The comments by Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury and de facto head of the Church of England, that Sharia Law in the UK is "inevitable" have sparked waves of predictably tedious righteous indignation.
While the most fanatical members of the right wing press, such as Melanie Phillips, have seen fit to frame this in the context of "dhimmitude", "abject religious and cultural surrender to Islam" and other code words of the Eurabia conspiracy theorists, even the mainstream press have run scare stories about sharia law being used in Britain, should the Archbishop get his way.
But lets examine his comments in context.
He wanted parts of Sharia Law to be adopted by communities who already consider themselves Islamic, with the consent of all parties involved, to try and reach decisions on some court rulings, such as those covering marriage, divorce and property after death in the family. To quote him, he said "The whole idea that there are perfectly proper ways the law of the land pays respect to custom and community, that's already there."
The question is therefore not the introduction of Sharia Law into the UK, but the realization of the fact many people already try to use these laws in their everyday lives, often without any transparency, oversight or courts of appeal. By integrating it into UK law, it not only helps prevent abuses, but also helps soften the opinion of many Muslims towards the current government and UK society, who feel that there is an "us and them" dynamic at work, which forces them to chose between loyalty to the state and loyalty to their religion.
There is also the fact that Orthodox Jews already operate under this system in UK law. You'd think someone like Melanie Phillips, who proclaims her Jewishness at every opening that is offered, would realize that, and accept that this is a natural extension of the rights already afforded to some citizens.
Notably, the Times and Telegraph newspapers have tried to make arguments on the basis that the UK is a Christian nation (a claim more plausible than similar ones made in the USA) and that UK laws are based on Christianity, with its history of tolerance and respect for the individual. This second claim is not only theoretically dubious, given statements in the Bible about the role of women, but historically inaccurate and misleading as well. In the past, the state has sanctioned both the persecution of Jews and Catholics using Christian rhetoric, and the most exemplary laws of our modern society are derived from the Danes, not Christianity. There is no haebus corpus or presumption of innocence in the Bible, after all.
Finally, there is the argument that Muslims when over here should put up with "our" laws or leave. This is the most pathetic and rhetoric based of all the arguments given so far, for two reasons. Firstly, many of the Muslims who identify as such ARE British Muslims, and live here. Secondly, the idea that you cannot criticize or attempt to change the policy of the state is about the single most anti-democratic statement I have heard. I most certainly do not agree with our government aiding "extraordinary rendition", should I move to Switzerland? Most interestingly, this argument has been put forward by conservative critics who....wait for it.....mostly disagree with the Labour government's policy in many areas! Why don't they move to somewhere like America or France, where a conservative government holds power? Because they're hypocrites, that's why.
The question is not one of "dhimmitude", or "cultural surrender", its about should religion at all have a right to make and in part shape how laws are executed in this country?
People should remember the CoE is a dying religion, one that while on paper is impressive in its status as the religion on the state, has little official following or real political clout. By opening up a debate on religiously influenced execution of law, they are engaging in nothing more than a shameless power grab, while using the UK Muslim community as a "human shield" for the press to rip apart.
That is what this is really about.
I myself do not really care one way or another, so long as the law is applied consistently. I would prefer a totally secular country, in terms of law, but we don't even have that now, so all the atheists out there should turn their attentions away from frothing denunciations of the excesses of the Saudi courts and perhaps consider why we allow Bishops to still sit in the House of Lords, why our official Head of State also is the head of the State religion, and is ordained in both roles by God, without question.
Secondly, some of these people should perhaps be questioning the totally idiotic and repressive secular laws that are being passed by our government currently. For all their crying about the (very real) plight of women under fundamentalist Islamic regimes, I see little criticism from our media over the proposed reintroduction of stop and search laws, which are proven to target ethnic minorities massively, nor the use of ASBOs by police officers to punish people for being assholes (which, contrary to popular belief, is not a crime).
All of these people would have us believe that UK law is something special, a near perfect being, pure in its conception, which is being brutally mixed with a nasty, foreign, alien legal system. WAKE THE FUCK UP ASSHOLES, UK LAW AIN'T ANYTHING SPECIAL EITHER! By placing UK law on a pedastel, the media are subconsciously reinforcing culture and the state as the supreme arbiter of how we should live our lives in the UK. If there are elements of sharia law that seem more "fair" and useful in their pursuit of Justice, then by all means they should be adopted. Equally, all laws that are not useful in that respect should be disregarded, regardless of where they came from. Otherwise, the law isn't worth the paper its written on. Unjust laws don't become any more just simply because they're rooted in our own culture and history.
I mean, seriously, are some of you people pulling our legs here?