Monday, February 11, 2008 

The last word (hopefully) on Williams.

If you want a prime example of how the hyperbole over Rowan Williams' speech has not just infected the tabloids, but also those we're meant to rely on to accurately and astutely comment and report the day's events, here's Matthew d'Ancona, editor of the Spectator in his Sunday Torygraph column providing a glaringly obvious comparison:

Forty years after Enoch Powell's "rivers of blood" speech, the Archbishop of Canterbury has delivered its liberal mirror image: let us call it "rivers of blather". The lecture that Dr Rowan Williams gave in London on Thursday night, and specifically his remarks on sharia law, showed that even the mildest-mannered intellectual can become a bulldog in the social china shop, spraying daft ideas around with a recklessness that disgraced his office.

The analogy is ludicrous because no one needed to distort or misinterpret Powell's speech - it was a disgrace then and it's just of much as a disgrace now. Powell talked of "piccaninnies", language which Boris Johnson thought was amusing to use not so long back, of the black man holding the whip over the white man, of a woman who wanted a rates reduction because she was the only remaining white person in a street of "blacks" and wouldn't put up immigrants which had previously boosted her earnings, of the " horror on the other side of the Atlantic", i.e., African-Americans being given the same rights as the white population. There was more, much more.

Rowan Williams, unlike Powell, who gave his speech to an audience of the Conservative Political Centre, which was never likely to disagree with him, gave his instead to a room full of lawyers, who one could imagine could and probably were picking numerous holes in it as he went along, if they weren't falling asleep under the torrent of his convoluted ramblings. Perhaps both shared a slight amount of naivete; Powell asked journalists the following morning whether he'd really caused such a furore, while Williams seems to have been depressed and aghast that his speech caused such a storm. Around the most inflammatory thing that Williams voiced was that he viewed some sort of conflict between state loyalty and religious loyalty as unavoidable unless elements of Sharia, were recognised. As it so happens, Williams doesn't really need to worry: as Alexander Goldberg explains on CiF, the Beth Din courts operate under the arbitration act, which allows for "foreign law" to take precedence over English law (there is no such thing as British law, as both politicians and newspapers have stated, as Scottish law is entirely separate) where two people can sign agreements subjecting themselves to the eventual binding ruling. This is what the Sharia courts also operate under.

The Sun's coverage of Williams' performance in front of the Synod is a prime example of how the press creates a situation and then only uses the information which is useful towards its already preordained stance. The unacceptable reality - that Williams was given a standing ovation as he entered the chamber and had to ask them to sit and stop applauding, with only one or two exceptions, something repeated once he had finished speaking - isn't so much as mentioned. Instead, the Sun describes his defence of his speech, where he said that he took responsibility for the "unclarity" of his remarks and acknowledged that they might have been expressed "clumsily", mentioning the reporting of his speech but not directly criticising the way it was distorted, as "desperate", and then despite the show of support given today, goes on to claim that "his flock" had turned against him yesterday. The main complaint of those interview by the Sun outside Kent cathedral seems to have been that he was considering Islam at all, especially seeing as this is a "Christian" country, and ought to be outside of his remit, rather than directly angry about his comments on Sharia.

Along with Justin and Anton Vowl, one of the most bizarre things about this whole tedious charade has been that atheists, in which I include myself, seem to have been among those who have most defended the Archbishop. It certainly hasn't been out of any sympathy towards religions or the religious, let alone their personally perverse systems of law which they adhere to over others that are fairer and more enlightened that I've defended him, but rather because of that other enlightenment value that some who've been attacking Williams have seem to have forgotten: that freedom of speech is and must be an absolute. To take it back to d'Ancona's spurious Powell equivocation, if a shadow secretary of state as he was, was now to make a similar, updated version of the Rivers of Blood speech, I'd be among the first to vigorously attack him for his message, but I wouldn't be calling for his resignation, just as I think I wouldn't if I'd be around in Powell's own day. Not only is it not for me to decide whether he should remain in his job because of his views, your personal views, unless they are in direct contradiction with that job itself, should never be a basis for someone losing it.

