The Times and the BBC both report (Monday 26 February) that the British Council is cutting its budget for work on the European mainland to allow it to put more into its work in the Arab and Muslim world. Surely this is a good idea? There cannot be much more that Europe needs to know about British culture than it knows already – at least not much more that an organisation like the BC can help with. With the language as dominant as it is and with the BBC so far ahead of any other broadcasting organisation in terms of quality and penetration, all the BC can be doing in Europe is preaching to the converted.
The Muslim world is really the critical frontier. But as the experience of living with Muslims in Britain seems to show, it will not be easy. It is fashionalble to laugh off the idea of a clash of civilizations. Don’t be fooled. There really is a clash – and the BC’s initiatives are likely to exacerbate it in the short term. In the longer term, hopefully, it will be resolved.
The problem of course is not the mainstream of Islam. The problem is the radical fringe which will see any effort to introduce the faithful to Anglo-Saxon-Western values and way of life as a corrupting exercise – and they are right. Radical Islam cannot go to bed with Western values and survive. This is a fight to the death for the radical Muslim. This is what is going on in Afghanistan and in many other places. The outcome is pretty certain but there will be casualties and the resolution will take a long time. More power to the British Council.
In the same issue of the London Times I see that AA Gill is declaring that “gayness is not a sin. It’s not even a faux pas”. Is this more of the deliberate muddling of Christian morality which we get so much of from the “liberal” wing. I do not know any serious moral teaching that says “gayness” is a sin – no more than being hot-tempered is. Sin has to do with willful acts, acted out or otherwise. It comes only with surrender to tendencies which are contrary to an ordered human nature.
The Catholic Church shocks some people when it describes gayness as a disorder. We find lots of disordered tendencies in our nature – greediness, laziness, anger – but we do not get offended when it is suggested to us that we deal with these appropriately. Gays who deal with their gayness will be on the right track when they do the same – just as I will be when I deal with my laziness by getting out of bed in the morning when I don’t feel like it.
Christopher Howse in the Daily Telegraph a few weeks ago put his finger on the problem of course, writing in the context of the pickle which the Anglican Church has got itself into on this matter. The moral confusion, he suggested, all stems from the rejection of the moral principle that sexual acts are sinful if they are radically dissociated from the act of procreation. In other words, if deliberate contraception is not sinful, then no consensual or individual sexual act is sinful. Is it fair to say that the great moral divide of our time is the gap between those who believe this and those who don’t?
Finally, on a more uplifting note: what a special weekend we had here in Dublin.
The papers are full of historic musings about how our two islands, our two nations which share such an overwhelmingly common culture as to be really only remotely two nations, came together paradoxically in a great act of reconciliation on the battlefield of rugby. Needless to say our equivalent of the Taleban, continuity, real – or whatever they want to call themselves – IRA were hanging around the fringes of our celebrations. Mercifully, their day is gone at last and never did “tiochaid ar lá” sound more foolish.
We all wanted to put the past behind us – and we did. Whether or not we thought the 1916 rebellion was a wrong turning in our history, diverting us from the legitimate path to self-determination which we had hopefully entered on a few years earlier, we put those thoughts aside. Perhaps the long and painful saga of our invention of a false and forced national identity as “anything but British” might finally be petering out and we will be able to get on with genuinely being ourselves, accepting all those elements, Irish and British – to name but two – which make us what we are.