Archbishop Welby and the forces of the Right

17 February 2017

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IT IS not every day that the Archbishop of Canterbury calls Donald Trump a fascist. In fact, it may not ever actually have happened, but it’s certainly the impression the headlines gave: “Welby warns of fascist threat to post-Brexit Britain” says The Times; “Welby links Trump to ‘fascist tradition’” in the Mail; the readers of the Telegraph learnt that “Donald Trump is part of a ‘fascist tradition of politics’, says Archbishop”; while The Guardian stuck to the domestic angle: “Archbishop of Canterbury suggests Brexit ‘in fascist tradi­tion’”.

The Guardian went on to quote enough of the Archbishop’s address to make clear that this wasn’t exactly what he had meant to say: in fact, Harriet Sherwood’s report included his sentence “Participation means being a listen­ing, suffering and reconciling presence, not a hectoring, self-interested one.” But it requires very advanced skills of reconciliation to get away with the term “fascist” in a speech. Whether it’s a justified description is an en­­tirely different question, but fascism is not something with which one seeks reconcilia­tion.

The Mail went for the vaguely constitu­tional aspects of the story: “As the leader of the established Church, the Archbishop would be certain to figure in the planning for the President’s state visit.

”Last week he ducked questioning on whether he welcomed the visit, but said he would regard it as a privilege to speak to the President to try to change his views.”

 

I THINK the speech is best put into context by Gideon Rachman’s global analysis in the Financial Times: “Michael Flynn, the presid­ent’s embattled national security adviser, and Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, believe that they are involved in a struggle to save western civilisation. In his recent book, The Field of Fight, General Flynn insists that: ‘We’re in a world war against a messianic mass move­ment of evil people, most of them inspired by a totalitarian ideology: Radical Islam.’ Mr Bannon holds similar views.

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”This tendency to conceive of the west in civilisational or even racial terms — rather than through ideology or institutions — also helps explains the Trump team’s sympathy with Vladimir Putin’s Russia and hostility to Angela Merkel’s Germany,” Rachman writes.

”Once the west is thought of as synonym­ous with ‘Judeo-Christian civilisation’ then Mr Putin looks more like a friend than a foe. The Russian president’s closeness to the Orthodox Church, his cultural conservatism and his demonstrated willingness to fight brutal wars against Islamists in Chechnya and Syria cast him as an ally.

”By contrast, Ms Merkel’s willingness to admit more than a million mostly Muslim refugees into Germany make America’s alt-right regard her as a traitor to western civilisa­tion. President Trump has called the German chancellor’s refugee policy a ‘catastrophic’ error.”

In terms of this analysis, which is, I think, an excellent guide to the forces that the Arch­bishop was talking about in his speech, sympathy for refugees becomes a marker for the next schism. Both Archbishop Welby and Pope Francis, whatever their personal con­servatism, stand on the other side of history from anyone who would use “Judaeo-Christian civilisation” as a reason to drown children or condemn them to sleep in the snow where a refugee camp once stood.

The Guardian, again, picked up on the Archbishop’s interview with LBC: “Policies that are based in fear rather than confidence and courage and Christian values of hospi­tality, of love, of grace, of embrace rather than exclusion, are policies that will lead to terrible results.”

The Breitbart machine is already operating against Pope Francis, and would be turned against the Archbishop if there were any danger that his views on refugees might be listened to by the Government.

 

ONE feature of these tensions about refugees and Islam is that they cut across the other global divides about sexuality, at least in the West. There are millions of people who dislike gay people and hate Muslims, but many of the nationalist Islamophobic politicians are osten­tatiously in favour of gay rights (and, in this context, “Islamophobic” is a perfectly valid word).

Underneath all that is a very strong racial subtext, clearest in the US, but obvious in Eur­ope, too. It’s not a coincidence that some of the Eastern European countries most hostile to Muslims are also most hostile to the (largely Christian) Roma.

 

I DON’T think that there’s anything more to say about sex for the moment. I don’t know about same-sex attraction: I think I’m experi­encing any-sex repulsion. So, just time to note the funeral for little Katie Rough in York Minster, which showed Dr Sentamu at his best: energetic, theatrical, and personal.

The Guardian reported that he had sat with her body: “After they left, ‘I thought she shouldn’t be alone,’ [the Archbishop] said, adding that he had stayed with her ‘from about eight until seven in the morning’.

“‘And the message I want to give you is what I thought I heard last night,’ Sentamu said. ‘All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.’”

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