Bishop Tom Wright defends Archbishop Rowan Williams on the Sharia Law Fracas

The astonishing misrepresentation of Archbishop Rowan in virtually all newspapers over the last few days, and the scorn and anger which this has fueled, have caused many people within the church to ask what on earth is going on. The issues are complex, but let me try to highlight the key points.

Obviously it would be good for people to read the whole lecture, which is available on line at his website together with further clarification. There is an excellent summary and discussion of the whole issue by Andrew Goddard available on the Fulcrum website.

First, the lecture which Rowan gave was the start of a series organized by and for the legal profession, about the nature of law. He was not making a public statement about his belief in Jesus (people have asked me ”˜why doesn’t he speak about Jesus?’ and the answer is ”˜he does, a great deal of the time, but this wasn’t that sort of occasion’). He was addressing some of the most serious and far-reaching questions which face us both in Britain and throughout western culture, and was doing so with the sensitivity and intellectual rigor which the occasion, and his audience, rightly demanded. We should be grateful that we have an Archbishop capable of such work, not demand that his every word be instantly comprehensible by the casual uninformed onlooker. If I ask someone to fix my car, or my computer, I don’t expect to understand everything they say about the technicalities; rather, I’m glad someone out there knows what’s going on and can do what’s necessary.

Second, the fundamental issue he was addressing is the relation between the law of the land and the religious conscience of the citizen…

Read it all.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture

53 comments on “Bishop Tom Wright defends Archbishop Rowan Williams on the Sharia Law Fracas

  1. Charley says:

    With an apologist like this, who needs enemies? Dumping gasoline on a fire comes to mind.

  2. Newbie Anglican says:

    A very condescending statement from the Bishop of Durham. I once thought highly of him. Now he seems to be another company man.

  3. The_Archer_of_the_Forest says:

    I have been watching what has been going down with the ++ABC’s comments on sharia law. I read his speech in its entirety, and I have to admit I don’t quite understand what all the hysteria is about. But knowing the British tabloid press as I do, I can imagine the flames of panic that are being fanned on scant evidence.

    I noticed an undercurrent of hostility towards immigration and Islam when I was in England. This was not the case from everyone I met, but there were segments of the population that I detected were, though never blatantly, hostile to Muslims. And the times I was in London and would get off the Tube and walk out into what appeared to be downtown Cairo, I can understand how some people might feel threatened by that.

    I have always liked Rowan Williams, but sometimes I think he is too smart for his own good, and he forgets that what can pass as intellectual musings in “The Academy” do not always go over so well with the general population, especially when quoted out of context. So, I will be curious to see how this goes; I imagine it will blow over eventually when another person in the public eye says something even more stupid.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents. Cheers…

  4. Jerod says:

    #1 & 2, I’m sorry, did you read the same piece that I did? Bishop Wright has, as usual methinks, offered a strong and timely response. Quite right, quite pastoral. He cuts to the heart of the reaction in the private religion/public life dichotomy, and defends the Archbishop for engaging these matters of public life from a Christian perspective. (As well as explaining what the sensationalists in the media apparently can’t seem to grasp).

    This is the kind of leadership we need in the church, and my thanks to the Archbishop and Bishop Wright for having the mettle to address this matter and resist the temptation to shy away from it in spite of its stickiness.

  5. Newbie Anglican says:

    Yes, I did read it. And I discovered that the furor is due to people like myself being “uninformed,” “extremely touchy,” unwise, and immature.

    A bit of a discussion killer, is it not?

  6. Jerod says:

    Let’s not misinterpret Bishop Wright. He said the “casual uninformed onlooker” in reference to those who read the headlines or poor media coverage and are ignorant of the Archbishop’s actual statements. He said the entire situation highlights that society is “extremely touchy” about Islam and challenging the assumptions of the public/private dichotomy. Unwise and immature were your own words.

    I don’t know how much more clear Bishop Wright could be here. The culture is nervous and reticent to discuss this matter so openly. Whether that is a fear of Islam, immigrants, or religion generally, is debatable — perhaps a combination of all these and more. Regardless, its a matter that must be discussed, and the assumptions re: the public/private dichotomy must be challenged in the discussion, because it simply won’t hold in an increasingly pluralist UK, nor an increasingly pluralist American in the future.

  7. Wilfred says:

    #3 Arch – I too noticed an “undercurrent of hostility” the last time I was in England in certain neighborhoods, but towards [i] non-Moslems. [/i] At least, that’s what I thought at the time, when the young man at the table full of Korans glared at me as I walked by. But maybe it was my imagination.

    That was in 2005. Three days after I returned to the U.S., 50 random Londoners were murdered by Moslems, some of them on the very same tube & bus routes my son & I had been riding.

    Now why might people feel threatened by that? Or be offended when their leaders suggest, in sophisticated & nuanced tones, that the imposition of sharia is simply unavoidable?

