Archbishop of Canterbury: ‘Shari’a law in Britain is unavoidable’
And yet Dr Williams did not advocate Shari’a law; he said quite distinctly that ‘aspects’ of it might be incorporated into British law. He said other religions enjoyed tolerance of their own laws, and called for ‘constructive accommodation’ with Muslim practice in areas such as marital disputes. But he stressed that it could never be allowed to take precedence over an individual's rights as a citizen. This is an important distinction.
Asked if the adoption of Shari'a law was necessary for community cohesion, Dr Williams said that certain conditions of Shari’a ‘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’.
It is this statement which exposes the barefaced hypocrisy of the present government, for New Labour has already permitted Shari’a principles to be applied to Muslims and not to other British citizens. While the Prime Minister’s spokesman insisted that ‘British law would be based on British values’, he admitted that concessions had already been made in specific instances, such as a relaxation of the law on stamp duty to avoid it being paid twice when Shari’a-compliant mortgages were used. And husbands with multiple wives have been given permission to claim extra welfare benefits following a year-long review, and this will lead inexorably to different pension rights and exemption from death duties. Once the Government recognised and legitimised polygamy, it is only a matter of time before legislative creep demands further accommodating exemptions.
And yet the Archbishop’s naivety is astonishing. He treats Radio 4 as if it were an Oxford theological college, and assumes that his audience is made up of academics with the ability to dissect and analyse words with his professorial precision.
Shari’a may be a complex and convoluted legal system, but it means only one thing in the UK: oppression, barbarism and injustice. This judgement may in itself be unjust, but the word is alien and, like ‘jihad’, has taken on its own meaning. Shari’a law is in fact profoundly complex, and varies in interpretation and application from Islamic community to Islamic community. In one place, one may be publicly flogged merely for being in the presence of a member of the opposite sex, in another, one may be hanged. And it is the women and children who are executed, since the word of the man outweighs all others. Shari'a covers religious rituals, behaviour, dress codes, grooming and diet, and also legislates in matters of finance, trade, marriage and family – in short, it is a religio-political system for the whole of life. While the Archbishop may have been referring to the first of these – the ‘private realm’ – it is the application of Shari’a in the latter – the ‘public realm’ – which is utterly unacceptable in a modern, democratic and free society.
Either Dr Williams knew what he was saying, or how his words would be interpreted, which would be an abdication of his authority, or he was simply utterly naïve, in which case he should be removed from Canterbury. That the Archbishop has not been clear, and that he has permitted his words to be taken to imply his support for the application of Shari’a in the public realm, is a grievous error of judgement, and for this reason alone he ought to consider his position. It is politically unacceptable that the words of the leader of the Established Church should embolden those who advocate a parallel system of law for any group. He has given succour to those who would establish an Islamic theocracy in the UK, and has hastened the day when 'Mary's Dowry' becomes another room in Mohammed's Dar al-Islam.
And Cranmer is not here talking of occasional exemptions. To those who insist that the UK should not tolerate any such exemptions from the law for different faith groups, you might consider that Sikhs are already exempt from having to wear crash helmets, and Sikhs also uniquely enjoy the right to carry a knife (kirpan) in public. And how many of Cranmer’s communicants were in agreement with him that Roman Catholic adoption agencies ought to be exempt from ‘equality’ legislation? And there are also Jewish and Roman Catholic matrimonial tribunals, but these are not empowered to pass judgement which are binding in the civil courts. The rabbinical granting of a divorce or a canonical annulment are not civil dissolutions of marriage: the civil courts must ultimately grant the decree. But Shari’a law does not make any such distinction, for it refuses to recognise the civil authority.
Shari’a was judged in 2003 by the European Court of Human Rights to be antithetical to the foundations of democracy (and the principles of the Enlightenment) because its rulings on inheritance, women's rights and religious freedom violated human rights as established in the European Convention on Human Rights.
But what a pity the Archbishop didn’t hit the headlines over the abortion holocaust, or over poverty and deprivation, or over the incessant erosion of our ancient and hard-won liberties. Instead of proposing the introduction of Shari’a law to Britain, why did Dr Williams not speak out on behalf of Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, the 23-year-old Afghan student journalist sentenced to death for downloading ‘anti-Islamic’ material from the internet?
Article XXVI of the XXXIX Articles of the Church of England talks 'Of the unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacraments':
Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometime the evil have chief authority in the ministration of the word and sacraments; yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ's, and do minister by His commission and authority, we may use their ministry both in hearing the word of God and in the receiving of the sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ's ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God's gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the sacraments ministered unto them, which be effectual because of Christ's institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.
Nevertheless it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church that inquiry be made of evil ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally, being found guilty by just judgement, be deposed.'
For those who judge Dr Williams to be 'evil', therein lies the mechanism for the removal of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and yet it is undeniable that he does not speak for the Church of England on this matter. And in a curious kind of way, Cranmer is most grateful to him for raising this subject, for how else will the British people ever wake up to what is unfolding before their very eyes? While His Holiness has had a few things to say on the matter, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor has been decidedly trappist. And one wonders why the Archbishop has not consulted the thousands of British Muslims who would find the whole concept of a British Shari'a utterly repugnant. Indeed, many came here to escape its oppressive injustices. These British Muslims are quite content with liberal democracy, and it is this which must be defended at all costs against the politicians and prelates who would seek to destroy it.
God forbid that Britain should ever return to the days when religious leaders should determine guilt or innocence, or legislate on matters of crime and punishment. For some of us, those memories are all too acute and dreadfully painful.