought an educated man, let alone a don, had necessarily more than a passing familiarity. Obviously, the Common Law system and tradition ranks high among those things that are to him as closed books.

Otherwise, he would not have been able fallaciously to equate the present status of Talmudic law in Britain (or, indeed, elsewhere in Western society) with the status Islamofacists seek for Sharia law -- and which they have succeeded in imposing in, e.g., all too many Northern Nigerian states.

Modern Western law actively promotes "alternative dispute resolution" (ADR), usually mediation and arbitration. For Orthodox Jews and the larger society, a Rabbinical court is simply one possible choice of mediation or arbitration panel, no less rational than the American Arbitration Association or the Federal Mediation Service and a great deal more rational than the American Health Lawyers Association.

The key word there is "choice": these mediation arrangements are normally voluntary and arbitration ones must always be so. Where Sharia reigns, however, it is never voluntary even when the outside society seems to think it is. This is poignantly illustrated by recent responses Williams' comments with disturbing accounts of male Muslim "community" leaders, abetted by Muslim professionals such as psychiatrists, perverting the British National Health Service to dispose of inconvenient Muslim wives in unneeded mental health confinements.

John A. Hollister+

Anonymous said...

Sharia as a basis of elective alternative dispute resolution, as long as it is truly elected by all parties and as long as the results are not repugnant to English law, to the best of my knowledge and belief already exists in English law (even if not explicitly). If the Ayatollah Canterbury is proposing only this, he has wasted a lot of air in proposing what already exists. If he is proposing for sharia something more than this, then he shouldn't.

Albion Land said...


I think it is the question of whether people within the Muslim communities would truly be free to choose that is at the crux here. And I think there is ample reason to doubt it. Read Matthew Parris's article in The Times.

Anonymous said...

Canon Hollister wrote: "Otherwise, he would not have been able fallaciously to equate the present status of Talmudic law in Britain (or, indeed, elsewhere in Western society) with the status Islamofacists seek for Sharia law -- and which they have succeeded in imposing in, e.g., all too many Northern Nigerian states."

I add: it is irrational, and forgive me, Neville Chamberlainist of the Archbishop to posit such an opinion!
Does he really equate Talmudic Law with Sharia Law? Can he not differentiate between those who practice Talmudic Law and those who practice or wish to practice Sharia Law?
Those who practice Talmudic Law pose no threat whatsoever to Christian culture or to any other ethnic group. It is from those who seek to establish Sharia Law who have amply demonstrated that too many wish death and destruction to any non Muslim.
As I posted on an other site: is there any rational doubt that the Church of England has now clearly flatlined?
A disgusted, Joseph DeHart, ACC priest.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Canon Hollister on this one. He put what I was trying to say a lot better.

I also await Bp Nazir-Ali's commentary. Perhaps he believes that Shari'a already reigns in the 'no-go' zones.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Imagine a British policeman in London explaining to a Muslim woman the following:

"Yes, we did stop Mr. Johnson down the street from beating his wife. We arrested him, and the courts have ordered him to stay away. But, we have to respect your rights, as Muslims, to have your own Sharia law on this block. So, out of respect for your rights, we are letting your husband continue to beat you, even to beat you to death if he wants. 'Bye Ma'am."

John Dixon said...

If I may, let me summarize the people who Willaims thinks ought to have their Sharia:

As a minority they keep to themselves.
When they reach parity they become belligerent.
When they gain a majority they start killing you.

This is Islam.
It is the only Islam.

Britain may be a dead man walking.

The idea of a moderate Islam is a death wish and the idea that most Muslims are moderates and their religion is captive to extremists is nonsense.

A rattle snake is mostly benign, in fact only a few percent of the snake's physical characteristics could be classified as extreme- the fangs, toxin sacks and brain. everything else from the skull back to the rattle is harmless, a perfect example of moderation in the animal world.

Anonymous said...

I like the bit about the right of religious believers to opt out of legal provisions: perhaps that underlines how dissonant the new politically correct laws are that would seek to force a Church-run agency to violate its own conscience in performing a service and then make a big thing about making an 'exception'. Just because the law says all sorts of atypical couples and non-couples can adopt, why should it then make it compulsory? Anti-discrimination law (a good thing) has got out of hand and become a bad thing which tramples on private agencies' right to choose. Next thing he'll be saying that the law in England bends over backwards for Catholic doctors because it only permits the killing of unborn babies and doesn't make it compulsory.

poetreader said...

I'm posting (with permission) a comment from ACCentral by a respected commentator there, one 'bedavies', which I thought contained a helpful insight.

Post scriptum, from this morning's Daily Telegraph:

"Friends of the Archbishop have said he was "completely overwhelmed" by the hostility of the response and in a "state of shock" at the barrage of criticism."

Making accommodations for other belief systems in western societies is a complex issue needing sensitivity and compromise.

Sensitivity. Perhaps readers in the USA do not understand how explosive this issue is in Britain. A steady procession of news stories about honour killings, suicides because of a threat of a forced marriage etc. Add the several Islamic terrorist incidents (one of my daughters only narrowly escaped being caught in one as she travelled to work in London). I lived in Bradford for over ten years and learned at first hand about problems stemming from local applications of Sharia in the large Muslim community. I was there when S Rushdie's book was burned in the town centre - and no police action.

For the ABC to have made his comments at this time simply shows how inept he is. However carefully constructed they may be the media will simplify and caricature such comments.

