The responses to the Archbishop of Canterbury's speech are more troubling than his words. Emotion has been exceeded only by ignorance. Khalid Mahmood, the Muslim Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, outrageously said:
This is very misguided. There is no half-way house with this... What part of sharia law does he want? The sort that is practised in Saudi Arabia, which they are struggling to get away from?
Given the gentle tenor of the Archbishop's actual comments, this is demagoguery. The Prime Minister also appears on this matter (as many others) a complete idiot:
The Prime Minister believes British law should apply in this country, based on British values
said his official spokesman. This, despite the fact that there is no such thing as "British Law"( I leave, for the moment, the more difficult question of whether there is any such thing as a "British value.")
I am a Solicitor of the Supreme Court of England & Wales, qualified to advise only on the laws of that jurisdiction. Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own, entirely different, legal systems. They are just as alien to me, as a lawyer, as is Russia where I live and work.
There are three families of legal system in the world; Common Law, Civil Law and Islamic Law. England & Wales is (I know it sounds wrong, but "is" is right in this context) a common law jurisdiction. Indeed England is the mother of all common law jurisdictions. Scotland is a civil law state. The most important common law jurisdiction in the world today, the United States of America, has a civil law state operating efficiently within it.
Yet philosophically, the division between the Common Law and the Civil Law may be more profound than that between Christianity and Islam. All of which is interesting (at least to me) but as irrelevant to what the Archbishop said as is the existence (angrily condemned by bloggers unaware they had operated quietly for centuries) of the Beth Din Jewish Courts. As the website of the London Beth Din explains:
In Jewish Law, Jewish parties are forbidden to take their civil disputes to a secular court and are required to have those disputes adjudicated by a Beth Din. The LBD sits as an arbitral tribunal in respect of civil disputes and the parties to any such dispute are required to sign an Arbitration Agreement prior to a Hearing taking place. The effect of this is that the award given by the Beth Din has the full force of an Arbitration Award and may be enforced (with prior permission of the Beth Din) by the civil courts.
That Jews, between themselves, submit disputes to such courts, is no more a threat to our legal order than the secular arbitation courts designed for speedy settlement of commercial disputes. Parties who submit to such courts agree, as a matter of contract, to accept their decisions. The public courts enforce their awards just as they would enforce other agreements. There is no harm in it; no threat to any unique "British values." Indeed, a more sophisticated Brit might think allowing people to order their own affairs was at the core of "British values." No such private arrangement can supplant or override our laws. Any attempt to do so would be overruled on appeal to the public courts.
None of these arrangements, of course, apply to criminal law. The Crown (our quaint personification of the British state) is a party to all criminal cases. When I am eventually prosecuted (as must happen to us all if our authoritarian government continues to make one new crime per day) Her Majesty will prosecute me in her own courts.
The Archbishop has raised a firestorm, but he advocated nothing more than an Islamic Beth Din. Since (a) this already exists (without the sky falling), (b) the laws of our lands cannot be overridden by it, and (c) it has nothing to do with criminal law, the current Sharia "hand-chopping" hysteria is misplaced. As Dr Williams said in the radio interview, "choice" is important. As long as Muslims can choose to go to the public courts, there is simply no story. Move along now. Nothing to see.
The full text of the unkempt Welsh God-botherer's speech (and a recording of the radio interview which set the blogosphere "off on one") is here. I challenge my more heated blogging colleagues to read it and retract their inflammatory remarks.
Regular readers know that I hate multiculturalism. My culture is entitled to prevail in its native land. Newcomers should respect as I have learned to respect and admire the cultures of the other countries in which I have lived and worked Nor I am any friend of Islamism. I applauded this week in Paris as a French philosopher described it as "the third fascism" (for such it is). But if we criticise Muslims wildly and without justification, we may lose the most important argument of our lives. This is an argument on which the future of our civilisation may depend. We must be honest and true if our criticisms are to prevail.
I have to admit that Dr Williams' naievety is troubling. He is the leader of an evangelistic religion which believes there is only "one way" to God, through Jesus. Why, rather than evangelise the Muslims amongst us, does he pander to them so? How can such an intelligent man so often fail to anticipate the effect of his words? Is he completely out of touch with his confused flock, so badly in need of his leadership?
Perhaps, though, all this is consistent with his faith. After all, Christians, unlike Muslims, follow a naïf.