Alastair’s Place

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More on the Archibishop

I like the way the Archibishop and his friends are now trying to make out that it is all down to people misunderstanding what he said, and trying to imply that all of the controversy is because people thought he was talking about stonings and amputations and all the other wonderful things that Shari‘a is responsible for in other countries.

I never thought he was talking about any of that.

Nor, I suspect, do most of the other people who have criticised his remarks.

Here’s a very pertinent quote from his lecture:

“The danger arises not only when there is an assumption on the religious side that membership of the community (belonging to the umma or the Church or whatever) is the only significant category… There is a position – not at all unfamiliar in contemporary discussion – which says that to be a citizen is essentially and simply to be under the rule of the uniform law of a sovereign state, in such a way that any other relations, commitments or protocols of behaviour belong exclusively to the realm of the private and of individual choice.”

Excuse me?! How is the idea that the law is the law and that it should apply equally to all citizens a “danger”? Religious convictions necessarily must be kept a matter of private and individual choice, because not all of us share those convictions. It simply isn’t acceptable for religious groups to get special treatment of any description under the law1.

I have no problem with people using Orthodox Jewish or Islamic Shari‘a “courts” to fulfil the role of mediators in disputes if they so wish. But their decisions should be granted no more weight than those of any other mediator. Which is, as I understand it, the status quo.

Additionally, on his website, it says:

The Archbishop made no proposals for sharia in either the lecture or the interview, and certainly did not call for its introduction as some kind of parallel jurisdiction to the civil law.

Yet most of his lecture is in exactly that vein. He may never say it explicitly, but it is clearly what he was thinking; for instance:

…it might be possible to think in terms of what she calls ‘transformative accommodation’: a scheme in which individuals retain the liberty to choose the jurisdiction under which they will seek to resolve certain carefully specified matters…


But if what we want socially is a pattern of relations in which a plurality of divers [sic] and overlapping affiliations work for a common good, and in which groups of serious and profound conviction are not systematically faced with the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty, it [‘transformative accommodation’] seems unavoidable.

The simple fact is that religion has no place in law. It is not deserving of special rules to prevent “religious offence” or blasphemy (though many countries, the U.K. included, have enacted such legislation), or of get-out clauses in laws intended to prevent discrimination.

The general principle must be that the adherents of religion should be given no special treatment whatsoever. If they find that their religious convictions then clash with the law of the land in which they live, they should either campaign to change that law (and in the meantime abide by it, however unacceptable they find it), or move to another legislative jurisdiction where the problem does not exist.

1 I’m sure some will say, well, we should make sure that we allow e.g. the Catholic Church to require that Cardinals be practising Catholics. Yes, of course we should. But if it weren’t for other special treatment given to religion in law, there would be no need to distinguish between this situation and the situation where a club or society is trying to recruit a Chairman, who must naturally be a member of that club or society.