Saturday, 16 February 2008

This is Cheshire: Anglicans stay silent on Rowan Williams

KNUTSFORD'S Anglican leaders this week declined to comment on remarks made by The Archbishop of Canterbury in a BBC Radio 4 interview.

The Reverend Nigel Atkinson, vicar of st John's Church, said he did not have time to speak about Dr Rowan Williams' call for the UK to adopt certain aspects of Sharia law because he was going on holiday.

And the Reverend Phil Highton said he would rather not comment. St John's Church office was also unavailable.

Elsewhere in the UK, others were quick to judge and condemn and called on Dr Williams to resign. Read more
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Canadian backs Williams' call for extension of Shari'ah

[...] Unlike in some African countries where shariah is imposed as the only law of the land, in Canada all shariah decisions would be subject to the Charter of Rights. Taking part would be voluntary. In other words, putting shariah decisions regarding marriage, family and business disputes under the umbrella of Canadian law would make religious courts more accountable (and help them sometimes be more efficient, culturally sensitive and less expensive than civil courts.)

University of Toronto professor Anvor Emon, who teaches Islamic law, is also worried Canada's shariah debate has been "dumbed-down" by opponents, some of whom resort to "mere Islamophobic sloganeering." Emon astutely says it could be helpful if shariah courts in Canada were subject to democratic principles and diverse interpretations in an Islamic "marketplace."

That way, Emon maintains persuasively, shariah could develop in a more healthy way in Canada -- as Muslims would know they had a choice on which mosque to go to for arbitration, rather than leaving their fate up to some of the country's "patriarchal" or "part-time" imams.

The push for greater regulation of religious courts, under the rubric of the Arbitration Act, basically reflects the Dutch approach to explosive private moral issues, like marijuana use, euthanasia and prostitution.

Most Dutch people don't personally take part in such activities or even like them. But they know they're real and voluntary and, like shariah courts, benefit from being brought out of the shadows and into the light; something which could be accomplished through non-hysterical debate and fair-minded regulation. Read more
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And now, public calls for 'real' Shari'ah

[...] The nuanced arguments about Sharia law set out by Dr Williams have been lost on most people, but this was not the first time that I had heard support for the harsher elements of the law, particularly its punishments for miscreants and wrongdoers.

I suggested that the Government’s idea of introducing five hours of lessons in “high culture” in schools might stem the rising tide of anti-social behaviour and alcohol-fuelled violence.

“Culture, my ****,” he said, quoting Ricky Tomlinson, aka Jim Royle, a cultural icon of our age. “Flog ’em.”

He might have a point. High culture – which in the Government’s terms means occasional visits to art galleries and theatres – cannot be taught in five hours a week. It is an integral part of the fabric of a society and reflects the health of that society.

Culture, high or otherwise, has steadily declined in this country over many years, which is why we see litter-strewn streets populated by drunken youths who take pleasure in defacing public buildings and even monuments in our towns and cities.

Mindless graffiti – perhaps the best indicator of cultural decline – is on the increase in South Wales. Even Penarth, which was once regarded as a sophisticated town of high culture, has been defaced by graffiti.

Walk the streets of Penarth or any other graffiti-scarred town in South Wales, and you will hear growing support for Sharia-style punishments for those responsible. That in itself is a worrying trend and certainly not what the Archbishop was talking about. Read more

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Cheers for call to drop 'Orwellian' language in education

An insightful speaker raised a massive cheer from the audience at an education conference this week.

No, he had not called for a doubling of teachers' pay, the abolition of national tests, or even a ban on lumpy custard in school canteens.

No, his rallying cry was much simpler and involves no complex administrative changes or financial costs.

Yet it went to the heart of what education is about.

He urged everyone to stop talking about "delivery" in education and to return to talking about "teaching".

The speaker was Professor Richard Pring, of Oxford University, and he was not just being fussy about the use of language.

His point was that education has been taken over by an "Orwellian language" which has started to control the way we think and act.

Professor Pring is the lead author of a report, published this week by the Nuffield Review of 14-19 Education and Training, which looks at how the aims and values of education have come to be "dominated by the language of management".

So when judging schools and universities we now talk about "performance indicators" as a substitute for assessing the quality of their teaching.

Learning has to be measured by an "audit" of the qualifications achieved rather than a more qualitative judgement of what students have learned.

This approach has certainly driven policy in adult education, where courses that do not lead to an accredited qualification seem to be dismissed as mere hobbies by policy-makers.

A quick look at any recent government documents quickly provides further examples.

For example, they talk about "new providers" instead of schools.

'What is education for?'

Repeated phrases refer to "efficiency gains", "choice for customers", "the market", and "funding systems that respond to customer demand".

The phraseology of "inputs" and "outputs" is more like the language of industrial production than of education.

It implies there is an exact specification for the finished product.

The Nuffield paper wonders whether we have lost sight of earlier descriptions of education such as "the conversation between the generations of mankind" (Michael Oakeshott) or an introduction to "the best that has been thought and said" (Matthew Arnold)?

I suppose this could seem unfair. After all, the authors of government documents are not attempting to do the same thing as philosophers of education.

Yet this matters because the language we use shapes the answers to the question: "what is education for?"

And there is no doubt that it is the model of workforce preparation and employability that currently dominates the current education discourse.

Hence we now have "enterprise" as a compulsory part of the school curriculum, while history, geography and foreign languages are no longer required after the age of 14. Read more

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Homophobia: report it now!

According to the newly published God, Gays and the Church, 'homophobia' is a "Pejorative term which may be applied to people who exhibit an entire range of negative attitudes to same-sex attraction, and also to those who experience and act upon it. The view that same-sex sexual behaviour is sinful is considered homophobic in certain realms."

Already in this country there is such a thing as 'homophobic crime', with homophobic 'incidents' being defined as anything anyone perceives to be homophobic (eg here).

Now the London Underground is featuring a poster campaign, organized by the Gay Men's Partnership and the Home Office, encouraging people to report not just 'homophobic crime', but 'homophobia'.

The definition of 'homophobia' is uncertain, but is rapidly being extended to include attitudes to homosexuality, not just actions.

How long can it be before more Christians find themselves facing police interviews, cautions and even prosecution on the basis of expressed beliefs about same-sex relationships? And what does this say about our once much-vaunted freedom of speech and belief?

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Our British laws are there to protect Muslim women

[...] You don’t just have to be concerned about women’s safety to be alarmed. According to Nazir Afzal, the Crown Prosecution Service’s lead on such matters: “If you had a map of the UK showing the location of Islamist groups – or terrorist cells – and you had another map showing the incidence of honour-based violence and you overlaid them, you would find that they were a mirror; they would be almost identical. It could be that this is simply because this is where South Asians live or it could suggest there is a strong link between these two attitudes.” So we should all be concerned that life in Britain can be miserable for South Asian women. They are at least three times more likely to kill themselves than white women of the same age. We should not be encouraging them to use Sharia courts run exclusively by men, even for civil matters. Nor should we be worried about offending cultural sensitivities by standing up for their rights. We should be telling their menfolk that the traditions of rural Pakistan, Bangladesh and India are unacceptable enough over there. They are completely intolerable in this free country. Read more
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National Secular Society: No wriggle room for Williams

Now that the CofE’s General Synod is debating its favourite subject, namely what consenting adults are doing behind the bedroom curtains, the backlash from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s views on accommodating religious beliefs in a secular society continues. Give him credit, though, for apologising for us all being just too dim to understand his musings. We shall duly repent our ignorance.

