Rowan Williams did us all a favour by starting a debate about the application of sharia law in the the UK. After all, shouldn't muslims be allowed to use sharia to settle divorces and disputes if both parties agree? It sounds reasonable but there is one big snag. The abrahamic religions - Judaism, Islam and Christianity are all patriarchal. They all use sexual repression, and particularly control of women's sexuality, as a means of social control and male dominance. Women just don't have equal rights and the same status as men in sharia law. How can we know that women from British asian communities are really freely consenting to the resolution of issues such as divorce by sharia law? We can't, and we shouldn't tolerate the use of any system of law which treats the parties involved as unequal.
None of the equal rights that we enjoy here came from religion and if we want to keep them we must ensure that religious authorities have less, not more, power. The values of human rights and social justice to which socialists subscribe aren't relative as some on the so-called left in the UK would like to believe. They are absolute and we should support their application everywhere. Stoning women and hanging gay men is as wrong in Iran as it would be here, and we should support progressive muslims who attempt protect human rights in their own countries. Islam itself is not the problem it is the fundamentalists and fanatics, the medieval misogynists, who are, and we need to ensure that the muslim voices who support social justice are heard.
The naive young women in Britain who wear headscarves as a reaction against percieved islamophobia, are colluding in the oppression of their sisters in muslim countries where women don't have the freedom and choices that they have. It's worth quoting from Joan Smith's excellent article in the Independent on Sunday today - " The notion that young women like Shafilea Ahmed and Banaz Mahmod [who were both murdered in honour killings] would be helped by the expansion of Islamic law in this country is laughable; indeed the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2003 that sharia is incompatible with the fundamental principles of democracy and European values. Secular law protects the right of people to practice their religion, but it also protects them from aspects of their faith which are unjust and oppressive" Amen to that!
With his reactionary musings on the use of sharia in the UK and his bumbling over the African and American bigots in his church, Rowan Williams has ably demonstrated that while he may be intelligent and hard to understand, he is also a moral and political lightweight.