Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has created a brouhaha after suggesting on Radio 4 that the acceptance, or ‘accommodation’, in the UK of some aspects of Sharia law might be ‘unavoidable’. This is already the case, apparently, with Sharia courts in Britain dealing with thousands of cases involving marital or financial disputes, without a whiff of fundamentalist alarm. So Williams’ possibly slightly regretful recognition of the fact is a bland enough position to hold and wholly in line with the Anglican church’s take on the world as something you can’t do very much about, so why not rub along with it. Accommodation is all.
For the tabloids, though, his comments were tantamount to endorsing mutilation in public squares, mass infibulation and obligatory burkhas for all Page Three models. In their Talibanesque way, they want his head, his blood, and any other essential organs going, though what constitutes essential for an archbishop is material for theologians rather than lay thinkers. They accuse him of wanting to destroy Britain, a place they happily execrate, day in day out, for its appalling youth, corrupt government, filthy manners and fondness for employing Polish plumbers and paying them under the table.
Yet what on earth should someone like Williams say? Hang the infidels? Re-impose tithes? Make everyone sing Kumbaya with a cheesy smile, wearing Cliff Richard tee-shirts? He’s a major religious figure, after all, so it’s part of his remit to believe that state legislation should represent ethical choices. He’s also, by all accounts, an ecumenical type, so can hardly pretend that the only valid ethical choices are Anglican. Ergo, he’s shafted.
Perhaps all this fuss will persuade people that no religious belief of any kind should be allowed to interfere with the law, which represents and defends all members of a society regardless of their household gods, and which should have no truck with the kind of nonsense religious leaders – invariably old, invariably male, all too frequently celibate – spout with such punitive abandon.
If this is true for lapidation and the chopping off of hands, it’s equally true for the malicious interference of, for example, the catholic church in the business of countries like Spain and Italy. Let’s face facts. If you let one bossy old know-all into the legislating chamber, you open the door to the whole damn gang.