Some say the simultaneously intelligent and unintelligible Williams was misinterpreted (he wasn't), and bemoan the frenzied media reaction. This ignored the vast space granted exclusively to religious leaders either to put the boot in or defend his twitterings (or both), with an article by Lord Carey dominating coverage in The Sunday Telegraph and News of the World. “We are a Christian society, with Christian laws derived from the Christian Bible,” wailed Christian Voice’s Stephen Green. Many said refilling the ever-emptying Anglican pews was his job, not going into bat for Islam, while others saw a man supposed to be peddling the moral absolutism of the Bible instead peddling moral relativism and nodding to the equal (or maybe that should be parallel?) veracity of the Koran.

Others recalled that previous Archbishops of Canterbury in history had been summarily executed for heresy. Should the present incumbent be grateful we don’t kill heretics any more? Or should believers be able to choose Sharia to deal with heretics, if unwilling to “relate” to British law on the subject? Better watch out, Rowan! Read more
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The Telegraph: Dr Rowan Williams' 'Cat Sat On The Mat'



i) There are significant numbers of members of all faiths and denominations who maintain that the cat in question sat "in" the mat rather than "on" it, and it accords with all of us to respect their deeply held beliefs.

ii) We touch here on one of the most sensitive areas within the broader universal context of cats and sitting; it is up to each of us to acknowledge and even to appreciate the vast diversity of perspectives available within the range from "on" to "in". The rainbow is no less a rainbow for maintaining the full spectrum of colourings.

iii) For a fuller discussion of the whole nature of On, see my monograph, On On (OUP 1991) Read more
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The Telegraph: When Islam and the C of E unite

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, when he spoke to the Church of England Synod on Monday, borrowed a joke from Ronald Knox. He likened his recent experience (in being savaged by the media for his remarks on sharia) to a description by Knox of a discussion at a student society in the 1930s: "The prevailing attitude... was one of heavy disagreement with a number of things which the speaker had not said."

It is interesting that Dr Rowan Williams quoted Ronald Arbuthnott Knox (1888-1957), not just because he converted to Roman Catholicism in 1917, but because of an earlier satire of his, on church unity proposals. Knox mocked these in a prettily printed little book entitled (in parody of 17th-century controversial pamphlets): Reunion All Round Or, Jael's Hammer laid aside and the Milk of human Kindness beaten up into Butter and served in a lordly Dish. Being a plea for the Inclusion within the Church of England of all Mahometans, Jews, Buddhists, Brahmins, Papists, and Atheists. Read more
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Liverpool Echo: It’s Williams’ time to use the battle bus

WHEN our Queen starts worrying about the Church of England, we should all sit up and take notice.

This wise woman, who has been a rock in our lifetimes, only speaks out when she has something of great importance and good sense to say – unlike the Archbishop of Canterbury whose soundings on Sharia law have placed the Church at loggerheads with many of the population and increased community tension.

The Queen, always sensitive to the mood of the people, clearly senses that the nation has had enough.

She is worried that the Archbishop has brought the church into disrepute and probably wishes like many of us that the clergy would concentrate on rebuilding Christianity.

What the Church needs now is a Billy Graham- type figure to speak eloquently and engagingly about why they are Christians.

Church attendances are falling all the time.

In cities, they are becoming carpet warehouses, cafes or somesuch.

Given all this, isn’t it time Dr Williams started travelling round the country in a battle bus, giving stirring sermons in Billy Graham-type tents which might draw crowds back to the churches – and which, incidentally, might help reduce the crime rate. Source

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Friday, 15 February 2008

Five Primates respond to English Evangelical Bishops' letter

February 15th, 2008 Posted in Global Anglican Future Conference

(21 English Evangelical Bishops wrote to GAFCON Primates to attend Lambeth. Read here)

To Bishop David James and colleagues


We have received your letter encouraging us to attend the Lambeth Conference with you. We trust that we are united in faithful obedience to the Scriptures and also to the Anglican Formularies. We understand your desire to continue to support the efforts of the Archbishop of Canterbury. As GAFCON Bishops and primates, we share with you a commitment to the communion and its future. We ask you to understand that we have reached a different conclusion and request you to understand our decision.

We think it is important to let you know our reasons for not acceding to your request, and also to make them public since your letter is public. We have a number of concerns.

First, the Lambeth Conference is not a two hour seminar discussing a contentious issue. It is three weeks in which we bishops and our wives are called to share together our lives, our prayer, our bible study, our meals, our worship and the Lord's Supper, to be a family together.

You will know that some of us have not been able to take communion with the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church since February 2005, - a period of about three years. The reason is that TEC took an action to consecrate Gene Robinson as Bishop in 2003 contrary to the resolution of the Lambeth Conference, an action of which they have not repented. The consecrators of Gene Robinson have all been invited to Lambeth, contrary to the statement of the Windsor Report (para 134) that members of the Episcopal Church should "consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion".

You will know that some of those who objected to this consecration in the United States and have made arrangements for orthodox oversight from other provinces including ours have been charged with abandonment of communion. Their congregations have either forfeited or are being sued for their properties by the very bishops with whom you wish us to share Christian family fellowship for three weeks.

To do this is an assault on our consciences and our hearts. Further, how can we explain to our church members, that while we and they are formally out of communion with TEC, and provide oversight to these orthodox colleagues, we at the same time live with them at the Lambeth Conference as though nothing had happened? This would be hypocrisy.

We are also concerned that the invitation list reflects a great imbalance. It fails to address fundamental departures from historic faith that have triggered this crisis and yet excludes bishops of our own provinces, of Rwanda, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda who teach and practice Biblical faith. As constituted, the invitations suggest that institutional structures are superior to the content of the faith itself.

We are also mindful of the press interest in the Conference, and in the presence in some form or other of Gene Robinson and his male partner, and of 30 gay activists. We would be the continual target of activist campaigners and media intrusion. In these circumstances we could not feel at home.

All of us have attended Lambeth before. As far as we are aware, only a few of you have been to a Lambeth Conference. In 1998, we had great difficulty in making our case heard in the face of the process of the conference. At that conference we were blessed with the leadership of Archbishop George Carey who has always been a champion of orthodox biblical teaching on sexuality. We have come to the conclusion, from the failure of the instruments of the Communion to take action either to discipline the Episcopal Church or to protect those who have asked the Communion for protection, that there is no serious space for those of an orthodox persuasion in the councils of the Communion to be themselves or to be taken seriously.

We are therefore not persuaded by your arguments to attend. We have looked at all the facts for some time. To find a solution we have proposed the postponement of the conference, the calling of a Primates' meeting and work towards the conclusion and endorsement of the Anglican Covenant by individual provinces. Our request has not been heeded. We must attend to the care of our bishops, clergy and people.

