What does this man think he is doing? Perhaps it is because he is out of touch with the real world he thinks that he is acting nobly in the interests of peace and understanding. The reality is the opposite.
Of course there will be a few religious or political zealots who believe that their own code or law is paramount, and no doubt we will hear their views – probably ad nauseam - for the sake of “balance”. But that people in a given society should all, as a matter of fundamental principle, be treated equally should not be a matter for debate. It’s bad enough that there are so many who are privileged and able to get away with fiddling, as we have seen so frequently in Parliament for example, bad enough that some people can bypass tax laws or can “buy” justice because they can afford expensive lawyers, or that there are scroungers who can get allowances to which they are not entitled and so on, but those are just examples of where a system which is agreed in principle fails and has failed. Bloody awful, but at least we can try and see if such flaws can be put right.
But the archbishop is a fool. By suggesting that Sharia law is in some way inevitable, quite apart from deserting matters of principle and alienating middle Britain, he is creating a massive problem for the large majority of decent law-abiding Muslims in Britain who choose, rightly, to be regarded and accepted as British citizens, equal under the law with the rest of us. As soon as you create exception based on ethnicity you create division, and the potential for strife. The notion that Sharia law is inevitable is ludicrous anyway.
I lived, happily, within majority Muslim countries for a period of six years, and it never occurred to me that I should live by any other law, in any respect, than that of the countries in which I lived. In fact the idea would, rightly, have been not just laughed out of court, but firmly extinguished. If I had suggested otherwise, either they would have ordered me out of their country, or they would have put me away. That’s how it works there, and it’s how it should work here. That’s not a statement of aggression towards people with different beliefs or culture, it is exactly the opposite. It is a recognition that peace depends on compliance and a shared and universal code.
Our society in Britain is, for all its imperfections, a great deal better designed to deal with a multiplicity of ethnicity than most. It’s not for religious leaders, not for Muslim clerics or Christian archbishops or rabbis or druids or anybody else to pontificate about relativism in the law, or to come up with proposals which incite ethnic and civil division. They may be imperfect, but there are secular, democratic channels for change where it is needed. If divisive nonsense comes from some visiting eccentric, then at least a good part of the problem will go away in the departure lounge at Heathrow. If it comes from someone privileged to bear the historic title of Archbishop of Canterbury, then perhaps it’s time to bury the title.
Yes, I know. This blog is normally about the British Council. But what does a concern for “cultural relations” mean if not that you seek to create an environment – national and international - for people of different cultures to live together in greater harmony? This archbishop is a fathead. Let’s all say that, and put an end to this foolishness before real damage is done.