What is increasingly clear, especially from Williams' clarification in front of the Synod, is that he thinks of himself not just as the representative of the Church of England, but as someone who can also comment on issues affecting other religious issues. It's this, perhaps more than his actual views on them that is likely to trouble his own constituency in the long run, not to mention those in the other communities that would rather he'd keep his mouth shut. This is directly because the Church of England especially is in something approaching a crisis: its lack of relevance isn't only continuing to reverberate, it's fast accelerating. Williams might not admit to it, but he probably sees the rise in attendance in Catholic churches, mainly off the back of migration from eastern Europe, which continues to buck the general Western trend off godlessness, and also the increasing hubbub, if not power surrounding Islam, and wishes that he could have a bit of that. Why then shouldn't he attempt to articulate an issue which concerns some Muslims, but which doesn't have a leader powerful enough or visible enough to make the sort of impact that he could?

Apart from the general uncertainty and questioning about Muslims and Islam which has underlined the response to his lecture, the other thing has certainly been that which he most fears; that Britain, far from being the Christian country which those opposed to him espouse, is in fact a secular nation and increasingly becoming more so. We're not just objecting to Islamic religious law, we're objecting to the tyranny of any religious law. The biggest problem affecting Williams is that he's between a rock and a hard place; he's not liberal enough or agnostic enough for those who are opposed to religion generally, and he's not godly enough or hard enough on the queers for those of the evangelical or "traditional" bent who seem to increasingly make up the remaining brunt of those who practice rather than just think there might be a God. One suspects that the very least of his worries are the obscurantists on the Scum who would be laughed at for suggesting he was giving a victory to terrorism if it wasn't so serious.

Leaving aside the internal religious politics, the comment over the weekend which was most pertinent on Williams' argument was on the way Sharia views women inherently as inferior, giving their evidence only half of the weight to which it gives to men's. While I don't claim to know whether this is the same under all the different varying interpretations of Sharia, this is reason enough why it should never be given the same recognition under law as our common law is, as if the European Court of Human Rights ruling was not enough on its own, as Daniel Davies pointed out, for why it would never be allowed onto the statute books. The other side though is eloquently expressed by Ayesha Khan, who reported on Divorce: Sharia Style, who writes of the Muslim women who despite the inequity of the system are still determined to use it. Who are we to condemn them for doing so, which has largely been the undercurrent of the coverage since Thursday?

Williams was always going to survive this controversy, regardless of the best efforts of the most egregious in the Street of Shame to force otherwise. The question is whether he's been irrevocably damaged because of it, and again the answer seems to be negative. Regardless of his real intentions behind the speech, he was fully entitled to put across his message: he just happened, like many of us often are, to be wrong. River of blather or not, the very last thing he is is a modern-day Powell.

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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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Friday, February 08, 2008 

Bearded extremist must die! (or resign, whichever comes first)

(Slight warning: this post clocks in at just less than 2,000 words, excluding the large amounts of quoted text.)

I'll admit: I was hasty and went slightly over the top in the post I made yesterday on Rowan Williams' speech on the possibility of Sharia law being legally recognised by the state. I actually rather like Beardie; he's probably the closest that any religion will get to having an acceptable, kind and intellectual face. I'm also more than happy to make clear that I already favour the disestablishment of the Church of England. It's surely ridiculous in this day and age that the prime minister chooses the head of the "state religion"; even the Catholic Church's college of cardinals vote for the supposed messenger of God on earth.

Let's make no bones about it though: he is first and foremost not just a speaker for the CoE, but also for religion as a whole, or he at least thinks he is. Like when the Rabbi Jonathan Sacks a few years ago dared to suggest that there was a a degree of truth in all three of the main Abrahamic religions and found himself being lambasted by conservative Jews for not making clear that Judaism is the only true faith, despite them all worshipping what is to all intents and purposes the same God, Williams likes to reach out across faith backgrounds. This was obvious in his other recent speech, also widely criticised, where he considered the possible abolition of the blasphemy laws and proposed, according to some reports, laws against thoughtless or cruel words. Unity tackled it here, and found much to disagree with.

