So This Is What The World Wants: One Dimensional Men? | Bartlett and Williams


200802111236As the Archbishop heads for Synod this afternoon to defend himself and, according to some exaggerated reports, save his job, I’ve been mulling over exactly why he has been under such pressure for his comments on Sharia Law. Even the shallowest examination of him as a man would reveal a hugely intelligent thinker and a thoroughly, deeply spiritual life. Why would such a man want the UK to come under Sharia Law and start ‘stoning women’, as the tabloids would have it?

His words have been twisted out of all recognition of course. And yet pundits line up to judge that he has been foolish – of course his words have been twisted. Everyone’s are. Which is why people say nothing. And thus runs the plot tension of a whole stack of West Wing episodes: Bartlett knows what should be said, but is advised he can’t. Then at the last minute a way is found that he can, and all is good. In other words, we know this stuff should be said, and feel good when it is on TV, so what is stopping people talking intelligently in the public domain?

I tried to touch on this in the book. I think Marcuse’s analysis in One Dimensional Man is really good. He writes that there are basically three ways that the dominant powers push people down – flatten them into nicely manageable one-dimensional beings. All three ways are lies, and they run like this:

The first lie: “Things are too big and complicated for you to be able to change them. Things have gone too far to change anyway.”

The second lie: “If you do try to change things, you’ll be risking all you’ve got – your own status and position and financial security.”

The third lie: “And if you still persist in taking these big topics on, and are prepared to pay the cost, people will just laugh at you.”

These are the main reasons why people simply don’t do anything: it’ll cost me, it’s too big, people will laugh. And it’s been interesting to note how these three lies have been spun out to attack the Archbishop. ‘You don’t understand enough about Sharia Law / Islam / the legal system to comment’. ‘You’re foolish for speaking out – don’t you know you’ll be putting your job at risk?’ ‘What a Burkha’ etc.

But what is more interesting to note are the groups of people spinning them. As a general rule it’s been legal pundits, the broadsheet media and more right-leaning politicians who’ve spun the first, the church and more left-leaning politicians who’ve spun the second, and the tabloid media who’ve spun the third.

What have all these people got in common? Something precious to lose. And this is the nub of the whole furore: in a country under tension from immigration, from European integration, people feel their identities are under threat. And what is perceived as the last bastion of Englishness? Our own legal system with its wigs and theatrics. The political right and the jurists are afraid of losing this precious control over how to tell people what is right and wrong, the religious right are afraid of Britain straying further away from hard-line evangelicalism, the political left are still frightened they won’t be taken seriously and will lose their hold on power, and the tabloid media poke fun and stir up a storm to sell papers.

None of them are really interested in what Dr Williams had to say – which was a quite brilliant and brave talk on culture, belonging and identity. Not because they have no interest in it, but precisely because they’ve invested too much interest in keeping the status quo. Like Bartlett, I hope Rowan stays true to his message, and doesn’t stop forcing us to see the multiplicity of our dimensions.


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