In the UK media a debate (to say the least) has been raging over comments made by the Archbishop of Canterbury about the role of Islamic sharia law in British society. This is the introduction to the Guardian’s original article:
The Archbishop of Canterbury tonight prompted criticism from across the political spectrum after he backed the introduction of sharia law in Britain and argued that adopting some of its aspects seemed “unavoidable”.
That the right-wing press loved to attack the archbishop was perhaps not that surprising (here’s the always-subtle The Sun “newspaper”, and if you’re looking for a more up-market treatment try the Telegraph or the Times) but the government and even media like the Guardian also gave the speech a distinctly frosty reception.
The Economist takes one step back and points to a central issue:
In any case, the reality to which the Archbishop was referring is palpable enough: there are already plenty of sub-cultures in Britain where people choose to regulate their behaviour, in matters like diet, marital status and inheritance, by a set of self-imposed norms which may differ quite sharply from the remainder of society.
The big question, for any secularist advocate of the rule of law, is whether people who participate in these sub-cultures really have a right to opt out, or to indeed to move from one cultural world to another.
The entitlement of sub-cultures to exist can easily become inimical to freedom if vulnerable individuals (such as women and children) are in effect trapped inside them because of massive pressure not to “betray” the community. The Archbishop would have drawn a much less hostile reaction if he had remembered to make that point more firmly.
And by the way: Here’s a prominent UK businessman talking about women’s role on the labour market – and here’s a report about how Microsoft’s German division treats female employees. If my choice was between the Brits and Microsoft, I know what I’d prefer.
PS: Xenophobic and outright stupid comments will be deleted.
* As good scientists we should always go to the primary source so here is the official transcript of the lecture from the AoC’s homepage.