Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Rowan Williams for Dummies

David Aaronovich gives the Dummies' Version of Rowan Williams's speech:
I was pedantic enough - unlike some of his most enthusiastic assassins - to read the bloody speech.
Here is my summary so you don't have to: there are lots of religious people in Britain who look to religious precepts in their solving of domestic and contractual problems, and in directing their behaviour. This is “unavoidable”. Some of these solutions are recognised in English and Scottish law, and some of them aren't. Where they aren't, we run the danger that people will both feel and be marginalised.
Not only that, but with a non-hierarchical religion, such as Islam, we risk this marginalised legal process being controlled at a local level by “primitivists” and not by wise authorities: a bit like, say, the bishops of the Church of England. If we handle this right, we could have sensible Sharia courts with legal standing, and if we handle it wrong we could have a lot of bongo-brains exercising real power, but outside the law. And we won't like that.
That's his argument. And the Archbishop was quite aware of some of the objections. Supplementary courts could not, he argued, be used to undermine human rights.
So we would have a Britain-friendly supplementary Sharia and a “market element” in law for those who freely chose it - and who, sensibly, could object to that? Neither Dr Williams nor his argument deserved the beating-up they received. And if his contribution was “unhelpful”, it was largely rendered so by the reaction to it. Obscurity rarely in itself incites hatred. But he was obscure, because it is only with great difficulty and by seeking for evidence that we can work out where his direction of travel might take us.
Interesting... still objectionable for various reasons, but the scale of the hysteria rendered an intelligent dissection of Rowan Williams's ideas impossible.
I can't say I agree with Aaronovich's response to the speech, but his summary is, I think, quite useful and accurate.