Comments: press reactions to archbishop's lecture

Being naughty, I couldn't resist posting this CNN Report (from today): Greek Orthodox bishops Thursday elected Bishop Ieronymos of Thebes as church's successor to Archbishop Christodoulos.

Now there's an idea of something for the Bishops and Primates to do at Lambeth?!

Posted by david wh at Friday, 8 February 2008 at 12:39am GMT

I'm afraid that ++Canterbury entirely deserves this hammering from the press. Not only was his intervention muddled and completely lacking in foresight, it actually does great damage to those liberal and reformist Muslims one would have thought deserved his support.

It is fitting that some of the sharpest criticisms have come from Muslims themselves, a number of whom are disgusted that he has given more ammunition to the hardliners. Who will deciding which parts of Shar'ia law will be enforced and which will not but the hardline clerics? Or, as Khalid Mahmood points out, most orthodox imams do not accept that there are any half-way houses with Shar'ia - as divine law its juristiction is universal. Sheikh Michael Mumisa of Cambridge University, seems to reflect the criticisms of Williams made by other liberal groups, such as MECO, when he points out: 'I believe that the introduction of personal status laws, such as marriage, divorce and inheritance, within the UK will undermine the rights of Muslim women, the poor and anyone who doesn't really understand Islamic laws. The people who interpret these laws are male scholars and I know from experience that they always disadvantage women.'

What Williams has done is heard the shouting of the hardliners, and, terrified by a polarity of opinion, has taken it upon himself to address their needs only. I wonder whether this an aspect of Williams' cowardice, or just part of his naive belief that by appeasing conservative clerics they will meet you half way. There seem to be parallels between his approach to the Anglican hardliners (i.e. treat them as if they have a monopoly over orthodoxy), and his lack of appreciation for the wide variety of opinions within British Islam.

Posted by John Omani at Friday, 8 February 2008 at 1:26am GMT

Pre Modernity, or the social system outside of the Metropolis of the West is, amongst other things, marked by Priviledge - that is separate Legal system (including Courts of Law) for different groups, Estates and classes.

A Man may enjoy/exercise Legal/Social/Political/Economical Powers that a Woman lacks in part or in entirety, such as with Polygamy... (which is n o t about who gets to sleep with whom - or how many ;=)

The Single person may in his several capacities belong to different groups, exercising distinct Legal/Social/Political Capacities, such as a Bishop in Synod/Senate &c.

Posted by Göran Koch-Swahne at Friday, 8 February 2008 at 5:09am GMT

From the Guardian report on his BBC interview:- 'He did not endorse, however, the "kind of inhumanity" that was associated with sharia law in some Islamic states'. Does he mean to say that he would endorse other kinds of inhumanity in other Islamic states or elsewhere?

Why oh why does the ABC seem to think that what he says in a dense academic lecture is going to be actually understood by the popular press and the popular mind. One has to increasingly wonder whether he is the right man for the job, everything he touches just seems to blow up in his face. He promised to be breath of intelligent fresh air after Carey, instead he just seems to make everything even worse.

The reports stress that he was talking about the recognising or incorporating those parts of Sharia law relating to family, inheritance etc. The trouble is that it is clear that what Sharia law has to say about marriage, polygamy, divorce and sexual relations is completely at variance with the Western understanding of human and women's rights. These rights are fundamental to Western understanding of what it means to be human. Some Christians seem to think that these fundamental rights are at variance with their Christian understanding and seek common cause with those of other belief systems who think the same way. They seek to undermine these rights either by oposing or subverting the secular law or campainging for serate treatment on grounds of religious belief. (cf the recent row with the Catholic adoption agencies about gay adoption). It seems that the ABC shares this view. Different religious groups should be allowed their own laws and the right to enforce them by what ever means they see fit. Stoning adulterous women and beheading gay men is the logical outcome. The ABC is giving succor to those who believe this. No wonder there is such a row and no wonder that Bp Tom Butler on the radio and television is having such a hard time trying to calm things down.

