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The Archbishop’s Latest Folly By: Mark Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, February 26, 2009

Early last year, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams suggested that Great Britain accept aspects of Islamic law, or Sharia. Despite the ensuing controversy, he is now claiming some vindication, declaring that Sharia’s partial codification into British law “seems inevitable. Indeed, “a number of fairly senior people” in Britain share his view, Williams insisted, probably correctly. Meanwhile, the Archbishop engaged in interfaith outreach by visiting a Muslim group in Libya that Muammar Kaddafi founded.

Williams heads the Church of England and is the spiritual leader of nearly 80 million Anglicans globally, many of whom, especially in Nigeria, are suffering under the oppressions of Islamic law. The archbishop made his comments at a recent global gathering of Anglican bishops in Egypt, where the Christian minority, although under ostensibly under a moderate Muslim regime, still suffers under Sharia inspired restrictions.

Although not completely clueless about the threat that theocratic Islam poses to Christians and others, the purportedly very intellectual Archbishop blithely insisted that a partial Sharia in Britain is acceptable.

“It's been quite interesting to see how a number of fairly senior people have observed that certain kinds of limited aspects of Muslim law are imaginable within a British legal framework, without upsetting the apple cart of undermining human rights,” Williams opined, as quoted in Britain’s Telegraph. “People are maybe beginning to distinguish the general question of Muslim law, and the extremes of appalling practice which disfigure it in so many parts of the world or the extremes of trying to push Sharia law upon an entire society.” He concluded: “ So I think there is a drift of understanding of what I was trying to say, perhaps I like to think so."

The Telegraph quoted several Britons who disagreed with Williams benign stance towards Sharia. One British critic denounced the Archbishop’s proposal as “wicked” because it “undermines the progressives [within Islam] and gives succour to the extremists.” Another legal critic called William’s suggestion “deeply harmful” to British Muslims because it further segregates them from the British mainstream.

Coincidentally, Williams also recently addressed the World Islamic Call Society in Libya about interfaith relations. The group was founded in 1970 by Libya’s then newly minted military dictator Muammar Kaddafi to harness Islam to his own brand of socialist tyranny. Unlike other Western Christian officials who soft pedal their own faith and offer apologies for Western imperialism to placate Muslim audiences, Williams’ speech to the Libyans was relatively thoughtful.

Williams admitted that Islam’s and Christianity’s differing theologies and mutually missionary faiths preclude any “full accord” in the near future. “Our understandings of revelation are, as I have suggested, very close in many ways, yet they diverge sharply over the question of the status of Jesus and thus over the nature of the relationship with God that we Christians believe becomes available through Jesus and the Spirit,” he said. Amid debate over these differences, he urged “working together” against anti-religious pressure and on common causes of “justice” that help the “suffering.”

When proselytizing, Williams warned against “false or violent inducements, not to say or believe the worst of one another, not to punish people for the conclusions they come to in good faith.” He suggested, “We ought to be free from the anxiety that drives people to enforce their beliefs through brutality and assault – as if God depended on our violence for his Word to prevail.” The archbishop recalled, “Both our histories have long shadows on them in this respect; but our own age, with all its renewed and in many ways worsened problems of tension between religious extremists, has also been an age in which Christians and Muslims have learned more about one another than they have for centuries and have identified once again the words and thoughts that enable us to speak to one another as kinsmen, not as complete strangers.”

Naturally, the World Islamic Call Society (WICS), in its own report of Williams’ visit, omitted the Archbishop’s explicit declaration of faith in Jesus Christ and his warnings against religious intolerance. Instead, it emphasized that Williams is among the “opponents of the Zionist aggression on the Gaza Strip,” citing a letter that Williams wrote last year that implied criticism of Israel. It also claimed that Williams expressed “his pride and appreciation for his visit to the Great Jamahiriya,” which is the preferred name for Kaddafi’s socialist dictatorship. And afterwards, Williams’ audience discussed “what the Zionist enemy is practicing against the Palestinian people in Gaza,” the WICS observed.

Another WICS report asserted that Williams praised religious liberty for Christians, especially Anglicans, in the “Great Jamahiriya.” The WICS approvingly claimed that the Archbishop had “recently called for a reconsideration of the investments of a particular company in England that uses its services against the people of Palestine.” It also praised Williams’ “opposition to the Israeli aggression on Palestine due to its contradiction of the teachings of the Bible.” And it hailed the Archbishop as “one of the first people to oppose the war on Iraq.”

The intellectual Archbishop may continue to make highly nuanced arguments about interfaith relations and Islamic law that he thinks guard against Islamist extremism. But his British subtleties, suitable for lecture halls and cathedral pulpits in his native land, inevitably leave him open to exploitation by the enemies of traditional English religious toleration.

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.

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