The main question then has to be this: did Williams really know what he was about to unleash? Sure, Sharia and virtually all the questions surrounding whether Muslims can be both British while retaining their religious identity are incredibly contentious and controversial, but this was the Archbishop, making an incredibly academic, lengthy and considered speech, which ordinarily would have been completely and utterly ignored, except by perhaps the religious affairs correspondents on the broadsheets. If he hadn't approached the World at One, and made a somewhat less articulate summary of his speech (The Wardman Wire has an excellent commentary and transcript of the interview), that would have been most likely what would have happened. That was where the emphasis on how some part of Sharia law being adopted was "unavoidable" came from. If though anyone had listened further than the opening exchanges, they would have realised that the very last thing that Williams was advocating was for Sharia to be used to resolve and pass judgement on individuals where the law itself had been broken.

Even if Williams is genuinely surprised and dismayed by the reaction to his speech, it has to be based on a rather less than intellectual naviety. You mention Sharia and the instant, instinctive image it conjures up is limb chopping, flogging and beheadings. This was always what was going to occupy the tabloids' mindset, and they have had an absolute field day. I haven't even bothered to look at either the Express and Mail, but the Sun's coverage is, to say the least, little sort of sickening in its distortion and use of images that are almost designed to encourage Islamophobia. The Scum naturally decided that the most appropriate image for its front page was the woman in the niqab flashing a v-sign, without any attempt to provide the context in which it was originally taken: when the police raided those who have now pleaded guilty to the beheading plot. They were entitled to feel aggrieved by how the media had descended upon their home and were at the time recklessly scaremongering as usual.

Almost unbelievably, the Sun's headline for its current online, updated piece is "Williams: victory for terrorism". To consider his speech to be any sort of victory for terrorism would require a rhetorical leap that even Melanie Phillips would blanch at, but the Sun is more than happy to link Sharia law with terrorism. This is the second paragraph:

In an explosive outburst Dr Rowan Williams, the country’s top Anglican, said there should be one set of rules for Muslims — and another for everyone else.

No he didn't - what he was clearly articulating was that Muslims could be given the choice, in certain matters of civil law, to use Sharia courts to resolve disputes. Nothing more and nothing less. I completely disagree with him, but he was perfectly entitled to make the argument, and the last thing he was suggesting was completely different systems of laws for those of different religions.

He maintained it was WRONG for followers of Islam to be forced to choose between “the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty”.

Here's the full sentence that quote is taken from:

It is uncomfortably true that this introduces into our thinking about law what some would see as a 'market' element, a competition for loyalty as Shachar admits. But if what we want socially is a pattern of relations in which a plurality of divers and overlapping affiliations work for a common good, and in which groups of serious and profound conviction are not systematically faced with the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty, it seems unavoidable.

Williams is clearly going out of his way to try and be as inclusive as possible, all in the aid of what he considers the common good. He knows full well that the vast majority of Muslims are perfectly happy with what the British state offers them, but that some do prefer through their own interpretation of their faith to conduct such matters in accordance with Sharia. This already happens, and will continue to happen. He's suggesting that the state recognise this, which is one argument, and it happens to be wrong. But if both parties are perfectly happy to go along with it, and aren't being forced into it, who are we to say that isn't acceptable?

This is another of the problems that Williams has rather unfortunately highlighted: when the loyalty of any citizen to the country at large is brought into question, the right-wing press launches the equivalent of a verbal scud missile at them. Last week it was outraged that a review of the possibility of teaching patriotism was rejected because it would require the balance of also teaching that not everything Britain has ever done has been a roaring success. The main problem I had was that you simply can't preach patriotism; it's either something you instinctively feel or you don't. That Muslims might decide that our system of civil law isn't good enough for them is obviously a similar insult to everything that this country has ever stood for; that the right-wing press would never question the loyalty of some of the orthodox Jews who use the Beth Din courts for their civil affairs shows the abject hypocrisy on the matter. It would be different if what Williams or even those of the tiny minority in favour of Sharia were proposing that it be used for all criminal offences, but they're not. Consideration must be taken of the prejudices within Sharia, but are there not similar prejudices within Beth Din? I don't know, and the tabloids sure as fuck don't know either. They do however know that Sharia will mean the end of British life as we know it.

