A few days ago, Rowan Williams, the completely sane Archbishop of Canterbury (i.e. the head of the Anglican Church), gave a speech on civil and religious law in which he backed the inclusion of some sharia law provisions into British law, similar to statements he had recently made in a BBC interview.
Cue international freak-out.
His actual statements include:
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".
I defy you to find fault with that.
He also said, quite rightly:
He stresses that "nobody in their right mind would want to see in this country the kind of inhumanity that's sometimes been associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic states; the extreme punishments, the attitudes to women as well". ...
"There's a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law, as we already do with some other aspects of religious law."
So of course, the UK government and numerous commentators have decided to go completely snakey, shrilly insisting that there is no law but law, and the UK government is its creator, for all Brits.
Which is just not true, of course. Jewish and Muslim arbitrators exist and are regulated to deal with some family/civil law issues.
One of the main problems is that Muslim religious marriages are not recognized, requiring Muslim couples to register a civil marriage as well. This is not the case for most other groups' marriages. Because of the confusion and double standard, people who believe themselves to be protected by civil family law are not.
It was probably naive of the Archbishop to drop such comments into the already murky Euro-American debate about the merits and contours of multiculturalism without having a more concrete stance from which to argue. However, I find it incredibly irritating that the man is being attacked for suggesting that the UK (a) acknowledge that sharia is going on "behind closed doors", and (b) promoting pluralism and inclusion. All the pompous "experts" sputtering that no one should be excepted from the law because of their religion -- and alluding to polygamy and corporal punishment when they do so -- are indulging in a shamefully self-serving straw-man argument. Not only didn't Williams say that, but he explicitly said not that. If you aren't willing to debate the actual issue, please be quiet.
And even if Williams was making an absurd suggestion, he has no power to implement it. He's the head of a Christian sect, for heaven's sake. Everybody needs to simmer down now.