We must address the issue of the Anglican Communion Covenant, particularly as a revised version has just been published. Many of you are concerned about the need to attend Lambeth to contribute to and influence the debate on the Anglican Communion Covenant to help the working of our Communion for future reference. Currently the prospects do not seem good for what is proposed in any way to engage with our current difficulties or relate to the facts on the ground. The state of our broken Communion is not mended by the Covenant. The Lambeth Conference will only be a place to offer reflections on it. That is why some of us recommended that Lambeth be postponed in order to give space for the reconciling process to take place, a Covenant to be agreed, and Lambeth to be held for those who signed up to the Covenant. This proposal was rejected.

Even if you have decided to go to the Lambeth Conference, we hope that you will respond positively to our invitation to attend GAFCON. You will bring your rich experience of mission and we believe that you will also be enriched by the experience of Anglican bishops and Christians from around the world who are keen to share what God is doing in their midst and what He is teaching them.

We emphasise that this action is not intended to signal that we are walking out of the Communion. We are responding to a need of people committed to and continuing in the apostolic faith to meet and consider how they will walk together in mission and mutual support, and to meet in the one place which is spiritually significant for all of us.

Yours in Christ,

Archbishop Peter Akinola (Nigeria)

Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini (Rwanda)

Archbishop Benjamin Nzimbi (Kenya)

Archbishop Henry Orombi (Uganda)

Archbishop Gregory Venables (Southern Cone)
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Allmedia Scotland: Rowan Willams: Right on the Money, Wrong on the Message

[...] Anyone who has known a separating Catholic couple will know that, in the process of parting, they will seek not only a civil divorce but also an annulment which, under Canon law, means proving retrospectively that there are grounds under which the marriage was never valid.

Military law is another parallel legal code, which possesses even greater impact given that military courts have the power to sentence subjects to imprisonment in military courts.

There are others besides - International Maritime Law, Human Rights legislation, International Air Laws - at different times in the lives of many they are subject, whether they know it or not, to laws which sit alongside the ones they believe they understand.

The best method to make his, entirely accurate, case would have started with the Archbishop couching his words somewhat causally and, with his first breath, paying respect to Parliament and the laws of the land.

There may be an initial emotional response to talk of foreign laws; however, this could have been defused by mixing Shariah in with a whole heap of other legal codes which are real but, to most, have zero everyday impact on everyday life.

As a politico, Rowan Williams should also have doffed his mitre to the British people and, more especially, their opinion. Even the producers of Pop Idol have mastered this basic tenet of messaging. His use of the term, ‘unavoidable’, smacks of foregone conclusions and a sense that the public will not be consulted.

When the Prime Minister finally got round to consoling the Archbishop, as well as letting it be known he disagreed (we are not sure what was said exactly but it was reported thus).

He would, I am sure, have shed some light on the point which resonates throughout this rather silly saga and which as a leviathan of New Labour’s spin machine, the Prime Minister would appreciate.

It is a message, which political spin doctors since the time of Plato have understood: method trumps message, every time.

Mark Morley is a former director of communications for the Catholic Church (England and Wales). He has also worked for VisitScotland, Scottish Enterprise and the Scottish Conservative Party. Read more
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Daily Mail: Soulless. Nihilistic. The way the young drink today terrifies me - and we're to blame

Ed: As good an argument for a modicum of Shari'ah law as I've seen anywhere.)

[...] No child can become a responsible adult without learning about boundaries, but for many, boundaries are a foreign concept.

Earlier generations learned from their parents, their teachers and the local bobby the qualities of consideration, good manners, respect for others and obedience - and to fear the consequences of bad actions.

But for so many of today's children, a parent is too often someone who lets you do what you like. They scream at any neighbour who complains about you, and provides cash on demand for clothes, trainers and, yes, even drink.

The teacher who tries to impose authority is all too often disciplined himself for infringing the rights of his pupils; and as for the local bobby, well, he doesn't even exist.

Of course, if young people cross the line that forces the justice system to do something, they may end up in court; but the penalties they face are so pathetic as to incur only their contempt.

Even more fundamentally, the triumph of political correctness has denied the young any pride in their culture and history.

When I look at Barack Obama expressing his pride in being an American, I could weep for all those English children who have been taught to be ashamed of their heritage.

Gordon Brown may say portentous things about Britishness, but his government continues to undermine the family, to destroy the teaching profession and the police force with target-setting and political correctness.

They have also increased surveillance levels in this most spied-on society in Europe in the hope of controlling an increasingly lawless population.

Our society is in bad trouble, with vicious youths merely a symptom.

What has gone wrong went wrong on our watch.

Unless we, as electors, have the will to challenge the irresponsible benefits culture, the erosion of educational standards, the loss of focus of the police, the unworldliness of the courts and the ineffectualness of our parliamentarians.

As well as the incompetence of our ministers and the war being conducted by a contemptuous elite against our nation's very identity, there will be ever more aimless young people destroying their own lives and those of others as they drink their lives away. Read more
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Peterborough Today: Why everyone is talking about Sharia Law

[...] I have to point out that, despite being a Muslim, I can honestly say I don't really know what is meant by Sharia law.

Surely we don't need a law in place to practice our belief?

Shouldn't our faith be exactly that, rather than an assertion of some law, and would it not mean different things to different people? Something to think about or not.

However, I think it is always difficult to address such issues and I give the Archbishop of Canterbury some credit for trying to open it up for debate, but I think it's a shame he felt he had to apologise.

Apparently he said that he "took responsibility for any un-clarity", but how on earth can you clarify something so broad? When a subject like that is tackled it can mean all sorts of things for each individual and they will hear it as they want to, rather than what is being implied.

Truth be known, I have on more than one occasion had discussions where people have felt that it might be productive if certain Islamic values were applied to Britain, but do you think anyone is ready to hear that? No is the short answer.

Anyway, I believe the real reason it won't work is because whoever will be implementing Sharia law will either know the cousin, brother, sister, all 17 members of the family or they'll be the next door neighbour. Read more

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How gay sexuality claims to have changed the world

(Ed: From the launch of God, Gays and the Church.)

[...] God, Gays and the Church is not a monolithic entity but in fact has different views, themes, approaches and priorities. One of mine is the conviction that a profound cultural sea change is now taking place. Over the last four decades, it has been revolutionizing sex and marriage, first behind the scenes and increasingly in the public sphere. However, given that most of us are in relatively conservative middle class settings, we have not realised how high the tide has risen. Among other things I would hope this book might serve as something of a wake-up call - particularly for the sake of our children and grandchildren who will pay in full the cost of this sexual revolution.

Radical sociologist, Anthony Giddens, argues in The Transformation of Intimacy (1992) that gays and lesbians have been the ‘prime everyday experimenters’, the ‘pioneers’ of two developments which fuel this revolution. The first is the ‘pure relationship’ - non-hierarchical sexual and emotional intimacy, no strings attached. Autonomy is paramount. We choose! Some of our relationships might mirror marriage, while others won’t. But critically, there is no right or wrong way to ‘do’ relationships. The second is ‘plastic sexuality’, which means we develop our sexuality as an image, a persona. It’s not at all about babies, and it might connect to our relationships, or not. Again, we choose.

