It is more than six years since the then Archbishop of Canterbury gave what history will surely understand to be one of the most destructive speeches in modern Britain. The contents of Rowan Williams's 2008 speech talked of allowing a place for competing religious demands, including sharia law, in a multi-faith society. The next day he clarified matters. In an interview with the BBC, he said there would "inevitably" be a place for sharia law in Britain and that (more importantly) the idea of there being "one law for all" in a country such as Britain seemed to him "dangerous."
This week Britain had another of her periodic reminders of what failing to apply one law for all actually means. We know it can mean not stopping families from Pakistan taking their underage daughters abroad to marry a man they have never met before. And we have seen the silence of communities and the failure of police to investigate murders when they have been deemed to have been performed within a community in the name of "honor." Customs such as these, were they performed by any other group in society, would be prosecuted with the full force of the law. But in recent years, they have presented a parallel form of morality. They come about not because they are genuinely attractive, competitive moral norms but because of a loss of confidence in our own traditions and laws, and a resulting moral relativism in which nobody wants to make moral judgements. The most grotesque extreme to which this has led us has been on display again this week in the North of England, in Rotherham (population ca. 258,000).