More on Rowan Williams and Shar’ia

Tina Beattie in openDemocracy:

Nowhere in the lecture does Williams call for the implementation of sharia law – though this has become the default assumption underlying the febrile controversy the talk and its accompanying media coverage almost instantly generated. Rather, he asks how it might be possible for the civil law to accommodate some of the legal procedures by which Muslim communities in Britain have traditionally regulated their relationships and financial affairs, while safeguarding the equality and human rights afforded by modern law for vulnerable inidividuals (particularly women) within those communities. He reiterates several times that it would be important to ensure that “no ‘supplementary’ jurisdiction could have the power to deny access to the rights granted to other citizens or to punish its members for claiming those rights.” He also points out that there is already provision in English law for Jewish and Christian communities to have some autonomy over the governance of their religious affairs, without thereby putting themselves outside the law.

Christopher Hitchens in Slate:

[N]ow the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has cited the Beth Din [Jewish arbitration courts] as one of his reasons for believing that sharia, or Islamic law, can and should become a part of what he called “plural jurisdiction” in Britain. His reasoning, if one may call it that, is clear: Other faiths already have their own legal authorities, so why not the Muslims, too? What could be more tolerant and diverse? This same argument has been used already, and will be used again, to demand that laws governing “blasphemy,” originally written to protect only Christians from being upset, should now, in a nondiscriminatory way, be amended to cover Muslims as well. The alternative—don’t have any blasphemy laws and let religious people’s feelings be hurt, just as the feelings of the secular are regularly offended by religion—doesn’t occur to the archbishop and people who think like him.