Tom Gilson

“The archbishop, the law, and the press”

Geoff Pullum of Language Log tries to unwrap what Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams really said about Sharia law in Britain:

Under the headline “Rowan Williams says Sharia law unavoidable” the Telegraph newspaper says:

The adoption of some aspects of Islamic Sharia law in Britain “seems unavoidable”, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

Did he say that? No, he didn’t. Language Log has gone to the text of his lecture to see what he really said.

[From Language Log: The archbishop, the law, and the press]

Their conclusion: He didn’t say what the press said he did. It’s considerably (and I mean considerably) more complex than that. Language Log’s reason for jumping into the discussion was partly because Dr. Williams’ language needed deciphering in several places. (“Got that clear and sharp in your mind?” Pullum asks at one point, tongue firmly in cheek. “Probably not. It is a bit suboptimal syntactically.”)

Dr. Williams was not just capitulating to Islam, as the press implied he was doing:

The newspapers’ behavior (that of The Sun particularly) was abominable. That of Dr Williams was merely a little out of touch with what the prevailing culture was likely to make of things.

Language Logger Bill Poser followed up with a shorter analysis, including:

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent mention of the role that Shari’a law might play in Great Britain has aroused considerable controversy, in part because many people did not understand what he said, as Geoff explained. I too would oppose in the strongest terms the general application of Shari’a law. This does not mean, however, that voluntary recourse to Shari’a law ought not to be permitted to those who wish to avail themselves of it. This is really no different from the use of other alternative means of dispute resolution, such as arbitration. In fact, there is precedent for the use of religious courts in the United States for the resolution of non-religious disputes.

I recommend both articles to you. Neither author at Language Log endorses Sharia law, and neither do I. At the same time, neither author at Language Log endorses media distortion of facts. Neither do I.

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