Sunday, February 10, 2008

Appalling intolerance

Foreign readers may not be aware that the archbishop of Canterbury (who's the head of the Church of England here) has been receiving a huge amount of criticism in the UK over the last few days. Given the title of this post and without knowing anything about the situation, most people would probably assume that once again, a religious leader has made some intolerant comments about gay people or sex before marriage or something like that. It matters so much less when it's just one person who's in the wrong. Unfortunately, this time I think that it's the Archbishop of Canterbury who's right, and 99% of the British population (and 100%+ of the media) who are in the wrong :-(.

The "sin" of the archbishop was to suggest tolerance in connection with Muslim Sharia law when he gave the foundation lecture at the Royal Courts of Justice last Thursday. Visit the archbishop's web site for the full text of the lecture, which is highly academic in nature. Unfortunately, this was given slightly sensational coverage by the British media, even from news organisations that I normally respect such as:

BBC news: Sharia law in UK is 'unavoidable'
Telegraph: Rowan Williams says Sharia law unavoidable
Guardian: Archbishop backs sharia law for British Muslims

This news coverage, which is often inaccurate because he did not "back sharia law", has prompted a sometimes hysterical reaction from the much of the British establishment and the population at large. Visit any of the online forums and comment pages that all these news organisations run to see what I mean. I am utterly appalled by the intolerance that is being displayed by so many of my fellow countrymen.

Although I'm not a religious person myself, I DO want to see religious leaders preach tolerance of other religions. It's right for them to suggest that people should try and find ways to accommodate other beliefs, which at the end of the day is all the archbishop of Canterbury was trying to do. In this case, it may well turn out that there are serious incompatibilities between British law and Sharia law, it may well turn out that there is no way round practical problems which would arise from having two different legal systems in one country, but it is NOT right to denounce anyone for suggesting that for peace on earth it might be worth trying. And in case anyone hadn't noticed, tolerance IS completely in tune with the teachings of the great spiritual leaders, including recent ones like Gandhi, and perhaps most importantly here with old ones like Jesus Christ!


Anonymous said...

I don't think it's a good idea that the solution to a person's dilemma to choose between cultural loyalty or state loyalty, is to simpy merge the two.

I think it is interesting that he compared Muslim Sharia and Jewish Beth Din, because both religious also have the unique quality of also being state religions.
Orthodox muslims do things differently and so do Jews. The difference: an orthodox jew would simply ignore external influences, as they simply don't believe in it, but many Muslims (I emphasise not all!) need to impose their rejection of these external ideas. And impose theirs, a concept I strongly oppose.

I have always felt Muslims feel threatened by any other religion, as if it is some kind of temptation leading them away from their faith. They must find a suitable way to practise their faith, without expecting or needing others around them to change to accommodate them. That in my opinion is the struggle that many of them face. I do not believe that the Islam practised today allows for finding such an amicable way.

Without doubt, his view, *theoretically*, is sensible. However, there is an infinite difference between what written in a book and what is actually done. I would request the Archbishop to live in any country where the Sahria is active. In my opinion, it is contructed on the concept of equality and fairness on religious principles, not humanitarian. I feel the Beth Din, on the other hand, is simply a different honour system, it wants to be humanitarian and fair, but by using a different set of criteria.

The suggestion, gives authority to the makers of an external law system, who by definition, would also like to see their way dealt a better hand. Where do you draw the line?

A case in point, Muslims are not supposed to expose their legs below above their knees to anyone. They are also not to be nude in front of anyone. Well in a school changing room, that's can happen. Which led to the demand for separate spaces. Which led to the new ruling allowing this. End result: Non muslims affected. And expected to change.

Equality is NOT about expecting change from those you are not like you, it is about being hindered or to be hindered from doing what you want.

When they collide, and you must hinder others to do what you want, it is unreasonable and the time to change. No matter what your beliefs or values are.

Anonymous said...

Putting it another way, imagine no nudity allowed in the locker room, because of Sharia law which is now part of British Law! ;)

Anonymous said...

My thanks for your very sensible approach to what the Archbishop said. My thanks also for your blog.

A dedicated cleric reader.

Anonymous said...

TYPO @ anon 1: Equality is NOT about expecting change from those you are not like you, it is about *not* being hindered or to be hindered from doing what you want.

Big difference :)

Anonymous said...

It's anon1 again. I've been reading up on the issues, and after some thought, I think I got the Archbishop's message and the issue wrong; he needs to emphatically state that he does not want sharia law to be incorporated into British Law. I had only fully read the media reports so far and a bit of his speech. I've read through his enitre speech now, quite academic indeed :)

I think the Beth Din model could work well, for a start. Sharia is in no way incorporated into mainstream law, however, if both parties agree to sharia law, then the ruling stands. It should also clearly draw lines and give Muslim the space they need to practise their law. Of course, it should only even considered when both parties agree. Issues need to be worked out for eg the punishments, but it's a start.

I generally believe Sharia is something relatively orthodox muslims follow, I still stand wondering how safe it is to give them this space. It could end up with giving some rope that they could hang others with?

I just want to be absolutely sure there isn't the possibilty of an Islamic state. Not even in a 100 years!

Whew... Too much politics for a day, probably made myself sound like a bigot. Oh well.. :)

Sir Wobin said...