  8. Newbie Anglican says:

    #6: [i]Unwise and immature were your own words.[/i]

    Actually not. Bishop Wright’s last sentence:

    [i]But unless we can ask the difficult questions, and try to address them wisely and maturely, we will drift into worse problems by far.[/i]

    His implication that the widespread condemnation of Dr. Williams’ Sharia remarks is unwise and immature is hard to miss.

  9. drummie says:

    I will stand by what I have said many times before, if you don’t like the laws in the UK or the US, leave. Go back where you came from and live under sharia if you like. If you want to stay, become a part of the society, not apart from it. You can not have a dual legal system. I realize cultural differences can be great, but they must not supercede the laws of the land. Why should the Archbishop not discuss Christianity at a legal conference instead of a religion he knows precious little about. Or is he just as poorly educated about Christianity?

  10. drummie says:

    In case someone gets the idea that I am against immigration, forget it. I am one, but I have assimilated into my country, it’s laws, and it’s customs.

  11. John Wilkins says:

    Did you ever hear of a story about a man who was crucified by a mob? They all had good reasons. And, alas, you go ad hominem (“company man” after the bishop rather than address the issue: that perhaps the media got it wrong.

    I ask you, how many of the commentators actually quoted the original text of the Bishop’s interview or lecture? Go and find them.

    Giles Fraser nails it also:

  12. stevenanderson says:

    Don’t you tire of trying to explain away the problems caused by ABC and his like by saying that most of us are just too uneducated to understand the words they use to state their ideas? If one’s responsibility is to lead and nurture the COE and AC, wouldn’t one be prudent to speak in terms those memberships can understand? But I don’t accept that ABC’s continuing problems come because he is so much more intelligent than the rest of us and so we are just too stupid to understand what he means. We understand all too well.

    Further, over more than 30 years the excuses for much in ECUSA have been based in the supposed need to reach the “common man on the street.” More than one ECUSA type explained that the revision (dumbing-down) of the BCP was necessary so that the man on the street could feel better about understanding its contents. Same for some hymn changes and “Rite” versions, etc. All that was baloney, but now, as needed, the same people explain that we shouldn’t object to statements from ABC and various ECUSA radicals–because we just are too dense to understand these elite types. I say once more that if one is an “academic,” one should be able to communicate with one’s “students.” Else get thee to a community of monks who are as hyper-educated as you are and babble to one another.

  13. Dale Rye says:

    The coverage of the Archbishop’s Presidential Address to General Synod on BBC America was illustrated with an Iranian flag behind the presenter, suggesting none too subtly that he was advocating an Islamic Republic. The only person interviewed for the story was the chief organizer of the GAFCON conference. The story said that the Abp. had failed to answer whether he advocated the creation of a parallel legal system, which he had expressly done not only in the address but on several other occasions in the previous five days.

    This is not about people being stupid. It is about intelligent people, both in the press and in the church, being deliberately malicious. There are none so deaf as those who will not hear.

  14. pendennis88 says:

    Well, Wright does call it a serious issue, but I think he minimizes how unwisely the Archbishop handled the subject and how serious the damage is, which cannot just be blamed on the media. As to the scholarly manner in which “the fundamental issue he was addressing is the relation between the law of the land and the religious conscience of the citizen”, perhaps the Archbishop might not have lost the thread had he read, say, the first 1000 or so pages of law review articles on Lexis already on the subject.

  15. Dale Rye says:

    I just came upon an [url=]interesting article by Matt Wardman[/i] on the role of the BBC in all this. He documents that timestamps on the first news site and blog postings show that the firestorm had begun even before the interview was broadcast or the lecture delivered. The debate had been framed by the BBC News Update headline (“The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that the adoption of Sharia Law in some parts of Britain is inevitable”) aired before the interview even began on Radio 4, and by the similar BBC website headline that was up, at a minimum, several minutes before the interview was over. Responses on news sites and blogs, and from politicians, began immediately, clearly reacting to the BBC story and not to the interview, which was barely over and not readily available for several hours to those who had not heard it live. Most of those who later took the trouble to read the transcript or the lecture were reading it with that particular interpretation in mind. Many of them had a predisposition to take a swipe at the Archbishop, Islam, immigration, religion, or all the above. They gladly took up the chance the BBC had presented them to do so.

  16. Dale Rye says:

    Proper link to the [url=]interesting article by Matt Wardman[/url].

  17. rugbyplayingpriest says:

    The point that all this furore brought to the fore is that the ABC is looking ike a very weak leader no matter which way you look at things. I honestly cannot think of many moments when he seems in control and articulate and inspiring to the nation.

    Yes he is a lovely fellow. Yes he has a great ‘academic’ brain.
    But so what. He does not seem to have the vision and charisma to inspire confidence in the commuinion.

    Its a bit like Brian Robson – a great footballer but useless manager!

    I cannot help but feel he would be happier back at Oxbridge and with someone more suitable at the helm.

