Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the world's 77 million Anglicans, poked a stick in a hornets nest last week. According to media reports, he said it "seemed unavoidable" that Britain would have to adopt elements of Sharia law, the Islamic legal code. Here's a good explanation of the controversy, from the Sunday Times of London.
A frenzied swarm of critics quickly emerged, from Prime Minister Gordon Brown to the tabloid Sun ("It's easy to dismiss Archbiship of Canterbury Rowan Williams as a silly old goat. In fact, he's a dangerous threat to our nation.") to fomer Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey ("His is a view I cannot share. Acceptance of some Muslim laws within British law would be disastrous for the nation.")
As the Times reported, "He produced one of the most unlikely coalitions seen in Britain in recent times. He was attacked by conservatives, liberals, all three leading political parties, fellow Christians, Jews and, indeed, some Muslims. "
The repeatedly stung archbishop attempted to clarify his remarks on his Web site, including links to the original speech and his interview with the BBC.
Rowan Williams is a brilliant man whose deep theological musings tend to be misunderstood when simplified into sound bites. I think it's clear that what he intended to say was far less radical than his critics accuse him of saying. A partial accommodation of religious law -- as is already done with the Orthodox Jewish community -- is far from the parallel legal system that some accuse him of advocating.
Still, even if it was the right thing to say, it was the wrong time to say it. At a time when Western democracies feel threatened by immigration's effect on culture and militant Islam's use of terror, suggesting that Britain's legal system make room for Sharia law was incredibly brave, stunningly oblivious or simply foolish.
What do you think?