Monday, 18 February 2008

The Spectator: If the Archbishop were really an intellectual, he'd answer the questions he wordily posed

(Ed: What is devastating about this piece is that Matthew Parris says in 200 words what the Archbishop said in somewhat more than 6,000.)

Williams seems to be trying to say that the wellsprings of any national legal system are to be found in human communities and the spiritual, ethical and cultural values they share. Sometimes these may conflict, between one community and another. National law needs to hold the ring and must in that sense trump all ‘subsidiary’ community systems of rules. But it should not forget where its wellsprings lie, nor disregard nor needlessly affront the communities whence respect for law ultimately comes. There is precedent for national law paying deference to communities who wish to use their own rules within tightly defined circumstances.

Particular attention now needs to be paid (he seems to be arguing) to the Muslim community, and sharia. A case may be made for giving it greater scope for jurisdiction, though of a supplementary kind. Sharia, however, is neither clear nor undisputed within Islam; and outside Islam it has a brutal and misogynistic reputation. It may or may not be inherently aggressive towards competing faiths or agnosticisms. Arguably, it may be able to respect external, ‘secular’ jurisdictions. All these questions deserve discussion. Most importantly, we would have to discuss how individuals could opt in or opt out of sharia, establishing a sort of ‘marketplace’ of jurisdictions.

And that’s it. Honestly. That’s basically all the Archbishop was saying. No great intellect is required for this. What would require the capacities of an intellectual would be to answer — if they can be answered — the questions and difficulties Williams has set out. Read more
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