British intellectual life has long harbored a strain of militantly self-satisfied foolishness, and the present archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is a perfect exemplar of the tendency. In an interview with the BBC on February 7, the archbishop said that it "seems unavoidable" that some aspects of sharia, or Islamic law, would be adopted in Britain: unavoidable, presumably, in the sense in which omertà seems unavoidable in the island of Sicily.
The archbishop spoke to the BBC on the same day that he delivered a lecture at the Royal Courts of Justice in London before an audience of distinguished lawyers, including the Lord Chief Justice. Williams suggested—or, given the opacity of the language that he habitually employs, apparently suggested—that some elements of sharia should enjoy joint jurisdiction with British law. The passage that caused an immediate furor and has led to calls for his resignation was that in which he spoke prospectively of a "transformative accommodation," borrowing the phrase from a recent monograph by legal scholar Ayelet Shachar. Such an accommodation, he said, would allow individuals to "retain the liberty to choose the jurisdiction under which they will seek to resolve carefully specified matters," and ensure that, in Shachar's words, "power-holders are forced to compete for the loyalty of their shared constituents."