I didn't see the BBC program. Yet somehow I doubt the interviewer was swift enough to ask Williams whether this meant that the leader of a major Protestant Christian religion sanctioned polygamy. But that is exactly what Williams did. Why? Maybe it's the archbishop's attempt at horse trading with Muslim counterparts in Africa: The British government will legally allow Muslims multiple wives, if you agree not to blow up Anglican missionaries.
Williams engaged a variety of odious debating tactics to defend his position. There was the ever-popular Moral Equivalency Argument. He pointed to the existence of some Orthodox Jewish courts in Britain and the British government's tolerance for anti-abortion views of Catholics and other Christians. From there he argued that British laws should also make accommodation for Muslim ones.
When last I checked Jews and Christians -- now with the clear exception of the Anglican sect -- do not sanction polygamy.
And I am not aware that the decisions of the Jewish courts are legally binding, any more than the decisions of Britain's existing Islamic courts. Why would the archbishop want to put Islamic justice on par with British justice? Here he falls back on the Argument for Inevitability as a substitute for rational discourse:
“It seems unavoidable and, as a matter of fact, certain conditions of Sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law, so it is not as if we are bringing in an alien and rival system,” he said.British law --and indeed all law -- is based on the concept of justice. If you try to base justice on inevitability, this rationalizes all manner of crime and moral outrages.
As for the "certain conditions" of Sharia, they're not recognized by British law, they are studiously overlooked by the authorities. This has led to just the kind of situation that encourages the leader of the Anglican church to think he can fall back on apostasy as a justification for quid pro quo.
In addition to deploying arguments for moral equivalency and inevitability, the Archbishop engaged in the time-honored debating tactic of lying in one's teeth:
Nobody in their right mind would want to see in this country the kind of inhumanity that has sometimes been associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states: the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women. But there are ways of looking at marital disputes, for example, which provide an alternative to the divorce courts as we understand them.Williams knows full well that a justice system cannot study martial disputes without taking into account the attitudes of law toward women, including the concept of equality.
As for Williams's argument that people need look at Islamic law “with a clear eye and not imagine, either, that we know exactly what we mean by Sharia and just associate it with . . . Saudi Arabia, or whatever” -- with citizens such as Williams, Britain does not need enemies.
Williams may not know exactly what Sharia means but the Saudis are very clear on the meaning, and it is the Saudi interpretation of matters Islamic that has been widely disseminated in Britain and around the world. As Neil Docherty has pointed out:
[T]his business of the Saudis promoting extremism is not to be taken lightly. They have spent billions in oil money, and how does that manifest itself?Because the gist of Docherty's observations are well known, it seems that the archbishop also fell back on the debating tactic of Fuzzing the Facts.
It manifests itself in that if you want to become an Islamic scholar, the great universities are in Saudi Arabia and they are Wahhabi-influenced. And out of those universities come imams who are literally spread throughout the world. Saudi money builds the mosques -- it built the Finsbury Park mosque in London; it has built other radical mosques throughout the world.
The Saudis send out millions of translated Korans, and they have on the back of them 28 pages or so of essays on jihad. This is not a translation of the Koran; this is an interpretation of the Koran. Young Muslims read books, and these are the ones that are widely available. That influence is pernicious and very pervasive.
Several quarters in Britain, including the Muslim Council of Britain, are disputing Rowan Williams's call for legalizing aspects of Sharia. But I take little comfort in the vague response from Gordon Brown, who argued that British law must be based on British values. What values would those be? The proper way to cook fish and chips?
The British government and educational system need to clearly articulate British values; if that is too challenging they can start with defining and teaching the concept of "values" and work up slowly from there.
For more on the discussion see my 2005 essay United Kingdom and Sharia: British confusion about a fundamental aspect of democracy and nationhood, which includes helpful insights from a British reader on British law and Sharia in Britain.