Thursday, 14 February 2008

what caused the firestorm?

Matt Wardman is quite clear about the answer to this: he blames the BBC. Read Archbishop Rowan Firestorm was Started by the BBC before Interview was even Broadcast (H/T Alan Wilson)

News Sniffer shows you how the BBC’s own web reporting of the story changed over time.

There are others, though, who believe that what Rowan Williams said was wrong. See for example, Christopher Hitchens at Slate in To Hell With the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Theo Hobson has written Rowan Williams: sharia furore, Anglican future at openDemocracy.

And at ourKingdom Simon Barrow’s latest piece in the Sharia Subjects series is The real purpose of the Archbishop.

He also wrote A question of conscience on Comment is free.

More links to other opinions on all this on Ruth Gledhill’s blog at Sharia show shuts down? No it doesn’t. Bad luck Rowan. She includes this from Archbishop Akinola:

‘We have received news of what the Archbishop of Canterbury allegedly said. If it is true that this statement about the inevitability of the introduction of Sharia law into the UK credited to Rowan Williams was actually said by him, it is most disturbing and most unfortunate. With what Christians are going through in Muslim lands around the world, it is unbelievable that any Christian leader - not to talk of an Archbishop - would make such a statement under whatever guise. This matter will be discussed at the next meeting of our House of Bishops.’

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 14 February 2008 at 11:35am GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England
Comments

well said, christopher hitchens. one law for all. how can that possibly be improved upon?

Posted by: poppy tupper on Thursday, 14 February 2008 at 1:16pm GMT

There's an interesting take on this in the Toronto Star today, partly in light of our own debates in Ontario about using sharia in some situations. Interestingly the pope gets much poorer marks than the archbishop. The URL is http://www.thestar.com/columnists/article/303477

Posted by: Abigail Ann Young on Thursday, 14 February 2008 at 2:24pm GMT

Re: Hitchens -- I especially liked the last paragraph ("Even a blind pig can find an acorn"?).

Re: Hobson -- I was especially struck by the suggestion that the essentially secular & liberal people of Britain felt that the Church of England was no longer on their side -- this thought was not developed, but I wonder how much this might explain the decline in the number of British people who think of themselves as "C of E" -- I would correlate this with the rise of Evangelicals in the Establishment.

Barrow: is always first rate, isn't he? He brings out very clearly the deep sense of betrayal that many of us feel from ++Rowan Williams (perhaps related to the above point). He seems to have confused the status quo with the Gospel (& it breaks my heart -- I remember writing The Church Times about why Rowan was the only viable candidate for ABC -- the more fool I).

Posted by: Prior Aelred on Thursday, 14 February 2008 at 2:31pm GMT

Something seems seriously wrong with the BBC reporting here - shades of the row about the Queen (not) storming out in a tiff.

On the day of Rowan's address to Synod, the BBC web site didn't report the one minute standing ovation the Synod had given him on arrival (when timesonline and guardian unlimited were reporting it, among others), but was still reporting the two members of the House of Laity who had called on him to resign. I emailed the BBC news desk to complain, but have had no reply. However, BBC news 24, about an hour after I complained (c. 11.10 p.m.) did show footage of the ovation, I think for the first time that evening (though I was not watching all evening).

If Matt Wardman is right then there are serious grounds for a complaint. But will Rowan be too Lenten and Christian to make one?

Posted by: Matthew Duckett on Thursday, 14 February 2008 at 2:34pm GMT

To get the context for my article, read that posted by Peter Rippon, the World at One editor, on "what happened" - in which he appears to ignore the possibility that the article on the front of the BBC website (2 million uniques a day) with the "Sharia law in UK is 'unavoidable'" headline cold have had a role. He doesn't seem to be aware that the article even existed.

Link:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2008/02/lessons_from_the_pulpit.html

I documented the process and asked him some (slightly sharp) questions.

I also thought he was below the belt attacking ++Rowan on the basis that the language in his lecture was unsuitable for a news desk. It was - after all - a legal lecture to lawyers.

My original plea for a reasoned debate 2 hours after the story broke was titled "Before you Start another Archbishop of Canterbury Barbecue…" - and is here:

http://preview.tinyurl.com/2z77ru

Thanks for the link, Simon.

Matt

Posted by: Matt Wardman on Thursday, 14 February 2008 at 3:12pm GMT

I never thought I would have doubts about the reliability of the BBC, but Matt Wardman’s description of what happened is disquieting. Nevertheless, I also think that ++Rowan contributed to compounding the furore. His biggest mistake was to fail to challenge Chris Landau’s use of the word ‘unavoidable’ at the very beginning of the interview. The word occurs only once at the end of the original lecture (Did CL only read the last paragraph? Did he read any of it?).

The context is as follows: ‘It is uncomfortably true that this introduces into our thinking about law what some would see as a ‘market’ element, a competition for loyalty as Shachar admits. But if what we want socially is a pattern of relations in which a plurality of divers and overlapping affiliations work for a common good, and in which groups of serious and profound conviction are not systematically faced with the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty, it seems unavoidable.’

