Canterbury Tale, revisited

Back to the controversy over the Archbishop of Canterbury saying that England should accept at least a limited jurisdiction of Islamic law (sharia). . . . Some of you said that the Archbishop’s statement was misinterpreted and taken out of context, that it was more nuanced than the reports indicated and that it was not so bad.  We should read what he actually said.  Well,  Anne Applebaum did, and here is her conclusion:

Arguing that his remarks were misunderstood, misinterpreted and taken out of context, his office even took the trouble to publish them, in lecture form and the radio interview version, on his official Web site. I highly recommend a closer look. Reading them, it instantly becomes clear that every syllable of the harshest tabloid criticism is more than well deserved. The archbishop’s language is mild-mannered, legalistic, jargon-riddled; the sentiments behind them are profoundly dangerous.   

What one British writer called the ” jurisprudential kernel” of his thoughts is as follows: In the modern world, we must avoid the “inflexible or over-restrictive applications of traditional law” and must be wary of our “universalist Enlightenment system,” which risks “ghettoizing” a minority. Instead, we must embrace the notion of “plural jurisdiction.” This, in other words, was no pleasant fluff about tolerance for foreigners: This was a call for the evisceration of the British legal system as we know it.

I understand, of course, that sharia courts vary from country to country, that not every Muslim country stones adulterers and that some British Muslims volunteer to let unofficial sharia courts monitor their domestic disputes, which is not much different from choosing to work things out with the help of a marriage counselor. But the archbishop’s speech actually touched on something far more fundamental: the question of whether all aspects of the British legal system necessarily apply to all the inhabitants of Britain.

This is no merely theoretical issue, since conflicts between sharia law and British law arise ever more frequently. . . .Police in Wales are dealing with an epidemic of forced marriages, honor killings remain a perennial problem, and British law has already been altered to accommodate “sharia” mortgages. The archbishop is absolutely right in his belief that a universalist Enlightenment system — one in which the legitimacy of the law derives from democratic procedures, not divine edicts, and in which the same rules apply to everyone living in the same society — cannot easily accommodate all of these different practices.

I enjoy seeing liberal folk get hoisted on their own petard (virtual contest:  explain that figure of speech), so I especially appreciated Applebaum’s accusing the politically-correct archbishop of racial intolerance: 

His beliefs are merely an elaborate, intellectualized version of a commonly held, and deeply offensive, Western prejudice: Alone among all of the world’s many religious groups, Muslims living in Western countries cannot be expected to conform to Western law — or perhaps do not deserve to be treated as legal equals of their non-Muslim neighbors.  

Every time police shrug their shoulders when a Muslim woman complains that she has been forced to marry against her will, every time a Western doctor tries not to notice the female circumcisions being carried out in his hospital, they are acting in the spirit of the archbishop of Canterbury. So is the social worker who dismisses the plight of an illiterate, house-bound woman, removed from her village and sent across the world to marry a man she has never met, on the grounds that her religion prohibits interference. That’s why — if there is to be war between the British tabloids [calling for his resignation] and the archbishop — I’m on the side of the Sun.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Jim Tallmon

    From the New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy:

    (pi-TAHRD) To be caught in one’s own trap: “The swindler cheated himself out of most of his money, and his victims were satisfied to see him hoist by his own petard.” A “petard” was an explosive device used in medieval warfare. To be hoisted, or lifted, by a petard literally means to be blown up.

  • Jim Tallmon

    From the New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy:

    (pi-TAHRD) To be caught in one’s own trap: “The swindler cheated himself out of most of his money, and his victims were satisfied to see him hoist by his own petard.” A “petard” was an explosive device used in medieval warfare. To be hoisted, or lifted, by a petard literally means to be blown up.

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    I tend to agree with Ross Douthat:

    “…if you detach the address from the actual historical context in which it was delivered, you’re left with a somewhat-turgid but nonetheless interesting meditation on the relationship between civil law and religious law, and between the liberal state and religious communities.”

    However, Williams expressed himself bumblingly and his timing was quite infelicitous:

    “Perhaps there will come a time when an Archbishop of Canterbury will have the luxury to muse at length on whether it might be appropriate for his nation to consider some sort of “plural jurisdiction” where Muslim communities are concerned. But regardless of his good intentions, it seems to me the height of folly for this head of the Church of England, at this moment in the history of his nation and his faith, to wander in the gardens of intellectual theory while brushing away the actual controversies on the ground.”

    http://rossdouthat.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/02/sharia_comes_for_the_archbisho.php

  • http://viz.tumblr.com Tickletext

    I tend to agree with Ross Douthat:

    “…if you detach the address from the actual historical context in which it was delivered, you’re left with a somewhat-turgid but nonetheless interesting meditation on the relationship between civil law and religious law, and between the liberal state and religious communities.”

