Rowan Williams has wildly uncultivated eyebrows. They would appear to be a visual representation of his increasingly unkempt political sensibilities. How else can one account for the fact that the sitting Archbishop of Canterbury (aka the ABC) just delivered a vociferously anti-American diatribe via an exclusive interview in the Muslim magazine, Emel?
For those who need a quick point of reference, the Archbishop of Canterbury is the ecclesiastical head (primate) of the Church of England, and the world-wide Anglican Communion, comprising 80 million members, including the Episcopal Church in America. He is a Pope-like figure whose control over his flock is in turmoil at the moment. The reigning monarch — Queen Elizabeth II — is the titular head of the Church of England. This has to do with Henry VIII’s break from Rome and the real meaning of an established religion.
The focus here is why the spiritual leader of a global church felt compelled to give political ammo to any Islamic organization in these perilous times. One ought first to consider the source of the interview.
Emel is a lifestyle magazine, the Muslim equivalent of “People.”
The interview itself was conducted in the ABC’s office in Lambeth Palace, very lavish as opposed to monastic digs, just across the Thames from the Houses of Parliament. The reporter sent to conduct the interview was a young female given to describing the ABC’s voice as essentially ethereal and his comments as being delivered in a state of “serene tranquility.” One needs only to close a single eye to set the scene.
The furor erupted when ABC Williams remarked on how the US had lost the high moral ground since 9-11. The interview prompted the Times of London to report the interview under the headline: “US is Worst Imperalist.”
What Williams specifically said about US foreign policy was: “It is one thing to take over a territory and then pour energy and resources into administering it and normalizing it. Rightly or wrongly, that’s was the British empire did — in India, for example. It is another thing to go in on the assumption that a quick burst of violent action will somehow clear the decks and that you can move on and other people will put things back together — Iraq, for example.”
The ABC’s position on such matters is hardly news. He has been an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq from the get-go. In the Emel interview he spoke of how the invasion of Iraq might have been “a quick discharge of frustration,” but he added, “It serves you. It does not serve the situation.” In other words, the US invasion of Iraq was a feel good exercise which has now, by virtue of US exploitation, left a country in ruins, both on the civil and economic levels. Fair enough, some might say. Religious figures tend to be anti-war. Trouble was — at no time did he mention that the Tube and bus bombing of July 7 2005, in London, might easily be described as a similar discharge of easy anger. To ABC Williams, there’s no need to condemn terrorism, only Americans.
But beyond the superficial quotes, there are both historical and spiritual cracks which run deep, and not so silently, beneath the pseudo-noble surface of the ABC’s remarks. Comparing modern America’s foreign policy to the height of the British Empire’s sins of omission and commission toward its colonies is an antihistorical enterprise. It is apples and oranges. The proof of this position is that Williams went on to suggest that America ought to purge its foreign policy sins by engaging in a “generous and intelligent program of aid directed to the societies that have been ravaged.” This statement belies an ignorance of the vast sums of foreign aid dispensed by the US to nations across the globe.
The controversy was further fueled when, coincidently, former US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton was to appear on BCC’s Radio Four on Sunday, to plug his new book, which urges the US to attack Iran. Bolton’s radio spot was scheduled as a one-off, with no one who held opposing views on hand to debate his ideas. Bolton took advantage of the opportunity to lambaste the resident primate of Lambeth Palace for not concentrating on his day job and, instead, venturing into areas outside his area of expertise.
The Rev. Dr. Peter Mullen, Rector of Saint Michael’s Cornhill in London and Chaplain to the London Stock Exchange, is a noted and prolific conservative critic of the present-day state of affairs in the Anglican Communion. He has crossed theological swords with Archbishop Williams on many occasions and this is no exception.
About this specific interview Mullen responds: “Christians are being beaten up, robbed, illegally imprisoned — their churches burnt to the ground — in Muslim countries all over the world,” exclaims Mullen, “yet all Williams can do is return to his leftie America-bashing. He ought to be ashamed of himself.”
Indeed, there are sheep in Williams’ pasture who could benefit from his attention. Consider the situation facing the British teacher presently facing 40 lashes from a Sharia court in Sudan. Gillian Gibbons, a 54-year-old woman who gave up her teaching job in Liverpool three months ago to teach in the Sudan, has been accused of insulting Islam by allowing a child in her class to name a teddy bear “Mohamed.” Perhaps Williams’ energy might be better spent trying to save Gibbons than condemning America.