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.