Church of England

The Spectator brands Justin Welby “liberal left” – for seeking Islamist understanding

Spectator columnist and associate editor Rod Liddle sometimes sounds like he’s channeling the EDL, or at least supping with Ukip, but he is, in fact, a fully paid-up member of the Labour Party (or at least he was until he was suspended a few months ago for an alleged ‘thought crime’). According to his Wikipedia entry, he was a member of the Socialist Workers Party and a supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and his political affiliation is unchanged (in a ‘critical friend’ kind of way). He worked for the Labour Party as a speechwriter and researcher, and even voted Labour (yes, for Ed Miliband) in the 2015 General Election, despite railing against “its reflexive, bovine, political correctness, its willingness to clamber into a redoubt of statism and bureaucracy and hunker down behind the barriers of the NHS”.

So to accuse the Archbishop of Canterbury of hanging liberal-left is a bit rich.

Not only is it a bit rich, it’s ignorance on stilts.

You can sense where Liddle is heading from.. well, his heading. ‘Why does Justin Welby want us to understand jihadis?‘, he asks, as though seeking to know one’s enemy were the mission of a buffoon. He begins his screed with tedious anti-Anglican cynicism: “Hallelujah, everybody. The Archbishop of Canterbury has been pontificating again.” Which is a bit rich coming from an arch-pontificator, albeit a very talented one, if not quite a brilliant one (for Rod Liddle is undoubtedly one of the Speccie’s greats, which makes the genesis of this spiteful little piece all the more baffling).

All that Justin Welby said is that we need to understand what Jihadists are talking about. Well, we do, don’t we? He was speaking to Anglican secondary school headteachers (ie those who are responsible for imparting knowledge and inculcating values to future generations), and the whole speech is worth reading if only to establish that Rod Liddle couldn’t have read it at all. Or if he did read it, he failed to understand.

Why does Rod Liddle need to understand what the Archbishop of Canterbury is talking about?

It’s a moot question, isn’t it? Does Liddle need to understand what Justin Welby is talking about before he writes about it? Do we not then need to understand Jihadis if we are ever to wipe them off the face of the earth and eradicate their insidious ideology?

We won’t, of course, because we can’t. That’s the point Archbishop Justin was making: radical Islam is a political theology. The better we understand its malignant eschatology, the wiser we may become in strategies to defuse and negate. You can’t wipe out ideology with bombs: it needs information and re-education, and for that to be effective you need understanding and cooperation, not to mention a coalition of the entire non-Islamist Islamic world (ie the disparate Islamic worlds), which demands understanding of Muslims sects and cults, Mohammedology and quranic scholarship. If Jihadis believe they’re fomenting a clash of civilisations which heralds the end times, wouldn’t it help for Christians and Jews to understand how their coming Messiah fits in with video beheadings, crucifixions and chopping up children with chainsaws? How can you counter what you do not understand? How do you defeat 30,000 Jihadis and their progeny if you do not enter their apocalypse? Can you even begin to confront jihadism without understanding why Syria’s ‘rebel’ forces call of all their disparate enemies ‘Iranians’ (despite not being so), and how the Zionist-Shia-Crusader conspiracy consumes their soul?

Liddle trivialises all this, because he doesn’t understand: “Understanding only gets you so far,” he says, “as the Middle East’s decapitated Christians might tell you, if they still had heads. To enjoin understanding on us all is an evasion, in a sense. An attempt to shy away from the world as it is, rather than the world as we would like to see it. A familiar failing of the liberal left.”

Liberal left? Justin Welby?

Who on the liberal left says (or even believes): “..what Brexit offers today is a recommitment to educate children in a way that builds a powerful vision of what it means to be part of a global community”? Who on the liberal left criticises statist solutions and policies of tax-and-spend (not to mention appreciation for the reforming efforts of Iain Duncan Smith)? Who on the liberal left calls ‘evil’ evil? Who on the liberal left believes that same-sex marriage is a category error: “The concept of marriage as a normative place for procreation is lost. The idea of marriage as covenant is diminished. The family in its normal sense, predating the state and as our base community of society.. is weakened”? Who on the liberal left believes that equality as a government aim is “doomed to totalitarianism“?

Justin Welby makes a plea for greater religious literacy. This, he believes, is “essential to building the kind of society that we need in the future, whether you believe in the faith of a particular group or of no particular group”. What does Rod Liddle have against that? “Religious literacy has become essential to understanding people’s motivation and ideas,” the Archbishop says. Actually, it has always been so. If a particular doctrine of a particular god inspires and impassions individuals or groups to peace or violence, doesn’t it help to understand the moral basis of that doctrine if one is to spread that peace or mitigate that violence? If the virtue and vice of the ummah is jihad for iman or ihsan and tawhid, doesn’t a basic grasp of Islamic creedal values and propaganda narratives aid the understanding of the desire for the Caliphate?

If the heart of Islamism is apocalyptic theology – the return of the one they call ‘The Prophet’ with the one we call Jesus to destroy all non-believers and usher in an age of perfect sharia – doesn’t it help to understand what the hell they’re talking about? If only because, as the Archbishop of Canterbury exhorts:

We have to offer an alternative vision that is more convincing. That is more profound. That is more satisfying to the human spirit. And where to do we find a better vision than in the gospel of Jesus Christ, in the good news of Christ?

Rod Liddle would rather carp, mock and misrepresent. It is his mechanism for shying away from the religious world as it is and how it must be understood. A familiar failing of the cynical liberal left.