Sorry, he is not fit for the purpose, as it were.

In sadness,


Fr. Robert Hart said...

Rowan Williams is an absolutely brilliant idiot, a man whose giant intellect lives in a tiny mind.

John Dixon said...

Thinking you can make accommodation for a little Islam and Sharia is like thinking you can be a little pregnant or contract a mild case of aids.

This is the fundamental misunderstanding of liberals like Williams that will lead to the destruction of western culture and freedom if it is not checked.

This is cut and dry. There need be no nuanced explanation. I appreciate Albions careful measure of the lecture but the weight of a pile of manure can be judged by volume and source and one never need expect anything more from the business end of a jack ass.

What is being discussed (at least by the Muslims) is the colonization of Britain and the west and either you recognize it and defeat it before it becomes too strong or you engage in effeminate nuanced conversation and eventually submit. Sharia cannot by nature coexist with another form of government and never has.

I think such talk from WIlliams is not designed to accommodate Sharia or other notions of religious tolerance whatever that is, so much as to allow for the adjustment of the mental state of being of liberals towards further self deception so when they are absorbed into the Borg they can accept their inevitable and complete assimilation without a whimper.

Funny how reaction to the head of the Anglican Church who is accommodating an entity that would like nothing better than to slaughter and suck the marrow out of bones of the Anglican Church and the rest of Christianity is taken as a ho hum matter by some but how many C of E clergy will go to the stake for people who want to use the wrong plumbing in a sex act? or let the TAC send a letter to Rome and the volume of email go way up .

Alice C. Linsley said...

John, I actually had the opposite reaction. It seems to me that the British are much more upset about the possibility of Sharia law in their land than ecclessial sanction and blessing of same sex partners.

+Rowan is an intellectual socialist and they are the most dangerous kind.

John A. Hollister said...

An unspoken subtext in Rowan Williams' silly comments is the usual unthinking, kneejerk moral relativism that is the hallmark of so many vacuous, self-anointed "intellectuals".

This attitude may be summed up by the phrase, "Whatever they do there, that's what's right for them". In seven years' trying to teach Ethics to undergraduates, I found that all entered the classroom having already been indoctrinated by society with this attitude.

As I hope they learned in my classes, the problem is that no one gives any rigorous consideration to who "they" are who do whatever is the act under discussion at the moment. If "they" are assumed to be Muslims, and what "they" are doing is following Sharia, that seems to answer that question but in fact it does not.

This is clearly illustrated if we consider the custom of "honor killings". Here there are two sets of "theys": one set is composed of the fathers, brothers, cousins who murder girls who are thought to have "strayed" in some way; the other set is composed of the girls who are liable to be murdered, or who have been murdered, for incurring the suspicions of their male relatives.

So which "they" do we look to in order to justify what "they" do? While "honor killings" appear to be relatively popular with some Muslim men, does anyone seriously suggest that the girls who are at risk, or who have already fallen victim to the custom, were polled for their opinion of it?

So in this case, as in other cases such as "female circumcision", denial to women of educational or economic freedom, divorce at will a(of the husband) and universal deprivation of divorced women of access to their children, this unreflective acceptance of "what they do there" amounts simply to cravenly standing by while gross and inhuman oppression takes place, i.e., to being a crass "enabler" of immense evil.

The only protection for concepts of fundamental human worth and equality is the recognition that there are absolute standards of human behavior and that these absolute standards were not laid down by the inexorable dialectic of history, or by the fashionable taste-makers of the age, or eve by Allah. Instead, they are the unique revelation of the Judeo-Christian God who is so often and erroneously confused with that old Arabian moon god.

John A. Hollister+

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Add to this the customary position of the modern liberal, the one that is the most revealing of the psychosis of Orwell's "Doublethink." They believe they can be both feminists and multiculturalists. The answer to such obvious self-contradiction in their, dare we call it- thinking?- is simply this: Make up your mind; it's one or the other.

John A. Hollister said...

A further note: On Sunday, February 10, 2008, Brian Brady published an article in "The Independent", the opening paragraphs of which follow.

John A. Hollister+

"Up to 17,000 women in Britain are being subjected to 'honour' related violence, including murder, every year, according to police chiefs.

"And official figures on forced marriages are the tip of the iceberg, says the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).

"It warns that the number of girls falling victim to forced marriages, kidnappings, sexual assaults, beatings and even murder by relatives intent on upholding the 'honour' of their family is up to 35 times higher than official figures suggest.

"The crisis, with children as young as 11 having been sent abroad to be married, has prompted the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to call on British consular staff in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan to take more action to identify and help British citizens believed to be the victims of forced marriages in recent years."

John Dixon said...

I sure hope so Alice, of course the media is always skewed. The question is will the British actually take action against Muslims? The former PM of Australia had the guts to tell them to get out if they could not live under Parliamentary System in Australia.
I sure will miss him, had the opportunity last year to hear him speak in Canberra while at the Capitol building, a guide invited us to go in and listen from the balcony but I passed... I did not want to embarrass my wife by catcalling his opponents, I likely would not have been able to restrain myself listening to them on the radio!!!

Alice C. Linsley said...

In many parts of Africa Christian girls are being threatened unless the agree to marry Moslem men. This tactic is used to intimidate Christians and to provide grounds for burning churches. Here is the story:

A must read!