Friday, February 08, 2008


Williams Talks Rot on 'Inevitable Adoption' of Sharia Law

Rowan Williams is a curious national figure: ecumenical to a fault; hairy the the point of being unkempt but with a wonderful mellow Celtic voice which, next to Donald Sinden, is the ultimate archetype of thespian speech. This makes him very easy on the ear but does not guarantee that what he says makes any sense or not. And his recent pronouncements on the adoption of sharia law being inevitable in this country, fall very much into the 'not' category. Let me offer just a few of the objections which spring immediately to mind:

1. It is not possible for one group of citizens to be subject to a different system of law and maintain the basic tenet of a sovereign state of 'all citizens equal before the law'.

2. For one constituent minority to have their 'own' legal system is to create a 'state within a state'- just as the IRA created in certain parts of Ulster during 'The Troubles'.

3. This suggestion plays into the hands of Islamic extremist bodies, like Hizb ut Tahir which seek to form a unitary Islamic 'caliphate'.

4. What happens when a clash occurs between sharia law and UK domestic law? For example, what if an Islamic male decided he wanted to take advantage of the four wives he is allowed under such a system? This, and other examples would relegate Islamic women to an inferior position in relation to Islamic men.

5. The suggestion will cause- and already has caused- an outcry by tabloids and groups with a more sinister axe to grind.

However, it is true that Orthodox UK Jews have their own Beth Din Judaic court which exercises legal authority over certain matters restricted to the Jewish religion. If this is merely what Williams is suggesting, then there may be some room for discussion. But I rather think the good Arch-bishop has made the mistake David Blunkett suggested on Today this morning on radio 4: confusing 'civil society' with the legal system.

Many groups operate within their own sets of rules which apply sanctions and their own disciplines. Sometimes these rules have the force of law- as with those relating to employment law- but often they do not. If groups of Muslims wish to conduct their communal affairs according to sharia law then there can be no objection- as long as there is no spilling over into areas subject to the law of the land. Rowan Williams seems a thoroughly decent sort and I'm sure his suggestion derived from the very best of liberal intentions, but on this occasion, he has allows an excess of liberal zeal to place his ideas beyond the limits of either the desirable or the practicable.

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