Friday, February 08, 2008

An entirely civilised law

I have been a little puzzled over the fuss generated by Rowan Williams' ideas on Shari'a and British law. Now I'm no fan of the good Archbishop; I tend to find in his public pronouncements a degree of sanctimonious political correctness that makes me ill. And I'm as enraged as the next bloke when bearded men tell me what I cannot say, and threaten those that do say it. I might also add that Shari'a conjures very few, if any, positive images in my mind. However, in this case, I cannot for the life of me see what is so offensive.

According to this BBC article,

English law states that any third party can be agreed by two sides to arbitrate in a dispute [not involving criminal law].
This seems to me an entirely civilised law, and an example of its application is the existence of the Beth Din, the Jewish court which sits in North Finchley. There are also Catholic courts that fulfil a similar function. If two people agree to abide by the judgements of such courts, and no other law is broken, I cannot see the harm.

I took the trouble of reading Williams' speech (and was, against my will, impressed). He's only talking about "aspects of marital law, the regulation of financial transactions and authorised structures of mediation and conflict resolution". He is more than aware of Shari'a stellar reputation with the status of women and converts. And he seems to have a better understanding of liberal democracy than many of his accusers. It is not the 'imposition' of rights, but more a clearing of the obstacles to those rights, if they should be claimed. [Warning! Abstruseness aplenty.]
The rule of law is thus not the enshrining of priority for the universal/abstract dimension of social existence but the establishing of a space accessible to everyone in which it is possible to affirm and defend a commitment to human dignity as such, independent of membership in any specific human community or tradition, so that when specific communities or traditions are in danger of claiming finality for their own boundaries of practice and understanding, they are reminded that they have to come to terms with the actuality of human diversity - and that the only way of doing this is to acknowledge the category of 'human dignity as such' – a non-negotiable assumption that each agent (with his or her historical and social affiliations) could be expected to have a voice in the shaping of some common project for the well-being and order of a human group. It is not to claim that specific community understandings are 'superseded' by this universal principle, rather to claim that they all need to be undergirded by it. The rule of law is – and this may sound rather counterintuitive – a way of honouring what in the human constitution is not captured by any one form of corporate belonging or any particular history, even though the human constitution never exists without those other determinations.
I confess that Williams' style does not make me want to rush out and buy his Collected Sermons and Essays, but the point is a good one.

People are reacting to this in the same way that certain other people reacted to a few cartoons and a pope's lecture that they didn't understand. Well, not quite the same way; no-one's died yet. But it is still a fuss over nothing. Let's just allow an entirely civilised English law to be followed.


Hazar Nesimi said...

The main assumptions behind objections, apart from irrational fear of the OTHER, about letting things go - are that there is a logical progression from one to another. In other words a first actions, bring an avalance and necessarily and finally concludes with a Sharia state in UK. Take example of Turkey and Hijab rows going there right now, parliament passed a legislation allowing women to study in hijab in state schools and universities. Which, for secularists is tantamount to first step towards theocracy. Is it so, seems overblown to me as of yet.For England such fears are even more laughable, and should be ridiculed.

Riri said...

Bloody hell! I have not got a clue what the good archbishop is on about. That excerpt you reproduced here is completely unfathomable to me, but I conceed that might just mean am thick. I was looking forward to a post by you on this ridiculously overblown issue. I think the public reaction has been hilarious, but more than expected. Just goes to show how even a public as educated, experienced in the art of liberal democracy and free speech and used to the multi-cultural strains of a diverse society can lose their head when faced with an essentially incomprehensible politically-correct appeal to applying a completely British civil law to the Muslim community.

You see, the problem word there was Sharia (maybe also Muslim). Once you hear that word, you just switch off. I bet you if he didn't use that word, none of this reaction would have taken place. Amusing, but a bit sad at the same time.

Hazar Nesimi said...

I have relied on our friends inteprettion of Archbishop words, I could not get any sense out of them myself.

NoolaBeulah said...

The good archbishop is a subtle man, but his description of a liberal society is just like the one that I have given on one of our three blogs. So it must be right! Huh?

Part of the problem is that we have not been educated properly about our own system thanks to left-wing utopianism and the creeping socialism of our own governments. We are in danger of losing, through our own over-reactions, the very thing we are supposed to be defending against the current inadequates of history.

So, yes, here I agree with you: the mention of the word Shari'a and people think we're on the road to Saudi Arabia. Which is obviously absurd; I mean, do they play cricket in Saudi Arabia? Could they play cricket in Saudi Arabia? Case closed.