Lynch the Arch-bish!

rowan the bear

“Run for your lives! We’ll all be murdered in our beds! Aaaa!” is not really a direct quote from a headline in The Sun last week. But I like to think of it as a spiritual/emotional paraphrase. The actual headline shouted: “What A Burkha”, cleverly calling the spiritual leader of the official Christian church in this country a ‘burke’ while still managing to have a dig at Muslims generally. And they say quality journalism is dead.

If it is dead, watching this story unfold last week was like watching the aftermath of a public gun-crime in a Hollywood movie: lots of emotion, lots of crazy talk and way too much shouting. Listening to various phone-in programmes, watching the headlines in red-tops and smelling the scent of paraffin that so often accompanies a public lynching, was I the only one who wanted to say in a firm, yet calm, commanding voice: ‘Whoah there… let’s just take it easy. Put the gun down. Nobody needs to get hurt – let’s just talk about this,’? Gosh, I hope not.

At the risk of having crosses burned on my lawn, I wasn’t really that upset by Uncle Rowan’s comments, suggesting that incorporating parts of Islamic Sharia law in some areas’ justice systems was unavoidable. He didn’t mean that burglars should have hands amputated or that murderers should be beheaded (though it seems odd that tabloids would object to this – perhaps if it only applied to immigrants?). Rather than Sharia applying to everyone, he meant applying it in civil (not criminal) cases, to some Muslims.

Critics claimed this would create a parallel legal system for Muslims and that that was very dangerous. I don’t want to alarm anyone, but (cue dramatic chords: dun-dun-daaaah!) it’s already happening (eeek!). Some Muslim courts already operate in some areas of this country to help settle divorces. Can you feel the very fabric of society unravelling around you? Funny… neither can I.

We heard ad-nauseum last week that orthodox Jews already have their own courts presiding over limited matters in accordance with their faith. They don’t have the right, so far as I am aware, to acquit an Hassidic Jew of multiple homicide. Nor have they, to my knowledge, ever prosecuted a gentile or non-orthodox Jew for driving on the Sabbath. So, really, they don’t scare me. The argument goes, however, that we can’t have special legal systems for specific parts of society. Really? So should we disband military tribunals? Their rulings are legally binding. What about the rulings of governing sporting bodies? When they fine a racing driver or cricketer, he doesn’t have the right to refuse, does he?

What the archbishop was arguing for was more recognition of religious values in our legal system. Surely supporters of blasphemy laws or opponents of abortion or unfair trade can see the value in that? If we’re worried that official legal recognition of Islam might lead to the spread of a false religion, to the islamification of Britain, let’s remember that centuries of legal recognition for Christianity has hardly left us with a country full of born-again believers or laws that Christians love. Christians today need to be vigilant not so much of the undue influence of other religions as the aggressive attitude of secular society to our beliefs and of believing too much media rhetoric. Today the fear is of Muslims. In the 1930s it was of a Jewish conspiracy. We remember where that went.

Of course I say all of that, but I watched with relish last week as a group of hackers called Anonymous started their campaign against the church of Scientology. I wish them well. It seems even my religious tolerance has a limit. Who’s the hypocrite now?

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