Dr Williams’ extraordinary claim is a huge propaganda coup for extremists plotting to end centuries of the British way of life.

How? The extremists want full Sharia law to be the only law, and to apply to everyone, not just Muslims, along with Britain to be part of the caliphate, even though the caliphate only ever spread as far as Spain. Williams hasn't given even the slightest succour to such an idea; the tabloids and their response however has sent a huge message to those who are separatist, where they'll be able to point at the response and hatred directed against Muslims as a whole when such a moderate idea has been suggested, making clear that Islam will never be accepted in any way, shape, or form. Now that's dangerous and guaranteed to breed resentment.

To prove the Sun's specious point, it contacted some of those who survived the 7/7 attacks for their views:

Paul Dadge, famously pictured helping masked 7/7 victim Davina Turrell, 24, was left stunned.

The 31-year-old former fireman, of Cannock, Staffs, said: “The Archbishop’s remarks are unhelpful. I am proud to be British and find the idea that Sharia law would ever become part of British law incredible.”

Mary Burke, 50 — who survived the King’s Cross bomb on July 7 2005 — said: “Britain is a Christian country and should stay a Christian country. I don’t want Islamic law here and I believe most of the British public agree with me.”

The very last thing the ABC would be suggesting is that Britain move from being a Christian country. If he had, the synod really would be calling for his resignation. Neither of those asked to comment likely heard the ABC on either the World at One or had read his speech; they were either told what was said by the Scum's reporters or heard the generally woeful reporting of it. As a result, to ask them to comment was downright misleading and superfluous.

Muslim Labour MP Khalid Mahmood was outraged.

He said: “This is the sort of woolly thinking that gets people into trouble. This sort of talk makes people think Muslims want to separate themselves from the rest of the community and be treated differently. The truth is most Muslims do not want Sharia law.”

Which will of course be ably helped by the tabloid reaction. It's only now right down at the bottom of the article that there's even the slightest clarification of what Williams actually said:

Dr Williams spoke out in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s World at One.

He did stress he opposed the extreme elements of Islamic law — including stoning and whipping — but went on: “There is a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law as we already do with aspects of other kinds of religious law.”

Which is handily vague enough to make the average reader imagine that other elements of Sharia would be acceptable, not just where two individuals agree to a Sharia court arbitration.

The Scum's leader is inevitably even worse. Its headline could also be hardly less descriptive of Williams' speech. How it could possibly be a rant or dangerous is a mystery only the leader writer could answer.

IT’S easy to dismiss Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams as a silly old goat.

In fact he’s a dangerous threat to our nation. He says the adoption in Britain of parts of Islamic Sharia law is “unavoidable”. If he believes that, he is unfit for his job.

How does offering an opinion make him unsuitable for his job? How could he possibly be a threat to the nation when the Scum is always scaremongering about the few who are a genuine threat, who are nothing like Williams?

Williams says the idea of “one law for all” is “a bit of a danger”.

With that one sentence he destroys his authority and credibility as leader of the Church of England.

Except of course that wasn't even a large proportion of his entire sentence. This is where the Scum has taken that quote from:

I think at the moment there’s a great deal of confusion about this; a lot of what’s been written whether it was about the Catholic church adoptions agencies last year, sometimes what’s written about Jewish or Muslim communities; a lot of what’s written suggests that the ideal situation is one in which there is one law and only one law for everybody; now that principle that there’s one law for everybody is an important pillar of our social identity as a Western liberal democracy, but I think it’s a misunderstanding to suppose that that means people don’t have other affiliations, other loyalties which shape and dictate how they behave in society and the law needs to take some account of that, so an approach to law which simply said, ‘There is one law for everybody and that is all there is to be said, and anything else that commands your loyalty or your allegiance is completely irrelevant in the processes of the courts’. I think that’s a bit of a danger.

