By Hilary White

LONDON, February 7, 2008 ( – Commentators, bloggers, and columnists alike were aghast this evening as Rowan Williams, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, told the BBC that Britain had to “face up to the fact” that the encroachment of Islamic Sharia law into the British legal system is “unavoidable”.

The titular head of the Church of England suggested in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme that, because they are both “religious”, there is an equivalence between the brutal system of Sharia and the principles of the Natural Law upon which western jurisprudence is based. “The eternal law of religious communities is recognized by the law of the land,” he said.

Dr. Williams argued that since British law “accommodates” the views of Catholics and some others on abortion, Sharia should be welcomed on the grounds of tolerance for religious viewpoints. And anyway, he said, “certain provisions of Sharia are already recognized…So it’s not as if we’re bringing in an alien and rival system.”

While admitting that the concept of a single body of law applying equally to all citizens is one of the foundational tenets of western democracies, Williams said such a notion is “a bit of a danger” in modern multicultural societies.

“A lot of what’s been written,” he said, “suggests that the ideal situation is one in which there is one law and only one law for everybody.” But he said there are “other affiliations” that claim the loyalties of citizens “and that the law needs to take some account of that.”

A system, he said, “that says, there’s one law for everybody, and that’s all there is to be said – I think that’s a bit of a danger.”

Williams said “creative accommodation” of Sharia is justified because of the way “the consciences of Catholics, Anglicans and others who have difficulty about issues like abortion are accommodated within the law.”

Within hours of the BBC interview being posted to their website, hundreds of commenters had written in to the site protesting, and some calling for Williams’ resignation.

Also quick to respond was the Pakistani-born Anglican bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, who said, “English law is rooted in the Judaeo-Christian tradition and, in particular, our notions of human freedoms derive from that tradition. In my view, it would be simply impossible to introduce a tradition, like Sharia into this corpus without fundamentally affecting its integrity.”

Nazir-Ali is under police protection after receiving death threats for writing in January that Islamic extremism had turned some British communities into “‘no-go’ areas” and that there are ongoing attempts to “impose an Islamic character on certain areas.”

Damien Thompson, editor of the Catholic Herald newspaper and a blogger at the Daily Telegraph, wrote that the Archbishop’s comments were the “most monumentally stupid thing I have ever heard an Archbishop of Canterbury say. In fact, it’s more than stupid: it’s disgusting.”

“The idea that ‘one law for everyone’ is ‘a bit of a danger’, as Williams argues, goes against every tradition of English law and culture that the Primate of All England is supposed to uphold.” Thompson wrote that if he had been quoted accurately, the Archbishop of Canterbury “is lending his support to the establishment of a non-Christian theocracy in Britain.”

“Has the Archbishop gone bonkers?” asked Ruth Gledhill, the religion correspondent for the Times.

Gledhill said that “commentators of every variety,” have been “stunned into blunt expression by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s uncharacteristically clear comments on Sharia in Britain.”

Williams, she wrote, “wants women, children, all of us in fact, to have to kow-tow to some of the strictest, harshest and most draconian laws dreamed up by any religious system, ever, anywhere in the world.”

“There might not be no-go areas for non-Muslims in Britain…But this is certainly the way to go about creating them.”

Thompson pointed out that Williams’ credibility “is in tatters” in his struggle with the Anglican leadership in Africa over acceptance of active homosexual ministers that has threatened to destroy the Communion. “Anglicans in parts of Nigeria live under what is, in effect, totalitarian Sharia.”

“What will the Archbishop of Canterbury’s fatuous remarks about Sharia do to his authority as head of the Anglican Communion? Pretty well finish it off, I should think,” Thompson concludes.

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