The Archdhimmi provoked a surprisingly large backlash both inside and outside the Anglican Church. The outraged responses came not just from the usual suspects — Tories, BNP members, and assorted other racists, fascists, and xenophobes — but even from members of the Labour Party, including the former Home Secretary David Blunkett. I was never fond of the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, George (now Lord) Carey, but Dr. Williams’ statements were too much even for him. According to The Daily Telegraph, Lord Carey said “that Dr Williams was wrong to believe that sharia could be accommodated into the English system because there were so many conflicting versions of it, many of which discriminated against women.”
According to This is London:
Bishop of Southwark Tom Butler, a liberal who would normally be expected to defend Dr Williams, said the archbishop had been entering a minefield and added: “It will take a great deal of thought and work before I think it is a good idea.”
He was more blunt in a circular to clergy in his diocese, saying he had yet to be convinced of the feasibility of incorporating any non-Christian religious law into the English legal system.
That’s a relief.
Here’s a voice of sanity from a Muslim Baroness:
Tory cohesion spokesman Baroness Warsi, a Muslim herself, said: “The archbishop’s comments are unhelpful and may add to the confusion that already exists in our communities.
“Freedom under the law allows respect for some religious practices.
“But let’s be absolutely clear. All British citizens must be subject to British laws developed through Parliament and the courts.”
And from an Anglican Tory (in the old days that would have been a tautology):
Tory backbencher David Davies, an Anglican, said: “I am astounded. Dr Williams is a nice enough man, very intellectual, but he has clearly lost the plot.
“He’s one of the most influential Christian prelates in the world and he’s supposed to be standing up for Christianity.
“What he’s doing is abandoning his own religion. If people come to this country they should be prepared to compromise their own traditions to fit in with the host country.”
One of the more vehement critics of the Archdhimmi was the Right Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, who drew headlines and criticism last month for having the temerity to describe certain urban neighborhoods in Britain as “no-go areas” for non-Muslims.
Back then Dr. Nazir-Ali was on the receiving end of criticism from his fellow Anglicans (including the Archbishop), and death threats from Muslims, for speaking the plain truth. Now it’s his turn to take a fellow Anglican to task:
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The most damaging attack came from the Pakistan-born Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali.
He said it would be “simply impossible” to bring sharia law into British law “without fundamentally affecting its integrity”.
Sharia “would be in tension with the English legal tradition on questions like monogamy, provisions for divorce, the rights of women, custody of children, laws of inheritance and of evidence.
“This is not to mention the relation of freedom of belief and of expression to provisions for blasphemy and apostasy.”
Debates on sharia “are not an argument for disturbing the integrity of a legal tradition which is rooted in the quite different moral and spiritual vision deriving from the Bible,” he concluded.
Dr. Nazir-Ali is a native Pakistani and a convert from Islam. Having been on the receiving end of sharia, he has some idea of what Dr. Williams is proposing. Also, being a “brown person” himself, he is immune to the charge of “racism” that would normally be flung in his direction for saying such dreadful things.
Dr. Williams is backpedaling as fast as possible on his Archiepiscopal unicycle. He now maintains that he didn’t mean what his critics say he did:
Claiming he never called for the introduction of the Muslim system, Dr Rowan Williams claimed he wanted to “tease out some of the broader issues around the rights of religious groups within a secular state”.
In a statement on his website based on his controversial lecture in London last night, he added he had only used sharia as an example.
Revisit Dr. Williams’ own words and judge for yourself whether he was “teasing out the broader issues”:
“It seems unavoidable and, as a matter of fact, certain conditions of Sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law, so it is not as if we are bringing in an alien and rival system.
“We already have in this country a number of situations in which the internal law of religious communities is recognised by the law of the land as justifying conscientious objections in certain circumstances.”
“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.
“It would be quite wrong to say that we could ever license a system of law for some community which gave people no right of appeal, no way of exercising the rights that are guaranteed to them as citizens in general.
“But there are ways of looking at marital disputes, for example, which provide an alternative to the divorce courts as we understand them.
“In some cultural and religious settings, they would seem more appropriate.”
The above quote seems pretty clear to me. If it’s just an “example”, it’s a lengthy and detailed one, with no alternative examples — from, say, Buddhist or Mormon law — offered to indicate consideration of a broader juridical theology.
No, Dr. Williams, you will simply have to accept the fact that you were speaking without particular alarm about the inevitability of sharia in Britain. You made your bed; now lie in it.
There have been calls for the Archdhimmi’s resignation, but in my opinion the Anglican hierarchy is too rigid and hidebound to crack under such a minor controversy.
If, however, Dr. Williams were pressured to step down, let’s hope Michael Nazir-Ali is appointed to succeed him. Now there’s a Defender of the Faith.
Hat tips: TB and Queen.