What an emotive issue. I'd start by saying that Islam flows from the prophet Mohammed and thus being a work touched by man, contains a great deal of information about a lot of things. Whether you think there's a man behind the curtain/god behind the prophet is up to you. Dig deep enough in any of the Judeo-Christain religions and you'll find they are internally inconsistent. One part preaches peaceful coexistence and a few books along you'll find the most virulent hatred and intolerance. Trying to build a logical and well ordered foundation for life that accommodates all of these is probably impossible. One can only look at one part or another and generally proponents pick a section that supports their cause of the moment when they argue their case.

One thing can be said about the Sharia that is not contradicted (AFAIK) within the rest of Islam: Sharia is completely incompatible with other systems of law. It is a system of law that does not tolerate other systems. It is explicitly written into Sharia that it stands eternal, unchangable and it is a religious duty of all Muslims to supplant the laws of other countries with Sharia.

The Archbishop's intention that we find an accommodation with our Muslim countrymen is excellent. I agree that we should work towards this end but any integration of Sharia is impossible and totally unworkable. Sharia is incompatible with human rights and we should not sacrifice our own nor our Muslim neighbour's human rights in the pursuit of a better society.

Let's find another way.

Diogenes said...

This received a lot of press in the States, of course.

I think I side with John Lennon on this one. Imagine no religion. That applies to all of them.

"Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace"

40 years later it's still a radical idea.

Monty said...

Irrespective of the beliefs of anyone, it really just annoys me how the press will take one or two sentences from an entire speech and whip up a storm when the whole thing is taken out of context! If they actually bothered to report on the facts, an accurate view would be provided to the public, but no, they've gotta have their angle!!!

closetalk said...

ummm... u misspelled Gandhi.

GB said...

Thanks for all the comments guys. I'm glad that there was another comment from the first anonymous commenter too, because just picking a single example where Sharia law is incomptable with British law/culture really isn't the point, and there's a lot of that going on at the moment. However, Sir Wobin's criticism of Sharia seems more complete. And sorry for misspelling Gandhi Closetalk, I've corrected it now.

GB xxx

Cody said...

Scholarly paper indeed. Technical point: The Archbishop of Canterbury is Primate of All England, i.e., first bishop. The Head of the Church of England is the Monarch, Queen Elizabeth. Sort of a symbiotic relationship: the Archbishop is appointed by the Crown; the Archbishop crowns the Sovereign.

Pete said...

I must say I think you're right in general, with the exception of sharia law. It's the most intolerant and barbaric legal system I can think of, degrading women to half the value of men, for instance.

I know the archbishop is not supporting stoning and amputations, but sharia law is part of a system of intolerance that should not be introduced into the western world, and a western religious leader should not come close to suggesting it.

Fatwas, suras and hadiths supporting intolerance against gays for instance are partly responsible for the rising violence against homosexuals in my country. This is the mindset behind the sharia.

Tolerance as a response to intolerance only adds up to weakness, methinks.

Anonymous said...

I very much agree with Pete. I believe there is a trade off, having to choose the one or the other when it come to loyalty. You can not make everyone happy. I agree with you GB about the Archbishop, however the media do raise an important issue affecting the British people. If the sharia law people feel so strongly about it, then maybe they should re-consider, moving elsewhere where it is accepted. This is an British country, for the people, by the people! This matter is taking liberties. Its going overboard for trying to be liberally correct.

Anonymous said...

GB - was intrigued to see your comments on this matter here, and it was also quite informative to see the comments on this thread. My tuppence, for what its worth:

1) I think what the Archbishop was trying to say was GRAVELY misunderstood, but in a "theoretical" sense, was possibly the first that we've ever seen ANY Western religious leader attempt to reach out to a community that we've all heard is unintegrated, isolated, and now increasingly victimised in the "war on terror". Let's not forget God's own Rottweiler and his references last year to "dialogues" between the Ottoman Sultan and a religious cleric. I honestly think that the Archbishop was trying to make public what is already happening; i.e. that families in this country still rely on cultural strictures and religious moorings as a result of the communities that they live in.

2) Having said that, I don't think it advisable to go down the route of "legislating" Sharia into the prevalent legal system. This is not only because it is Sharia, which is particularly repressive if you're gay, but also because I think to privilege any particular religious legal system over another is quite difficult. Just because it happens within Judaism doesn't make it right; in fact, I'd be the first to suggest that privileges extended to the Jewish community be retracted. You can either have complete separation of state or religion, or not; there is no halfway house to separation.

Flexible Window

Anonymous said...

Some interesting comment by Johann Hari.

GB said...

It was interesting to see how many high quality 'anonymous' comments this post attracted. I normally don't like anonymous comments because they're usually quite low quality.

When I'm writing something to post here, I prefer to leave a gap of at least 12 hours between the writing and actually posting it, so that I'll be able to review it with a fresh mind before publishing. In the case of this post though, I felt so strongly that I just published it immediately. With my mind thinking about the appalling religious hatred and prejudices that seem to be embedded in this situation, and how good it was to see a Christian leader try and show some understanding for the Muslims who've had such a bad press in recent years, I actually had tears in my eyes when I was writing it.

I know nothing of Sharia law, except all the examples showing repressive it is, as mentioned in some of the comments above. Perhaps not a single piece could be incorporated into a liberal Western legal system, however I need to hear that from a Muslim expert rather than all the people who just know examples that show how bad it is.

I also disagree with Pete when he said "Tolerance as a response to intolerance only adds up to weakness, methinks", because intolerance as a response to intolerance leads to war. We can't lose sight of our humanity and principles just because other people don't like those ideas.

GB xxx