Friday 8 February 2008

Shariaing with the Archbishop

The comments on Thinking Anglicans that most impress me on this matter of Britain inevitably adopting a parallel Sharia Law on civil matters for Muslim communities, according to this most puzzling of Archbishops, are by those who see a contrast between his view of Muslims having the option of separate laws on some ethical and family matters - and yet a lack of diversity of laws and customs when it comes to his own worldwide Anglican Communion (and one Church claiming another is too different within Anglicanism). The comments say he has it the wrong way around, and he does. There is religious diversity but there is one State and one Law.

The BBC News Website report has a clarity about it that the lecture by the Archbishop does not possess. Lambeth Palace seems to find it necessary to produce a full transcript of the BBC Radio 4 World at One interview.

I watched BBC One's A Week in Politics just make fun of Rowan Williams ("the Druid") and of course the principle is that one law makes us a wide community and offers basic protections. Earlier when interviewed (can't remember where) Trevor Phillips said he was being "dangerous". Some Muslims don't want this separation, others want a kind of Ottoman Empire localism of laws.

The civil law is not some sort of pocket of what can be diverse because in this country we have views about equality and diversity that are reflected within one civil law to which everyone is entitled and under which everyone has a standard imposed. Channel 4 recently showed a TV programme in which some private Sharia law enforcement was going on within the UK. A man had two wives and he was in some dispute with one of them. Sorry, but I thought we had a law that means we have one wife or one husband or one same sex partner in a civil ceremony but not combinations or multiples. This was an example of oppression in action. The woman could walk off and go to civil courts - real ones - if she wanted. Except her community would come after her, and attempt to exercise an oppression over her. She was apparently consenting to the situation she was in. Maybe she was, and genuinely - but if she did not she must be able to get away; there must be protection when she no longer wishes to come under such private arrangements and there must be one law.

Some years ago I conducted a marriage ceremony out on Manchester Square's green. I wrote it. Lots of people came and dressed up. The marriage was recognised by the couple: it was theirs and it had real meaning to them. The bit at the Register Office was nothing much in comparison. So there is always space for custom. But in law the marriage I conducted was nothing, and the marriage in the Register Office was everything. And that is correct, and how it should be.

There is another reason why we have one law, that no one has yet mentioned. It is called compulsion. The one institution that can have ultimate force over the individual is the State. There are all kinds of situations that can be challenged by contracts and, dare say, covenantal relationships, but whatever challenges and spaces the State builds in for checks and balances, in the end the State has the crunch point of compulsion. It is under this that we have one law. We can take account of other customs, we can build in laws originating elsewhere, but in the end the unity of the law is the unity of the State and everyone within its borders.

The Archbishop is in the business of wanting exemptions: exemptions regarding some moral laws that go against Church teachings, and so he is stating the same for Muslims. This is a fragmentary form of multiculturalism, and its worst kind. No - the Church nor Muslims cannot be exempt. There are now Civil Partnerships and the Church has been forced to recognise them regarding pension laws, and so it must. It may create its own silly rules about participation - that many churchpeople oppose - but it cannot have compulsion over these people. They then go away and form their own Church, for example, which they are entitled to do. The Church has no compulsion over others (why it is wrong for it to be too involved in State education, where there is a lack of alternative and good State provision).

This Archbishop is not a liberal: he rather lives in an enclosure, like a postmodern bubble of Churchworld in Religions World - far closer to John Milbank's theology than is comfortable. Yeah, well we do not. I find the Archbishop's positions increasingly unethical when it comes to basic rights and basic equalities. No thank you to these, no thank you at all. Religion rightly should be private; the secular State is the means to protect religious and human equalities.

Meanwhile I agree in a way with Mad Priest:



Now that John Reaney has bee awarded damages in his case against Hereford Diocese and Bishop Pridis for sexual discrimination, receiving £47,345 in compensation, one wonders if the Archbishop of Canterbury will be seeking legal exemptions for religious groups: Sharia Law for some Muslims and discrimination law for some Christians. Here we see demonstrated that there is but one law of the land, and that law protects basic human rights including sexual discrimination in employment when inflicted by a Church.

1 comment:

Doorman-Priest said...

My first three conversations this morning were deliberately with my Muslim colleagues. They were appalled.