Archbishop Rowan is getting huge amounts of flack for his comments on a selective use of some parts of Sharia law in certain communities in the UK. Typically, his arguments, based on some serious reading, have been caricatured and turned into shock headlines. Which suggests he was perhaps ill-advised - this sort of reaction was bound to happen.
"This means that we have to think a little harder about the role and rule of law in a plural society of overlapping identities....I have been arguing that a defence of an unqualified secular legal monopoly in terms of the need for a universalist doctrine of human right or dignity is to misunderstand the circumstances in which that doctrine emerged, and that the essential liberating (and religiously informed) vision it represents is not imperilled by a loosening of the monopolistic framework....
In conclusion, it seems that if we are to think intelligently about the relations between Islam and British law, we need a fair amount of 'deconstruction' of crude oppositions and mythologies, whether of the nature of sharia or the nature of the Enlightenment. But as I have hinted, I do not believe this can be done without some thinking also about the very nature of law. It is always easy to take refuge in some form of positivism; and what I have called legal universalism, when divorced from a serious theoretical (and, I would argue, religious) underpinning, can turn into a positivism as sterile as any other variety. If the paradoxical idea which I have sketched is true - that universal law and universal right are a way of recognising what is least fathomable and controllable in the human subject - theology still waits for us around the corner of these debates, however hard our culture may try to keep it out. And, as you can imagine, I am not going to complain about that."
The speech is an important one about how we respect difference, and, in particular, how people with allegiances to multiple to frameworks (Britain, Islam...) might benefit from a legal system that accommodates them. In fact, such a system already exists in an ad hoc sense, both in terms of Judaism and Islam, and he is simply suggesting a formalising of it. Is this concept too threatening to our identity as good Christian Brits? Is 'the law' all we've got left?
Don't knee-jerk. Read the full text here.