Right now I'm feeling rather less sympathetic towards Rowan Williams than I was on Friday night. The reason is this. Go to the Archbishop's website, as I (and doubtless many others) did in the wake of the controversy in the press, for the text of his talk where he spoke about the relationship between Sharia law and English society and you will find it under this title:
Archbishop's Lecture - Civil and Religious Law in England: a Religious PerspectiveThus on Newsnight I focussed on the question why the Archbishop chose this particular subject to deal with a general point about the relationship between the law and religious communities.
Thanks to a lead on the Fulcrum website, however, I just found my way via this link to the website of the Temple Church where there is another transcript of the lecture here. In this case, however, the title is as follows:
Islam and British Law: A Lecture by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, given in the Royal Courts of Justice on 7 February 2008 as the Foundation Lecture in the series “Islam in English Law”, part of the Temple Festival 2008.Spot the difference? (Notice also, it is a series with more to follow - though not from the Archbishop.)
Moreover, there is also within the same document a transcript of the World at One interview which sparked the original outcry. It begins:
Interview with The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan WilliamsCompare this with the 'transcript' at the Archbishop's website
Transcript of interview conducted by Christopher Landau broadcast on The World at One 7th February 2008
MARTHA KEARNEY: The lecture may have been intended as a scholarly contribution to the relationship between English law and Islam but the Archbishop of Canterbury's statement that Sharia law "seems unavoidable" in parts of Britain is highly controversial. Rowan Williams, speaking tonight to lawyers in the Temple area of London, will argue that Muslims should be able to choose whether issues like marital disputes or financial matters should be dealt with in Sharia-compliant proceedings or the existing legal system. He argues this relies on Sharia being better understood. Britain has to face up to the fact that some of its citizens don't feel they relate to the British legal system alone; he says they shouldn't feel they have to choose between "the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty". Rowan Williams' remarks are bound to provoke a reaction. The European Court of Human Rights found that Sharia was incompatible with the fundamental principles of democracy, particularly with regard to its criminal law, its rules on the legal status of women and the way it intervened in all spheres of private and public life in accordance with religious precepts. His lecture comes just a month after an Anglican bishop warned that there were no go areas in parts of Britain The Archbishop of Canterbury this morning gave an exclusive interview to our reporter Christopher Landau. He asked him whether the adoption of Sharia law really was necessary for community cohesion.
ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY: It seems unavoidable and indeed as a matter of fact certain provisions of Sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law.
BBC Interview - Radio 4 World at One, Thursday 07 February 2008Spot the difference?
The transcript of an interview with Christopher Landau of the BBC World at One programme on the Temple lecture 'Civil and religious law in England: a religious perspective.'
CL To begin with you've given this vision of if as a nation Britain wants to achieve social cohesion, that challenge is how to accommodate those of religious faith in relation to the law; and you're words are that the application of Sharia in certain circumstances if we want to achieve this cohesion and take seriously peoples' religion seems unavoidable?
ABC It seem unavoidable and indeed as a matter of fact certain provision of Sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law ...
Not only is the introduction to the interview entirely ommitted, but the proper title to the lecture is once again not given.
I must admit that I therefore went on Newsnight thinking I'd done my homework, entirely unaware that the event the Archbishop spoke at was specifically about 'Islam and British Law'.
Thanks a bunch. Had I realised that, I would have given a good deal more attention to saying why I thought Rowan had got it wrong, both constitutionally and theologically, and rather less to questioning his tactical wisdom in speaking about Islam in this way at such a sensitive time. Indeed, like the Observer leader, I might have asked instead whether it was wise of him to be passing judgment on Islamic law one way or another.
Revd John P Richardson
10 February 2008
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