What is ‘unavoidable’, in other words, is the competition for loyalty, not the ‘the application of Sharia in certain circumstances’, as CL claimed.

Whatever the merits of the lecture (which, as many have rightly said, is a measured attempt to analyse and promote debate on a complex issue), ++Rowan showed a considerable lack of judgement in agreeing to be interviewed, and a lack of surefootedness in fielding the interviewer’s questions.

Posted by: Eamonn on Thursday, 14 February 2008 at 4:11pm GMT

Matthew Duckett might have added that of the interviewees after the story broke, Bishop Tom Butler hadn't heard or read the lecture, and wasn't a lot of help, Bishop Stephen Lowe gave a good account of himself and a stout defence of the Archbishop, and the rest were from Reform.

How does such an extreme and rather small body get such exposure on the Beeb? Do they all have cousins in the newsroom? Or an ex-Beeb PRO?

And the same on the evening news on Monday. Shots of two women members sitting on their hands and interviews with Sugden and Thomas. And no-one else. This is the sort of balance shown by Radio Peking (sic) in the 1950s

Posted by: cryptogram on Thursday, 14 February 2008 at 5:07pm GMT

So now Archbishop Akinola has another reason not to go to Lambeth. And the Times and the Telegraph and the Daily Mail will keep this story alive as long as they can. If they can all keep the firestorm going, then maybe -- just maybe -- the US and Canadian bishops who support gay and lesbian people's full inclusion in the Church will be disinvited from Windsor, and Martyn Minns and John-David Schofield and the rest of the schismatic bishops invited instead. That's the real game here, of course.

Posted by: Charlotte on Thursday, 14 February 2008 at 5:15pm GMT

Eamonn

Far from challenging the word "unavoidable", the archbishop in fact endorses the inference the interviewer makes from the lecture that: "the application of Sharia in certain circumstances... seems unavoidable", by confirming: "It seems unavoidable".

Posted by: Hugh of Lincoln on Thursday, 14 February 2008 at 6:43pm GMT

The BBC website is a disgrace, but it is separate from the main BBC operation, and shows less judgement than PA.

But I think that the World at One didn't really distort the Archbishop's meaning. I am a normally sympathetic reader of his stuff, and not particularly stupid. He did say "unavoidable", and he meant it. That's the news line. He could of course -- if he wanted to say 'unavoidable' -- have added that there are some sharia tribunals operating here already, so of course it is unavoidable.

Posted by: Andrew Brown on Thursday, 14 February 2008 at 8:27pm GMT

Apparently, though, Akinola would have no problem with his version of Christian law becoming the law of the land...as indicated by his support for the anti-gay legislation in his homeland.

A true secular democracy does not play favorites among religions.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Thursday, 14 February 2008 at 8:46pm GMT

I'm as much surprised that anyone thinks the BBC News department doesn't spice up stories, as that they produced a sensationalist headline in this case. The BBC news website is well known for aggressively stoking religious stories, particularly if they involve Christian leaders making comments about Islam, as should have been clear after the BBC’s treatment of Pope Benedict’s Regensburg Lecture and +Rochester’s recent remarks.

That said, it doesn't excuse RW from compounding the negative coverage. As Dr Lancaster has revealed, concerns were being raised by senior clergy about the wisdom and content of this lecture well before the lecture. He pressed on. His press office wanted to give this a good spin, and so arranged the BBC interview in an attempt to get favourable coverage. If there was one instance when his views would have to be transparant and clear, this was it. And yet he went ahead, offering views at the very fringe of his role and competence as a public figure and commentator, choosing language which was misleading. Rather than keeping the message straightforward he wove discussion of shar’ia into a complex speculation about the nature of 'supplementary jurisdictions' and the viability of a monopoly of state law. Rather than making clear that the 1996 Arbitration Act already precluded any need for extra juristictions and separate court systems (rather than informal tribunals) , he used language that suggested the opposite was the case, and proposed that a change in the understanding of the law was necessary. To back up his argument he then persisted with a flawed account of the Beth Din tribunals (which certainly do not stand as an example of religious law being accommodated into English law, on which see more here: http://irenelancaster.typepad.com/ ). Were these steps really a carefully thought through and helpful opening to a debate? Perhaps I can be forgiven for feeling that there does seem more than an element of hubris involved.


Posted by: John Omani on Thursday, 14 February 2008 at 11:09pm GMT

Simon Barrow's piece, like his article at the weekend on ekklesia, is excellent. RW seems to be entrenching himself in a mentality of religious establishment, seeking exemptions from the law for the many rather than the few in the hope of retaining some voice over public policy.

