The postmodernist archbishop
I read the whole archepiscopal speech a couple of days ago; that makes two of the archbishop’s speeches I’ve read in their entirety in the last couple of weeks. That’s a lot of waffly Williamsese to get through. I would love to do a really thorough line-by-line fisking, because every line deserves it – but it would take forever, and would be a baroque kind of luxury, because no one is convinced by the archbishop anyway. So I’m not going to do a line-by-line job, but I could give you a few highlights. Would you like that? Okay then.
One item is that it takes him until the bottom of page 3 (of very closely-printed pages) to acknowledge the elephant in the room.
[R]ecognition of ‘supplementary jurisdiction’ in some areas, especially family law, could have the effect of reinforcing in minority communities some of the most repressive or retrograde elements in them, with particularly serious consequences for the role and liberties of women…The problem here is that recognising the authority of a communal religious court to decide finally and authoritatively about such a question would in effect not merely allow an additional layer of legal routes for resolving conflicts and ordering behaviour but would actually deprive members of the minority community of rights and liberties that they were entitled to enjoy as citizens.
How very true! Or to put it another way, no kidding! And what a staggeringly long time it took him to get around to saying so, and what a lot of verbiage he muffles the admission in even when he does manage to get to it.
I mention it partly because of its gravity as an issue in interfaith relations and in discussions of human rights and the treatment of minorities, partly to illustrate how the recognition of what I have been calling membership in different but overlapping sets of social relationship (what others have called ‘multiple affiliations’) can provide a framework for thinking about these neuralgic questions of the status of women and converts.
That – along with the usual verbose opacity – is just one example of an extremely annoying trope he uses throughout, and which he uses again in his self-defense today: he keeps suggesting we need to think about these things, as if no one had been thinking about them until now! Where’s he been? We’ve been thinking about them, for months and years – we don’t need the head of the Church of England to suggest that we do what we’re already doing! And we don’t need his help with the thinking, either.
So the second objection to an increased legal recognition of communal religious identities can be met if we are prepared to think about the basic ground rules that might organise the relationship between jurisdictions, making sure that we do not collude with unexamined systems that have oppressive effect or allow shared public liberties to be decisively taken away by a supplementary jurisdiction.
We are prepared to think, more prepared than the archbishop is, by the looks of it; but the only way to make sure we don’t collude with these unexamined systems (there it is again – what makes him think they’re unexamined? unexamined by whom? him?) is to decline to give them any ‘supplementary jurisdiction.’ All he’s doing is re-inventing the wheel. We know all this, we got here long ago, and that’s exactly why we want no truck with sharia.
And from the final paragraph – where he goes all pomo –
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…