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Saturday, February 09, 2008 

Bashing the bishop while the police laugh.

Hamza/Williams: what's the difference?

The first sentence of the Daily Mail's leader is dripping with contempt at the Archbishop of Canterbury's justified complaint that what he said has been misconstrued:

The beleaguered Archbishop of Canterbury resorted yesterday to the oldest stand-by in the book - "I have been misinterpreted".

Just to illustrate how the Daily Mail has most certainly not misinterpreted or distorted Williams' speech, here's its poll where it asks who is more dangerous, Abu Hamza or Rowan Williams:

The Archbishop of Canterbury caused consternation yesterday by calling for Islamic law to be recognised in Britain. He declared that Sharia and Parliamentary law should be given equal legal status so the people could choose which governs their lives.

Clearly, the Archbishop is clutching at straws and and richly deserves the opprobrium he's received. The vote, incidentally, currently has Williams as the most dangerous by 63%. That's the head of one of the more liberal churches of the world, considered more insidious than a man who spent years preaching hatred of women, Jews and "kafirs" in general, and who provided moral and spiritual, if not monetary or physical support to the Taliban, al-Qaida and the most extreme elements of the Salafist school of Islam. Little wonder that the Bishop of Hulme described some of the treatment he's received since his speech as a "shame on our nation" and "quite disgraceful".

Compared to the Sun's coverage, the Mail's has been a totem of respectability. There's a whole column on how he's a living in the lap of luxury (presumably he should be housed in a hovel and have to wear sackcloth and ashes in penitence for his crime), which also mentions he repeatedly opposed the Iraq war, along with err, pretty much every other major religious leader, and that he's "enraged" Christians with liberal views on gays, which translated means the last rump of evangelicals and most of the primates from Africa. If anything, he hasn't been harsh enough on both groups. The main article claims that senior MPs have called for his resignation, which is news to me, while so far around only two bishops have called for his resignation, while others have notably rallied to his defence, none of whom are mentioned in the article.

Brian Fuller, 46, of Luton, said: “This is the guy who leads our country’s religion and it sounds like he’s given up.

“He’ll soon be asking us all to face Mecca when we say our prayers.”

I'm not so sure Mr Fuller - anyway, how will you be able to tell which way Mecca is when your head is so clearly stuck up your rear passage?

The Sun bus visited the Archbishop’s Lambeth Palace residence in South London with Page 3 girls Mel and Peta — and blasted out Rule Britannia.

What a wheeze! That'll show the hairy leftie!

Just as pathetic has been the Sun's sharply set up campaign to get Williams sacked. Their print-out simplification has the reasons why he should be disciplined is that "he has destroyed his authority and credibility as leader of the Church of England", which is completely untrue, and secondly that he has "given heart to Muslim terrorists". As said yesterday, it's a good thing that the Sun knows just what makes jihadists tick and gives them heart, as most of the rest of us, including those tasked with tackling radicalisation are still struggling with it. Linking what the Archbishop said with terrorism is not just insulting and absurd, it's designed to shut down the debate and make it impossible to support him, as no one wants the terrorists to win, do they?

The Scum's leader is just as cavalier with the truth:

The whole nation is appalled, outraged and incredulous that Rowan Williams should come out with such dangerous claptrap.

Some are also appalled, outraged and incredulous that the media have blown this up into a matter where making a sensitive scholarly speech is considered grounds for someone to be sacked.

It is hard to see how Williams can cling on to his job.

It is hard, too, to see why he wants it since he feels such sympathy for Islam.

Just as a comparison, the same Sun newspaper declined to join in the chorus for Sir Ian Blair to resign after he presided over a force which killed an innocent Brazilian after a systemic failure at all levels. Blair himself didn't know what happened until the following day, despite even his secretary being aware an innocent man was dead, because no one bothered to inform him. The same Sun newspaper provided constant support for the previous prime minister, who told lie after lie while his office distorted the intelligence that took us to war in Iraq. The result has been at the very least the deaths of 150,000 Iraqis, not to mention our own troops. Williams however, whose only offence is to make a misjudged speech, must go.

The heart of this issue is not religion. It is law.

To say that the Archbishop is wrong is not to attack Islam. It is to say that allowing Sharia law encourages Muslim fundamentalists who don’t want to integrate with us.

