Rowan Williams has just been on The World At One to say that in his view, sharia law will become inevitable in parts of the UK. The interview is in advance of a speech he’s giving this evening, in which he’ll call for Muslims to be able to choose, in some circumstances (such as divorce proceedings) whether UK or sharia law would apply. Muslims, he continues, should not have to choose between cultural and state loyalty. You can listen to the full interview here.
As ever, when you actually listen to what he says, he comes across as thoughtful, considered and nuanced; he points, for instance, to the fact that Orthodox Jewish courts already exist in the UK. But I can’t help wondering whether this is a pretty bad error of judgement in communication terms. Even the BBC’s own coverage of the story on BBC News Online loses most of the nuances; I’ve listened to the whole interview, and I’m not sure that I fully understand where Williams is going with this.
The risk here is that what would have been fine as an article in Prospect, say, or the London Review of Books, ignites a firestorm by dint of appearing first on a broadcast medium, followed by immediate pickup on the internet. Just wait for the reactions from the US right wing blogosphere to roll in as they gleefully take this as confirmation of all their predictions about dhimmitude. It’s the “unavoidable” bit that’ll really drive the story. They’re going to have a hard few days’ work in the Lambeth Palace press office…
Update: the reactions are now rolling in. Here’s the conservative blog Man in a Shed:
Lets be clear this will in effect create two states with two systems of law occupying the same land. That is not a recipe for healing communal strife – its the recipe for civil war. We need to be a common people who are ruled, protected and equal under a common law regardless of race or creed. Those who don’t like our laws should enter politics to change them by consent or leave. This system of setting up parallel courts was the precursor to Irish partition and the decades of war that followed.