Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bash the bishop!

Whatever you may think about The Archbishop of Canterbury's comments about aspects of Sharia law becoming integrated into British law, you have to admit that this Sun headline is fantastic.

Is Rowan Williams encouraging a situation where decisions on certain matters are devolved to the various religious authorities, as is the case in some countries where atheism basically isn't recognised? What about simply having one law for all and a separation of church, state and judiciary? On the other hand, if it were a voluntary code and you could opt out of Sharia and into British civil law then what is the problem? If it is a case of allowing Muslims greater freedom to have more of a parallel civil law system along the lines of the already existing Jewish Beth Din then would it not be unfair to deny one religion something that is granted to another? Are we all just programmed to go nuts when we hear the word Sharia?

These are serious questions and it's a really important debate. As it boils on I guess it's worth remembering that our more or less liberal society evolved out of something much less liberal in the past - and if it was possible for us to make this step then it's probably possible for others too. It's irrational to imagine that our essence is liberal while their (Muslims') essence is barbarically strict. It's also historically incorrect - girls in some Arab countries were jumping around in miniskirts during the 1960s and they still do, just not so much on the street. Islam is also 600+ years younger than Christianity. In the end, Muslims will decide for themselves what kind of Islam they want. Perhaps all the upheavals of the current time are part of a kind of Islamic Reformation. It hits the West at moments like 7/7 and 9/11 - but overall it's an internal dialogue and struggle within Islam. The more we slag off Islam, the more we give succour to its hardliners - the very people the West is most worried about.

I also wonder if many of those who decry Sharia the loudest would not like to see more authoritarian rule here anyway - the "bring back hanging" brigade. It has struck me, wandering about some of the Arab world, that what you see there - close knit families, low street crime, a policeman on every corner - is exactly what Daily Mail types wail that they want for the UK. Just without all the Arabs, of course...

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