You’ve got to hand it to Rowan Williams, the thoughtful Archbishop of Canterbury. Fresh from having mismanaged his sect’s attitude and response to homosexuality (damn those Africans for having all the money and none of the liberalism, eh), you’d have thought he might want a period away from extreme confrontations between sides with irreconcilable differences, but no. He’s now said that the adoption some aspects of sharia law in Britain was ‘unavoidable’. The reaction has been predictably fierce – just the other morning some members of the General Synod called for his resignation. Commentators too have gone for the jugular, and it would be easy to join in the knee jerk response. After all isn’t sharia responsible for stonings, beheadings and hangings in countries like Iran which are seriously unsafe for women and gay people in particular?
The answer of course is ‘yes’, but it isn’t what I see as the main point here. In the rush to ‘defend’ Christianity from Islam (as if it needs it, in a country where the head of state is the head of the religion), noone has actually thought past him. We’re in an age where in order to keep any degree of momentum in progressive politics, disestablishment really is necessary – the once and for all break of Church from state. Obviously Rowan Williams would likely get canned if he talked about that, but don’t be fooled about what he’s done with his comments about sharia. It’s entirely an exercise in getting new allies to try to short up a terminal decline in religion in this country, just at a time in which the country would best be served by encouraging the decline.
The evidence doesn’t really support him either. Whilst he’s clearly spoken about using sharia in a secular way, has he not noticed that political Islam is working for the most part in the opposite direction? Canada toyed with attempting the same thing, but it got ruled out on the grounds of the unacceptability of interference of religion in the justice system. And Turkey is having its own internal feuding (no doubt not helped by the US & UK in Iraq) about how to include Islam within a state which has prided itself in the past on its secularism. As Yasmin Alibhai-Brown also points out in the link earlier, is it not sending quite the wrong message to asylum seekers from countries like Iran, Iraq or Afghanistan to set up, even in an attempted secularised form, a system which many or most of them may be running from?
The notion of course of ‘God’s Law’ – one based on superstition rather than Enlightenment foundations or the acceptance of universal human rights – is utterly unacceptable in a modern, civil society. To allow the hint of pre-Enlightenment philosophy to gain legal legitimacy would be to discourage individual responsibility and thought, and would court disaster. Wanting to find a compromise by suggesting secularising a values sustem which has never been shown to be accommodating to it, might be intellectually noble, but it’s still horribly flawed. Superstition should be allowed in people’s individual lives and clearly within civil society, but the state should never support its inclusion as part of it, or an adjunct to it. Blair was wrong – freedom from religious persecution was logical in the sense that especially since 2001 people have conflated race and religion. But it’s also over-legitimised all religions to the detriment of all of us who believe in rationality above all.