In an interview on Radio 4 last Thursday, Rowan Williams said that the introduction of parts of Islamic law here would help to maintain social cohesion and seems unavoidable. Sharia courts exist already, he pointed out. We should “face up to the fact” that some British citizens do not relate to the British legal system, he said, and that Muslims should not have to choose between “the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty”.
What he went on to say was more astonishing. He explained to the interviewer, in his gentle, wordy way, that a lot of what is written on this confusing subject suggests “the ideal situation is one in which there is one law and only one law for everybody”. He went on: “That principle is an important pillar of our social identity as a western liberal democracy.” How true.
However, he continued: “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.”
Stuff like this is bad for the blood pressure, but I listened on. “An approach to law which simply said there is one law for everybody and that is all there is to be said . . . I think that’s a bit of a danger.”
What danger? And to whom? The danger, surely, is rather the archbishop and those who think like him, who seem unwilling to hold fast that which is good. What is good and best and essential about our society ? it isn’t merely a matter of “social identity” ? is the principle of equality before the law. That principle and its practice have made this country the outstandingly just and tolerant state it is; it is one of the last remaining forces for unity as well.