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At the crease

07 February 2014


THE troubles of the Anglican Communion are now so bedded down in the consciousness of its critics that for its slickest apologists their mention hardly raises a hackle. And the Archbishop of Canterbury is nothing if not a slick apologist. In his interview with Zeinab Badawi for Hardtalk (BBC World Service, Friday), he batted away questions about areas of conflict with a knowing insouciance. "Oh, that old hat!" he seemed to be saying, as again he was asked about disagreements over same-sex marriage.

It appeared to work; Badawi's questioning got increasingly frantic, and her interlocutor gave the impression of a batsman happy to leave all but the most accurate deliveries, and play for a draw.

Occasionally, there would be a show of establishment swagger: in answer to a point about his influence over African leaders, he declared that Archbishops of Canterbury had been meeting foreign leaders since the year 597. That, combined with clubbable politics, makes Archbishop Welby highly effective, if at times exasperating. They might as well have been taking brandy and cigars in the Athenaeum as conducting "hard talk".

On Christmas Eve 1800, a group of assassins attempted to blow up a carriage carrying Napoleon to the Paris Opera. The explosion caused loss of life, but not to the main object. Napoleon described the perpetrators as "terrorists".

It was a word barely two decades old, and coined, Richard English, on Word of Mouth (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), said, to refer not to the actions of pressure-groups hoping to influence government policy, but to the work of the French Revolutionary government. It is one of those historical ironies that "terrorism" is now associated with those operating outside the political establishment; for "terrorism" in its most careless, usage is a word that of itself bestows legitimacy and illegitimacy on warring antagonists.

David Anderson, the QC whose job it is to review terrorism legislation, rues the day that the word ever entered the legal vocabulary. He prefers "politically motivated violent crime".

Last year, the BBC was criticised in Parliament for using words such as "militants" and "gunmen" about those responsible for the attack on an Algerian refinery. And, as David Jordan, the Head of Editorial Policy at the BBC revealed, reporters are encouraged to steer away from the T-word.

Most revealing, though, was the admission that, after the 7/7 bombings in London, the word "terrorist" was indeed used in the period immediately after the explosions. "Terrorist" was the most convenient term to describe people who had done something atrocious, but who, what, how, and why, nobody yet knew.

Andrew Martin's contribution to The Essay (Radio 3, Friday) came just after I read the first instalment of the Church Times's survey of the health of the Church. Martin neatly evoked the sense of creative boredom which the Sundays of his childhood provided, as opposed to the "boredom of satiety" resulting from activity-filled Sundays. Sabbatarianism is a hard message to sell, but Martin has a fine crack at it.

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