Reading the papers this morning, all still full of the Sharia law row, I had the feeling that Rowan Williams knew exactly what he was doing, and what the result would be. He is far too clever not to have known, but then again possibly too clever by half. Matthew d’Ancona hits the nail on the head in his post Canterbury Tales in Coffee House, when he finishes,
“. . . as someone who spent some time in academia, I am always suspicious of intellectuals who plead naiveté and innocence after the event when they have sent a depth charge into our culture. I think Dr Williams knew what he was doing, and is dismayed not by the passion of the response but by how few people are supporting him. That, I imagine, is the bit that really stings.”
Two thoughts, first, it’s a shame that Dr Williams had not had the opportunity to read the excellent article in today’s FT Magazine, where John Thornhill has lunch with Theodore Zeldin. Zeldin may have been talking about Sarkozy’s France when he said, “You have to accept that traditions exist, that people don’t change their minds very quickly, that people are scared”, but it holds as true this side of the Channel as it does over there. According to Thornhill, Zeldin argues that ‘it is vital to avoid, rather than provoke, confrontation. It is better to allow old problems to wither while encouraging new possibilities to emerge alongside’. And secondly, for a reasoned view on the row, and why Rowan Williams is wrong, read the FT leader, Muddled response to multiculturalism. This makes it clear that the real battle for Williams is to change the way in which the post-Christian West treats religion,so that it ceases to be locked into ‘the private realm of individual choice’. He is just the latest in a long line to try to fight this, but whether he is going about it the right way I doubt.