Disagreeing with the Archbishop

When Dr. Rowan Williams, The Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday said - amazingly - that incorporating some Sharia Laws in British Legal system is inevitable, it created the expected uproar. The Archbishop is the Head of the Anglican Church, and sits at the heart of the British tradition. He is indeed the most unexpected source of such advocacy.

His colleagues have since distanced themselves from Archbishop's views. Prime Minister's Office made a statement that 'British people should be governed by British Laws'. And, Home Office disagreed fiercely.

Let me clarify my position: I do not think a modern society can have separate laws for different people. This stems from my belief that religion has no role to play in public life. However, the Archbishop's comments are worth a closer examination.

First reason for this is that Archbishop, in his position, is not obligated to believe that religion should not have a role in life. On the contrary, he believes that religion should play a role - and an increasingly important role - if the human civilization is to do better. He would say that historical experience would show that ruling out religion's role in public life is foolish, because most people direct their actions based on their own, religious, code. At that level, religion, culture, tradition, ethics, all get a bit mixed up. But, since the man [or woman] on street do not do a Ph D in ethics before they have to take decisions, religion plays an overarching role in all our lives. It is impractical to rule religion out of modern societies.

Second is that Archbishop did not say that Sharia Law needs to be implemented lock,stock and barrel for Muslim citizens of the United Kingdom [this is where Islamic clerics will disagree with him]. He said that a man of faith may want some areas of his action - like marital disputes and financial transactions - governed by religious code, and hence some aspects of Sharia Law may need to incorporated in British Law to accommodate the needs of its muslim citizens. So, in effect, if there is nothing wrong in offering Islamic Banking, where is the problem of looking at Sharia Law for certain transactions for those who believe? Archbishop was saying that this needs to be done for the sake of social cohesion.

He is indeed more right in this than Gordon Brown. Brown's philosophy in two parts is 'British jobs for British workers' and 'British Laws for British People' do not seem to care much for social cohesion. It is convenient to say that if someone wants to come and live in Britain, they need to follow British ways of life [so, I, as an immigrant, must know The Queen's birthdate to get my visa renewed, irrespective of whether I am a republican since 1776!], but it is more difficult to say that British muslims, who are born and brought up here, and whose ancestors may have come to British isles during the middle ages, will have to follow 'British Law', which is, in many ways, directed by the protestant ethic.

The third part of Brown's philosophy is that 'it is okay to use intercept evidence in courts' is completely against the principles of British Law and tradition. He thinks it is the need of the hour [though he sees no such need to listen to what Archbishop is saying] and therefore, it is okay to have 'Bush Law for British People'. Dr. Williams is indeed right about the role of religion in public life - if he had a sense of religion , Gordon Brown would have felt a bit ashamed about his double-speak and political opportunism.


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