For gay writer, Gareth West, ‘We know that a 30-year relationship is no better, no better, than a nine-week, or nine-minute, fling — it’s different, but not better. Both have value. We know that the instant intimacy involved in that perfect 20-minute blowjob (oral sex) in Stanley Park can be a profoundly beautiful thing … Love, in gay culture, is a spectrum, not a hierarchy … Queers (his term) form loving relationships, that’s for sure. But they’re not the same as … marriage relationships. Instead of demanding the same straight jacket … we would do better to notice that so very many straights are learning from our culture, are rejecting and leaving marriage.’

The erosion of marriage in favour of the ‘pure relationship’ and in particular, of cohabitation, is apparent in the recent British Social Attitudes Survey. Cohabitation is flourishing while marriage is in trouble. Read more

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Haaretz: Keeping the faith?

[...] The debate over the sharia proposal is really a debate over the status and role of communal rights in a multicultural society. Britain, like the rest of Europe, is experiencing profound anxieties over the place of a growing Muslim minority in its midst. It is clear that a great deal of the backlash against this proposal stems from that very anxiety. But the rules of democracy have no room for double standards. The bottom line is that the future of the beit din is intimately tied to whether or not sharia is able to get some legal footing in Britain. A decision against the sharia proposal will ultimately be a decision against the beit din.
Read more
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The Spectator: The betrayal of the Anglican communion

The Church of England has just made itself totally irrelevant to the defence of civilisation. It appears to have rallied to the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has managed to turn his famed unintelligibility into his salvation. According to Times Online, he blamed himself for causing ‘misunderstanding’ among the public at large. This is obviously much more disarming than accusing the public of being too stupid to understand, but it amounts to the same defence — that there was nothing wrong in the substance of what he actually said. Once again, he repeated that he was

not talking about parallel jurisdictions

— but then went on to show that this was indeed the inescapable meaning of what he was saying:

The question remains of whether certain additional choices could and should be made available under the law of the United Kingdom for resolving disputes and regulating transactions. It would be analogous to what is already possible in terms of the legal recognition of certain kinds of financial transactions under Islamic regulation, including special provision around mortgage arrangements.

Once again, therefore, Dr Williams has displayed the cognitive dissonance which has been evident since he delivered his lecture — saying things the implications of which he appears not to understand and indeed promptly denies. But now the backlash against the backlash is well under way, and the Synod displayed as usual the intellectual rigour of a sponge by giving this absurd incoherence a standing ovation. Read more
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Church Times: Lambeth endures protests and Page 3 girls in sharia row

A LONE protester, Muslim groups, and the Prime Minister offered their support to Dr Williams this week — despite strong criticism from many politicians, leaders of the Anglican Communion (including the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey), and large sections of the media.

The opposition to Dr Williams was on an unprecedented scale: the BBC received a record number of emails after the Archbishop was interviewed on The World at One on Thursday — almost all vehemently disagreeing with him. Many web forums were also filled with negative and intemperate comments against him.

“If The Sun can send its Page 3 girls to Lambeth, I felt I had to come as well,” said Steve Rhodes, a barrister who wore a placard with the words “Support Rowan Williams” and “More reason, less fear” during a one-man protest on Monday.

The Prime Minister also spoke in support, saying that Dr Williams was a man of “great integrity”. A Downing Street spokesman added on Monday that Mr Brown understood the “difficulties” Dr Williams was facing.

The Muslim Council of Great Britain said that there should be debate within the British legal system as to whether a small aspect of Muslim family and personal law about marriage, divorce, custody, and inheritance could be accommodated.

The Centre for the Study of Muslim-Jewish Relations in Cambridge said that there should be deeper reflection in the light of the Archbishop’s lecture, which “had been taken out of context and blown out of proportion”.

The Christian Muslim Forum described Dr Williams’s lecture as “significant”, and that he had raised the vital issue of how to allow religious conscience and belief within the framework of UK law. Read more
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Islamophobia rears its ugly head again

[...] I suppose what I'm saying is that we need to get a grip. Yes, Islamic fundamentalism is a threat, a big one, just as communism was, and just as fascism was. But we must have a sense of proportion.

There is such a thing as a moderate Muslim and there are aspects of Sharia that don't involve losing limbs, heads or being stoned to death, and that don't involve the denigration of women.

Those aspects are what Rowan Williams was pointing to. If a Muslim wants to use Islamic law to adjudicate in matters financial, or in a family dispute, then why not let him (or her), and have that decision recognised under English law?

This was his argument and you might think it wrong-headed or naive but it really doesn't deserve the opprobrium that has been heaped on him because of it in recent days.

The integration of Muslims into Western societies is a genuine problem. Obviously it is, or we wouldn't have had the July 7 bombings or the riots in Paris in August 2006, not to mention 9/11.

Integrating Muslims is a two-way process. We have to accommodate them to the fullest extent that is compatible with our most fundamental values, and they have to do a better job policing their own militants and encouraging their members to identify with their adopted country.

But what does accommodating them entail? Does it involve going as far as Archbishop Williams suggests? Or does it mean making them exactly like us? I hope not. What certainly won't help this debate is the sort of genuine Islamophobia on display this week.

Rowan Williams is a decent, honest man. He is not Islamic fundamentalism's 'useful idiot'. What he had to say deserved a much more serious and respectful response than it got. Read more
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Thursday, 14 February 2008

The Economist: An archbishop's outburst highlights a broader crisis in his church

[...] Studied closely, the archbishop's speech—and a radio interview he gave the same day—did not read like intentional provocation: it was the sort of intellectual conceit that might have worked well in a theological seminar. But this theology professor failed, it seems, to anticipate the incendiary effect of the very word sharia on the British public, which outside the cosmopolitan ambience of London has serious worries about the march of Islam.

The archbishop's apparent lack of political savvy was a gift to some of his global critics, who already see him as soft-minded on the issue of homosexuality that threatens to wreck this summer's once-in-a-decade gathering of the communion's bishops. “People who saw Rowan Williams as a wise man will have much less respect for him now,” said Edith Humphrey, a theology professor in Bishop Duncan's diocese of Pittsburgh.

Prospects for the Lambeth gathering in July may not be as hopeless as these comments suggest, but the shadows on the archbishop's lawn are lengthening. Conservative Anglicans have announced plans for an alternative summit in Jerusalem a month before the conclave in Britain. Among the luminaries there will be Nigeria's archbishop Peter Akinola—one of at least four African conservatives who seem likely to boycott Lambeth. Read more
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The Economist: Church and state - sever them

ROWAN WILLIAMS, the Archbishop of Canterbury, primate of the Church of England and of the 80m-strong Anglican Communion worldwide, is a mild-mannered man. Yet it is no surprise that he provoked outrage when he suggested on February 7th that the adoption of elements of Islamic sharia law in Britain was “unavoidable” if social cohesion was to be fostered (see article). The archbishop revived a debate that has exercised great minds for millennia: where to draw the dividing line between church and state. And he got it wrong. Read more
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God, Gays & the Church: Human Sexuality in Christian Thinking

In contemporary discussions about human sexuality, great prominence is given to personal stories from gay people. This emphasis can also been seen in recent Christian debates, such as those in the General Synod of the Church of England in February 2007. But there it was a one-sided testimony, and this book is intended to redress the balance.

