Friday, February 08, 2008

On the Archbishop of Canterbury's comments

The following are my thoughts on the Archbishop's comments on the incorporation of certain aspects of shariah into English law.

1. First if all, let it be acknowledged that as public figures go, Rowan Williams is one of the most admirable people around. The immediate attempt to denigrate him personally is not only demeaning to the British nation as a whole, it is vulgar and pathetic. For example, the Daily Mail is currently running a poll on who poses a greater threat to British society: Abu Hamza or the Archbishop? And according to the Daily Mail readers, the Archbishop is twice the threat of Abu Hamza. Other comments about his personality betray the massive dumbing down that the tabloids and their helpers are responsible for. Rowan Williams has got to be one of the most intelligent, thoughtful and decent human beings to walk this island. Shame on the tabloids for the depths to which they are willing to take this country. This matter is complicated and they have refused to engage with complexity, either because they don't want to or they cannot. Let people remember George Carey's comments when the bombing of Afghanistan began a few years ago: 'Sometimes, there are moral difficulties...' Rowan Williams is liked by every Muslim that i have spoken to, and i have been following his speeches for a while and i may not agree with everything he says but i admire his humanism and intellectual reach.

2. Secondly, this moral panic is obviously about a psychological fear that Muslims may somehow, nay inevitably, take over. This is blatant nonsense and is merely pandering to prejudice. As anyone remotely familiar with the Muslim community will tell you, organisation and leadership are not our strong points. The fear is for atheists that religion is on the up, and for others, that Muslims are on the march. For those who are familiar with the debate, they should rest assured that there is incredible legal and academic scrutiny of this issue and it is unlikely that anything will be permitted which could be regarded as outrageous. It is interesting to note that the lawyers who were interviewed after the speech yesterday all spoke in agreement with the Archbishop. This is becuase they recognise through their work that there is a genuine conundrum here which requires careful consideration.

3. The issue is about cultural diversity and the state and the interface between the two. At a philosophical and practical level, it is virtually impossible (ask Goodhart, he tried) to argue against the recognition of at least some form of cultural diversity (e.g. in health, education and now law) and for those who wish to hold an absolutist line, may i suggest that they begin with forcing their model onto counter-terrorism? (Has the penny dropped yet?) The issue is about where to draw the line, and this should be negotiated through inclusion and reasonableness on both sides, because we are all citizens of the same state.

4. So it is about British society and the faith question, but this is also about Anglicanism and its future especially its relation to the Muslim community in Britian. Here I want to characterise two approaches of inter-faith towards Muslims: Christian humanism and Rowan Williams is an example of such and Christian identity politics and Michael Nazir-Ali is an example of such. (On a side note, some people are at present comparing Nazir-Ali favourably to Williams, this can more accurately be done through comparing their interventions: Nazir-Ali made a public statement or perhaps allegation - about Islamists creating no-go areas in Britian - which he has been unable to back up evidentially and Williams has written a thoughtful piece). Rowan Williams is considerate of the Muslim faith, realises that there wouldn't be so many people taking it seriously unless there was something in it for them and has hence approached the topic with humanity and empathy. Nazir-Ali has been rushing to the media on several occasions making various allegations about what may happen in the future if nobody takes the Islamic threat seriously enough, claims that Muslims exaggerate their victimhood while constantly reminding us of Christians victims of Muslim violence and states that Britian is not proud enough of its Christian identity. This is classic identity politics material. Which way for the Church? The humanism of Rowan Williams or the identity politics of Michael Nazir-Ali. I know which one I prefer, the clue is that his voice sounds much better on the radio.

A penultimate note on Christian hospitality. Nazir-Ali asks us to ditch multiculturalism. i.e. disregard cultural diversity (see note above on counter-terrorism) and replace it with Christian hospitality. Well, if you want to read Christian identity politics as Christian hospitality then try the comments posted on some of the newspaper websites. There is enough in these posts for the Church to consider the extent of prejudice held against Muslims by Christians. What is the source of this prejudice?

A final word on the personal attack on the Archbishop. It is disgraceful and demeaning to the British character. Please stop this, understand the complexity of the matter, refrain from vulgarity in mind and characterisation, and applaud the best that our nation has to offer the world.