“Relating to the Legal System”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Church of England, holder of the office once held by St. Cuthbert, St. Dunstan, St. Anselm, St. Thomas Becket, and Robert Kilwardby, says that British adoption of certain aspects of sharia is unavoidable:

Dr Rowan Williams told Radio 4’s World at One that the UK has to “face up to the fact” that some of its citizens do not relate to the British legal system.

Dr Williams argues that adopting parts of Islamic Sharia law would help maintain social cohesion.

For example, Muslims could choose to have marital disputes or financial matters dealt with in a Sharia court.

He says Muslims should not have to choose between “the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty”.

In the United States, we have plenty of people who do not “relate to the legal system” in the Archbishop’s sense; they tend to end up relating to it in a different sense, in jail. I wonder if he would extend his reasoning to criminal gangs. Perhaps we should let them deal with their disputes in their own way?

Of course, the Archbishop doesn’t favor anything unpleasant:

“… nobody in their right mind, I think, would want to see in this country a kind of inhumanity that sometimes appears to be associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states [with] the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women as well.”

And just how are these to be avoided?

“…I think it would be quite wrong to say that we could ever licence so to speak a system of law for some communities which gave people no right of appeal, no way of exercising the rights that are guaranteed to them as citizens in general.”

So, sharia could govern disputes, but with appeal to general British courts available for those unhappy with the outcome? Is that compatible with sharia? Would that lead to social cohesion or social tension over possible overrulings of sharia courts? The newspaper article does not indicate how the Archbishop continues the above statement, but his own website does:

…so that a woman in such circumstances would have to know that she was not signing away for good and all; now this is a matter of detail that I don’t know enough about the detail of the law in the Islamic law in this context….

The protection of human rights: “a matter of detail.”

Let’s avoid the broad question of whether Islam is consistent with respect for human rights, and ask the more restricted question of whether sharia as understood by Muslim communities in Britain and as likely to be implemented by them in Britain is consistent with human rights—in particular, the right of women to equal treatment under the law. The answer is almost certainly “no.” Even if decisions of sharia courts could be appealed in regular British courts, there would be intense pressure with Muslim communities against such appeals, and intense pressure against British courts to prevent them from overruling sharia court decisions.

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