Friday, February 08, 2008

An archbishop errs

John F. Burns of the New York Times reports on a controversial speech delivered February 7 by Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader of the world's Anglicans. In this address Williams called for "constructive accommodation" with Islamic law. He proposed that Shariah be recognized alongside Britain's legal system, at least for family law. Of course, the prelate is against "extreme punishments" and provisions allowing for the subjugation of women.

Who is to say what extreme punishments are? And some Muslim women claim that they like their second-class status, which clearly defines their place.

He remarks: "I don't think that we should instantly spring to the conclusion that the whole of that world of jurisprudence and practice is somehow monstruously incompatible with human rights simply because it does not fit with how we understand it." This is a slippery slope argument. Today we may recognize Shariah for questions like inheritance and adoption. Where, though, is the acceptance to stop? Why not extend it, as some Islamists would favor, to cover honor killings and forced female genital mutilation?

The idea of equality before the law is the result of centuries of struggle in the English-speaking world. Now the archbishop want to throw out this achievement in the interests of multiculturist accommodation. That is pure faeces. It is time to recognize than in some significant areas of human affairs Western law is simply superior to that of other cultures. This is a truth that multiculturalists have a great deal of trouble acknowledging.

He further remarks that the introduction of Shariah law is "unavoidable." That would seem to be a slippery slope indeed.

A couple of years ago leading clergy of the three Abrahamic faiths--Jewish, Christian, and Muslim--joined together in violent denunciations of a gay pride parade in Jerusalem. "At last," a wag declared, "unity has been achieved among the three major religions."

Unfortunately, there are many instances of religious leaders coming together across lines of faith to work against the common good. Archbishop Rowan Williams' speech is one of those occasions.

Concluding note: Long ago, the Western world had an unhappy experience with legal pluralism. This occurred in France during the Merovingian era, some 1500 years ago. Merovingian law was not universal law equally applicable to all; it was applied to each man according to his ethnic origin. Ripuarian Franks were subject to their own Lex Ripuaria, codified at a late date, while the so-called Lex Salica (Salic Law) of the Salian clans, first tentatively codified in 511, was invoked under medieval exigencies as late as the Valois era. (Some may remember the tortured reasoning invoked by an earlier Archbishop of Canterbury in Shakeseare's" Henry V.")

In due course, France and the other countries of Europe saw the need for a universal code of law that would apply to all citizens equally. Evidently, the archbishop wants to set the clock back to the Dark Ages.


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