The Archbishop's words

Rowan Williams should be fired as Archbishop of Canterbury for calling the arrival of aspects of Shariah law in Britain “inevitable” and desirable. But for once this silly man has actually done us a favour. Consider the harrumphing he provoked from the British government. According to the Daily Telegraph, the chairman of the ominously-named Equality and Human Rights Commission said, “Raising this idea in this way will give fuel to anti-Muslim extremism” while Home Secretary Jacqui Smith babbled, “‘I think there is one law in this country and it’s the democratically determined law. That’s the law that I will uphold and that’s the law that is at the heart actually of the values that we share across all communities in this country.”

It is babble, or worse, because just five days earlier the same newspaper revealed that “Husbands with multiple wives have been given the go-ahead to claim extra welfare benefits following a year-long Government review. ... Even though bigamy is a crime in Britain, the decision by ministers means that polygamous marriages can now be recognised formally by the state, so long as the weddings took place in countries where the arrangement is legal. The outcome will chiefly benefit Muslim men with more than one wife. ... Ministers estimate that up to a thousand polygamous partnerships exist in Britain, although they admit there is no exact record.”

If that’s not an aspect of Shariah law, it will do until one comes along.

As for the tidbit that “Income support for all of the wives may be paid directly into the husband’s bank account, if the family so chooses,” I trust feminists will remind us how a power imbalance makes true consent impossible.

They can do it from here, since newspapers this week also reported claims by the president of the Canadian Society of Muslims that hundreds of Toronto-area Muslims draw welfare and social benefits for multiple wives. “Polygamy is a regular part of life for many Muslims,” he was quoted as saying. “Ontario recognizes religious marriages for Muslims and others.”

The Ontario minister of community and social services predictably huffed and puffed that, “Not knowing the law is not an excuse. They should know that in Canada there is no polygamy and that only one wife is covered.” And possibly the extra wives are claiming welfare not as spouses but as individuals who just happen to live in the same house as him, her and her, and his kids by all three. But the preamble to the Ontario Family Law Act explicitly says: “In the definition of ‘spouse,’ a reference to marriage includes a marriage that is actually or potentially polygamous, if it was celebrated in a jurisdiction whose system of law recognizes it as valid.”

It’s certainly a Shariah-like object. Why weren’t we told? And how dare you now deny it?

To be sure, the law in question mostly concerns divorce. But the B.C. government has long feared a Charter challenge from polygamous breakaway Mormon sects. Surely a man could now plausibly argue in an Ontario court that if the law imposes many of the obligations of marriage on him with respect to more than one wife, fairness requires that it also grant him the benefits and, as advocates of gay marriage successfully argued, validate the quality of his love into the bargain. As I warned in the Western Standard three years ago, “Guess who’s coming to dinner? Looks like Bob and Carol and Alice, but not Ted.”

I do not say that it is easy to avoid these consequences. Leaving aside any religious or Charter considerations, if a man lives with more than one woman and has children with them, and things go wrong, could any court award support only to the children of the woman who was first to move in or, alternatively, the first to get pregnant? Yet who among us today would dare argue for a legal ban on fornication or cohabitation?

In this respect there is a curious alliance between those who think anything goes and those who think only one thing goes. Both stand in opposition to the western tradition of ordered liberty, the first because they oppose order and the second because they oppose liberty. How can we stand up for our traditions if we dare not name them?

Don’t ask Rowan Williams, a self-described “hairy lefty” who donned a druid suit after being chosen archbishop and recently told the Daily Telegraph’s Rachel Sylvester that Britain is a “secular state” despite being a very senior cleric in its established church. But on Shariah he blurted out a truth politicians deny in vain.

Stick a thank-you note in with his pink slip.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]