- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 9, 2008


LONDON — Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams faced calls for his resignation yesterday as bishops joined politicians in criticizing his remarks supporting the adoption of the Islamic Shariah law in Britain.

Archbishop Williams was urged to quit by angry members of the General Synod, the Anglican Church’s “parliament,” who contend he is undermining the Christian faith.

George Carey, his predecessor, and the Bishop of Rochester, the Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, also challenged his view that aspects of Islamic law could be incorporated into the English legal system.

The row erupted Thursday when Archbishop Williams, the spiritual leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans who is already battling divisions within his church over homosexual priests, suggested the introduction of Muslim laws into Britain was “unavoidable.”

The strength of the backlash represents one of the most serious blows to the archbishop’s authority since his appointment five years ago. He faces more pressure Monday when the Synod convenes for a five-day meeting in London.

Yesterday, the archbishop’s unexpected comments were welcomed by some Muslim groups, but the government said it was out of the question that the principles of Shariah could be used in British civil courts.

“The prime minister is clear that in Britain, British laws based on British values will apply,” Reuters news agency quoted a spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown as saying.

A government minister accused the archbishop of concocting “a recipe for disaster,” and the main political parties distanced themselves from his comments.

“You cannot run two systems of law alongside each other. That would be a recipe for chaos,” Culture Secretary Andy Burnham said.

Nick Clegg, leader of the centrist Liberal Democrats, said of the archbishop’s stance: “On this I think he is wrong.”

Former Interior Minister David Blunkett said formalizing Islamic law “would be catastrophic in terms of social cohesion.”

The Sun, Britain’s leading tabloid, said yesterday: “It’s easy to dismiss Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams as a silly old goat. In fact he’s a dangerous threat to our nation.”

The issue of integrating Britain’s 1.8 million Muslims has been widely debated since July 2005, when four British Islamists carried out suicide bombings on London’s transport system, killing 52 persons.

Those attacks prompted questioning of a long-standing policy of avoiding a single British identity and promoting a multicultural society, which some argue has led to segregation of ethnic minorities.

Speaking to the British Broadcasting Corp., Archbishop Williams said other religions receive tolerance of their laws in Britain and called for a “constructive accommodation” with Muslim practice in areas such as marital disputes.

Last night, friends of the archbishop said he was “completely overwhelmed” by the hostility of the response and in a “state of shock” at the barrage of criticism.

Mr. Carey said Archbishop Williams was wrong to believe that Shariah could be accommodated into the English system because there were so many conflicting versions of it, many of which discriminated against women. He added that many Muslims opposed Shariah, and to allow some to be adopted would encourage extremists to step up their demands for more.

Bishop Nazir-Ali, who holds dual British and Pakistani citizenship, said Shariah would be “in tension” with fundamental aspects of Britain’s current legal system, such as the rights of women.

He said debates on Shariah law “are not an argument for disturbing the integrity of a legal tradition which is rooted in the quite different moral and spiritual vision deriving from the Bible.”

One of those calling for the archbishop’s resignation, Col. Edward Armitstead, a Synod member from the diocese of Bath and Wells, said: “I don’t think he is the man for the job.

“One wants to be charitable, but I sense that he would be far happier in a university where he can kick around these sorts of ideas.”

Alison Ruoff, a Synod member from London, said: “He is a disaster for the Church of England. He vacillates, he is a weak leader and he does not stand up for the Church. I would like to see him resign and go back to academia.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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