Rod Liddle is infuriated by a church leader who refuses to confront the inhumanity perpetrated in the name of Islam or the consequences — visible in Malaysia — of legal apartheid
I assume it is simply Dr Rowan Williams’s impressive beard which has persuaded everybody that he is an ‘intellectual’; certainly, it cannot be anything he has ever said or written. His latest contribution to the national reservoir of stupidity was the business about sharia law, of course. It was both inevitable and indeed desirable that the state would, somehow, devolve to our Muslim communities jurisdiction over certain — largely domestic — disputes, he opined. Cue a justifiable outrage. Then, apparently astonished at the furore, he issued a sort of Blairite apology, saying that the ghastly media had ‘distorted’ his speech (nope, it really hadn’t) but that he regretted an ‘unclarity’ over words which he may have ‘clumsily deployed’. What a fatuous old goat he is. If he is incapable of expressing himself clearly, then it is because his thought processes are hopelessly muddled — if they exist at all. In short, he is little more than a posh John Prescott in a black dress.
Whether he should be forced out of office is another matter, mind. As a fundamentalist libertarian in this regard, I usually defend to the hilt people who say unconscionable things which enrage the public. However, if the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police were to say he thought that criminals were, on the whole, a much maligned community of individuals who really should be allowed to carry out their activities without the interference of the police, then I would begin to doubt his suitability for the job. I am not so sure that what Williams suggested is much less absurd or more counter to the aims of the beleaguered and dissolving institution to whose stewardship he has, regrettably, been entrusted.
I am even less impressed when he claims, presumptuously — like the equally idiotic Bishop of Oxford did recently over the proposal to have the imam call to prayer broadcast over the rooftops of Cowley — to be a sort of standard-bearer for people of all faiths. Including, presumably, Satanists. It is a mark of Rowan Williams’s misjudgment and misunderstanding of the issue that the only Muslim group which actually supported his position was the somewhat extreme Hizb-ut-Tahrir; all the other Muslim groups said polite things about how Rowan had, in a very real sense, opened a valuable debate, but that he was talking utter, complete and vaguely insulting bollocks.
Williams’s confusion, mind, is one which has been shared by the government — and most liberal commentators — for a very long time. His openness to sharia law was of course merely partial. He does not want convocations of bearded maniacs in Dewsbury slicing off the hands of thieves, nor stoning to death women adulterers. My guess, from his previously impeccably liberal position on buggery, is that he does not want homosexuals put to death nor imprisoned, nor women divested of an income through a sudden unilateral divorce. I suspect he would not wish for men to be acknowledged as the sole guardians of their children, either. As Williams himself said: ‘Nobody would want to see the inhumanity that has sometimes been associated with the practice of the law in some Islamic countries.’ So, in other words, he is amenable to sharia law when it is, as he sees it, representative of ‘good’ Islam — when it does not offend his Western, liberal, Christian sensibilities. Which is, you might agree, a bit high-handed of him. What right does he have, as a kufr, to determine what is humane and what is just?
As for that tossed-off comment, ‘Nobody would want to see …’ — well I could show you a few hundred Muslim clerics in this country who would like to see precisely that. Who are you, Rowan, to tell them that their understanding of their own faith is mistaken? And that hopeless, over-qualified clause: ‘inhumanity that has sometimes been associated…’. Been associated? You oaf, you moron, you coward. That inhumanity has not ‘been associated’ with some Islamic states: it actually happens, in real life, every day; it is not a distortion of the media’s making, it is not something George Bush or Paul Dacre invented. It is there, to a greater or lesser degree, in 53 states of the world: the 53 Islamic states.
But he has form, of course, the Archbish; he once announced, attempting to heal the wounds of the world after 9/11, that Islamic terrorists had ‘serious goals’ and that it wouldn’t do simply to condemn them. Clearly, he is absolutely incapable, intellectually and morally, of confronting inhumanity perpetrated in the name of religious belief, be it the 9/11 bombings, or a hand sliced off a thief in Riyadh, or a woman divorced and left penniless by an Islamic sharia court in the UK.
There is at least one country in the world where, for reasons of political and demographic expediency, sharia law applies to one section of the community while the rest enjoy entirely secular law. That country is Malaysia, where some 60 per cent of the population are ethnic Malays (and thus defined, whether they like it or not, as Muslim at birth) and 24 per cent are the economically powerful Chinese. There’s an awful lot to admire about Malaysia, not least its prosperity, stability and comparative lack of ethnic tension. Nonetheless, the Rowan Williams model of separate laws for certain sections of the population has created what many Malays see as a form of apartheid. And perhaps uniquely in the history of the world, an apartheid in which the dominant ethnic group discriminates against itself. Progressive secular legislation has ensured that Malaysia’s non-Muslim citizens enjoy the sort of human rights that most of us in the West enjoy; but the Islamic family courts ensure that the major-ity Muslim population abide by a different code, with men able to divorce their wives by text messaging, indulge in polygamy, have full guardianship of their children and a far greater proportion of inherited money than their non-Muslim fellow citizens.
The most outspoken critic of this self-imposed apartheid comes not from the Chinese or the Christian communities of Malaysia — but a Muslim woman, Marina Mahathir, the daughter of the former prime minister of Malaysia Mahathir bin Mohamad, and about as establishment a figure as one can find. ‘In this country, Malaysian women are going backwards,’ she wrote, in a heavily censored article for the Malaysian Daily Star. ‘We can only look at our non-Muslim sisters in despair and envy.’
But Rowan, the intellectual, didn’t use Malaysia as a case study. He didn’t use anything as a case study. He just spoke, with characteristic ‘unclarity’. He does not know what he is talking about.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated February 16, 2008