  18. Alta Californian says:

    What I find fascinating is that few people are relating this incident to a similar one, Pope Benedict XVI’s remarks about Islam last year. That was another case of a reference in an academic lecture being ripped out of context and splashed across the headlines. It enflamed passions people already had. I look at this situation and see that Williams is being attacked by people who already dislike him: conservatives who are already upset at him for the Anglican crisis, and secularlists and media liberals who think he’s a dotty old representative of a dying Christendom. There are legitimate criticisms to be made of Rowan’s comments, to be sure, but the overreaction and hysteria (and calls for resignation) are as unwarranted as they were for BXVI.

    Wright has shown a great deal of support over time for Williams, and often defends him against attacks by the press. It seems unusual at times, but I think he feels a sort of kinship for a fellow academic who he feels is often misunderstood.

  19. Dale Rye says:

    In a related story, the “unapologetically creedal, and incurably Anglican” [url=]Rev. Richard Kew[/url] describes [url=]a recent encounter with the Archbishop.[/url] Money line: [blockquote]when it comes to forthrightly proclaiming Christ and his Resurrection, then this old-fashioned Anglican evangelical and priest of the Episcopal Church is happy to say that Rowan Williams is your man.[/blockquote]

  20. Katherine says:

    #11, if you go to Stand Firm or posts on this blog, you will find numerous examples of published commentaries from people who heard the radio interview and/or read the transcript of the Archbishop’s lecture. There are some people who have read the lecture transcript, like Bishop Wright, who think that the Archbishop has been misrepresented, but the large majority don’t think so, and they cover the spectrum from left to right. #15, if he hadn’t said what he did say, the uproar created by the BBC headline would have lasted only until the details were available.

  21. John Wilkins says:

    Katherine: do you believe in original sin? Sometimes people invent things and then the mob crucifies. Stephen Anderson says, “We understand all too well.” but, then, what does he understand?

    1) the Archbishop is undermining Christian culture (really? How can one man do that at an academic conference without the help of that Christian Fundamentalist organization the BBC?)
    2) he supports the bludgeoning of Islamic women
    3) he believes that Christians should live obsequiously under Islamic Law in Nigeria.

    True? Who cares if they are true or not. Believing that the archbishop would endorse sharia is much sexier.

    I think he’s shown remarkable leadership in the last couple days. He said something courageous that people would beat him up for. Most of us wouldn’t take such a risk.

    I haven’t seen very many commentaries on this blog that opposed Rowan that seemed to grasp what he was saying – they tended to quote the BBC and not his article. Certainly not those who are attacking him. I don’t know about Stand Firm. Perhaps, Katherine, you might go to the interview and tease out what you found objectionable. That might be a better place to start.

    As far as damage goes – what is the damage? for the first time, the dialogue has gotten much more interesting. What people are uncomfortable with is that what has been hidden, is now revealed, which is pretty much all you can ask for from a religious leader. And of course, the really good ones will get beaten up by the pharisees, the high priests, the political leaders, etc.

    Familiar story? I would hope so.

  22. John Wilkins says:

    Dale – fabulous article. The Archbishop never had a chance. Don’t think the people at stand firm or MCJ will publish that however: its a bit inconvenient.

  23. Wilfred says:

    Dale, I have a hard time believing the BBC got the story wrong because they are a gang of conservatives who have a “predisposition to take a swipe at the Archbishop”. Every time I have watched the BBC, I got the distinct impression they were a bunch of lefties with an arabist/islamist bias. I gave up watching their news channel 5 years ago, only a few days into the Invasion of Iraq, because it was just like al-Jazeera. (I would have stopped even sooner, but the sight of news anchor Michelle Hussein’s unveiled face caused me to linger). (And by the way, was this some sort of deliberate provocation, to have the news be read by a Hussein)?

    My point: if the BBC got it wrong, maybe it was because Mr Williams really was unclear. But maybe they’re right, and he has a declinist, defeatist attitude.

  24. Katherine says:

    I have read the transcript of the interview and the transcript of the lecture. Williams said what he was reported to have said. There have been numerous published commentaries which quote his remarks in detail. Go read them. There’s no point in my re-writing what has already been done repeatedly.

    He certainly has started a discussion, but I don’t think it’s going in the direction he intended. He’s pretty much blown a hole in Britain’s pretense that creating separate cultural ghettoes is the best way to handle immigrants from other cultures. At some point, judgments about right and wrong have to be made, and Britain may have reached that point. To implement sharia family law in the UK would be to abandon British Muslim women to an unjust and oppressive system. You may not care about how these women are treated, John Wilkins, but I do, and so should the Archbishop.

  25. Katherine says:

    On a less heated note, it seems to me that some people who admire Dr. Williams for his great intellect and abilities are finding it hard to accept his error here. Conservatives who have been frustrated with his refusal to apply discipline in the communion have for some time been reading his statements and parsing his words trying to find encouragement where there isn’t much, and now we have people who admire his leadership parsing his words trying to find that he didn’t say what most people see clearly that he did say. Even a man who is usually brilliant is capable of making mistakes.

  26. Adam 12 says:

    It is a bit off the thread but I sometimes wonder if Wright imagines himself in line for the ABC post post-Williams.

