Monday Press blogging

  • Let the record1 show that Ruth Gledhill had the only news this morning, and that her analysis piece actually moved forward our understanding of the story. She is the only person who has actually explained how the catastrophe happened — not that her version makes Rowan look very much better. In particular, she has found been forwarded a quote from a letter to Irene Lancaster from Rowan’s interfaith adviser, Canon Guy Wilkinson, who explained that the lecture would be “a response to rising concerns about the extent to which Sharia is compatible with English civil law, especially in the extensive Muslim neighbourhoods where informal Sharia councils are widely in operation. In areas such as marriage and divorce, there is evidence that there is no proper connection with the civil courts and that women in particular are suffering.”

If Rowan had said those words on the radio there would have been no story

It is obvious to anyone who reads the lecture that this is one of the things he was trying to say. Had he placed his radio interview (clarified after lagomorphic comments below) in the context of enabling good Islam against bad Islam, which is undoubtedly the frame in which he was thinking, he would still have upset a lot of people, but not the same lot, and much more productively. That he did not do so is not a testament to cleverness or unworldliness. I’m not one to use “Intellectual” as a term of abuse; but Academic arrogance is a fair description of his attitude, and so is stupidity, because this is, after all, about the fourth time he has made the same mistake.

Two further small points emerge from her piece. One, that his staff deal with Irene Lancaster. Two, that Lord Carey reads (presumably for pleasure) the News of the World.

  • The Telegraph news desk is currently staffed — as the Mail would see it — with rejects from the Daily Mail and it shows. Their only understanding of this story is that if the Archbishop has screwed up, he must resign. That is the narrative that the BBC started, and it’s pointless. But whereas the Mail has quickly grasped that it is not going to happen — it is a very feeble lead indeed to say that The Archbishop of Canterbury is expected to face calls for his resignation when the Church of England’s general synod meets today. — the Telegraph is still flogging the dead horse, or bashing the dead bishop: Dr Rowan Williams has faced fresh calls for his resignation and claims from within the Anglican Church that confidence in him had “plummeted”. Jonathan Petre, who wrote that, knows perfectly well that it is irrelevant. But in his case, at least, it is a complete defence to say that he was only obeying orders.
  • Looking at the weekend’s papers, it was not surprising that the FT had the best leader, one which both understood Rowan’s underlying position and rejected it clearly on principle. But I was surprised that two of the best comment pieces were in the Independent, both for and against. Deborah Orr gave much the most sympathetic reading of the speech; Yasmin Alibhai Brown much the best feminist response. To the extent that the Archbishop did stir up debate, rather than vituperation, those columns are where you will find it, though on the general matter of religion in a secular age, Parris and Barrow (earlier referenced) are the ones to go to.

1 Well, this immensly influential and widely read blog, and perhaps, even the Church Times too.

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4 Responses to Monday Press blogging

  1. Any regrets, Andrew?

    The thing that Rowan might have said which would have neutralized the opprobrium of the last few days viz. that informal Sharia courts have been in operation for years with no formal connections to civil law is well known and has been widely reported on.

    That this would have been in the minds of every jurist he spoke with might well have allowed him not to lead with this fact. With respect, it sounds like the ice floe is shrinking under the feet of some normally very circumspect broadsheet journalists who’ve screwed up in spectacular fashion (excepting of course RG who screws up ten times before she finishes her cornflakes).

    All that would be required now is for General Synod to thank Rowan for having been courageous in broaching a subject which is “true, and urgent and important” and a few journalists we know, love and respect would find themselves immediately locked in a small room with Ruth Gledhill, the Daily Mail, George Carey and Bishop Scott-Joynt.



  2. acb says:

    [double comment by RR deleted]

    Rob — it wasn’t the lecture that caused the story. It was what he said on the radio six hours before he gave the lecture. There were something like 17,000 comments on the beeb web site before he stood up in front of the lawyers. So I entirely agree that he need not have told them that Sharia law was operating to some extent in this country already. But he — or Chris Landau — did need to tell the audience of the World at One. It was the failure to do so, and the failure to recognise how this would strike people, which provoked all this.

  3. Robert Nowell says:

    Might not a suitable comment on Rowan Williams’ lecture, interview, and subsequent hoo-ha be found in the final proposition of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus? “Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darueber muss man schweigen.” I have a feeling that in some quarters of our society certain aspects of Islam are among the things one cannot speak about.

  4. Dear Andrew

    So pleased to see you praising Ruth for once. Are you sure you’re feeling OK?

    As you’ve made various assumptions about how Ruth obtained the information sent me from Lambeth Palace, it’s simple.

    A lawyer and senior expert in Church Law wrote to me out of the blue in December, asking for my opinion about the forthcoming lecture which has just taken place.

    I perused the document which WAS IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN and wrote to Lambeth Palace, expressing my concern.

    I then received the response as cited by Ruth Gledhill.

    I assumed that this response was also in the public domain, because any simple person could see from reading the advertised lecture that it would open a can of worms. It was also obvious to me that the response from Lambeth Palace was in direct contradiction to what had been advertised and what was already in the public domain.

    However, I recalled that after the Anglican Consultative Council voted to divest from Israel in 2005, the Archbishop then said that his ‘welcome’ of the report advocating divestment didn’t mean he agreed with it.

    I therefore realised the schizophrenic condition currently being suffered by the Church of England and hoped that the ABC would see sense before it was too late. I posted the response on my blog two months ago and no-one complained.

    The upshot of Ruth’s mentioning me in The Times by the way has been a very stiff telling-off from Lambeth Palace and the insinuation that I, or the journalist (he couldn’t bring himself to mention her name) or both, have deliberately tried to cause mischief between the ABC and his staff.

    All I can say in self defense is that I have a number of witnesses who know that I was travelling by bus, train, plane and a friend’s car throughout Israel and England at the time I was supposed to have passed on these trade secrets and am therefore not guilty.

    Today, however, I have been contacted by the Jewish Chronicle and asked whether I was really leaked the contents of the speech beforehand, to which I responded ‘No’.

    I do hope this helps.

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