Oh, so in other words, every Muslim who is sympathetic towards Sharia law is therefore a fundamentalist. Better tell that to the banks offering accounts with no interest designed for Muslims, or those who buy halal meat. Buying from a halal butchers must be encouraging fundamentalists who don't want to integrate with us because they don't agree with meat not slaughtered according to their religious doctrines. That he never said that he was in support of allowing it but rather suggested that it might unavoidable, nor that he only suggested it might help cohesion if on civil matters Sharia was recognised under the law, as the Beth Din courts are, doesn't enter into it. It isn't enough to disagree with him because it isn't necessary or even wanted, but because it encourages the evil people in our midst who want to destroy us.

The Archbishop of Canterbury declares Muslims should be allowed to follow a law of their own.

That is totally unacceptable.

And that is why he has to go.

Perhaps then the writer of this leader ought to go for completely misleading the readers with statements that he never made. That's unacceptable, but when the newspaper does the same or similar every day of the year it becomes ingrained, routine and predictable, as the reaction of the Sun has most definitely been.

Apart from the hysterical attacks on Williams himself, the other obvious reaction of the press was always going to be to go out and find these Sharia courts, and regardless of what they were doing, make out that it's a threat to us all. The Evening Standard was first out of the traps, with the Mail and Express reprinting the story, and they're shocked, shocked, to find that some Somali clans have settled a couple of violent disputes internally rather than turning to the police, with little emphasis again on how both sides were agreed on doing so. That this is the way that such tribal or clan-based disputes have always been sorted, and that it has very little to do with either Sharia or Islam isn't mentioned or is toned suitably down. Just as we won't turn to the police to sort out every little disturbance that occurs in neighbourhoods and instead settle it informally, or even for some larger offences where we choose not to turn to the police, they're doing more or less the same. Once a moral panic is brewing however, it's any port in a storm.

The Mail's leader is more than happy to use this spurious evidence as proof that Williams is loony:

And far from Dr Williams's fluffy idea that they merely arbitrate on civil, marital and business disputes, some are trying to replace criminal courts, passing judgment on offences from criminal damage to grievous bodily harm.

They're not replacing or trying to replace anything; as one of the members describes, they're doing the same as they did in the 10th century when it would have happened under a tree, whereas now it happens in a restaurant or a cafe. Then it has the audacity to say this:

While the Beth Din operates openly and within the law, this is alternative justice outside the law, and the Archbishop's endorsement will only serve to enhance its legitimacy and power.

But that was Williams' very point: that recognising some aspects of Sharia where both agree to it could help with cohesion and regulate it. I disagree with it, but he was more than welcome to suggest it, and instead he has calls for his resignation and a vilification campaign.

This though was what was always going to happen. Regardless of the merit of his argument, Williams has been attacked, those who have most to lose from his argument are likely to be further stigmatised and abused, and the notion that Islam and democracy are incompatible is once again the foremost in people's minds. He was naive, but I know who I blame more. That this has happened on a weekend where the far more serious revelation that the police are routinely bugging conversations between defendants and their lawyers has emerged, which is a genuine threat to the rule of law and shows how far the surveillance state is going, not to mention how it could threaten convictions, means that a far more deserving story has been knocked down the agenda, which might well help the government to avoid an inquiry. That's not to mention the latest knee-jerking over violent video games and calls to filter the internet into a two-tier system to protect the kiddies, currently being considered by the government. A press committed to holding a government to account would be going fiercely over both matters; instead we're likely have the bash the bishop campaign continuing for a while. The press is again failing in its basic duties, first to tell the truth and then to protect the public and their readers' interests.

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"That this is the way that such tribal or clan-based disputes have always been sorted, and that is has very little to do with either Sharia or Islam isn't mentioned or is toned suitably down."

Last year, Radio 4's Law in Action series had an in-depth look at these "courts". I blogged about this last year, especially how the Telegraph reported the BBC radio programme.

Will you please explain how Islam IS compatible with democracy? At best, they make uneasy bedfellows.

Turkey is the obvious answer. Moreover though, before the world changed forever, we thought nothing or very little of how the Muslim/Asian minority were integrated or how they voted in this country, mainly because they almost to a t voted Labour. We've so embraced the "enemy within" notion that we've completely forgotten about that.

Turkish democracy looks precarious at best. And, whether you like it or not, the world DID change for ever on 9/11. It's called 'consciousness raising'. After the Twin Towers atrocity many people started paying much more critical attention to the doctrines of Islam and the behaviour of Muslims worldwide.

Turkish democracy only looks precarious because of the secular elite's paranoia that allowing almost any religious manifestation in state buildings is the thin edge of the wedge. If the army does step in at some point, it'll be they who'll be denying democracy to the majority. Seeing as they're desperate to join the EU, there's only way they're going to go and that's towards liberalism. I take your point about the conciousness raising, but I'm sure you'll also agree that there's been a lot of hyperbole and that it works both ways.

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