Tuesday, February 12, 2008

British Bishop's Islamic Idiocy

By JOHN O'SULLIVAN February 11, 2008
NOTHING can have prepared Dr. Geoffrey Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, for the row that has broken out in Britain over his comments last week that the British adoption of some aspects of sharia law is "unavoidable" and that there is a case for "plural jurisdiction" At about the time Rowan Willians was named for the ancient See of Canterbury, a friend who'd known and admired the new archbishop well at Oxford told me he was alarmed by the news. "He is a fine teacher, a very scrupulous theologian and a pious man," said my friend. "But he lacks political skills and everyday common sense - which today are essential qualities in a successful archbishop."

He went on to predict that Anglicanism would be convulsed in rows that would deeply distress his old friend. That was a safe bet: The worldwide Anglican Communion was already embroiled in painful disputes between progressives and traditionalists over women priests, gay marriage and the authority of the biblical tradition. Alas, in the course of persuading both sides not to push their disputes to the point of breaking up Anglicanism, Rowan Williams as primate (first bishop among equals), has repeatedly turned the other cheek - and repeatedly got slapped by both sides. More, he has shown a genius for putting his foot in it with ill-judged public statements - for instance, that terrorists "can have serious moral goals" or that Western market transactions might be "acts of aggression" against the world's poor - that then require several rounds of further explanation.

Now his seeming advocacy of - or, at least, resignation to - British adoption of sharia. Other Anglican bishops have criticized his remarks; some prominent Muslims have (happily) denied that their co-religionists want sharia law in the UK; and several churchmen have called for his resignation. And the row shows no sign of stopping. After all, as the archbishop points out, some aspects of sharia are already recognized in Britain and British law. One sharia "court" in a London suburb, Leyton, has reportedly more than 7,000 divorces. In the capital's Woolwich district, the police granted the request of a stabbing victim's family for the perpetrator's release so that a Somali sharia "court" could handle the matter.

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