I completely disagree with him, but it isn't dangerous, nor does it destroy his authority or credibility. He's approaching a problem and thinking out loud about it; criticise him all you want, but don't say that he should be sacked or resign for it. That's quite clearly an attempt at suffocating freedom of speech.

He also gives heart to Muslim terrorists plotting our destruction.

They will see his foolish ramblings as a sign that our resolve against extremism is weakening.

The Sun seems to know a lot about how "Muslim terrorists" think. Perhaps they ought to be instructing the government on how to tackle radicalisation, seeing as they know their exact mindset. Jihadists don't care what politicians, let alone what other religious figures think; they only know that they're absolutely right.

Our legal system revolves around the principle of one law for all.

Williams, our religious leader, has a duty to uphold that principle.

And he has, as he's suggesting that our law recognise Sharia courts in civil matters. That would be still mean that there would be one law for all. The Sun is being wilfully blind.

Yet he wants Muslims to have a choice over which law they follow.

Williams says Muslims should be able to ignore British divorce laws.

Another nail in the coffin of Muslim women's rights.

No he isn't. They'd only be able to "ignore" British divorce laws if they hadn't married under the civil system in the first place. This is also to accept that Sharia instantly means that women are at a disadvantage, which is patently untrue, as Sharia is interpreted in a myriad of different ways. If that was the case, any woman, Islamic or not, wouldn't agree to have the arbitration done under a Sharia court, which is the base requirement for both parties to agree in the first place.

Why doesn’t he condemn “honour” killings and forced marriages?

What does that have to do with Sharia? Honour killings and forced marriages are almost always due to tradition and tribal circumstances, not religious differences, although there are a minority of cases where it has been a factor.

Why is our Archbishop promoting a law under which women are stoned to death and shoplifters barbarically dismembered?

Except he directly criticised the "inhumanity" of such punishments. The very last thing he was doing was promoting them. This, incidentally, is the same Sun which last week published Helen Newlove's suggestion that the birch be brought back, and today prints Jamelia's call for the reintroduction of capital punishment. Stoning is especially barbaric, but so are all the current methods of execution, regardless of the law broken by the individual sentenced to death.

As Williams was cosying up to Islam yesterday, one of his bishops — Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester — was being protected by police.

He has received death threats from Muslims for warning of Islamic no-go areas in Britain.

What has Williams said in support of the Bishop? Nothing.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is in the wrong church.

Ah yes, they were certainly Muslims. Never mind that those who jumped on the Bishop's comments, of which there was no evidence to back up, to prove that Islam was inherently dangerous and separatist have plenty to gain from such threats. Besides, he was questioned directly on the World at One about Nazir-Ali's comments and this was his lengthy response:

CL This comes in the context of very fraught debates about community cohesion. How is it achieved that Britain might move forward in that respect? How concerned are you about the state of that debate at the moment and how much do you agree with the statements by Bishop Nazir Ali about ‘no go areas’?

ABC We have got a fragmented society at the moment, internally fragmented, socially fragmented in our cities and fragmented between communities of different allegiance. Now I think that there would be a way of talking about the law being more positive about supporting religious communities that might be seen as deepening or worsening that fragmentation. I don’t want to see that. I do want to see a proper way of talking about shared citizenship and that is a major theme of what I am saying in this lecture. Shared citizenship, whatever we say about religious allegiance we have to have that common ground and know what belongs there and I think when people have talked about mutual isolation of communities, about the ’silo’ model of people as it were living together, sadly there are some communities where it looks as it is true. I think it is not at all the case that we have absolute mutual exclusion. I don’t think it’s the case that we have areas where the law of the land doesn’t run, that would be completely a misleading way of looking at it. I’ve noted in the lecture that we are dealing usually with very law-abiding communities, but we have a lot of social suspicion, a lot of distance, a lot of cultural – not just religious – distance between communities and we just need to go on looking at how that shared citizenship comes through. Now, I think there are ways of doing that. For example in relation to our education system, ways of doing that in connection with local federations and networks of different communities working together for common objectives; like better bus services - as simple as that sometimes. Better infrastructure, addressing issues of common concern about security, about families and so on. Many ways in which that active citizenship can be promoted. So I don’t think that recognising the integrity or independence - the depth of the reality of religious communities - is to ghettoize our future.