In addition to personal stories from a different perspective, this book contains academic contributions from experts in the fields of psychology, psychotherapy, genetics, biblical and pastoral theology, social ethics and cultural analysis. Some articles have been published elsewhere; some are the result of fresh research, offering new insights. This compilation provides a resource for those concerned more broadly with issues of human sexuality, as well as being a response to those who struggle with same-sex (and less directly, other) sexual issues, whether from a pastoral or a personal point of view.

‘With Christians in every century including our own, and in every part of the world, I should want to continue to say that every Christian is called to have her or his “experience” conformed to the teachings of Scripture, and then to those of the “great tradition” of the Church down the centuries’ from the Foreword by The Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt, Bishop of Winchester.

Dr Lisa Severine Nolland recently published A Victorian Feminist Christian: Josephine Butler, the Prostitutes and God (Paternoster) and is website consultant for Anglican Mainstream (, of which Canon Dr Chris Sugden is the Executive Secretary. He is a member of the General Synod of the Church of England, as is Mrs Sarah Finch, who has worked in publishing for many years as a non-fiction editor.

Order from the Latimer Trust website.

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'Largest Canadian congregation' votes to join Southern Cone

Members of what is described as the largest congregation in the Anglican Church of Canada voted strongly Wednesday to split with Vancouver-area Bishop Michael Ingham over his support for same-sex blessings.

"It means that the community speaks with one mind," said St. John's Shaughnessy Anglican Church spokeswoman Lesley Bentley, after a preliminary count showed that out of 495 ballots cast, only 11 opposed the split and nine abstained. "What it is is very uniting."

The vote means the church, which has more than 700 members, will break with Ingham and join with the conservative Anglican bishops of the Diocese of the Southern Cone, which includes Argentina and Paraguay. Read more
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More brickbats for the Archbishop - unfortunately!

Christopher Hitchens: To Hell with the Archbishop of Canterbury

Ekklesia: Archbishop's speech shows need for disestablishment

Ekklesia (again): What lies beyond Lambeth's Sharia humiliation?

Theo Hobson: Rowan Williams: sharia furore, Anglican future

And this from Nigeria: "Sharia in England?": "Why must it be the leader of the Church of England espousing "accommodation", which is actually the adoption of a binary system of culture? Experience has shown that the entrenchment of Sharia, even in its mildest form, will eventually lead to the adoption of the ultimate aspects of it or there will never be peace. People like Rowan, in their liberal naivete, are handing over their culture, their country and their Church over to a rival culture which is strong, focused, determined, delighted and eager to take it!"

Does anyone know of a Christian commentator who has supported not just the Archbishop personally, but his actual proposals to extend the accommodation of Shari'ah within the English legal system? Please post a comment here if you do.

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Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Re-launch of Chelmsford Diocesan Evangelical Association

Over forty people from across the Diocese, half of them clergy, gathered at St Michael’s Church House in Braintree on Saturday 9th February for the relaunch of the Chelmsford Diocesan Evangelical Association.

The gathering was addressed by the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent. Quoting from WB Yeats, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity,” he spoke about the issues facing the church generally and evangelicals in particular. These include questions of belief, ethics and inclusivity, as well as the “creeping disestablishment” of the Church of England.

Bishop Pete also spoke about some of the structures for mission which had been successfully introduced in the Diocese of London. In response to questions, he urged evangelicals in Chelmsford to full involvement in the structures of synods and elections.

Later in the morning, a ‘steering group’ of volunteers was set up, including Peter Taylor the Archdeacon of Harlow, which will arrange some more meetings of the CDEA for this year and compile a proper list of members. Advance notice was also given of the next Chelmsford Anglican Bible Conference on the 4th October this year. This emerged from the old Diocesan Evangelical Association and is now in its seventh year.

If you would like to join the CDEA, please contact Revd Mike Reith (

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Bishop Dow says Brown government 'like a demonic beast'

(Ed: For the talk from my own series where I cover Revelation 13, go here. You can also download it and listen to it later.)

A senior bishop has compared the Government to a demonic seven-headed beast for imposing its morality on society.

The Rt Rev Graham Dow likened the Labour administration to the beast which appears in the Bible's apocalyptic Book of Revelation.

Bishop Dow, the Bishop of Carlisle, who last year suggested the floods devastating Britain were God's judgment on immorality, is a critic of new gay equality laws which many Christians claim are restricting religious freedoms.

Speaking at a General Synod fringe meeting, the Bishop said: "I happen to believe that our Government is moving into the realm of imposing its morality and it is therefore becoming a Revelation 13 Government rather than a Romans 13 Government." Read more

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Ruth Gledhill's Blog: Sharia show shuts down? No it doesn't. Bad luck Rowan.

[...] In his World at One interview on BBC Radio 4 last Thursday, the Archbishop of Canterbury confessed he believed Sharia was inevitable in Britain. He said: "It seem unavoidable and indeed as a matter of fact certain provisions of Sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law; so it's not as if we're bringing in an alien and rival system."

In his speech delivered that evening to an audience of judges and lawyers at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, he spoke about a "supplementary jurisdiction" that might be effected to accommodate the needs of Muslims in Britain. Advocating a scheme in which individuals could choose the jurisdiction under which to resolve certain matters, he said: "Certainly, no-one is likely to suppose that a scheme allowing for supplementary jurisdiction will be simple, and the history of experiments in this direction amply illustrates the problems."

In his presidential address to General Synod on Monday, he appeared to calm the waters when he insisted he was not advocating parallel jurisdiction. But he went on: "So the question remains of whether certain additional choices could and should be made available under the law of the United Kingdom for resolving disputes and regulating transactions."

Has he been misrepresented? I don't think so.

For access to all the best links of the various papers that have covered this story, go as usual to Thinking Anglicans. Some of my own thoughts can be heard on the BBC's Listen Again service from Saturday's Today programme (about ten minutes in on the clip). I also did a comment piece for the paper used yesterday.

But I am fairly certain that many if not most of you here have had enough of me. I know I have So here are some of my favourite things from this whole sharia show. I thought I'ld list my top stories. Do feel free to add your own. Read more
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Vox pop at General Synod about Rowan Williams and 'that speech'

Credit to Ruth Gledhill's blog, starting with a 'robust' contribution from Bp Pete Broadbent.

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Rowan Williams faces backlash over sharia

Critics within the church marvel that a man of such intelligence could misjudge the public reaction so badly.

“It has been an own goal,” said one bishop. “I’m disappointed because it makes Rowan look silly. People stopped at a certain point because they heard the term sharia.

“It sounds as if the Archbishop of Canterbury is saying, ‘Let these Muslim people do their own thing’, and this is, of course, not what he is saying. Who on earth was advising him? Anyone could see that a speech mentioning sharia would create its own headlines.”

As has been his habit from his days as an academic, Williams did not consult widely on the lecture, preferring to work alone. He did, however, discuss its content in the broadest terms with his fellow primate John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, and a number of Muslim scholars.

He told friends that he found the reaction to the speech “all very unpleasant”. When pressed on why he had raised this issue now, he said it was so important to prevent further isolation of the Muslim community.

He said he had been drawn to the subject of “religious conscience” by the recent row over whether Catholic adoption agencies should have to accommodate same-sex couples and questions about Ruth Kelly’s suitability to be a cabinet minister when it emerged that she was a member of Opus Dei, the Catholic group.