A second concern, which perhaps Theo Hobson's less substantial piece hints at, arises over RW's wisdom in developing such an opposition between secularity and religious freedom. By attacking a secularity that demands the subordination of religious law, and underestimating the cohesive value of a secular juristiction, RW's remarks betrayed one of the greatest achievements of modern Christianity: the belief that religion flourishes where it relinquishes government, not where it tries to extend its temporal power.
http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/faith_ideas/europe_islam/secular_world

Martyn Reynolds, I think, asked me the other day why I no longer had confidence that RW was capable of defeating clerical bullying. Both the conclusions above may give some answer: RW's strategy encourages the entrenchment of clerical power and egotism over the lives of ordinary believers.

Posted by: John Omani on Thursday, 14 February 2008 at 11:42pm GMT

You ask: what caused the firestorm? I am surprised you are surprised. It shows you are seriously out of touch with social realties in multicultural Britain. People feel cowed and browbeaten by uncivil aggressive Muslim minorities in many parts of the country. This 'Judas' moment was the last straw. A cry for help was uttered.

People feel that they are being Islamised by naive policy makers making alliance with a politicised and highly organised Islamist lobby with a radical agenda of global Islamic supremacy. This is on the back of anti-racism policies in the 1990s; now 'religion' has replaced race as a category requiring 'affirmative action'.

There is no easy way of saying this. People are becoming increasingly aware that Islam is incompatible with modern liberal secular democracy. Not Muslims per se (many of whom are personally moderate) but global Islam. This situation obviously requires great tact. But it also requires moral clarity and firmness. What it doesn't require is more appeasement of Islamist demands.

Muslims enjoy freedom of religion at a private level in Britain, and no-one wishes otherwise. What they do object to is the increasing public presence of Islam - not because it is a religion - but because the theology of Islam is implacably hostile towards non-Muslims and people realise a global agenda is being played out in the mean streets of multicultural Britain.

As a liberal Christian, you will continue to deny that Islamic theology is illiberal. You will continue to make moral equivalence between Christianity and Islam on the basis that individual Muslims whom you have met at interfaith meetings strike you as fairly decent folk. I don't doubt this for one minute. But that is not the point.

I am glad you are honest enough to ask the question; for at some level you seem to be feeling your way towards acknowledging that there is deep pain in people's hearts. Why doesn't the Church reach out to us? Why did the Archbishop want to torment us?

Don't dismiss our pain as 'hysterical'. At least entertain the notion that honest citizens who are not reactionaries nor illiberal have deep qualms about Islam's global agenda and those who are promoting it on our shores.


Posted by: devorgilla on Friday, 15 February 2008 at 12:54am GMT

>I never thought I would have doubts about the reliability of the BBC, but Matt Wardman’s description of what happened is disquieting.

I'm more questioning the management across distinct channels (i.e., R4 and website) than the integrity. That's where I think they slipped up, and I think their web headline was a big slip-up.

I'm now aware of one (or maybe two) routes where my critique has been brought to the attention of the department. No idea whether anything will happen, but there are several comments making similar points on the article.

>So now Archbishop Akinola has another reason not to go to Lambeth. And the Times and the Telegraph and the Daily Mail will keep this story alive as long as they can.

I found Akinola's statement more conciliatory ("If it is true") than is usually my impression - but I don't follow the culture wars ;-) very closely.

>RW's remarks betrayed one of the greatest achievements of modern Christianity: the belief that religion flourishes where it relinquishes government, not where it tries to extend its temporal power.

I think that may be a significant insight. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see the NSS win its century long propaganda struggle for Disestablishment only to be submerged in a tide of belief. The poor dears would be at a complete loss, short of resorting to Stalinism.

Posted by: Matt Wardman on Friday, 15 February 2008 at 3:50am GMT

"There is no easy way of saying this. People are becoming increasingly aware that Islam is incompatible with modern liberal secular democracy. Not Muslims per se (many of whom are personally moderate) but global Islam. This situation obviously requires great tact. But it also requires moral clarity and firmness. What it doesn't require is more appeasement of Islamist demands."

The same holds true if you substitute Islam and Muslims with fundamentalist Christianity and consevo Christians.

Which is why I, for one, think the firestorm may have been a little excessive but nevertheless important. It's about time people in this country realised where their safe broad maids-cycling-to-evensong CoE is drifting.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 15 February 2008 at 9:22am GMT

"There is no easy way of saying this. People are becoming increasingly aware that Islam is incompatible with modern liberal secular democracy. Not Muslims per se (many of whom are personally moderate) but global Islam. This situation obviously requires great tact. But it also requires moral clarity and firmness. What it doesn't require is more appeasement of Islamist demands."

I'm always amazed when people who are in the majority in a society claim that those in the minority are in some sort of conspiracy to take over.

Posted by: Pat O'Neill on Friday, 15 February 2008 at 11:38am GMT

Karen Armstrong's 2000 The Battle for God has many great insights about the 3 Sister-Religions heading for perdition these last 200 years.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Friday, 15 February 2008 at 3:24pm GMT
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