Unsurprisingly the comments of the Archbishop of Canterbury
have caused outrage across the blogosphere:
The adoption of some aspects of Islamic Sharia law in Britain "seems unavoidable", the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
I'd be spending the rest of the week were I to link to all of those websites that are up in arms about this.
But here's Matt Wardman with another angle:
Reading those three paragraphs, one can conclude that the ABC is proposing that Sharia Law as it operates in (for example) Saudi Arabia will trump British Law. He isn’t. He is saying something closer to the fourth paragraph:
For example, Muslims could choose to have marital disputes or financial matters dealt with in a Sharia court.
Let's look at this from a libertarian perspective.
Libertarians fall into two camps. The consequentialists essentially say that liberty works and is therefore to be defended. Natural rights libertarians support liberty on principle. I fall into the latter camp - perhaps because the first libertarians I met were natural rightists but sometimes I think that it was the result of being educated in the old fashioned, pre ZaNu-Labour, Scottish education system. Needless-to-say, we natural rights folk happily note that libertarianism works anyway.
So what about the law?
Natural rights libertarianism is based on the non-aggression principle: no one should initiate force or fraud against anyone else. Some think that justifies a state, but only so long as it exists solely to defend us against those who do initiate force or fraud. That means limiting the state to providing a military (to defend us against foreign aggressors), a police force (to defend us against domestic aggressors) and a system of courts to decide on guilt or innocence and to impose any necessary restitution.
It seems quite clear to me that the British state (assuming that it exists) should be based on our traditional legal principles. That's to say Scots Law plus other forms of law commonly used in the more benighted parts of the Kingdom...
Sharia Law is surely incompatible with the continuance of the British state.
Ah, but not all libertarians support the very existence of the state. Anarcho-capitalists believe that the state is not necessary at all. Defence, police and law services can be provided by the market. And what would that mean for the Sharia question?
Let's see. Suppose that the territory now known as Bradford had been discovered ab initio and homesteaded by a Muslim. Anarcho-capitalism surely implies that the founder would be entitled to apply his own legal system to those voluntarily living in his territory. Note the "voluntarily". Interactions between residents of Bradfordistan and, say, a Kirkcaldy legitimately controlled by the descendants of Adam Smith, would have to be on mutually agreed terms.
But note some other factors. The robust residents of Kirkcaldy would be free not to interact with the Bradfordistanians - for any reason whatsoever, no matter how politically "incorrect". These decisions would not be limited to economic matters. And the same would apply to the rest of the anarcho-capitalist island of Britain.
It seems to me, then, that even under anarcho-capitalism, a Sharia law Bradford would probably find it extremely difficult to co-exist with the rest of this island and would almost certainly languish in poverty.
So I contend that Sharia law is compatible with libertarianism but only if its supporters legitimately "own" the territory in which it is to be applied (not Bradford, as it happens), only if it has no claim to financial or other support from the rest of the community and only if it interacts peacefully with those neighbours who reject its tenets.