Monday, February 11, 2008

Rowan Williams is a stupid, dangerous, reactionary idiot

Jim at Shiraz Socialist skewers Rowan Williams' apologists, who claim he didn't actually mean what he sounded like he said. You should also read what Flesh is Grass has to say.

A couple of addenda to what I've already said.

First, Rowan Williams is not wrong for the reason that lots of conservative commentators within the Anglican Church who have been given airspace on Radio 4 (e.g. on Saturday's Today programme) say he is wrong: i.e. that he is challenging the Christian (or, a phrase I hate, "Judeo-Christian") roots of English law . English law is a hybrid, monstrous beast, with Protestant tradition being part of its story. If it is worth defending, or rather, those parts of it which are worth defending, don't have an awful lot to do with Christian tradition.

Second, Rowan Wiliams was wrong to use words like "inevitable", partly because it adds fuel to the growing paranoia of many people in Britain and elsewhere that the Muslim presence is some unstoppable juggernaut hell-bent on subordinating Britain to dhimmitude, which I still believe is an irrational position. Rowan Williams was not "opening up debate"; he was (presumably stupidly, unwittingly) stoking the flames of the culture wars.

Third, it seems clear that the majority of British Muslims think Rowan Williams was wrong. The Muslim Council of Britain, who adequately represent only themselves, reliably defend the old codger. But ordinary Muslims in the street interviewed on most news programmes think he's wrong. Tariq Ramadan, who, with all his strengthes and flaws (and he has many of both) probably does represent the mainstream of European Muslim opinion, has been sharply critical of Williams. More on Tariq Ramadan at the Flesh is Grass post mentioned above.


I am coming around to thinking that I was too hasty and knee-jerky in my response to the multiple marriage issue. What, actually, is so bad about multiple marriage? I might post properly on this, but in the meantime, comments welcome!


Noga said...

"What, actually, is so bad about multiple marriage?"

I have been watching, in thrill and some stupefied disbelief, the HBO series "Big Love" which presents an almost functional polygamous marriage, Mormon-style. I've been telling my husband that indeed there is a lot to be said in favour of such arrangements: if you are a wife, you don't have to worry about babysitters, the household work is fairly divided, with the youngest wife doing most of the heavy lifting, and when you don't feel like you-know-what, there are always others who will step in to relieve you of your wifely duties.

Actually, I can find nothing against the concept and many reasons to support this life style.

But then, I've been also developing the thesis that women should marry gay men and reverse the dominance of straight men in the marriage market. For the simple reason that gay men make better partners to women.

Is this what you had in mind when you asked your question: "What, actually, is so bad about multiple marriage?"

Graeme said...

Wisdom from a guy I worked with about ten years ago:

"Threesomes? Nah, I'd just have to apologise twice."

bob said...

Noga, Graeme, that is exactly the sort of feedback I wanted! Anyone else?

Jogo said...

Multiple marriage? Actually you mean multiple wives. The answer is NO. There's nothing "wrong" with multiple wives in places where that's what people do; but there's something very wrong in establishing plural marriage as a parallel-tier arrangement in Britain. Which is what Daffy Rowan probably envisions.

The Jews of Yemen had multiple wives because polygamy was permitted by Jewish Law as the Yemenites understood it. The Jews of Yemen never received the edict from the Rabbinic Council of Worms, circa 1020 AD, that explicitly forbade Jews to have more than one wife. So into modern times the Yemenite Jews had multiple wives.

When the ingathering of the Yemenite Jews into Israel happened, a number of Yemeni men arrived with their several wives. The State of Israel allowed these families to emigrate, intact. But polygamy was illegal in Israel, so subsequent generations of Yemeni Jews had to abide by the civil code: only one wife. And when the Yemenite old-timers died off, so did polygamy in Israel. Besides, there were only a few thousand polygamous Yemenite Jews. The supply of them was finite.

But the supply of Muslim polygamous men that could conceivably show up in Britain is infinite. Not only that, but certain Muslims would like to establish polygamy as "just another norm" in Britain.

Well, that is not a good idea. It's a very very bad idea. You simply can't have a two-code marriage arrangement, one for Muslims and one for everyone else. If institutionalized polygamy is thought to be not in the interest of your society, then so be it. Muslims must abide.

I suppose you must leave intact the polygamous Muslim families that are already in Britain. And you have to support them because unskilled, ignorant polygamous Muslim men in Britain can't possibly support their families by working. (Even if they DID work.) But you don't have to allow polygamous families to emigrate ... and you shouldn't.

Noga is talking about something entirely different, and of course I agree with her. But Noga is, if I may use the word, a hip person. Muslims are totally un-hip. I apply very different standards to these two types of people.

Besides, Noga is tripping, whilst the Muslims are in deadly earnest. Stay the course, Bob.

Anonymous said...


Have you ever actually spoken to a first wife in a polygamous arrangement? Chances are it ain't as sunny as Big Love presents it. Any new wife is likely to be considerably younger and the first wife treated as a domestic servant.

I'd suggest you read up on the radical Mormon colony that set up shop in Bountiful BC Canada a few years back and the pervasive abusivness perpetrated by the patriarchs, or even Phyllis Chessler's writings about her days in Afghanistan in the 1960s, when she was wed to a Muslim.

Jogo said...

Bob writes: English law is a hybrid, monstrous beast, with Protestant tradition being part of its story. If it is worth defending, or rather, those parts of it which are worth defending, don't have an awful lot to do with Christian tradition.