Posted by Richard Ashby at Friday, 8 February 2008 at 10:34am GMT

Using sharia as the paradigm wasn’t the best choice, because sharia tends to have different connotations from those he intended (the Jewish beth din laws are less controversial, though still not great for the equality of women). Of course, what he’s managed to do is to brass off, in equal quantities:

(1) Those who argue for equal rights under the law in all circumstances
(2) Christian fundamentalists who hate all things Muslim
(3) Liberals and secularists who don’t want any special rights for people of faith
(4) The Press, who hate the fact that he doesn’t speak in words of one syllable
(5) Christians and others who see the malign version of sharia operating in other countries

It is sad that we can't have a rational debate on things in public any more. But I guess if he uses the language of the Cambridge Common Room for public discourse, he's going to get publicly massacred.

I don't happen to like what I understand of Muslim jurisprudence. And I dislike even more the totalitarian versions of sharia being peddled in different parts of the world. So it may not be possible to have the debate for which Rowan is calling. (There's a kind of parallel with communism here, in that it became impossible ever to argue publicly that communism could have anything to offer because the manifestations and outworkings of it in its Soviet and Maoist forms were so appalling. One wonders whether the Saudis and the Taliban have fatally damaged Islam in the same way). Rowan may then in the end have managed to provoke the wrong sort of debate...

Posted by Pete Broadbent at Friday, 8 February 2008 at 11:04am GMT

I was at the lecture last night.

We have an Archbishop of Canterbury who is thoughtful and interesting, with an extraordinary personal presence, who can deliver a lecture (or sermon) minute perfect in a way which can only be described as beautiful.

I don't agree with a lot of what he said, but not in a "yes/no" way, more because I think a lot of it is actually not new (people have been operating "opt in" private systems of law and law enforcement, like arbitration agreements, for centuries, and the Courts respect them) and some obvious points were overlooked (British Courts actually have a long history of not only respecting but actually deciding and administering Sharia law because of the multi faith Empire, e.g. Fatuma Binti Mohamed bin Salim Bakhshuwen v Mohamed Bin Salim Bakhshuwen [1952] volume 1 Appeal Cases page 1 Privy Council) and the hardest points were simply ducked - just how DO you decide the difference between cultural and foundational principles? How DO you protect faith community members such as women from oppression? He is against these things, but how?

I'm sorry the press have had a field day with one incautious remark about Sharia law being inevitable. I'm sorry his trademark nuance and questions-not-answers approach comes out so very badly in the soundbite.

But I would much rather have an Archbishop like this than some of the publicity SEEKING second raters who preceded him. He is an ambitious thinker, and so should any senior churchman worth his salt be.

The great hall of the Royal Courts of Justice is in every physical sense like a cathedral, except there is a clock where the altar should be. Last night was like a sermon. It was tremendously well done. I would rather have an Archbishop who is master of his sacred space than one who lives by spin.

I do feel a bit sorry for him this morning, though!

Posted by badman at Friday, 8 February 2008 at 11:09am GMT

"It is sad that we can't have a rational debate on things in public any more."

Pete, I think a lot of this relates to your point number 4. The Press isn't interested in factual reportage any more. It's all about ratings and circulation, and the easily misrepresented soundbite is far better for that than thoughtful exposition. I've often thought it would be a good Master's thesis in journalism if someone reviewed the news reports of the five major American TV news sources for the two weeks following Sept. 11, 1991 just to document how much of what was reported was actually wrong. I can name several things off the top of my head. That happened because it was more important to be first out with something, anything, aften acknowledged to be rumour, but more dangerously sometimes not, than it is to be factual. I actually once heard a news reporter start off a report with "You're not going to believe this but...." Well, if I'm not going to believe the news, one has to ask why that should be.

Posted by Ford Elms at Friday, 8 February 2008 at 12:27pm GMT

Sorry folks, but I understand Rowan's argument perfectly clearly; I just happen to profoundly disagree with it. And I also disagree with the anti-liberal strain that runs through most of what Rowan says; indeed that opposition to enlightenment liberalism is the very reason why people like Brian Crowe at Burke's Corner approved of last night's speech.

While one can't expect the Daily Express to follow anything in words of more than one syllable, there is a terrible undercurrent of snobbery in a lot of the defence of Rowan. Oxbridge Common Rooms are not exactly the sole repository of intellectual fibre in this country, nor are those of us not blessed with the role of theologians or lawyers subject to lobotomies at the age of 20. Even some of us professional politicians are not entirely stupid! Defend Rowan's speech if you will, but please don't dismiss his critics as stupid instead of dealing with the issues.

