WASHINGTON — Islam has a new convert. Some will be surprised, but I am not. The newest convert to the religion of the unshaven face is Archbishop Rowan Williams. Dr. Williams has been the spiritual leader of the Anglican Church in the UK. However, after his February 7 interview on the BBC I think we can all agree that he is not so much a spiritual leader as a spiritual capitulator.
In his wonderfully wooly-headed interview, derived from a public lecture delivered by him at the Royal Courts of Justice, Dr. Williams called on his countrymen to arrive at “constructive accommodation” with Islamic sharia law. According to his calculations, the inclusion of sharia law into the British code of law is “unavoidable.” Thus if you are visiting London in the future and you appear in a British court, do not be surprised if it is presided over by a smiling mullah. Actually, it is not clear what Dr. Williams knows about sharia law, and in his BBC interview he admitted, “I’m no expert on this.” Nonetheless, he is calling for the institutionalization of Islam into at least some areas of his country’s legal code. Doubtless soon the forward-looking archbishop will be seen lugging a prayer rug over to his local mosque at the appointed hours — his wife, veiled and obedient, in tow. Sharia law can be pretty demanding.
In some countries where this legal code — first formulated sometime in the seventh century — is followed, it enjoins, among other atrocities, the stoning of adulterers, the amputation of body parts, and a kind of female subjugation unimaginable to even the most ardent Western male chauvinist pig. By the way, sharia law even takes into consideration pigs, as well as mortgages, couture, and the care of household pets, which are discouraged. As for pigs, they are considered “unclean.” In most countries where sharia law rules, a ham on rye is malum prohibitum — pardon my Latin. As I say, sharia law can be pretty demanding.
This brings me to a matter that Islam’s most recent celebrity convert seems not to understand. Sharia law is socially, politically, and legally, all-embracing. It is not simply a religious faith, as various forms of Christianity are. It is a polity. As Peter G. Riddell, a theologian at the Kairos Journal, wrote in response to Dr. Williams here, sharia law “is a system that insists on society’s compliance in every sector of human activity: legal, religious, economic, political, and social. Although Muslims may disagree on how to implement Islam as the total package, they do not disagree that Islam is much more than just a private expression of religious belief.” So Dr. Williams, you have had your last ham sandwich and forget the pigs’ knuckles. They are completely off the menu.
At the outset of this column I mentioned that I am not surprised by the spiritual capitulation of the leader of the Anglican Church. Since the 1930s many in the church’s leadership have been classic appeasers. They appeased the fascists. Why would we not expect them to appease religious fascists? It is true that as World War II recedes into the mists of time, almost all big-hearted progressives or liberals (or whatever self-congratulatory term they apply to themselves) denounce Nazism and fascism with the utmost ardor. Yet when these odious movements were on the rise many among the British elite cautioned prudence in dealing with them; and some actually admired them including members of the royal family and, of course, clerics in the Anglican Church.
The recent inclination of people like Dr. Williams to appease anti-democratic concoctions such as sharia law might move the real defenders of democracy among us to contemplate what causes this appeasement. It is not tolerance. Dr. Williams would not tolerate most forms of bigotry, yet he tolerates the religious bigotry and authoritarianism of sharia. Why? It is because he is, as were his antecedents who appeased Hitler, a coward. He is afraid of rousing himself from the comforts of his London manse to oppose even those who hate him. He calculates that someone else will do the job or that the threat will subside. Yet there is, I suspect, another more subtle cause for his appeasement.
The bien pensant of Dr. Williams’s variety have lived in a self-contained society for the morally superior for several generations. They do not like their fellow countrymen who are not a part of that society. In a word, they do not like conservatives and others who, like conservatives, resist threats to Britain. We have the same sort of appeasers here. In both countries these self-regarding poseurs would rather proclaim tolerance toward those who hate our countries than work with the rest of us to defend our way of life. Have a lovely time at the mosque, archbishop.
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