Friday, 8 February 2008

The wisest fool in Christendom?

Dr Rowan Williams comes across as an intelligent and thoughtful man. He rarely jumps in with both feet on an issue and clearly weighs up his words before delivering them.

So it's quite surprising that he managed to come out with something so foolish as his comments on sharia law. It is a coherent opinion to say that sharia law should be introduced into the UK - coherent, but in my view wrong. What is not coherent is to say that only bits of sharia law should be introduced (who decides which bits?), and that they should run alongside separate civil laws.

Even worse is to say that should be done in the name of social cohesion. I can think of few things less likely to promote social cohesion than having separate laws for different groups of people.

Where the critics of Dr Williams are on less sound ground is in the assertion that we must have just one set of laws which people must obey. I agree with the first part of this - on having just one set of laws which apply equally to everyone - but I don't necessarily agree with the latter part. There are unjust laws and I believe that when confronted with an unjust law, there can be grounds for breaking it.

For instance, I think the introduction of ID cards and the national identity database which lies behind them has the potential to alter significantly the relationship between the citizen and the state, giving the state a dangerous extra level of control over its people. I intend not to carry an ID card if they are introduced, even though that will mean breaking the law. I recognise that that law does apply to me just as it applies to everyone in this country, that it has been passed by an appropriate authority and that there will be consequences for breaking it, but it is not a law I will be obeying.

Dr Williams is right to think that the legal system must try and promote social cohesion, but he is wrong to think that can be done through the introduction of sharia law. Though his comments were foolish, I think he has done us a service in opening up this debate. Although he is maybe the wisest fool in Christendom, we should be grateful that he did raise the issue.


The Tory Troll said...

For once, I agree with the majority of what you have written!

Different laws based on your cultural or ethnic group also seem to me to be racist as well as unworkable.

And why stop with Sharia? Should we recognize the violent exorcism ceremonies of animistic religions as a legitimate expression of someone's law?

In regards to ID Cards, I think this really falls under that heading of laws about which its supporters should ask, "If this power fell into the hands of my enemy and used against me, what would be the result?" If you don't like the answer, then don't propose the law.

If that is too abstruse a way of expressing it, a more question for a Labourite would be, "how would you like the Conservatives in charge of a national ID system?." I don't put it like that to reflect on the Conservative party but rather I think it would bring the issue into perspective for the current backers of the plan.

Finally, don't ignore the reach of unelected bodies in handling people's data - Tesco, Google etc etc. Did you know that Facebook received seedfunding from the CIA?

Alex Wilcock said...

Good piece, and is it possible the Newsnight munchkins read it too?

Mr Paxman's just opened tonight's show with the same James I comparison :-)

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