Matthew Dancona

Canterbury Tales

Canterbury Tales
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And so, with his job now on the line, the Archbishop's fightback begins. It is, predictably, the Prufrock Defence: that wasn't what I meant at all.

On his website, he insists that he was not proposing 'parallel jurisdiction' of sharia and British law. No indeed: the phrase he actually used was 'plural jurisdiction' which is much further-reaching and more radical, implying a smorgasbord of legal traditions from which the modern citizen can pick and mix.

Charles Moore is - as ever - a must-read in the Daily Telegraph, as is Matthew Parris in The Times who advances the fascinating thesis that the practical implications of the Archbishop's thesis are not liberal at all but local-communitarian and (potentially) deeply conservative.

The Guardian does not disappoint with a column by Madeleine Bunting saluting Dr Williams's courage and an editorial grandly dismissing 'The simplicity complex' that leads ordinary folk such as you and me to over-simplify the nuanced arguments of this clever churchman. Apparently, it's all the fault of dumbing down, the tabloids, headline chasing and the culture of spin.

Except it isn't. If a man of the Archbishop's national prominence stands up and calls for the official recognition of some aspects of sharia law, he can scarcely be surprised that our first question is not: where are the footnotes? Indeed, as someone who spent some time in academia, I am always suspicious of intellectuals who plead naiveté and innocence after the event when they have sent a depth charge into our culture.

I think Dr Williams knew what he was doing, and is dismayed not by the passion of the response but by how few people are supporting him. That, I imagine, is the bit that really stings.