    However, Williams expressed himself bumblingly and his timing was quite infelicitous:

    “Perhaps there will come a time when an Archbishop of Canterbury will have the luxury to muse at length on whether it might be appropriate for his nation to consider some sort of “plural jurisdiction” where Muslim communities are concerned. But regardless of his good intentions, it seems to me the height of folly for this head of the Church of England, at this moment in the history of his nation and his faith, to wander in the gardens of intellectual theory while brushing away the actual controversies on the ground.”

    http://rossdouthat.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/02/sharia_comes_for_the_archbisho.php

  • http://www.pagantolutheran.blogspot.com Bruce

    “Let it work. For ’tis the sport to have the enginer
    Hoist with his own petard, and ‘t shall go hard
    But I will delve one yard below their mines
    and blow them at the moon.”
    Hamlet, 3.4:214ff.

    Petard, btw, comes from the French for “breaking wind”.

  • http://www.pagantolutheran.blogspot.com Bruce

    “Let it work. For ’tis the sport to have the enginer
    Hoist with his own petard, and ‘t shall go hard
    But I will delve one yard below their mines
    and blow them at the moon.”
    Hamlet, 3.4:214ff.

    Petard, btw, comes from the French for “breaking wind”.

  • http://www.pagantolutheran.blogspot.com Bruce

    As for the Archbishop’s approach to accomodating the Turks: St. Paul warned, “Good character is ruined by bad company” in 1Co. The Archbishop apparently does not think this applies to him or his situation. He seems to believe that if we just listen long and hard enough to each other, that we’ll come to realize that we’re all in this together and our differences aren’t that great. He is taking that approach as head of his church body, and now is urging the British to do the same in their legal system.

    The fact is, one must take a good hard look at whether one’s good character can survive the bad company one is placed in. All over Europe, countries have opened their doors to the cheap labor offered by Muslims. They have to do this because they’re mortgaging their future and cultural heritage by not reproducing at a sufficient rate to survive as a people. It is as though one generation decided to cash in the cultural chips accumulated over a thousand years. And too late–cue the Netherlands reaction–they are seeing that the cheap labor comes at a much higher price than advertised.
    CP Krauth, writing in the latter half of the nineteenth century, once described the three steps that a movement will use to gain power and influence. The first step is to beg for a place at the table. The second is to insist that their values are equal to the existing but conflicting values. And the third is to claim superiority of values, and to dominate. I wonder where the Islamic movement is in Britain in this progression?

  • http://www.pagantolutheran.blogspot.com Bruce

    As for the Archbishop’s approach to accomodating the Turks: St. Paul warned, “Good character is ruined by bad company” in 1Co. The Archbishop apparently does not think this applies to him or his situation. He seems to believe that if we just listen long and hard enough to each other, that we’ll come to realize that we’re all in this together and our differences aren’t that great. He is taking that approach as head of his church body, and now is urging the British to do the same in their legal system.

    The fact is, one must take a good hard look at whether one’s good character can survive the bad company one is placed in. All over Europe, countries have opened their doors to the cheap labor offered by Muslims. They have to do this because they’re mortgaging their future and cultural heritage by not reproducing at a sufficient rate to survive as a people. It is as though one generation decided to cash in the cultural chips accumulated over a thousand years. And too late–cue the Netherlands reaction–they are seeing that the cheap labor comes at a much higher price than advertised.
    CP Krauth, writing in the latter half of the nineteenth century, once described the three steps that a movement will use to gain power and influence. The first step is to beg for a place at the table. The second is to insist that their values are equal to the existing but conflicting values. And the third is to claim superiority of values, and to dominate. I wonder where the Islamic movement is in Britain in this progression?

  • Norman Teigen

    I read the BBC report on this subject earlier today. I think that the A of C is trying to accommodate all and he is sadly, I think, making a fool of himself in the process.

    It’s incredible that one person should have such public influence as the A of C. Of course, the C of E is part of the British state, an idea that we wisely got rid of more than two hundred years ago.

  • Norman Teigen

    I read the BBC report on this subject earlier today. I think that the A of C is trying to accommodate all and he is sadly, I think, making a fool of himself in the process.

    It’s incredible that one person should have such public influence as the A of C. Of course, the C of E is part of the British state, an idea that we wisely got rid of more than two hundred years ago.

  • Patrick Kyle

    Jesus said you cannot serve two masters. You will love one and hate the other. I wonder which master the Muslims will hate and which they will love? ( And this doesn’t make Christians a threat to the government-we serve our Master by following His command and being good citizens.

  • Patrick Kyle

    Jesus said you cannot serve two masters. You will love one and hate the other. I wonder which master the Muslims will hate and which they will love? ( And this doesn’t make Christians a threat to the government-we serve our Master by following His command and being good citizens.


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