Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams ignited a firestorm two months ago by suggesting that Britain's acceptance of Shari'a law in civil matters is "unavoidable" and would actually help maintain social cohesion.
Evincing a callous disregard for the West's most significant sociopolitical innovation — the idea that all are equal before a single set of laws — Williams stated that an approach in which "there's one law for everybody and that's all there is to be said, and anything else that commands your loyalty or allegiance is completely irrelevant in the processes of the courts — I think that's a bit of a danger."
A particularly cogent response has been issued by Muhammad Al-Houni, a Libyan-born secular Muslim who now resides in Europe. Writing in the Arabic-language journal Elaph, he warns that the archbishop's prescription "would take European societies back to the age before the Enlightenment and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," causing the West to "revert to barbarism."
He also contends that Williams' pronouncement will negatively impact the broader struggle for human rights:
At present, these [fundamentalists] are picking fights with the secularists in Islamic countries, and their attitude is: "How can you oppose Shari'a law in your own countries when we see that the Anglican Church is seeking its implementation in Europe?"
This message is wrong, and it is detrimental to all pleas for modernism and secularism in the Islamic world. … Such statements by some Anglican clerics are nothing less than support for the ideas of Islamist extremists, and are also an attempt to make fundamentalist religious thought triumph over secular thought in the Islamic countries.
His argument highlights an interesting trend. While native-born Americans and Europeans increasingly view their cultural legacy with skepticism, immigrants with firsthand experience of Shari'a law are among the most enthusiastic defenders of the Western ethos — often at great personal risk.
Muhammad Al-Houni and other brave men and women such as Magdi Allam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Michael Nazir-Ali, Salman Rushdie, and Ibn Warraq literally put their lives on the line to speak out for freedom.
Surely we can ask that Rowan Williams put his ego on the line by listening carefully to their words.