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Stupid old fart
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grufty jim
grufty jim
1947 posts

Edited Feb 09, 2008, 00:01
Re: Stupid old fart
Feb 08, 2008, 23:58
The thing with Rowan Williams is that he's unfortunately far too thoughtful a person to ever come across well in the media. Yes, I know he's an archbishop and that makes him -- by definition -- on the other side of the fence from me, but he's also a very very perceptive person.

Let me give you my take on what he said. I'm not suggesting this is The One True interpretation, but given what I know of the man's intelligence, I suspect it's pretty close to what he meant.

Let's start with the quote that has so incensed you...

Dr Williams said Muslims should not have to choose between "the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty".

What, precisely, is wrong with that statement?

Me? I don't believe that anyone should have to make such a stark choice. I believe that liberal, enlightened governments (i.e. not those of religious states) should attempt to accommodate the cultures of all those who live within the state, so long as it does not transgress the legal and sociocultural norms of the state.

Let's take an example... Islamic law forbids the charging (and by extension, the payment) of interest. It's considered usury and is a sin in their culture. In order to accommodate this, Islamic banks are permitted to sell "Islamic mortgages" in the UK (note: Muslims don't end up paying any less than the rest of us, it's just calculated in a different way so as to avoid interest). Now, I can't say I've examined the details of the Islamic banking system, so I don't know how it works exactly, but it seems to work fine for them, and it ain't hurting you and me.

Why therefore should Muslims not be permitted to organise their finances in a way that is culturally relevant to them? Why should they be forced to make the stark choice between their culture and UK law? (Note: UK law was amended to take the Islamic banking system into account).

So to broaden it out from that single issue, let's place Rowan Williams' words into context.

There is clearly an increasing social friction developing between the Muslim community in the west and mainstream society. One only needs to read about how you're five times more likely to be the target of a random stop-and-search by the police if you "look Asian" than if you're white, to realise that our society runs the risk (if we've not done it already) of ghettoising Muslims (I'm speaking here as much about psychological alienation and ghettoisation as I am about geography).

Now this is an important issue, because marginalised communities have a negative impact on society as a whole. Even if we don't care about the effect of such marginalisation on Muslims, we should do all we can to minimise it for our own benefit.

In this respect, Williams was simply suggesting that in cases where it does not breach UK laws, and where both parties agree to it, then Muslims should be able to choose to have civil disputes settled in Sharia courts as opposed to UK civil courts.

It's important that we read and digest those provisos. Williams is not suggesting that Sharia should ever supersede UK law. And he was not suggesting that it should ever be applicable to criminal cases.

In fact, and I think this is where people really need to read the totality of what he said rather than appealing to a single quote out of context, Williams was simply suggesting that Muslims should be afforded the same rights as Jews.

See, Orthodox Jews living in the UK can already agree to have civil cases heard in the London Beth Din. They already have this right under English law. Williams was merely suggesting that if we already afford such a right to one community (and have done for a long time), then it's racism -- pure and simple -- to deny the same rights to another community.

Williams was not suggesting that a UK Sharia Court have any more jurisdiction or power than the London Beth Din. What dismayed him -- and dismays me -- is how this debate is clearly being manipulated by cynical anti-muslim sentiment. Lots of calling for Rowan's resignation. Lots of people saying "Sharia? Over my dead body!" But nobody making a fuss about the fact that the Beth Din can see Jewish divorce cases, and the Pope in Rome can annul Catholic marriages. But when a Muslim asks to be treated in the same way? Out come the objections.

Now. Having said all that, I'm going to backtrack quite a lot. You see, I don't believe that Sharia should be introduced. Because I don't believe that laws based on a thousand-year-old dogma should be applied to modern people (even if that's what they want... my views of religious dogma are pretty militant).

HOWEVER, so long as Jews and (to a lesser extent) Catholics enjoy such rights, and so long as there isn't an equal clamour to have other religious courts outlawed, then singling out Sharia smacks of racism.

NOTE: VERY IMPORTANT POINT!! I am NOT suggesting anyone here is being racist. Fact is, most people aren't aware of the London Beth Din and the fact that Jews already have the right to a religious court in civil cases. And I'm sure that you, shanshee, will agree with me when I say that none of these courts should be in operation. But wouldn't you also agree that so long as we allow one culture to enact religious law, that (again, so long as it does not actually contradict local law) we need to be consistent and allow others also? And wouldn't you agree that the huge focus on Sharia combined with the near total-silence on the Beth Din, is indicative of generalised prejudice within the media, and society in general?
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