  27. Phil says:

    John Wilkins, the “mob crucifies” meme is getting a little tiring. I guess two can play at that game: Bob Duncan and Jack Iker pull the covers back to show the rotten center of ECUSA, and Schori and her mob crucifies them. Peter Akinola stands up for biblical truth, and the decadent Western mob crucifies him. A faithful minority of Episcopalians lets the majority know it isn’t God’s job to guarantee Gene Robinson a great sex life, and the majority crucifies.

    Got it? In this show, your side is the mob. I’m sure you’ve seen General Convention.

  28. Bob G+ says:

    Katherine – I can certainly accept that time or place may have been in error. I will certainly admit that if the ABC had intended the paper for general consumption, whether for the nation or the communion, then he made an error by certainly did not writing for his audience.

    What frustrates me is that in his writing and interview, he says something like, “this is not what I mean” and normally trusted authorities say, “this is not what he meant, by his own words,” yet people keep asserting the opposite. Can he be in error? Absolutely. The error, however, seems to be when people (no matter their persuasion) insist that he said this or that when he specifically says not so.

  29. John Wilkins says:

    Katherine: I haven’t seen any. Honest. Even the BBC misquoted it. The Archbishop NEVER SAID he endorsed ghettos. Nor did he suggest that the UK abandon Muslim women. He never said it, period. In fact, Deborah Orr makes the opposite conclusion about his view of women than you do, saying “I have to confess that it lifts my heart to imagine a legally and religiously recognised board of religious Muslim people, widely supported, and committed to taking a lead in plotting a modern yet Islamic attitude to the rights of women in Britain and around the world. It could be rather wonderful, and is quite a different proposition from the one we have been led to believe that Williams made.” She understood it. She read it.

    Look, I’ll help you. He says, in the lecture “There can be no blank cheques given to unexamined scruples.” Then “in some areas, especially family law, could have the effect of reinforcing in minority communities some of the most repressive or retrograde elements in them, with particularly serious consequences for the role and liberties of women.” Then: “The problem here is that recognising the authority of a communal religious court to decide finally and authoritatively about such a question would in effect not merely allow an additional layer of legal routes for resolving conflicts and ordering behaviour but would actually deprive members of the minority community of rights and liberties that they were entitled to enjoy as citizens; and while a legal system might properly admit structures or protocols that embody the diversity of moral reasoning in a plural society by allowing scope for a minority group to administer its affairs according to its own convictions, it can hardly admit or ‘license’ protocols that effectively take away the rights it acknowledges as generally valid.” then qhoting a woman Jewish Legal scholar: “The Jewish legal theorist Ayelet Shachar, in a highly original and significant monograph on Multicultural Jurisdictions: Cultural Differences and Women’s Rights (2001), explores the risks of any model that ends up ‘franchising’ a non-state jurisdiction so as to reinforce its most problematic features and further disadvantage its weakest members: ‘we must be alert’, she writes, ‘to the potentially injurious effects of well-meaning external protections upon different categories of group members here – effects which may unwittingly exacerbate preexisting internal power hierarchies’ (113). She argues that if we are serious in trying to move away from a model that treats one jurisdiction as having a monopoly of socially defining roles and relations, we do not solve any problems by a purely uncritical endorsement of a communal legal structure which can only be avoided by deciding to leave the community altogether. We need, according to Shachar, to ‘work to overcome the ultimatum of “either your culture or your rights”‘

    Then he offers a more useful example: The point has been granted in respect of medical professionals who may be asked to perform or co-operate in performing abortions – a perfectly reasonable example of the law doing what I earlier defined as its job, securing space for those aspects of human motivation and behaviour that cannot be finally determined by any corporate or social system. It is difficult to see quite why the principle cannot be extended in other areas. But it is undeniable that there is pressure from some quarters to insist that conscientious disagreement should always be overruled by a monopolistic understanding of jurisdiction.” Then: “But as I have hinted, I do not believe this can be done without some thinking also about the very nature of law. It is always easy to take refuge in some form of positivism; and what I have called legal universalism, when divorced from a serious theoretical (and, I would argue, religious) underpinning, can turn into a positivism as sterile as any other variety.”

    In the interview he is led on by the interviewer: he says, “It seems unavoidable and indeed as a matter of fact certain provision of Sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law” Note “seems” and “in fact.” Nothing controversial. He is not endorsing it. Those who assume he is are liars and willfully misrepresenting him. Regarding women: “nobody in their right mind I think would want to see in this country a kind of inhumanity that sometimes appears to be associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women as well.”

    Look, next time he gets invited to a women’s rights conference I’ll expect him to talk about women. But then he’ll be attacked for “Goddess” worship and “feminism.”

    gledhill suggests “If I were Rowan Williams right now, I think I’d want to climb into a Tupperware box and hide.” Heh – that’s what she expects of a leader? If anything, when you make mistake, don’t hide – but stand by it, admit when wrong, and let it blow over.

    Quentin Letts writes “The most interesting thing about this row may not be the contribution of the Archbishop, a kindly soul who obviously believes all that ecumenical jazz.