Yet his erudite and heavily caveated exposition of his ideas was lost in the moment that he evoked sharia.

He regards it as part of his role as leader of the church to address issues from which others shy away and which may make him unpopular.

Indeed, this week he risks raising the ire of ministers again by voicing his opposition to plans to extend the detention without charge for terrorist suspects to 42 days.

Last year he was accused of exaggeration when he suggested that America wields its power in a way that is worse than Britain during its imperial heyday. He claimed that Washington’s attempt to intervene overseas by “clearing the decks” with a “quick burst of violent action” had led to “the worst of all worlds”.

The problem with his intervention in the debate about inter-faith relations was that his true message was almost completely obscured.

Some within the church – already upset by his favourable attitude towards gay rights – regard him as terminally wounded. In the age of quick and easy headlines, can the church be led by such an unworldly figure? This weekend there were calls for him to resign.

“He is a disaster for the Church of England. He vacillates, he is a weak leader and he does not stand up for the church. I would like to see him resign and go back to academia,” said Alison Ruoff, a Synod member from London.

That prospect is unlikely. Williams told friends this weekend he would not resign and he cannot be sacked for doctrinal or political reasons. He can, if he likes, remain in his post until his 70th birthday in June 2020.

This weekend he may look to the past for comfort. In March 1556 one of his predecessors, Thomas Cranmer, was burnt at the stake in Oxford for expressing unpopular views.

Williams may reflect that at least a media firestorm is nothing like a real one. Read more

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Council pays psychic for exorcism

(Ed: And the CofE would have done it for nothing!)

Easington Council employed medium Suzanne Hadwin after Peterlee tenant Sabrina Fallon reported paranormal activity including moving objects.

Miss Fallon had even called police after hearing bangs which terrified her children Shannon, nine, and Amie, one.

A council spokesman said it paid half the psychic's fee as it was the most cost-effective solution.

Andrew Burnip, the council's homelessness and housing advice manager, said the family had been left "traumatised" by the strange goings on and wanted to leave the house.

The council considered rehousing the family in temporary accommodation but this would have cost up to £40 per night.

Miss Fallon said the spirit had now gone and the house had a "lovely atmosphere". Read more

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Conviction, not bruised feelings, behind Lambeth boycotts

Theological convictions, not bruised feelings, will prevent at least three provinces from attending the 2008 Lambeth Conference, the Primate of the West Indies has said.

In an interview with the Nassau Guardian yesterday, West Indian Archbishop Drexel Gomez stated “there are at least four provinces in Africa that have either said they will not attend or are still considering if they will attend, but there are three who said they will definitely not be attending.”

Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda had announced they will not be attending the conference as it is currently organized. Sources in the Anglican Church of Kenya tell us that the Church was to have made a decision at its House of Bishops meeting scheduled for this week. However, the post-election violence has postponed the meeting to April when a decision will be taken.

Archbishop Gomez has urged all of the Global South provinces to attend Lambeth. “It is too difficult to say if there will be any headway at this upcoming conference but what will happen is it will be the first time that the vast majority of Bishops as leaders of the church will be in one place and be able to talk about these issues.”

“So far we have just had small meetings and regional meetings but this will be the first international meeting at which most of the churches will be represented,” Archbishop Gomez told the Nassau newspaper.

The decision not to attend Lambeth was not predicated solely upon Dr Williams’ snub of the African-appointed American bishops of Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, one Global South leader explained. Dr Williams’ approach to the crisis, while appropriate for common room academic debates, was na├»ve and inappropriate when dealing with the realities of church life, he said.

“His worldview is the problem,” the African bishop said. Dr Williams’ maintains an “academic worldview that ideas don’t have consequences.” This “won’t work” in Africa, he said. Source
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Anxiety of Queen over sharia law controversy

According to a royal source, the Queen has not expressed any view on whether Dr Rowan Williams was unwise to say it was "unavoidable" that aspects of the sharia legal system could be incorporated into English law.

But as Supreme Governor of the Church of England she has been dismayed by the controversy that the remarks have generated at such a difficult period in the history of the Established Church, which faces possible schism over the issue of homosexual clergy.

The Queen, who approved the appointment of Dr Williams on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, takes her role as Supreme Governor very seriously.

One royal source said: "I have no idea what her view is on what the Archbishop said about sharia law. But the Queen is worried, coming at such a difficult time in the Church's history, that the fallout may sap the authority of the Church."

The dismay felt by the Queen is mirrored by readers of The Daily Telegraph, who have written in great numbers to voice their concern at the consequences of the Archbishop's remarks.

Another royal courtier said: "The whole thing has not been skilfully handled. It can only have undermined the authority of the Church."

A Buckingham Palace spokesman declined to comment. Read more
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SEVEN deadly reasons why the Archbishop must not be allowed to get away with it

[...] Having seen his attempt to control public reaction go so badly wrong, Dr Williams tried to pretend that he had not said what he did in fact say.

In particular, he told the Synod that he had not been talking about "parallel jurisdictions" of sharia and English law.

But in his lecture he had talked in terms of "supplementary jurisdictions", and suggested an end to Britain's "legal monopoly" so that British Muslims could choose to be dealt with under either sharia or English law.

That inescapably implies everyequal status — or parallel jurisdictions.

But on this point Dr Williams chose be less than transparent — and added to the confusion.

He told the Synod that he merely wanted to offer additional choices for "resolving disputes and regulating transactions".

This implied that all he wanted to do was extend the existing system, already used by both British Muslims and Jews, of informal religious tribunals whose decisions have no force of law.

A "jurisdiction", however, is a very different matter. It is a means of enforcing a body of law.

And indeed, in his lecture Dr Williams actually spoke of "a delegation of certain functions" of English law to sharia courts.

So his disavowal was disingenuous to the point of being downright misleading. Read more

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Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Church 'land grab' thrown out by Synod

Plans for a £4 billion "land grab" of thousands of rectories and vicarages of the Church of England were thrown out today after members of the General Synod rebelled against proposals to centralise ownership of the homes of clergy.

Church leaders had wanted to vest ownership of the homes of nearly half the clergy, the 4,000 incumbents and their families, into new boards set up under the dioceses. At present, when a cleric is installed into the freehold of a parish, ownership of the vicarage or rectory is vested in him or her.

Athough they are not allowed to sell it or take advantage of this for personal gain, they are guaranteed the house as a home for them and their family until they retire at 70.

The synod heard fears of the symbolic impact of removing ownership of the clergy house from the local parish. Members said they were concerned that the houses could subsequently be sold to pay debts, or might even be at risk if victims of child abuse by clergy sued the diocese for compensation.

Even a majority of bishops voted against the change. The Bishop of Chester, the Right Rev Peter Foster, said the proposal was part of an invidious "centralising tendency" in modern culture. Read more

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Rowan Williams’ comments on sharia law are dangerous nonsense, and insult Brtain’s Muslims, argues Martin O’Neill

[…] In order for sharia law to be integrated into the UK legal system, the judgements of sharia courts would need to be given the force of law.That means that, for example, the decisions of a sharia court in conducting a divorce settlement would be legally binding. What then of the position of a Muslim woman who found herself granted a paltry settlement by a sharia court?

