Update (22/12/17) — The following piece was written just before Christmas 2016, when HRH’s Radio 4 “Thought for the Day” caused some controversy. However, following this tweet on the same topic (19/12/17), one of my Twitter followers kindly tweeted a link to this article, which I hope remains of some interest.
The Thought for the Day of HRH The Prince of Wales three days before Christmas has generated a great deal of interest in the press and on social media. His words have been seized upon, and celebrated, by the liberal left as a rebuke to Donald Trump and perhaps even UKIP. The conservative right have (bizarrely) interpreted his address in similar terms and felt wounded and resentful. Both sides, I would suggest, have missed the point.
The full text of HRH’s ‘thought’ is at the end of this post, but we should begin by noting both what he actually did say and what he did not. Much of his message consisted of statements of fact (e.g. that Christians are being persecuted in the Middle East, that more than 65m people fled their homes in the past year, and so forth). Such statements are either true or they are not. Given the quasi-homiletic nature of Thought for the Day, what is more problematic is the question of what the Prince of Wales may have been implying and, even more so, what we might infer from his words. I would suggest that his words were sufficiently nuanced to mean that what we are really taking about is inference and not implication.
The first thing to note is that his Thought for the Day was a slightly edited version of a message he recorded for the UK branch of the international Catholic Aid Agency Aid to the Church in Need. This suggests to me that the ‘religious minorities’ he had in mind were most especially the Christian denominations of the Middle East — in other words, those currently being driven out, silenced and even killed by the death cult of ISIS. He quotes (though without attribution) from the Aid to the Church in Need report on worldwide religious (in)tolerance. That organisation, which the Prince of Wales seems to have quietly supported in recent years, has produced a map of religious persecution (click to go large):
What should be obvious is that the religious persecution ‘hot spots’ are in places where extremist Islam has a foothold (e.g. Pakistan), or else in authoritarian regimes (e.g. North Korea). There is no red shading in ‘Brexit Britain’, ‘Le-Penniste France’ or ‘Trump America’. The abstract of the same report summarises the situation like this:
The section of the speech which has been arousing ire and confusion seems to be this single sentence:
We are now seeing the rise of many populist groups across the world that are increasingly aggressive towards those who adhere to a minority faith.
What strikes me as odd is that so many critics of Muslim immigration to Europe (or even ordinary members of UKIP) should have immediately assumed that this sentence referred to them (unless, of course, they think that they are, in fact, ‘aggressive’). Seconds before, the Prince said:
Nor is (persecution) limited to Christians in the troubled regions of the Middle East. A recent report suggests that attacks are increasing on Yazidis, Jews, Ahmadis, Baha’is and many other minority faiths.
It’s pretty clear, then, which ‘minority faiths’ he has in mind. His single, brief, mention of Muhammad was fairly obviously included to rebuff any charge that he was talking only about Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims. Also, it serves as a reminder to Muslims that their own faith can only flourish when it enjoys freedom — a freedom that hard line Islamists deny to other faiths. Some of the more ludicrous articles on the internet have even tried to suggest that HRH was suggesting that we should “think of Muhammad and not Jesus” at Christmas.
His mistake, surely, was the use of the word ‘populist’, even if this was the word that succeeded in garnering much press coverage. If ‘populism’ means anything, then it is a ‘thin ideology’ (cf. Cas Mudde, 2004) which pits the people against ‘the elites’ in a not very reflective manner. In the arrogant and aloof statements of EU bureaucrats it is just a synonym for democracy, of course, but beyond that it is more complex.
Brexit has been called ‘populist’ and so has the election of Trump. This does not mean that whatever is populist is either Brexitarian or Trumpist. I campaigned for Brexit from a pro-free market, pro-sovereignty (and indeed pro-immigration) position. I realise that many people who voted for Brexit did so for other reasons, many of which I would disagree with. We were all, perhaps, part of a populist wave. Insofar as populism is a revolt against the ‘elites’ then this at least implies that the ‘elites’ — whoever they are — need to listen. It is interesting to note that the ‘elites’ in Britain — the Prime Minister and (most) other previous Remainers in her government, not to mention members of the pro-Remain Labour Party who believe in democracy — have listened. Yet the ‘elite’ in the EU, against whom the Brexit vote was really directed, have simply put their fingers in their ears and carried on as usual.
Populism gives rise to temporary movements. Before the EU Referendum, my Leaver Twitter followers were engaged in the same struggle as I. Now that battle is won, we have returned to real, democratic politics, and our disagreements on markets, immigration and freedom are re-emerging. But let’s remember that other ‘populist’ movements are Podemos in Spain, the cheerleaders of Chavez and his heirs in Venezuela, and even Jeremy Corbyn. Jezza’s recent reinvention as a ‘populist leader’ was rather amusing. He represents an old hard-left ‘thin ideology’ which has nothing to say except a rejection of “the Tories” and so-called ‘austerity’. If, per impossible, he were elected Prime Minister in 2020, then that fragile populism would give way to real democratic disagreement about the way to proceed.
So Prince Charles, I would suggest, is talking about that kind of ‘populism’. Not the democratic will of a people, but a temporary, single-issue, hastily confected confluence of feeling.
The Prince of Wales concluded by talking about his visit to the new Syriac Cathedral in London, where he met people (Christians) who were “persecuted for their religion in their own country, but [are now] finding refuge in another land and freedom to practise their faith according to their conscience.”
Does this sound like a libtard plea to welcome ISIS fighters with open arms, or does it sound like a plea to be generous and compassionate toward their victims?
What few have considered is that the ultimate ‘populist’ movement, and the most deadly, is ISIS. Indeed it is one that has snared even some ‘moderate’ and ‘Westernised’ Muslims living in European countries. As the former CIA and NSA Director, Gen. Michael Hayden, put it, “Al Qaeda was terror elitism. It was guidance from the top down. ISIS is terror populism. It’s from the bottom up, and that makes it so damnably difficult for us to detect and stop it.”
Let’s be challenged, then, by the words of the controversial but fearless British journalist Melanie Phillips and listen to the words of Prince Charles again. Maybe it’s not about us at all, but about people who are truly suffering, in ways we can barely imagine…