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.
In the days immediately before going to Peter Clarke’s funeral, I did some work in Scotland, and then on the Saturday attended a conference to celebrate the life of David Dale, who died two hundred years ago. David Dale’s life and achievements have tended to be somewhat overshadowed by his son-in-law Robert Owen, the Utopian socialist reformer, whose own son Robert Dale Owen left his mark on history when persuading Abraham Lincoln of the case for the abolition of slavery. Robert Owen was part of a consortium that took over the mills at New Lanark when David Dale, who had built the mills – initially in cooperation with Richard Arkwright – retired to his house in Cambuslang. Building those spectacular mills and harnessing the power from the falls of Clyde to drive the water wheels that turned the machinery, was clearly an achievement in itself and a triumph of engineering and enterprise, but Dale was much more than a builder and owner of cotton mills. With so much written about Dale, including plentiful web entries in e.g. Wikipedia and David McLaren’s printed biography, this is not a place to report further on Dale’s drive, his entrepreneurial activity, his key role as financier in western Scotland, his independent stance vis-à-vis the established churches, his philanthropy, his commitment to the health and education of the “pauper apprentices” who worked in his mills, or even his funeral when the streets of Glasgow were evidently packed with mourners. Let me declare an interest.
David Dale was my great, great, great grandfather. His second daughter Mary married my great great grandfather James Haldane Stewart. Their granddaughter Caroline Sophia Campbell Stewart married my grandfather Ernest Morell Blackie. To put it another way, my grandmother’s grandmother was David Dale’s daughter. I knew my grandmother and put that way the link has more immediacy, and as I walked around New Lanark on Sunday morning and came to David Dale’s house there, it was intriguing to reflect that I walked where my grandmother’s grandmother had played as a little girl.
The risk of being a family history bore is close if not already present, but perhaps the reader will indulge a point of historical interest. James Haldane Stewart’s grandfather was Charles James Stewart (5th of Ardsheal) who led the Stewart clans in the Jacobite rebellion in 1745 [see third para under heading "History"]. Charles was exiled after the defeat at Culloden and his land forfeited, and his son Duncan eventually found work as a customs collector in New England. Duncan married the daughter of a colonial family, one Anne Erving, and their son James, destined to marry Mary Dale, was born in America, but left that country very soon afterwards (there being no enduring place for British tax collectors!). Mary Dale’s mother meanwhile was born Ann Caroline Campbell, daughter of John Campbell, the “cashier” (chief executive) of the Royal Bank of Scotland. This was the Campbell who had hidden the bank’s money in Edinburgh castle when Bonnie Prince Charlie, flush from victory at Prestonpans, marched into Edinburgh. Campbell, by so depriving Charles Edward Stuart of a key requirement in his quest to capture the throne, was thus arguably in part responsible for the ultimate Hanoverian triumph over the routed Jacobites, including the humiliation of the man whose grandson was, about 60 years later, to marry Campbell’s granddaughter.
New Lanark is today a World Heritage site, and well worth a visit.