Well, it seems that things could go one of two ways. Either the decision of the sharia court is taken as final, and the woman has thereby lost the rights and freedoms enjoyed by the rest of her fellow citizens; or else she retains her rights and freedoms as a UK citizen, and can challenge that divorce settlement in a (secular) court of law.

If the former course is taken, then her individual rights and freedoms have been sacrificed, and we have the unwelcome spectre of a UK citizen being denied basic legal rights on the basis of her cultural or religious status. Under the latter option, where the decisions of sharia courts are denied any independent legal standing and treated as (at best) provisional, it is difficult to see how we would really have a ’supplemental jurisdiction’ of sharia at all. Sharia courts would be treated simply as informal methods for dispute resolution, without any special legal status (just as they are at the moment). But the choice is stark: sharia courts can be given full legal status only at the cost of individual freedoms, and through the suspension of certain legal rights of a section of the population.

These are some of the reasons why Williams’s suggestion is so pernicious. The reasons why it is so confused are equally revealing.

Williams says that: “If any kind of plural jurisdiction is recognised, it would presumably have to be under the rubric that no ’supplementary’ jurisdiction could have the power to deny access to the rights granted to other citizens or to punish its members for claiming those rights.”

So, despite initial appearances, Williams clearly means to take the second of the two paths mentioned above: sharia would have standing only insofar as it was fully consistent with UK law, and involved no restriction on individual rights and freedoms. But this is not, then, a question of ’supplemental jurisdiction’ rather, it is no jurisdiction at all. Williams wants to have it both ways: legal enactment of sharia, but only insofar as it leaves all our legal rights exactly as they already were. But that is not the same as bringing sharia judgements into UK law - it is merely licensing their ongoing application as a kind of optional and informal method for dispute resolution. Read more

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'Rowan and Islam' for 'dummies'

Rowan Williams’s speech calls us to ask four important questions:

    Is there a problem fitting ‘faith communities’ into the legal framework of modern societies?
    Can our society arrive at an accommodation with Shari’ah law?
    Is this the right way to incorporate the Muslim community into our own society?
    Is this an appropriate Christian response?

The answers I would suggest are as follows:

On the first point, yes, there are fundamental questions to be asked about the evolution of post-Christian Europe and the place of faith communities (including our own) within the legal framework.

On the second point, no, the proposed accommodation with Shari’ah is not possible. First, the Shari’ah it allows is the Shari’ah an Anglican Bishop would allow in England. There is undoubtedly a ‘liberal Muslim’ approach to ‘Shari’ah lite’, but there are many Muslims to whom it will be anathema. Secondly, Shari’ah is not something you can ‘allow’ in its own terms. Sayed Qutb’s position is, I think, more authentically ‘Islamic’: we accept Shari’ah not because we judge its laws to be good, but because ‘one should accept the Shari’ah without any question and reject all other laws in any shape or form. This is Islam.’

On the third point, the proposal is a concession — indeed a condescension — to Muslim sensitivities, and will be recognised as such, but it will not lead to greater integration of the Muslim community into our culture. Instead, it will be the thin end of a wedge: today family law (which is at least an advance on yesterday, with no recognition of Shari’ah), but tomorrow there will be other areas for inclusion. It will actually lead to greater separation, not integration.

On the fourth point, Jesus was a ‘Shari’ah-breaker’. Why, then, offer more Shari’ah as the practical approach to Muslims? The Christian response is surely this: “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel, which you need as well as every other person on earth.”

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Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (The Independent): What the Archbishop wishes on us is an abomination

[...] Dr Williams says Muslims want the choice to opt for sharia. What he believes to be choice is, in truth, inner compulsion, the result of brainwashing which begins in the madrassas when girls and boys are young enough to mould.

I have often admired the Archbishop's lofty thoughts, his intellectualism, the passion for human rights, his guts when the Government needs to be chastised. But this time his kind indulgences betray his own invaluable principles and deliver Muslim women, girls and dissidents into the hands of religious persecutors – an unforgivable intervention, which I hope he now sincerely regrets. Read more

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Theodore Dalrymple: Archbishop Rowan Williams foolishly rolls out the red carpet for British sharia

[...] Charity is a virtue, of course, but so is clarity: and it is the latter virtue that the archbishop so signally lacks. He assumes that the benevolence of his manner will disguise the weakness of his thought, and that his opacity will be mistaken for profundity. Here is a telling passage from the lecture:

Perhaps it helps to see the universalist vision of law as guaranteeing equal accountability and access primarily in a negative rather than a positive sense—that is, to see it as a mechanism whereby any human participant in a society is protected against the loss of certain elementary liberties of self-determination and guaranteed the freedom to demand reasons for any actions on the part of others for actions and policies that infringe self-determination.

Reading or hearing this, one wants to pull one’s hair out. Charity surely requires compassion not for Williams, but for the audience obliged to listen to him. The archbishop goes on for pages and pages in this vein:

Earlier on, I proposed that the criterion for recognising and collaborating with communal religious discipline should be connected with whether a communal jurisdiction actively interfered with liberties guaranteed by the wider society in such a way as definitively to block access to the exercise of those liberties; clearly the refusal of a religious believer to act upon the legal recognition of a right is not, given the plural character of society, a denial to anyone inside or outside the community of access to that right.

There is only one word for a society in which such discourse can pass for intellectual subtlety and sophistication, and lead to career advancement: decadent. Read more

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Dr Rowan Williams's words were understood

[...] In spite of his words of mitigation, there are still grounds for doubt about whether Dr Williams fully appreciates how justified was the anger that his original remarks provoked.

Certainly, some of his supporters have been quick to blame the media for a "knee-jerk" reaction to what they describe as a "serious piece of academic work", implying that the tide of criticism that has enveloped Lambeth Palace has been simple-minded or deliberately obtuse.

The Vicar of Putney, Rev Giles Fraser, has likened the press to "a pack of dogs" who had not even tried "to understand what [Dr Williams] said". This is quite untrue: the serious media have examined both Dr Williams's lecture and his BBC interview and focused their critique precisely on the legal and theological significance of his views.

It would seem that some of Dr Williams's apologists are simply failing to come to grips with the enormity of what his (perhaps badly chosen) words implied.

There are two quite separate points of legitimate concern. One is that the archbishop - who heads a national institution with a constitutional function - explicitly called into question the most fundamental principle of British justice: that we have a single system of law that applies equally to everyone.

The other is that, at a time when British cultural assumptions and institutions are under threat from a particularly aggressive interpretation of Islam, the head of its Established Church is unprepared to offer a robust defence of its values, apparently preferring to concede to the demands of what is in fact a minority, even among the Muslim community.

Dr Williams is guilty, at the very least, of arrogant insensitivity. His self-inflicted injury may yet prove to be fatal. Read more

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From the Radical Muslim Blog

Sharia law inevitable in UK

February 8, 2008

Thats right! :)

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Assim Sidiqqui (The Guardian): Reinventing Sharia

[...] It is perfectly fine for consenting Muslim adults to resolve their disputes according to Islamic law within the framework of UK civil law and provided that either party has recourse to it (as is currently the case). Wherever English law and "Islamic law" differ, "Islamic law" must give way.

