Well, what a buzz of response to this story. I listened to the radio interview yesterday morning on Radio 4, and I was thinking then, as he spoke, that the phone lines very soon were going to be melting.
What has quickly happened with the story though, as always seems to happen, is that the media have very deliberately turned what was said it something that wasn't. They've taken his comments out of context in order to get headlines that will have all of us decent folk coughing and spluttering into morning coffees. I've yet to see the tabloid headlines this morning...but I can pretty well imagine what they might be.
So...what was Williams advocating? Well...he's a very 'woolly' speaker that's for sure, using ambiguous, carefully chosen phrases, and it does take a little work to unravel what his intended message is. However....I believe what his message was, was this:
'Why don't we allow the muslim community to arbitrate their own disagreements amongst themselves...using the acceptable elements of shariah law as a framework?'
Now looking at this, in the cold light of a new morning....I really don't think I have a problem with it. And here's why:
a. it already happens in muslim communities
b. it's no different to the Beth Din court system used by the Jewish community
c. it doesn't usurp, contradict or replace British civil and criminal law
What Rowan Williams rather inexpertly did, was announce what is already going on in a clumsy way that's got us all worked up over absolutely nothing. I suppose, the silver lining in this sorry little episode that no doubt will sell a lot more papers, is that I have been reassured by the almost universal condemnation of any kind of religious inroads being made into the legal system of this country.
And that's something, to be honest, to feel very comfortable about.