Saturday, February 09, 2008

The British are savages too 

The Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams (who, as is probably clear, is one of my heroes), has stirred up a cloud of hatred by making some precise, modest, but ultimately original and challenging points about sharia, or Muslim law.

Essentially, he said that legal theorists and judges might consider the possibility that the British state could recognize certain areas which could fall under the jurisdiction of local religious communities, Islamic and Jewish. He said that this is "inevitable," as it is in fact already happening, though not formally; and he said that this was good.

Every possible qualification was included in the speech. Any aspect of sharia law that is not consistent with the basic principles of British jurisprudence could not possibly be allowed to have legal authority. No deprivation of women's rights, etc. But in certain areas--for example, financial disputes--litigants might, Williams imagined, eventually be able to choose to submit to the authority of a religious court.

The idea is that through a process of demand and negotiation, the state could cede (or be made to cede) certain well-defined areas of control to local communities. And as he notes, this kind of thing has occurred for a long time within Orthodox Jewish communities in Britain, though the practice has not been given formulation in the terms of British law.

That's all the Archbishop said. He went out of his way to note, again, that any number of areas could not possibly fall under local religious jurisdiction. He insisted that the state would have to ensure that certain aspects of religious law were kept without any legal power whatsoever.

For saying this, the Archbishop has been denounced and mocked by all sides--including Gordon Brown and any number of other liberal politicians. Many clergy have called for his resignation. The media has reported ad nauseam that Williams sees the advent of sharia rule in Britain as inevitable.

A nice, brief account of this "event" can be found here.

This is all very interesting. Not only does it show the British to be capable of the same xenophobic hysteria as the state-side yahoos. It also shows that supposed "progressive" politicians are very, very jealous of state power.

For what the Archbishop was doing, very mildly, was suggesting that the state itself not be the sole legal power--not be the sovereign. And this is blasphemy, not just for conservatives, but also for "progressive" liberals.

The "rule of law"--everyone being equal before ONE law--is held up as the epitome of fairness by many, many Democrats when they attack Bush's depraved acts. But the fact is: the universality of ONE law only means the rule of the state; and those who control the ONE law have always used it for their own ends, as Bush has done.

The state is absolute in any liberal society; it is the only institution with the power to create the law, and also to suspend the law and to write new laws with the point of the sword. It has always had that power, and aggrandized it to itself.

More precisely, the state is what emerged, in the 17th century, when all legal power was concentrated, for the first time, in ONE place--the absolute monarch. Before that, monarchy was not absolute. In the next 200 years, monarchy ended; absolute state power survived (meaning, not dictatorship, but the concentration of legal or legislative power in ONE place--the state).

When the state alone has legal power, it can and will be abused. John Yoo's disgusting legal opinions are egregious examples of what has happened many times in the history of the liberal (absolute) state: violence has been dressed up in the abstract language of law.

The way to work against this possibility is to set up alternative and parallel systems of legal authority, so that the state is not the sole legal authority. Williams was taking a step in that direction; and it is not a coincidence that he was doing so in his capacity as the leader of a religious community.

Apparently the worshipers of the state will haven none of it.


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