The archbishop is right to suggest ways to integrate alienated Muslims into the mainstream. Part of that is to educate more religiously and/or culturally assertive Muslims on what sharia actually should mean in a modern context. This is the work for Muslim scholars to reinterpret practices considered by some to be "Islamic"; such as women witnesses being worth half that of men, men having up to four wives, custody of children transferring to the father, inheritance etc. In each case, there are multiple interpretations. It is for progressive Muslim scholars to ensure the more liberal and tolerant interpretations that are rooted in the Islamic tradition and part of Britain's libertarian heritage become dominant over time. That would do far more to aid Muslim integration than introducing a work in progress into statute. Read more
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Islam online: Archbishop - Shariah law “unavoidable” in UK

[...] Meanwhile, Muslim leaders tried to clarify Dr. Williams’ recommendation to the British society, including Dilwar Hussain of the Islamic Foundation, an influential think-tank on Muslims in Europe, who said non-Muslims must be reassured that nobody wants to invent a new legal system.

“Most Muslims are perfectly happy with the legal system as it exists in the UK. They support it. It protects them; it includes provisions for Halal food and for banking services. In other words, some of the most important things that concern people are already there in the system”, he told the BBC.

"We are not seeking the introduction of a new system - absolutely not. But there are some areas, issues around families for example, where many Muslims would like to be able to find solutions according to what they believe. That is not incompatible with our law."

Ibrahim Mogra, of the Muslim Council of Britain, agreed, saying: “we're looking at a very small aspect of Shariah for Muslim families when they choose to be governed with regards to their marriage, divorce, inheritance, custody of children and so forth”.

"Let's debate this issue. It is very complex. It is not as straight forward as saying that we will have a system here”, he added. Read more
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Hizb ut-Tahrir calls for debate on secularism and Shariah

[...] Although the context of Hizb ut-Tahrir's work is, and always has been, to work for an Islamic state in the Muslim world, the debate thus far has neglected the fact that it is not Muslims campaigning for Shariah in Britain that is a cause of tension. It is the policies of western governments to deny people's desire to live by Shariah in the Muslim world. Indeed, it is the height of hypocrisy that politicians and media who approved the bloodshed in Iraq and Afghanistan to export a secular system to the Muslim world, cry about protecting Britain's traditions and heritage, whilst obstructing the desire in the Muslim world to have laws that reflect their Islamic beliefs, heritage and system. For Muslims the world over, the Islamic Shariah is what brought civilisation and learning that characterised a golden age, such as that in Muslim Spain; it is the Shariah that guarantees an end to dictatorship, oppression and torture; it is the Shariah that protects family values in society; it is the Shariah that works to redistribute wealth and end poverty; it is the Shariah that restores the honour and dignity of women, allowing them to participate in society as human beings and not as commodities; it is the Shariah that protects people's privacy; it was the Shariah that allowed Muslim, Jew and Christian to live side by side for centuries in relative harmony; it was the Shariah that brought justice and stability to what are now some of the world's most trouble regions." Read more
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Monday, 11 February 2008

Andrew Brown on Rowan Williams: A very Anglican resurrection

[...] In essence, he agreed with all the critics who had not read his lecture, and disagreed with almost all who had.

Islamic law, he said, must not be allowed to remove from anyone the rights to which a citizen of the UK is entitled; he knew very well that Christian minorities in Muslim countries could suffer greatly even when there appeared to be legal protections for them; the traditional attitudes to apostasy "posed a very serious question" - which is the Anglican, rather less pompous way of saying they are wholly unacceptable.

None the less, he argued, it had been right to raise these questions. "If - and please note this word 'if' - this were thought to be a useful direction in which to move ... it would create a helpful interaction between the courts and the practice of Muslim legal scholars in this country."

In general, the Church of England remains the last place in English life where it is thought unforgivably rude to assert your convictions. This is quite different from having none. It's just bad form to inflict them on others. So one learns to measure the strength of a conviction by the number of negatives in which it is wrapped, and his belief that defending Muslims is part of the job description of Archbishop of Canterbury came wrapped in a Maginot line of qualification. He really means this stuff: "I believe quite strongly that it is not inappropriate for a pastor of the Church of England to address issues around the perceived concerns of other religious communities" - that is Archiepiscopese for "Get outta my face, Murdoch!".

He really does believe that he stands for all religious believers in resisting the march of a secularisation which would leave no room for the religious informed conscience. "If we can attempt to speak for the liberties and consciences of others in this country as well as our own, we shall I believe be doing something we as a church are called to do in Christ's name, witnessing to his Lordship ad not compromising it."

I don't suppose the Daily Mail will get off his case; and for most of the country he will forever be the bloke who wanted people's hands chopped off in Bradford. Even within the Synod, those who hate him will hate him forever, and some of them could be seen sitting on their hands during the general rejoicing. But by the time he was allowed to sit down again this afternoon, he had won back the hearts and trust - possibly even the love - of the overwhelming majority of the chamber. Read more
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Bishop of Durham rallies to support of Rowan Williams

[...] First, the lecture which +Rowan gave was the start of a series organised by and for the legal profession, about the nature of law. He was not making a public statement about his belief in Jesus (people have asked me ‘why doesn’t he speak about Jesus?’ and the answer is ‘he does, a great deal of the time, but this wasn’t that sort of occasion’). He was addressing some of the most serious and far-reaching questions which face us both in Britain and throughout western culture, and was doing so with the sensitivity and intellectual rigour which the occasion, and his audience, rightly demanded. We should be grateful that we have an Archbishop capable of such work, not demand that his every word be instantly comprehensible by the casual uninformed onlooker. If I ask someone to fix my car, or my computer, I don’t expect to understand everything they say about the technicalities; rather, I’m glad someone out there knows what’s going on and can do what’s necessary. Read more

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Shari'ah: Why Williams was wrong

One of the reasons why I believe Rowan Williams’s speech on Islam and English law was wrong theologically is that Shari’ah is not something to which, from an Islamic perspective, you can take a piecemeal approach.

As the Archbishop noted, Shari’ah springs from within a religious community. Let me quote, then, from a member of that community, albeit one who is regarded by many as ‘extreme’:

No doubt the Shari’ah is best since it comes from God; the laws of His creatures can hardly be compared to the laws given by the Creator. But this point is not the basis of the Islamic call. The basis of the message is that one should accept the Shari’ah without any question and reject all other laws in any shape or form. This is Islam. There is no other meaning of Islam. (Milestones, Sayed Qutb)

Moreover, according to Qutb, the introduction of Shari’ah is not something in addition to the spread of Islam. On the contrary, the character of Islam is,

... a universal proclamation of the freedom of man from servitude to other men, the establishment of the sovereignty of God and His Lordship throughout the world, the end of man's arrogance and selfishness, and the implementation of the rule of the Divine Shari’ah in human affairs.

Notice: Islam, and with it, the implementation of Shari’ah, is the liberation of ‘man from servitude to other men’.

Thus, if I have understood both the Archbishop and Qutb correctly, Rowan Williams’s proposals concerning Shari’ah, far from recognizing the legitimate concerns of the Muslim community, are a contradiction in terms. To ‘allow’ Shari’ah a place in English law is to deny the meaning of Shari’ah itself. How can the creature ‘allow’ the creator a degree of sway over life? What ‘right’ do human lawmakers of human laws have to make a little room here and there for the Divine Law? Read more

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