    It may be the reaction of a British Left which has reflexively recoiled from the multi-culturalism it so long promoted and may now be taking out its self-hatred on this druidical figure in the black cassock and Elijah beard.

    Daft? If you insist. But bold and eloquent, too. ”

    But most of them – (look I do other things besides blog) did not quote him or even seek to understand him. Instead, adhominem attacks all the way around.

  30. Christopher Johnson says:

    “Inconvenient,” John? Oh please. That story proves nothing. If you or anybody else seriously thinks that this controversy was gotten up by the BBC(as left-wing an organization as there is in the world) and has the legs that it does only because some people reacted to a headline then not to put too fine a point on it but you’re too delusional to allowed to run around unsupervised.

    You liberals(and N. T. Wright) deliberately refuse to come to grips with the fact that a great many of us did read what Dr. Williams had to say and were appalled by the naivete and ignorance of an allegedly intelligent Christian. Because I guess that gets in the way of your personal narrative, doesn’t it?

  31. Virgil in Tacoma says:

    #30…Why is it that so many like the ad hominem argument? I would really like to see a philosophical discussion on the problem of law in a pluralist cultural/religious environment. Far more interesting.

  32. Frances Scott says:

    Somehow the “all men are equal” standard here in the USA has been diluted to the idea that either anyone who speaks up should speak in words that every one can understand or that no matter what anyone says everyone is able to understand what is said. Truth is that neither intelligence nor education is equally distributed. It is also true that every academic discipline has its own terminology that enables those educated in that discipline to discuss complex ideas using a specialized vocabulary that enables one word to covey a whole set of premises and well developed arguments. I read and re-read ++Williams’ speech; most of it I understood. The rest I understood well enough to know that the media was bent on making mischief. I no longer pay attention to Ruth Gledhill because of her tendency to sensationalize.

    Many thanks to N.T. Wright for his article.

  33. John Wilkins says:

    Christopher – did you look at the evidence? Or will you just offer another insult. They are very amusing. Always look forward to them. I wonder what would happen if you used your smarts not to abuse people but to argument. You might convince someone who didn’t already think like you do.

    As I said, Rowan Williams simply didn’t say what people think he did. Point out the quote to me where he believes that women should submit to being beaten under Sharia? Or that he believes in parallel jurisdictions. He said: “There can be no blank cheques given to unexamined scruples.” to the aspects of Sharia law that you and I find offensive. Then he says, “in some areas, especially family law, could have the effect of reinforcing in minority communities some of the most repressive or retrograde elements in them, with particularly serious consequences for the role and liberties of women.”

    So – where did you find this quote in the commentary about him? I’m waiting… for an insult. Not quite expecting a response.

    Look, I do think that +Rowan might not be perfectly correct about this. There is a pretty lengthy literature about this (I did my thesis about community “rights”) and I came out on the liberal (and in this case liberal means anti-Rowan) side against communitarian ethics (rather, I argued that a liberal, universalist system still had priority over cultural-religious communities). But most conservatives should be very uncomfortable with this…. He is tackling it with some care.

    The BBC is an independent organization. Of course, as Colbert notes, the facts have a “liberal” bias.

  34. Wilfred says:

    John, your #29 post reads like a parody of dwstroudmd’s parody (on another thread) of Rowan Williams’ verbose prose. Pity us, be succinct.

  35. Virgil in Tacoma says:

    #32…Frances…You stated that so well. Thanks.

  36. Christopher Johnson says:

    I’m well aware of what Williams said, John. And I did read that article, John, and found nothing of substance in it. The issue here is Dr. Williams’ blindness to the way sharia actually works and actually works in Britain right now. As well as his addle-headed belief that Britain will somehow be able to negotiate a kind, gentle, British sharia and thus somehow promote “social cohesion.”

    The thing I’m having a hard time figuring out is why people like you refuse to accept the fact that a great many intelligent people did read what Dr. Williams said and were horrified by it. And I’m also having a tough time trying to figure out what would prompt a whole lot of people who are either indifferent to the Church or England or who are on Dr. Williams’ political side to suddenly and maliciously gang up on him. But as far as libeling the motives and the intelligence of conservative Christians is concerned, I guess it’s any port in a storm.

  37. Phil says:

    John, you’re missing the point. Of course, Williams doesn’t believe that women should submit to being beaten under Sharia. He argues that it’s unavoidable that the UK will allow certain communities to opt out of British law and opt in to a nice, sanitized legal code in which there are no honor killings, no amputations, no gays getting stoned, no women imprisoned for not being fully veiled, etc. The foolishness is, even though Williams calls that mythical system “Sharia,” it’s not Sharia. And the sheer amount of living in a cave it has to take to think, in today’s world, that it’s all going to stop short of the real thing and end as a pleasant multi-culti adornment to UK society is what prompts Theodore Dalrymple to write that, “Rarely does philosophical inanity dovetail so neatly into total ignorance of concrete social realities: it is as though the archbishop were the product of the coupling of Goldilocks and Neville Chamberlain.”

