A month or two ago I wrote piece in this space on the Archbishop of Canterbury called “Rowan Williams, public embarassment.” That reflection was occasioned by His Grace’s opinion, expressed in the course of an interview with Emel, “The Muslim Lifestyle Magazine,” that “the United States wields its power in a way that is worse than Britain during its imperial heyday.” Obviously, the Archbishop (who once described himself, correctly, as “a hairy leftie”)
meant it to sting (what could be worse for a leftie, hirsute or not, than being “imperial”?). As I pointed out, however, being compared to Imperial Britain would, by any ordinary standard of civilization and achievement, be high praise indeed. Everywhere Britain went, I noted, she “brought the rule of law, better education, better physical infrastructure, better health and hygiene, improved literacy, greater freedom, and greater civility.” Indeed, whenever anyone brings up Imperial Britain, I think of George Santayana’s observation about “The British Character” in his book Soliloquies in England, published in the early 1920s. “What governs the Englishman is his inner atmosphere,” Santayana wrote, “the weather in his soul.”
Instinctively the Englishman is no missionary, no conqueror. He prefers the country to the town, and home to foreign parts. He is rather glad and relieved if only natives will remain natives and strangers strangers, and at a comfortable distance from himself. Yet outwardly he is most hospitable and accepts almost anybody for the time being; he travels and conquers without a settled design, because he has the instinct of exploration. His adventures are all external; they change him so little that he is not afraid of them. He carries his English weather in his heart wherever he goes, and it becomes a cool spot in the desert, and a steady and sane oracle amongst all the deliriums of mankind. Never since the heroic days of Greece has the world had such a sweet, just, boyish master. It will be a black day for the human race when scientific blackguards, conspirators, churls, and fanatics manage to supplant him.
Where is Santayana when you need him? What, I wonder, would he have had to say about Archbishop Williams’s declaration earlier today that the adoption of Islamic Sharia law in Britain is “unavoidable.” In a widely reported lecture on BBC radio 4 the Archbishop called for a “constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law” and said that Britons must “face up to the fact” that some of its citizens do not “relate” to the British legal system. “Constructive accommodation”: let’s see, I guess that is British English for “spineless capitulation”?
And what is all this about Muslim Brits not “relating” to the law? The rule of law is is not a lifestyle choice: it is not something you can opt out of if you happen to have alternative inclinations. “Gee, in my religion, we stone adulteresses to death, so would you mind stepping aside and handing me that pile of rocks?”
The proper answer to such gambits was formulated in the 19th century by General Charles Napier when dealing with sutte, the Indian custom of burning a widow on her husband’s funeral pyre: “You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.”
Napier flourished in an age of cultural confidence. He was unassailed by the paralyzing multicultural thought that, after all, British civilization was just another civilization and that it only stood to reason that the Indians had their way of dealing with things. He knew that suttee was a disgusting, barbaric practice and he was in India to stamp out such barbarisms and bring the Indians into the modern world. Archbishop Williams seeks instead a “constructive accommodation” with practices that, if they proceed, would destroy everything he, as chief prelate of the Church of England, stands for. Public stupidity is always disagreeable to witness. Public stupidity fired by misplaced self-righteousness and underwritten by obvious cowardice is a positively emetic combination. Henry II may have erred when he raged against Thomas à Becket, Rowan Williams’s illustrious predecessor as Archbishop of Canterbury. I certainly would not wish to have the question “Who will rid us of this troublesome priest?” answered as Henry’s question was answered. But where Becket faithfully served his church and was savagely punished for it, Rowan Williams loses no opportunity to besmirch his Church and is lavishly praised for his perfidy. As I say, for the moment there is nothing at all “unavoidable” about the institution of Sharia law in Britain. All that is necessary to countermand it is a little self-assertion on the part of the British people. Surely the instinct for self-preservation has not been totally eradicated in Britain by the enervating imperatives of political correctness–do I end that sentence with a period or a question mark? It is a mark of how serious things have become that I am no longer certain. The triumph of Islam in Britain is eminently avoidable. But the triumph of civilizational Quislings like Rowan Williams might just change that.