New poll: Is the Archbishop of Canterbury right?

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has sparked controversy with his lecture yesterday arguing that the adoption of some parts of Sharia law in the UK is “unavoidable”:

it might be possible to think in terms of … a scheme in which individuals retain the liberty to choose the jurisdiction under which they will seek to resolve certain carefully specified matters, so that ‘power-holders are forced to compete for the loyalty of their shared constituents’. This may include aspects of marital law, the regulation of financial transactions and authorised structures of mediation and conflict resolution … a universalist Enlightenment system has to weigh the possible consequences of ghettoising and effectively disenfranchising a minority, at real cost to overall social cohesion and creativity. … But if what we want socially is a pattern of relations in which a plurality of divers and overlapping affiliations work for a common good, and in which groups of serious and profound conviction are not systematically faced with the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty, it seems unavoidable.“

The media reaction has been trenchant (The Sun: What a Burkha!) certainly more so than Dr Williams’ often opaque views on this issue. Lib Dem blogger of the year James Graham has taken him to task here: Does Rowan Williams have any more idea of what he’s going on about than I do. Fellow bogger Brian Sloan meanwhile has written In Defence of Dr Williams.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has released a statement arguing the Archbishop is wrong:

Equality before the law is part of the glue that binds our society together. We cannot have a situation where there is one law for one person and different laws for another. There is a huge difference between respecting people’s right to follow their own beliefs and allowing them to excuse themselves from the rule of law.”

What do you think? LDV’s poll is now open (right-hand clumn), asking the simple Yes/No question: Is the Archbishop of Canterbury right to say that adoption of Sharia law is unavoidable?

Results of last poll:

LDV readers are Obama-maniacs, with two-thirds of you backing Barack to become the first black President of the USA, ahead of the first woman (Hillary Clinton), the oldest ever incoming President (McCain), and the first ever Mormon (Mitt Romney). Here’s what you told us:

Who do you want to be the next President of the USA?

Sen. Barack Obama (Dem): 65% (215)
• Sen. Hillary Clinton (Dem): 26% (86)
• Sen. John McCain (GOP): 8% (28)
• Gov. Mitt Romney (GOP): 1% (2)

Total Votes: 331; Polling: 31st January – 8th February

Read more by .
This entry was posted in Voice polls.


  • Why make it a poll? This is going to be 100% against.

    I almost suspect that Atkinson is a closet atheist, and he’s trying to accelerate the secularisation of Britain.

    Nick Clegg’s comments are all very well, but he could have been even harsher, capturing the mood of the UK as a whole, as well as the average Lib Dem voter.

  • Robin Young 8th Feb '08 - 12:47pm

    I am appalled by the depth of ignorance and prejudice which Rowan williams has managed to expose with a lecture and BBC interview which were obviously well beyond the mental capacity of most British journalistrs, politicians and commentators to deal with.
    I am an atheist, yet I thinkI have a better understanding what the Archbishop is getting at than do most people of faith.
    Of course some versions of sharia would by unacceptable under British law and incompatible with our society. But as the Archbishop pointed out, other bits are already accommodated within British law.
    It is a fact that Islamic Sharia Councils have been in existence in Britain since (I think) 1982 or thereabouts. They operate more informally than some comparable judicial and quasi-judicial authorities eg the London and Manchester Beth Din for Orthodox Jews, but could be given similar degree of recognition.
    And of course the Beth Din are not the only comparable case. The Church of England has ecclesistaical and consistory courts, the General Medical Council has special jurisdiction over doctors, and even this morning we have English sports authorities bewailing the fact that some athlete (Dwayne or Duane Chambers? – forgive me if that’s wrong) may be allowed to win his way to representing UK at the Olympics despite a drug conviction which they thought would enable them to ban him.
    Nick Clegg’s knee jerk reaction, while not quite as berkish as most, was deeply disappointing not only to me as a Liberal, but also, I bet, to lots of devout and non-extremist Muslims who have been looking to the Lib Dems for a bit of understanding and support.
    I thought Clegg’s insistence on the importance of equality under the law was especially inappropriate just at the moment, when he is an MP and the public are being treated to daily proof that MPs have special privileges under the law which render them not equal at all. Time to grow up, Nick.

  • Robin Young 8th Feb '08 - 12:48pm

    Sorry, my fingers seem to have fallen over themselves typing “ecclesiastical”, but I expect you know what I mean.

  • MartinSGill
    So an end to the exemption that allows Kosher and Halal meat from the legal requirement to stun animals first?

  • Hywel Morgan 8th Feb '08 - 10:27pm

    “Any law or regulation which applies only to certain affiliations, or a ruling that is modified because of those affiliations, is inherently unjust and divisive and should not exist in any country claiming to posses a fair and impartial justice system.”