CL Was the talk of ‘no go areas’ unhelpful you think in the context of this debate?

ABC I think the phrase, because it echoed of the Northern Irish situation – places where the police couldn’t go – that was what it triggered in many peoples’ minds. I don’t think that was at all what was intended. I don’t think it was meant to point to what I call the ’silo’ problem. The sense of communities not communicating with each other and that is a two way issue as well. As I said a couple of weeks ago many Muslims say that they feel bits of British society are ‘no go’ areas for them places that they can’t go.

Clearly, the Sun is rightly placed to decide who and who isn't in the "wrong church".

As usually happens in this cases, it's not the original speech or comment which starts off the trouble, although as in Jack Straw's comments on the veil both should have known what they were about to unleash, but instead the response and backlash which they cause, usually from those twisting it for their own ends. Williams is wrong, but it was an opinion which he was perfectly entitled to broadcast, and he should be able to do so without newspapers demanding he resign. It's the contempt that the Sun and others have for freedom of speech and most of all, for the truth, which seems to me to be the real danger to our democracy in the long term.

Slight update, with the Guardian getting it right as usual:

Refracted through the twin lenses of media and politics, his words have only served to stir up the sort of fears that could make Muslims more vulnerable to abuse than ever.


Related posts:
Big Sticks and Small Carrots - We're all for tolerance but...
Blairwatch - Death Comes for the Archbishop and Bashing the Bishop update
LC - Contra Canterbury
Enemies of Reason - Get Beardie

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Thursday, February 07, 2008 

Opening your mind so much that your brain falls out.

Well, Rowan Williams has managed one thing spectacularly well with his speech on Sharia law and the potential for it to be given "official status" under UK law. Everyone from across the political spectrum, apart from some of the Muslim organisations, have come out against him.

Before we all get carried away, it really ought to pointed out that Williams, in his scholarly speech which ran to somewhere in the region of 5,500 words, is not suggesting installing Sharia as an alternative to common law. Instead, his plea was for it be recognised in a similar way to which some orthodox Jews have their interpretation of Talmudic law recognised; only for marriages and divorces, mostly (The MCB mention inheritance and custody also), and where the two participants are in agreement that it should be used. This isn't really law though, it's more accurately described as arbitration. As others have been pointing out, this is already going on in some places, has been for some time, and there's not much point intervening in such cases where those individuals agree to it, unless you want to be seen as being especially discriminatory.

So no, we're not going to have hands being cut off for stealing, beheadings for apostasy or genital mutilation being endorsed by men with beards in kangaroo courts, all recognised under British law. In any case, the European Court of Human Rights, when asked to rule on the dissolving of the Turkish Refah party, one of whose policies was the introduction of Sharia, came to the conclusion that "it was incompatible with the fundamental principles of democracy" and found that the dissolving of the party did not breach the ECHR. A similar decision if the idea of somehow recognising Sharia law under common law was taken would be incredibly likely.

The simplest argument against Williams' points is that under British law everyone is equal and treated equally. Sharia on the other hand, whether just involving marriages and divorces, is discriminatory, and even if reformed as Williams and some reformist Muslims would like, would remain that way. To start introducing different law systems that are recognised for each religious minority which demands them would be divisive, damaging and serve the interests of the religious themselves rather than justice. Even more powerful is of course that Sharia is the legal face of Islam, while the British state is secular, with church and state rightly separated. Williams has if anything just provided his enemies with the greatest reason yet for why the Church of England should be disestablished, and quite frankly, the day couldn't come soon enough.

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