What parts of English law are not worth defending? I'm not trying to tweak you. I would really like to know.

bob said...

Well, I wouldn't want to defend the principles of our immigration law, which are based on Edwardian understandings of the racial nation (for example, the 1981 British Nationality Act, considered part of the Fundamental Laws of England (our pathetic version of a Constitution) watered away our egalitarian tradition of jus soli).

I wouldn't want to defend the constitutional role of the monarchy and of the established church.

I don't know enough about it, but I don't think our libel laws are worth defending.

Or our blasphemy laws, shockingly still on the statute books.

bob said...

To Anonymous, I would not personally like to be in a polygynous or polyandrous relationship (or, for that matter, be married to a lesbian or gay man). And it probably isn't compatible with most of the lifestyles of most of my readers - but is that a reason to keep it illegal? (I'm being slightly facetious, but also serious.)

Noga said...

I am a little alarmed that anonymous took my comment straighforwardly.

Anyway, Jogo's and Bob's serious engagement with the subject made me feel ashamed at my own unseemly mirth.

Jogo's history of the Yemenites reminded me of two Israeli works regarding a multiplicity of wives:

The first one is the film "Nashim" (in Hebrew, women or wives), directed by Moshe Mizrahi, in which he deals with the subject of bigamy in 19th century Sephardic Jerusalem:

"Jacob and Rebecca marry; he's a rabbi, she's dutiful and loving. But she has no children. Months become years. Although Jacob is content, his mother reminds everyone she is waiting for a grandson. After 15 years, Rebecca determines that Jacob must take an additional wife, the young and beautiful Sultana. Rebecca fasts and prays, and in a state of near ecstasy, persuades everyone involved and then arranges an elaborate wedding. However, Sultana does not conceive, and Rebecca watches helplessly as Jacob's affection shifts to Sultana."

The other one is A. B. Yehoshua's "A journey to the end of the millenium" which is a novel taking place in 999

"Ben Attar, a wealthy Jewish merchant from Tangier, embarks on a perilous voyage to Paris accompanied by his two wives, his Arab partner, a rabbi from Seville and a young black slave. His goal is to convince his nephew and ex-business partner, Raphael Abulafia, that bigamy (common among Arabs and not unheard-of among medieval Jews, we are told) is an honorable practice;"

SnoopyTheGoon said...

"What, actually, is so bad about multiple marriage?"

Oh boy... I meant oh Bob.

I am not even trying to look at the issue from the wives' side. Just guessing that the accumulated trouble (for the husband) must be exponential to the number of the wives.

Repent not!

Jogo said...

From Bob:

... the growing paranoia of many people in Britain and elsewhere that the Muslim presence is some unstoppable juggernaut hell-bent on subordinating Britain to dhimmitude, which I still believe is an irrational position.

You say you "still believe," which sounds a bit like you are striving to continue to believe it. As though there's some evidence to support the paranoia, but STILL you retain your belief. That's OK. I think there IS evidence to support the paranoia. But I also think it's good to keep paranoia at bay. But I also think there's evidence to support the paranoia. But I also think .... etc.,

Rowan Williams was not "opening up debate"; he was (presumably stupidly, unwittingly) stoking the flames of the culture wars.

Yes, he did that. And many Muslims seem to understand that's what he did. A very dangerous man, Rowan.

The silly people think Rowan's "dangerous" in the good sense: speaking truth to power, and all that. I think Rowan sees himself this way, too. But Rowan is also dangerous in ways that he did not intend. This is why many think him stupid. It's not a slur. It's a conclusion you might come to when you look at the facts.


I wiki'd Rowan, and learned much. The article is extremely good. You should read it. I hadn't realized Rowan was the 104th Archbishop. That is an almost unbelievable continuity.

Rowan is, of course, very far from stupid. I read about his background, his education, his accomplishments. Clearly this is one of the most brilliant men in Britain. He's a creative man, too; I mean he's dealing with the Big Things seriously in his own mind. He seems unafraid of Dark Nights of the Soul.

I think the problem is that he became Archbishop, when really he should have been a kind of Christian Bertrand Russell -- not on the stage of Officialdom and Power, but off on the side, where he could develop freely as the spirit moved him, say what he wished, have influence, talk with whomever he pleased ... But as Archbishop he becomes a political man, and he isn't capable of this.

Ralph Nader made the same mistake. As a young man he was one of the most important people of his age. He was effective, off on the side, snooping around, writing his books. He had VAST influence on this country, pretty much all of it good. But then he ran for President, and showed himself as an idiot. There are even those who say that the support he drew to his Presidential campaign caused Gore to lose the election.

Rowan -- though he was widely seen as "the man for the job" -- should have turned it down. But he didn't see the freight train -- the Power Train, the train with no shock-absorbers or brakes -- chugging implacably towards him fifty miles down the track. How could he have? He's a good man, and good men don't look at things so calculatedly. I feel a bit sorry for Rowan.


"Hoist by his own petard" is not really the apt thing to say about Rowan. (I'd all along been mistaking what "hoist" means.) But the phrase occurred to me, and I looked it up. A petard was an explosive device, used in warfare to blow holes in a door or a wall. Did you know that "petard" came into 17th-century English from pet(er) the Middle French word for "fart?" In Modern French, a fart is still a pet, and "to fart" is still "peter."