March 1st 2008

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The Australian economy a 'house of cards'

EDITORIAL: Timor troubles: the way ahead

CANBERRA OBSERVED: What remains to be done after saying sorry?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Brian Burke and Kevin Rudd cross paths again

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Economic policy-making in conflict

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Hysteria in the House / US election campaign / "Say sorry" segment / The economy

ISLAM: Uproar over Archbishop of Canterbury's Islam gaffe

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY: Why Australia's Christian heritage matters

HUMAN RIGHTS: The 2008 Olympics and China's Communist regime

TAIWAN: Chen: Almost over, but not out

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: Australia and Japan set to draw closer together

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Global warming? It's the coldest winter in decades / Capitalism's enemies within

Reality gap between words and action (letter)

Wentworth's vision for Australian railways (letter)

Thuggery at Brisbane pro-life rally (letter)

The struggling Rudds (letter)

BOOKS: IT'S YOUR TIME YOU'RE WASTING: A teacher's tales of classroom hell, by Frank Chalk


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Uproar over Archbishop of Canterbury's Islam gaffe

by Dr Christopher J. Ward

News Weekly, March 1, 2008
Dr Rowan Williams spectacularly misjudged the public mood with his comments on Sharia law.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, went a step too far and put both feet in his mouth on February 7, 2008, when he delivered the foundation lecture at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. His address, entitled "Civil and Religious Law in England: a Religious Perspective", inaugurated a series of talks on Islam and English law.

It would be easy to disregard the Archbishop's views as those of a slightly eccentric clergyman - the sort who thinks he "understands" Islam, but sees fit to dismiss the concept of jihad as a doctrine of war, regarding it instead as a mere internal struggle or matter of personal conscience.

These days, many well-meaning churchmen, academics and scholars, in seeking common-ground with moderate Muslims, commit the error of downplaying or ignoring altogether the very real threat posed to free societies from violent jihadists.

Since 9/11, the West has been engaged in what is often referred to as the Global War on Terror, but perhaps more accurately described as an armed struggle against fundamentalist Islamic terrorism.


Incredibly, in his speech, Archbishop Williams failed to mention 9/11 or any of the other subsequent terrorist outrages around the globe, including those in Britain, such as the July 7, 2005 suicide-bombings on the London underground, in which 52 lives were lost, and last year's foiled attacks in London and Glasgow.

For the spiritual head of the world's Anglican communion to make a speech which appeared to condone the adoption in Britain of aspects of Sharia law provoked a heated reaction. Noted writers such as Christopher Hitchens, Melanie Phillips (author of Londonistan) and newspaper columnists around the globe lambasted the archbishop.

The popular media fanned the whole affair into an inferno of denunciation and recrimination and prompted calls for Dr Williams to step down. The London tabloid, The Sun, called him a silly old goat; the Daily Telegraph remarked that the Archbishop's ideas were fatuous; and The Times suggested initially that he'd gone bonkers, then accused him the following day of being a traitor.

Dr Williams is reputed to have a great knowledge of Islam. Having read the text of his speech and a transcript of his interview with the BBC, I agree with certain commentators that he was merely suggesting that consideration be given to extending the type of "supplementary jurisdictions" in law, which are enjoyed by the Jewish and Hindu communities in Britain, to the Muslim community.

At no stage did he call for the implementation of Sharia law. In fact, in his London lecture, he stressed very clearly the "very serious" issue that "recognition 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".

However, the tabloid press and electronic media in the UK and around the world ignored the substance of his lecture and interpreted his words as proposing for Muslims a parallel jurisdiction to the English civil law.

Williams spectacularly misjudged the public mood. His speech was publicised before it was delivered, and at a time when Britain was reeling from anti-terrorist trials.

His address was unremarkable, scholarly, philosophical and possibly, just possibly, worthy of consideration, but only as an abstract concept. In reality, there is no common ground between Sharia law and English Common Law that could accommodate for Muslims the sorts of concessions enjoyed by the UK's Hindu and Jewish populations.

Whatever the merit of Archbishop Williams' speech, his various subsequent attempts to explain his ideas in a rational context have served only to dig a deeper hole for him and undermine his authority further.

Multiculturalism has not ensured that Britain is a society of equals. Islamic migrants - and often their children - in many respects remain alienated and wedded to the tribal loyalties of their respective countries of origin.

They are over-represented in terms of unemployment, welfare dependency and in the jail population. They form tight ghettos in London and northern cities, where the "police service" (no longer a police force) finds it difficult to maintain law and order.


Immigrant gangs compete for "turf" in the cities, and Islamic gangs are driven as much by religion and ideology as by criminality.

It has been mentioned in the British press that a certain amount of cooperation between gangs occurs when they have an interest in common, such as obtaining weapons and explosives. This is an immense problem for the police and security bodies.

The pile-driving public effects of Dr Williams' speech have yet to be fully realised. The Archbishop has set himself up, along with his church, as a sitting duck.

- Dr Christopher J. Ward is a social scientist and a practising Anglican.

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