The Archbishop of Canterbury has had a hard time today. Now, there have been plenty of days when I’d have liked to give him a hard time, but this was not one of them.
There are three reasons I do not want to pester him over what he said about Sharia law:
- I know very little about Sharia law
- I have not yet read all that said
- I have not yet had time to come to terms with why he said it.
Which I suspect puts me in a similar position to most of the country — in my knowledge base, if not in my reaction to the archbishop.
From what I have read, +Williams was making his usual fine distinctions: recognizing that aspects of Sharia law are already at work in Britain, suggesting that that is a reality we may need to live with, questioning whether therefore we should do so deliberately in terms of British law. More specifically, he was suggesting that there might be aspects of Sharia law which could be held within British law in the same way the law makes space for aspects of Jewish law, and even Church law.
That does not seem to me deeply offensive. Even if he is wrong, it does not seem offensive. He is simply asking for clear thought and debate.
The problem is, +Rowan Williams doesn’t talk in sound bites. His sentences are carefully weighed and balanced, with lots of clauses and qualifications along the way. Which means he is an easy target for the media.
And doesn’t the BBC love a battle? On their web-site they have excellent links explaining sharia law which put +Rowan William’s comments in perspective. But on the radio, they have given lots of time to people who seemed determined to misunderstand him, even quoting a listener who suggested that we should do what Williams suggested so that said listener could form his own religion and his own laws based on his own made up God (which shows just how little our culture understands about faith communities and the nature of truth claims).
We live in a very silly media culture and have a very clever (but not always savvy) Archbishop of Canterbury. Sometimes the two clash horribly.
See what Rowan Williams actually said here.