  38. John Wilkins says:

    Christopher – it’s not that hard to figure out: its called scapegoating. It happens constantly in organizations and in societies. The person who tries to figure out what’s really going on gets beaten up for it. I mean, isn’t that a pretty central aspect of what makes Christianity true? What I think conservatives didn’t realize is that (as Richard Kew noted), +Williams is a deep critic of secular society in a way that should be familiar to most christians – and he was applying that same skepticism to how the secular state deals with Muslims.

    You say, “The issue here is Dr. Williams’ blindness to the way sharia actually works and actually works in Britain right now. As well as his addle-headed belief that Britain will somehow be able to negotiate a kind, gentle, British sharia and thus somehow promote “social cohesion.”

    I’m not sure if he’s blind to the way it actually works – he indicated that Sharia in Britain would be different than in Saudi Arabia. He also noted that there would be differences in Sharia even in Britain. he even insinuated that some forms of Sharia were not essential to Sharia but cultural constructs. That’s an interesting point – one that Muslims should listen to carefully. It is a subtle condemnation of the way many Muslims understand the law. Now – he could be wrong: in this case conservative Christians and Fundamentalist Muslims agree that Islam can’t change and that there is no moderate face. So, I guess, the answer of where are the moderate Muslims is made a tautology: its impossible. Fortunately, Rowan chooses to give some room to the moderates.

    Now – it may be addle headed to believe that Britain will negotiate a “kind” sharia that may or may not promote social cohesion, but nobody knows. What is true is that Sharia is already being practiced. But what is interesting is how people are ganging up on him for trying to make an argument that – in intellectual discourse – could be wrong. But that is what people who debate do. Those who seek knowledge aren’t always right (except, perhaps, conservatives….). And, unfortunately, lots of intelligent people are going after the man – even though they read and understand, they hit at him rather than at the idea. Perhaps only the FT did the righteous thing and argued against him on principle. That’s different.

    Phil then says he calls this “mythical system” sharia. Look, phil, you’re clearly a lot more knowledgeable about Sharia than I am. I don’t know classical Arabic, and I don’t tend to read a lot on Islamic Law. I do know that religions change, and that Christianity has a tendency to change other religions for the better.

    However, once you bring in Chamberlain, I realize there’s no hope for further discourse. +Williams was careful, hoping we wouldn’t base our definitions of sharia on what the west says sharia is, but on what Islamic scholars say it is – opening up an argument for Muslim moderates.

    I recognize, of course, that most of us would prefer to stone him for disobeying Christian convention. Perhaps we’ve learned a lot from Sharia ourselves in our eagerness to take him down.

  39. robroy says:

    The expert in Sharia law that Rowan Williams cites was Tariq Ramadan. Mr Ramadan would not condemn stoning of adulterous women. Rather he did “compromise” and say that the meting out of this punishment ought to be delayed until the (world wide) caliphate is established. For this “compromise”, he was roundly condemned by other Sharia experts world wide. Anyone who thinks that one can implement “limited” Sharia and this will please (or appease) anyone is being silly.

  40. Wilfred says:

    #38- John, did you mean an oxymoron, not a tautology?

  41. John Wilkins says:

    Wilfred – yes – an oxymoron. You’re right (blogging – not conducive to writing well)

    Anyway – [url= ]Here[/url] is a rational response to the Archbishop – one that isn’t ad hominem.

    First, there is already leeway in the law for private arbitration in family and commercial affairs. The legal monopoly the state rightly insists on, guarantees all citizens equal rights and access to justice. A Muslim (or any other) woman coerced to give up the right to, say, alimony or maintenance, must always have that redress.

    Second, there is no unified canon law in Islam – as the controversy over the legitimacy of Islamic bonds the FT reported this week shows. Dr Williams knows this, yet enthuses about the revival of ijtihad – reasoning from first principles to deal with modern problems not foreseen by the Prophet. This is, alas, still a minority position in most of Islam.

    Third, his proposals would risk pushing Muslims, many of them against their will, into the shell of religious identity….

    [b]There is another big idea struggling for supremacy in the Archbishop’s speech. His underlying argument reflects his belief and dismay that religion has been banished to the private realm of individual choice. He would have done better to have adapted and repeated his call at his enthronement five years ago for Christians (and Muslims) to engage with public life.[/b]

  42. Katherine says:

    John, apologies for disappearing. I am living seven hours ahead of you in a Muslim country. However, I don’t have much to add to the discussion above. Tariq Ramadan, the Archbishop’s sharia expert, has close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Islam he and others like him advocate is modified only in the sense that it is incomplete in a world which Islam does not yet control. Here in Egypt, for instance, heads and hands are not chopped off, as they are just on the other side of the Red Sea. But the provisions governing family law are the same. These are given in the Qur’an, and they are not “first principles” from which civil codes can be derives in various cultural circumstances. They are immutable laws given in a book which was handed down intact from heaven. Women’s inferior status and witness in a court of law are fixed. It is naive in the extreme to think that a “kinder, gentler” sharia is what we are discussing. If that is what the Archbishop meant, rather than the reality of sharia, he is mistaken.