I have always believed that the Enlightenment is the cornerstone of a system of government and inter-governmental relations that, for all its faults, has delivered more liberty, more security and more prosperity than any other system of government in history, by a very long way. In the past generation the Enlightenment has been under attack not just from the right, but from the left – and it is in this tradition that Rowan clearly stands. For Rowan, the enlightenment arrogates to itself a claim to universality which increasingly diverse societies have rendered obsolete and even oppressive. (Plenty of societies have been diverse for centuries, but that’s tangential so I won’t pursue that line.)

For me, it is only the universality of the rule of law and the equality of all citizens under it that make pluralism without persecution possible. The guarantee to essential liberty and security to all citizens undercuts the double standards and persecution that have characterised virtually all plural societies in the past. The relatively small sphere of activities in which we agree to mutually restrained by the law is precisely what makes us free to do what we wish otherwise.

If you’re going to undercut some of the basic assumptions of liberal democracy, you’d better be damn sure that what you’re proposing in their place is better. Rowan didn’t, and deserves the brickbats even if some of them are lobbed for the wrong reasons.

Posted by Gerry Lynch at Friday, 8 February 2008 at 1:22pm GMT

Now The British Government is "helping" the Archbishop of Canterbury see the light (perhaps they ought "step in" and save the Anglican Communion and ask Bishop Tutu to save OUR ship by giving speeches on real justice coupled with COMMON SENSE:

Posted by Leonardo Ricardo at Friday, 8 February 2008 at 1:55pm GMT

I'm sure he's quite astonished at the outrage his comments have sparked. But really, considering that there are Christians, ANGLICAN Christians in Africa and Asia being murdered and persecuted under Sharia law, his remarks were very inappropriate.

Posted by Texas Bama Fan at Friday, 8 February 2008 at 3:37pm GMT

Well, you know, it really is a problem the Archbishop has with apparently being unable to see things through the eyes of his audience and the public. He sometimes seems to be incapable of projecting himself into others' minds and hearts, and so he often walks all unheeding into easily predictable mine field after mine field.

For instance, if in his address he had just never mentioned the dread word "sharia" (which has such incredibly monstrous associations for all civilized people) but simply suggested that perhaps some Islamic traditions of mediation in civil matters might have a place in British legal practice, I would be willing to bet that the critical storm would not have taken place. I mean that while some would surely disagree (myself among them), we wouldn't have seen this hyperbolic rage and media fury.

I'm afraid the poor man just seems unable get out of his own (impressive) mind to sense the minds and hearts of others.

We see exactly the same sad blindness in his dealing with the current Anglican conflicts. I don't believe he means to be a sadist, but he just seems incapable of perceiving the incredibly deep pain he has inflicted on so many people – like Jeffrey John, Gene Robinson, and all the other gay aspirants, priests, and bishops and their families and loved ones – by his support of the reactionaries. He comes across as almost mechanically and insensitively intellectual. I don't think this is intentional on his part, but it just seems to be an emotional blind-spot for him.

So sad -- his appointment which was so enthusiastically welcomed has now become a tragedy -- both for him and those whose sufferings he has (perhaps all unintentionally) caused.

I pity the poor man -- and pray for him daily.

Posted by John-Julian, OJN at Friday, 8 February 2008 at 7:00pm GMT

And John-Julian OSB, I (had) thought there could be nothing worse than Carey.

How wrong I was.

Posted by L Roberts at Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 5:02am GMT

It seems to me that the ABC was well aware that he was dealing with a controversial issue, which is why his press release was so clearly and carefully worded. It just astonishes me that none of the press commentators appear to have bothered to read it - it really isn't hard to understand.

As to avoiding the dread word sharia: he was invited to give the inaugural lecture in a series on Islam in English Law - he could hardly avoid it!

I for one would rather have an ABC with ++R's depth of faith, spirituality and intellect - and his courage - than one who just mouthes platitudes or tries to tell us all what to believe.

Posted by Mcnash at Saturday, 9 February 2008 at 11:49pm GMT
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Please note that comments are limited to 400 words. Comments that are longer than 400 words will not be approved.

Cookies are used to remember your personal information between visits to the site. This information is stored on your computer and used to refill the text boxes on your next visit. Any cookie is deleted if you select 'No'. By ticking 'Yes' you agree to this use of a cookie by this site. No third-party cookies are used, and cookies are not used for analytical, advertising, or other purposes.