Friday, February 8, 2008

What Rowan Williams is proposing: Does it already exist ?

At the risk of being splattered by a pebbledash of bile and sputum, can I put a good word in for Dr Rowan Williams?

He is "shocked" at the reaction to his speech. I am not surprised.

His speech was an extraordinarily dry academic tract. I managed to get about 60% of the way through it before I dozed off at the keyboard. Full marks to Alex Wilcock for reading and analysing it.

I am still not entirely clear what Dr Williams is suggesting. His proposals could represent something as tame as an equivalent of "Judge Judy" for Muslims. (I thought of this earlier today during work, but due to my new self-denying ordinance I couldn't get to a keyboard to express it before Will Howells - but hey - great minds think alike). Such civil arbitration methods exist in many forms today, including through sharia councils (The BBC showed one in Dewsbury last night).

Indeed, the remarkable thing about this whole debate is that at the civil end of things, what Dr Williams seems to be suggesting already exists. The BBC's Law in Action reports:

Religious and ethnic minority courts are already a reality in the UK.
Sharia councils -
The main activities of the sharia councils we have spoken to are the giving of religious advice and the dissolution of Muslim marriages in cases where the husband does not agree to the divorce.
One sharia council we spoke to, the Mahkamah Council of Jurists, also settles civil law disputes on matters such as contract and negligence.
Its decisions are recognised as enforceable in English law as long as they are reasonable.
In this respect it is operating in a way similar to that of the Jewish courts in Britain (Beth Din) and to other courts of arbitration.

(There is more detail on Law in Action's investigation here.)

So you begin to wonder: What the heck is all the fuss about?

I do think that Dr Williams is floating thoughts. He is a very thoughtful and spiritual man. What he lacks is the communication skills of a "PR Man" or politician to allow us to know precisely what the heck he is talking about.

So as a result, the whole debate flies off into "WHAT A BURKHA" mode.

He is not the sharpest of communicators, but I certainly credit him with thoughtfulness and sincerity. I do disagree with him on what I think he is saying about his examples of Catholic adoption agencies, abortion and embryology - which is where he seems to go beyond the civil action scenario.

It is also refreshing, after the recent Bishop of Rochester comments about Islam, to have the Archbishop actually trying to build some bridges with the Muslim community.

And, for once, it is superb for Rowan Williams to be talking about something other than the Church of England's recent ludicrous obsession with sexuality.

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