    I am fortunate here to have a learned friend, a non-practicing Muslim. He agrees with these various authors who say that Islam is an all-or-nothing package. His son, who has become religious, was hassling him this past fall because he does not fast at Ramadan. My friend became tired of the argument, and said, “All right, son. I will become fully observant. And as part of my rights as a Muslim, I will go out in the street, spot a young woman whose shape I like, talk to her father, and marry her. And I will divorce your mother (his wife of 49 years) and give her three months’ alimony. This is my right as a Muslim man, and you know it.” The son became quiet.

    It may be that after generations of living in Britain under British law that British Muslims will develop an Islamic law which is modern and enlightened. Let us hope that it will be so. But it isn’t the case now, and the Archbishop’s speech, whatever his intentions, invites the harsh reality of sharia to be imposed on British women today in law as it already is in fact. British law has developed on a Christian base and reflects modern ideals of justice and equal treatment. Let British Christians witness to Muslim immigrants by being (a) Christian and (b) British, inviting the Muslims to join them in (b) if they are unable to become Christian.

  43. azusa says:

    John Wilkins – Ironically, the peson deploying ad hominem remarks is your good self, in defense of the character of Rowan Williams. But the inteligent critique of his lecture and radio interview was not directed at the man but his argument.
    And I don’t believe for one moment that you, knowing about India, would support giving Islamic law official jurisdiction alongside or in place of western law.

  44. Katherine says:

    Thanks for bringing up India, The Gordian. It is very clear from the example of India that the maintenance of separate family law jurisdictions for various religious groups has the effect of maintaining the separations. It does not promote social cohesion; it inhibits it. In India, this was necessary because it reflected the pre-existing situation. The introduction of these legal separations in the West would be disastrous for social cohesion. Melanie Phillips has repeatedly pointed out in her commentaries that the Archbishop’s references to alternative Jewish courts is inaccurate. Such tribunals exist, of course, by choice, but where the law applies the issue must still be taken to the civil courts.

  45. Katherine says:

    John, for analysis by someone who attended the lecture and quotes Williams, see [url=]here[/url] and [url=]here[/url].

  46. robroy says:

    Rowan Williams and John Wilkins wish to encourage “moderate muslims.” RW cites Tariq Ramadan supposedly as one of the these. I think it is important to hear from this moderate muslim. This exchange occurred during a debate with the then interior minister of France, Nicolas Sarkozy in 2003. “Asked point-blank whether women found guilty of adultery should be stoned to death, Ramadan refused to condemn Koranic law and called instead for a moratorium:”
    [blockquote][b]Sarkozy[/b]: A moratorium…. Mr. Ramadan, are you serious?
    [b]Ramadan[/b]: Wait, let me finish.
    [b]Sarkozy[/b]: A moratorium, that is to say, we should, for a while, hold back from stoning women?
    [b]Ramadan[/b]: No, no, wait…. What does a moratorium mean? A moratorium would mean that we absolutely end the application of all of those penalties, in order to have a true debate. And my position is that if we arrive at a consensus among Muslims, it will necessarily end. But you cannot, you know, when you are in a community…. Today on television, I can please the French people who are watching by saying, “Me, my own position.” But my own position doesn’t count. What matters is to bring about an evolution in Muslim mentalities, Mr. Sarkozy. It’s necessary that you understand….
    [b]Sarkozy[/b]: But, Mr. Ramadan….
    [b]Ramadan[/b]: Let me finish.
    [b]Sarkozy[/b]: Just one point. I understand you, but Muslims are human beings who live in 2003 in France, since we are speaking about the French community, and you have just said something particularly incredible, which is that the stoning of women, yes, the stoning is a bit shocking, but we should simply declare a moratorium, and then we are going to think about it in order to decide if it is good…. But that’s monstrous–to stone a woman because she is an adulterer! It’s necessary to condemn it!
    [b]Ramadan[/b]: Mr. Sarkozy, listen well to what I am saying. What I say, my own position, is that the law is not applicable–that’s clear. But today, I speak to Muslims around the world and I take part, even in the United States, in the Muslim world…. You should have a pedagogical posture that makes people discuss things. You can decide all by yourself to be a progressive in the communities. That’s too easy. Today my position is, that is to say, “We should stop.”
    [b]Sarkozy[/b]: Mr. Ramadan, if it is regressive not to want to stone women, I avow that I am a regressive. [/blockquote]
    There you have, my friends, moderate Islam. And, it should be noted that this “moratorium” called for by Mr Ramadan was roundly condemned around the world by Sharia experts as being unacceptable. As Karen, states Sharia is an all or nothing package.

  47. Bob G+ says:

    Robroy – I’m sure Ramadan’s stance was condemned by those Sharia experts who want the more regressive forms to rule the day. After I read your contribution, I was struck that Ramadan said the following: “Today on television, I can please the French people who are watching by saying, ‘Me, my own position.’ But my own position doesn’t count.” and then, “What matters is to bring about an [i]evolution[/i] in Muslim mentalities…” and “You should have a [i]pedagogical posture[/i] that makes people discuss things. You can decide all by yourself to be a progressive in the communities. That’s too easy. Today my position is, that is to say, ‘We should stop.’”

