The uproar over the remarks on sharia law by Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams has been quite overwhelming. He seems to be receiving almost universal condemnation for his reckless remarks (except for some Muslims who fully support them). This has not been the first time the Arch has courted controversy. But it certainly seems to have capped it all off.
As one commentator from the UK put it on this site, the Archbishop seems to thrive on controversy and attention: “The truth is that he is a man of enormous vanity who likes the limelight. So long as he can produce obfuscatory and controversial statements and generate idle speculation he knows that he will be the centre of attention.”
Indeed, he has been so problematic that as the spiritual head of the world’s Anglicans, he is in quite a bit of strife. For example, the Lambeth Conference, due to be held in July, is under real threat of being suspended altogether. The leaders of half the world’s church members have confirmed they will not attend the Conference. One report puts it this way:
“The conference, which is only held every ten years, will now be significantly diminished in influence and standing. But the wider implication is clear – in four of the largest Anglican communities in the world, the Anglican Church is effectively setting itself up as an alternate to the rest of church, nominally led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. Australia’s largest diocese – Sydney – won’t be at Lambeth, nor will Nigeria, easily the largest and fastest growing Anglican church in the world. Together with Uganda, which won’t be there either, Nigeria makes up half the total Anglican communion. Rwanda, which has a significant Anglican presence, won’t be attending either. Now that half the church is boycotting Lambeth, the door is wide open for conservative church dioceses in other countries to boycott it as well. And a couple of other Australian dioceses may be among them. Sydney’s Archbishop Peter Jensen now effectively find himself the ‘co-leader’ of half the world’s Anglicans, along with the Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola.”
Williams’ comments on sharia law certainly confirm why Anglicans should be unhappy with his leadership. As I wrote in my earlier piece, this idea would be disastrous if implemented. And Muslims in Australian are already calling for the introduction of sharia law here, heartened by the silly remarks of Williams.
Since making his controversial remarks, much ink has since been spilt on this topic. Most commentators have heaped scorn on the idea of having sharia law partially implemented in the UK. One excellent piece of commentary came from Melanie Phillips. She minces no words here: “His argument was quite extraordinarily muddled, absurd and wrong. The European Court of Human Rights has said that sharia law is not compatible with democracy.” She continues,
“The implications of this are simply staggering. One law for all is the very basis of legal and social justice and is the glue that binds a society together. Law is the expression of a society’s cultural identity. If there is no one law, there is no one national identity and therefore no society but instead a set of warring fiefdoms with their own separate jurisdictions. To enable people to chop and choose between two jurisdictions would destroy the unitary nature of British society and fragment the country. But does Dr Williams even understand what he himself has said? For after his lecture, he insisted that he was not talking about parallel systems but how the law accommodates Muslim practice. Yet he had specifically said people should be able to choose which system they wanted. Hello? Maybe Dr Williams himself gets lost in the impenetrable thicket of his own verbiage.”
As I mentioned in my earlier piece, women will be the big losers in all of this. Yet Williams seems blissfully unaware of this, or unconcerned. Says Phillips:
“His proposal would also mean that Britain would simply abandon its female Muslim citizens whose parlous position in respect of forced marriages, honour killings and all the other horrors that follow from their second-class religious status would be institutionalised by giving sharia law official recognition. Dr Williams says such women should still retain the right of appeal to the English courts if their human rights were breached under sharia. What absurdity is this? It is the cultural assumptions which flow from sharia which lead to the oppression of Muslim women. How is the right of appeal to human rights law going to help women who are beaten and killed by men who do it in the name of religion? In order to protect our female Muslim citizens, we need to remove from them the yoke of sharia law, not institutionalise it with the seal of official approval.”
“Dr Williams appears to believe that English law would somehow absorb sharia. In fact, it would be absorbed by it for the simple reason that sharia brooks no alternative authority. But the yet more fundamental question is why he thinks we need to find any accommodation with sharia at all. He said there 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. Well no, actually there isn’t any uncertainty at all. The rules of our society have always been entirely clear: one law for all. The only challenge to that has come from those Muslims who want to destroy that foundational precept and along with it British culture and western society.”
“And now the head of the Anglican church has joined them in wanting to tear up the rules governing the position of minorities which have been perfectly clear ever since the Enlightenment. These rules hold that religious minorities can practise their faith and religious precepts but under the over-arching umbrella of the law of the land. That means where there is a conflict between minority precepts and the law, the minority gives way. While minorities should be given the freedom to practise their religion, they must not seek to impose their own laws and customs on the majority. That is how overlapping identities can be accommodated; it is how a majority culture can acknowledge the value of other cultures without destroying itself and a nation’s identity; it is the very essence of a tolerant, decent, liberal pluralist society.”
“Every minority until now has lived perfectly happily under that formulation. What we are now facing is a push by certain British Muslims, backed up by Islamist violence and intimidation, to change the rules of the national cultural game. There is only one proper response to that: to say that not one inch of leeway will be given to sharia law, that British society will not dilute the legal principles which govern all its citizens, and that Muslims must observe the same rules that govern every other minority in this country.”
Phillips goes on to show how the analogy Williams used concerning the Jews is quite wrong-headed. She then concludes with these words:
“People often say the church is now irrelevant. On the contrary – without a strong religious core providing the moral, ethical and cultural ballast, the society it has been instrumental in forming becomes intensely vulnerable to collapse and colonisation. The defence mounted by politicians becomes an empty shell – particularly when we can see they are already running scared and selling the cultural pass with measures such as sharia finance or welfare benefits for polygamous wives. Is this really the way the history of a nation, which has for the last thousand years fought off invasion and defended its independence and the liberty it created for the world, finally ends – with the head of its established church on his knees before terror?”
This is called appeasement. It is called surrender. It is also called insanity. The head of the Anglican church is offering radical Muslims most of their demands on a silver platter. Williams has effectively betrayed his Christian faith and denied his democratic roots. Surely it is time for this confused man to go. He has caused far too much mischief already.