Now, there are implications to the creation of Islamic equivalents of the Beth Din courts. There are legitimate concerns that the rights of women will not be properly defended that led to demonstrations in Ontario when a similar change was proposed there. People can be pressured into accepting arbitration at a sharia court that will not treat them properly. All of the problems I discussed in my initial treatment of this subject still apply. However, I don't think that the Archbishop's proposals were that moderate.
Let's examine the claim that he was calling for an Islamic arbitration service analagous to the Beth Din courts using a series of quotes from his lecture (PDF):
"They relate both to the question of whether there should be a higher level of attention to religious identity and communal rights in the practice of the law, and to the larger issue I mentioned of something like a delegation of certain legal functions to the religious courts of a community; and this latter question, it should be remembered, is relevant not only to Islamic law but also to areas of Orthodox Jewish practice."
Legal functions are not delegated to the Beth Din courts. They are used as an arbitration service just like many similar secular services. Williams is talking about something more.
"There needs to be access to recognised authority acting for a religious group: there is already, of course, an Islamic Shari’a Council, much in demand for rulings on marital questions in the UK; and if we were to see more latitude given in law to rights and scruples rooted in religious identity, we should need a much enhanced and quite sophisticated version of such a body, with increased resource and a high degree of community recognition, so that ‘vexatious’ claims could be summarily dealt with."
So, the Islamic Shari'a Council are already much in demand for rulings on marital questions in the UK - this is very similar to the function of the Beth Din. Yet, Williams expects, and it is implied wants, to "see more latitude given in law to rights and scruples rooted in religious identity". That implies going beyond the arbitration role of the Beth Din courts.
"The second issue, a very serious one, is that recognition of ‘supplementary jurisdiction’ in some areas, especially family law, could have the effect of reinforcing in minority communities some of the most repressive or retrograde elements in them, with particularly serious consequences for the role and liberties of women."
"Recognising a supplementary jurisdiction cannot mean recognising a liberty to exert a sort of local monopoly in some areas."
Who would describe an arbitration service as a supplementary jurisdiction? Clearly we're talking about something new - providing for a Sharia jurisdiction within the UK. Whether it is termed supplementary or parallel.
"...but I want to move on to the third objection, which grows precisely out of the complexities of clarifying the relations between jurisdictions. Is it not both theoretically and practically mistaken to qualify our commitment to legal monopoly? So much of our thinking in the modern world, dominated by European assumptions about universal rights, rests, surely, on the basis that the law is the law; that everyone stands before the public tribunal on exactly equal terms, so that recognition of corporate identities or, more seriously, of supplementary jurisdictions is simply incoherent if we want to preserve the great political and social advances of Western legality."
Williams is setting up this defence of equality before the law in order to go on and challenge it. Why would he challenge the concept of equality before the law if he only wanted a greater freedom for arbitration services that do not undermine that concept?
It is, of course, better that the Williams should backpedal than that he should stick to his guns. An Islamic Beth Din court would be less of a sacrifice than really incorporating Sharia into English law.
However, to call those of us who opposed his call for the establishment of Sharia Islamophobic and ignorant for responding to his initial position, rather than the result of his backpedal, is disgusting. Equally, in such a position of responsibility Williams cannot throw these ideas around without consequence. He has given new confidence to radical, separatist Islamists pushing for Sharia as a parallel (supplementary?) jurisdiction within the UK and done real harm to the defence of our most treasured values. The extent to which that harm can be undone is very limited, particularly while he refuses to accept he has done anything wrong. He should resign.