    What I hear is a person that understands that his personal opinion in the grand scheme of things is meaningless. It is too easy just to stand up and shout culturally contrary things (compare Malcolm X’s and Dr. King’s tactics). It seems, and OICBW, that Ramadan wants to engage the ardent “Sharia-ists” in order to bring reform (or just common interpretation/application at some point), rather than preaching a revolutionary overturning of present cultural situations, which wouldn’t be possible anyway.

    We have to deal with the world the way it is and devise ways and means of bringing it to where we want it to be. Just standing up and shouting, “Stop this” or “Be this way,” or passing some laws or even bombing them to hell in order to stop them will not succeed. Consider Jesus’ command to love even our enemy – and that would be until death if necessary. There is a great article in this month’s Atlantic Monthly magazine, entitled “God’s Country,” that details the conflicts between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, and how two people – one Imam and one Pastor – who were bitter enemies and who led killing gangs against each other’s people, now work together because through civil engagement and discussion have realized that there is a better way to deal with their differences.

    Who, in the end, had the most influence in changing American society – the revolution talking Malcolm X or the non-violent Dr. King? Who would we rather had risen to the ascendancy of the Civil Rights Movement – Malcolm or King? Who would we want to ultimately rise to the ascendancy of the inter-religious conflicts over the interpretation and application of Sharia in the world, someone like the Iranian Grand Ayatollah or someone like Ramadan?

    This is where +Rowan engages, I think, the debate about how a secular society can accommodate religious communities and their peculiar beliefs and ways of ordering themselves under the common law of the land and without sacrificing the guaranteed right to State protection for civil rights and against abuse. We can resort to dictatorial rulings or bombings against those who we despise (and sometimes we may be forced to do so), or we can engage those who will engage in the hope to change all of society for the better – more like King than Malcolm. More like the Imam and Pastor in Nigeria, today rather than a few years ago. Sorry for the length.

  48. mathman says:

    Sorry, Bishop Wright. Sorry, ABC Williams.
    Nuance does not apply to sharia law.
    You can look it up.
    In a book.
    The Koran.
    It is all or nothing. There are no grays. It is all white or black.
    You either submit TOTALLY to Allah as revealed in the Koran, or you are an infidel.
    Any capacity to pick and choose, any ability to make any judgment, any editing, any interpretation–they are not there. You learn Arabic. You read the Koran in the exact language in which it was given. And that is it. You submit to THAT vision, and no other.
    I regret exceedingly that Bishop Wright and ABC Williams lack the intellectual breadth to recognize that there are ways of looking at the world other than their own.
    But the way of the Muslim is not western.

  49. Wilfred says:

    Stop it, mathman. You’re making it sound too appealing to a clarity-seeking guy like me.

  50. robroy says:

    60% of muslims in Britain do not want Sharia. 40% do. What percentage would want a partial Sharia? My guess is that is pretty close to zip. The Sharia-ists won’t settle for anything but cutting off the hands of thieves, divorce and impoverishment of wives by thrice decree, etc. The ones that oppose Sharia are know they are benefiting from British justice. Hare-brain scheme is an appropriate descriptor.

  51. Cousin Vinnie says:

    Bishop Wright says: “If I ask someone to fix my car, or my computer, I don’t expect to understand everything they say about the technicalities; rather, I’m glad someone out there knows what’s going on and can do what’s necessary.”

    His analogy would have a lot more force if the ABC had given any evidence of being able to fix things. The computer that the ABC is responsible to fix is still broken.

  52. John Wilkins says:

    #Mathman – you and lots of fundamentalist, radical Muslims are in agreement. You didn’t get +Rowan’s fundamental bombshell: he assumes that Muslims KNOW that sharia is culturally conditioned. This should strike terror into many Muslims, and the Conservatives who enjoy hating them. Personally, I’m surprised the Rowan gets the support he does from Conservatives, because he says this clearly. By insinuating that divine laws change he has undermined the Islamic crazies.

    Of course, this shouldn’t comfort Christian crazies either.

    Robroy, if you had read the transcript, the interview, you would have seen that he only supports the idea when people who already consent to go to such courts. One would ALWAYS have redress to the British system. What you have heard about his view are … lies. Sharia could not be mandated in Britain, nor did he ever say he supported mandating it. He simply said that if some Muslims prefer to go to Islamic courts they could. And ONLY if BOTH parties want to. This is simply… freedom of religion.

    The analogy he made was to a doctor who, for religious reasons, refuses to perform an abortion.

  53. John Wilkins says:

    Katherine, I red the two articles by Melanie Phillips. They are awful. She just reads him… wrong. When he does clarify, she says “no you didn’t” ascribing to him motives he simply doesn’t have. She is looking for evidence that he is supporting dhimmitude, when he is doing something far more subtle.