    But it’s how common is that? There is an exemption for Sikhs as regard motorcycle helmets and, lesser known Quakers as regards aspects of the regulations regarding weddings (I’ve a feeling that Quakers are the only religion allowed to meet with the doors barred and locked but that might not be true any more)

    More fundamentally wasn’t this the argument advanced against those dangerous upstarts who refused to swear oaths?

  • Martin Land 8th Feb '08 - 11:17pm

    Rowan Williams is a man in need of a mission. Perhaps he should try Christianity; it’s unfashionable, I know, but stick with it Rowan – you never know.

  • Bullingdon Bertie 9th Feb '08 - 12:54am

    I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but… Where’s Boycie when you need him…

  • Having read the lecture it seems Dr Williams has been grossly misquoted by the tabloids

    See link to the lecture and make your own mind up

  • As a liberal i am disappointed at the reaction from MPs, party leaders and of course the press to the Archbishop’s comments. Any attempt to create a debate in order to improve community cohesion should be welcomed and though it may cause controversy that should never be a barrier to important intellectual discussion.

  • #4 Julian H – this is the most significant indicator of what is behind this manoeuveur.

    A rancid sore within society has been cast open in the form of an intellectual debate.
    Williams is so closely associated with the anti-conservative wing of the CofE that it creates an open goal for the enemies of liberalism to castigate him, and all liberals by association.

    This has political machinations writ large all over it – it is a put-up job by those with ultimate political power in this country (ie Gordon Brown) to cast him between uber-rationality and reaction in the light of the ‘voice of reason’.

    All you aspiring politicians out there, take notes and learn, learn how to profit from pulling the levers of power, and learn how to avoid being divided by the axe of public opinion.

  • How to profit from a controversy? – a classic political recipe.

    Rise above the fray, stand back and guage the public opinion. When the initial storm has cleared, stir it up again with a decisive intervention and ride the wave of public relief all the way up the polls.

    If you want to start a controversy choose your players wisely for the relevance of their constituency, for no substitutes will be allowed even at the end of turns.

    Hijacking the platform is allowed, but be careful to remember that the audience is the final judge.

  • Ian Trickett 10th Feb '08 - 8:39am

    Abstention – your vote is on the wrong wording. It asks if the Archbishop is right to say that the adoption of Sharia law “is” inevitable.
    He said “it seems to be” inevitable – not an absolute, but raising this academically as a point for consideration.
    There is a world of difference!

  • ibrahim hussain 10th Feb '08 - 8:58am


  • David Morton 11th Feb '08 - 8:08pm

    Its been an entirely avoidable presentational fiasco which the Church of England pays good money to bright staffers to avoid. Having read the lecture I think I do disagree with him but its worth remembering.

    1. He has been hideously misquoted. Even by tabloid standards

    2. We do already have varying degrees of accomodation in law for various religions. Ironically the establishment of the Church of England being the most obvious.

    3. I think all he was really talking about was a muslim equivalent of the Beth Din’s

    4. he’s one of the most intelligent and decent folk in public life and i think we should cut him some slack.

  • Yasmin Zalzala 11th Feb '08 - 8:54pm

    Comment is Free the Guardian website has several articles on the subject which are informative

    Nick Clegg’s comments are ignorant

  • Hywel Morgan 11th Feb '08 - 9:05pm

    “Yes, and wasn’t it sickening to hear Inayat Bunglawala on Any Questions making favourable comparisons with Beth Din’s, when the MCB can’t even bring itself to acknowledge Holocaust memorial day?”

    Not really. Because they do.

  • To say that the introduction of a system of law, or a part thereof, is “unavoidable” is hardly consistent with the Christian outlook.

    Christianity, as I understand it, holds that human beings have free will, and that bad things can be changed or prevented through human agency.

    Rowan Williams is yet another self-hating phoney “liberal” grovelling to a bunch of crazed religious zealots who want to take the world back to the Dark Ages.

    There is a story in the press today about the Islamic custom of forcing young people to marry first cousins, and how this is putting the children of such unions at risk of genetic defects. And what do the Rowan Williamses have to say about it? After a very heavy dose of grovelling, tell the mullahs in a very soft voice that consanguinous marriages might not be a terribly good idea (but only once one’s tongue is heavily charged with boot polish).

    The notion that arranged marriages are evil (a form of rape, in point of fact), and that Islam itself is evil. No, no. Facing up to the truth. That wouldn’t do at all. At least not in the world Archbishop Williams inhabits.

  • I’m still waiting for Gordon Brown to intervene decisively and to universal approval, proving he instigated the controversy and used ABC as a proxy by which to guage public opinion and thereby bolster his poll ratings.

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