Former chancellor condemns misrepresentation of Archbishop


London : Former Chancellor of the Exchequer Lord Lamont Wednesday joined in the criticism of the mass hysteria provoked against the Archbishop of Canterbury following his call for the accommodation in Britain of some aspects of Sharia law.

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“What has exacerbated ethnic tension in our society is not Dr (Rowan) Williams’s remarks but the hysterical misrepresentation of them,” Lamont said.

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph, he said what the archbishop proposed is “not much more than recognizing the rights of people to settle problems or domestic disputes in the way that is done by Beth Din Jewish courts set up by statute 100 years ago.”

In a lecture on Civil and Religious Law in England last Thursday, Williams expressed concern that Britain’s secular laws are not always sensitive to how they may impact Muslims and suggested certain aspects of Islamic law could be constructively accommodated.

His aim was to “to tease out some of the broader issues around the rights of religious groups within a secular state,” the primate said.

But his remarks provoked an unprecedented wave of vilification of the spiritual leader of the Church of England in the media and elsewhere, with the popularist Sun newspaper going as far as describing him as a “dangerous threat to the nation.”

Answering some of the misrepresentations, Lamont said the archbishop made clear that the areas in which “supplementary jurisdictions” might operate on an entirely voluntary basis would be marital law, financial transactions, family disputes and mediation.

“He makes it crystal clear that nothing he proposed would be allowed to deprive Muslims or anyone else of the rights they enjoy as citizens of this country,” he said.

The former chancellor, who served in successive Conservative government for 14 years until 1997, condemned comments made by the Telegraph’s political commentator, Janet Daley, saying the archbishop made no attack on freedom and equality.

“No supplementary jurisdiction could have the power to deny access to the rights granted to other citizens or to punish its members for claiming those rights” is what he wrote,” he said.