From Melanie Phillips' Diary, in The Spectator (UK), Saturday, 9th February 2008:
... the Archbishop of Canterbury is fighting to save his job by frantically back-tracking and claiming he has been misunderstood. It was all got up by the tabloids… no-one actually read the lecture… people have jumped to the wrong conclusion from a few misleading headlines. Ye gods. What planet is he living on? Everyone heard what the man actually said on the World at One; by now, many have heroically ploughed through his lecture as well. It is the words that he actually uttered that have caused unprecedented numbers to take to their keyboards in outrage. And it is the words that he actually uttered that make the statement on his website attempting to justify himself, written in the third person by an anonymous apparatchik at Lambeth Palace, disingenuous to the point of being seriously misleading.
The statement ...implies that it was only in answering a question that he coyly agreed that the use of sharia was unavoidable. But he was actually promoting this idea himself as a desirable development. .... In his lecture, he said in terms that he was talking about the state recognising sharia in certain circumstances as a ‘supplementary jurisdiction’. It was a central argument of this lecture that the state, which already recognised some provisions of sharia (alas, too true) should recognise other provisions such as family law, and that individuals should be able to choose which system they wanted, in
"…a scheme in which individuals retain the liberty to choose the jurisdiction under which they will seek to resolve certain carefully specified matters, so that ‘power-holders are forced to compete for the loyalty of their shared constituents’. This may include aspects of marital law, the regulation of financial transactions and authorised structures of mediation and conflict resolution ...."
That means two systems existing side by side with equal status. In other words, parallel systems.
....and the attitude of those British Muslims who want to live under sharia rather than English law...Dr Williams himself described as leaving them
"systematically faced with the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty…"
This is actually a shattering thing to say about Britain’s Muslim community. For it says that their loyalty to their culture is in conflict with their loyalty to the UK — a conflict experienced by no other minority in the UK, which Dr Williams appears not to grasp. His whole lecture was devoted to attempting to resolve that conflict — which he did by suggesting, in effect, that if Muslims can’t be British under existing law, then Britain will have to become at least a little bit Muslim, in order to enable what he called in terms
"a competition for loyalty"
with Muslims given the ability to choose between English and Islamic law. This shocking suggestion is the undeniable meaning of his words, delivered at such great length. Can it really be the case that no-one at Lambeth Palace actually understands what these words mean? Or are they really so arrogant that they thought no-one else would understand?
....Next, the statement actually repeated the significant error Dr Williams made about Jewish law and the relationship between British Jews and the state:
"At the end of the lecture the Archbishop referred to a suggestion by a Jewish jurist that there might be room for 'overlapping jurisdictions' in which ‘individuals might choose in certain limited areas whether to seek justice under one system or another’. This is what currently happens both within the Jewish arrangements and increasingly in current alternative dispute resolution and mediation practice."
This is completely untrue....there are no ‘overlapping jurisdictions’ between English and Jewish law, and Jewish law is not a ‘supplementary jurisdiction’ in the UK. A jurisdiction is a body of legal authority which has binding force upon those to whom it is applied. Jewish religious law in the UK has no legal authority over British Jews and no such binding force. Jews most certainly do not choose ‘whether to seek justice in one system or another’ except where their participation in Beth Din religious tribunals is entirely voluntary on the part of all concerned, such as in the informal arbitration of disputes. For the enforcement of justice, they must seek remedies from English law, just as they must be married or divorced under English law — Jewish marriage and divorce rituals having no official standing — for such status to be recognised by the state.
It is a Jewish religious requirement for Jews to live under the law of the land in which they reside. It is simply astounding that Lambeth Palace continues to perpetuate a false impression about this. Do they really know nothing about Judaism? Why do they insist upon dragging the Jews into this?
The statement also omits any reference to the most astonishing thing of all that the Archbishop said: that there should not be one law for all. In the lecture he said he wanted to end our
"unqualified secular legal monopoly;"
he wanted the rule of law to be detached from
"any one form of corporate belonging or any particular history"
— ie, to be detached from one thousand years of British history, Christian ethics, the English common law and western civilisation; because, as he said so jaw-droppingly in his radio interview:
"An approach to law which simply said - there's one law for everybody - I think that's a bit of a danger."
Dr Williams says he has been misunderstood. Tellingly, his website statement makes no defence at all of this devastating renunciation of the doctrine of equality before the law. This omission suggests that at least someone at Lambeth Palace understands what Dr Williams actually said only too well.
The lecture and radio interview were bad enough, heaven knows. But this statement on his website raises yet further concerns. How can the Archbishop of Canterbury put out such a seriously misleading and, in parts, demonstrably false statement? It moves this affair on from questions about judgment — which are serious enough — to questions about integrity.
Either Dr Williams really does not understand what he himself said — in which case he is a fool; or he understands exactly what he said and is trying to pretend that he didn’t say it — in which case he is a knave.
Either way, he has done great harm to his church and is a danger to his country ...He should stand down and the courageous and sharp Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali — a man whose life is now in danger for having spoken the truth about Islam in a Britain whose religious and cultural identity he actually defends, but about whom Dr Williams has said not one word in support — should take his place.
Now that really would be a statement in defence of Britain and western civilisation.