The Nelson Touch
Theresa May: Captaining the ship of state (Illustration by Michael Daley)
An aeon ago, when the last issue of Standpoint went to press in early July, it was still unclear who would take the helm in Downing Street. Unexpectedly, we now have a captain who, we must hope, is blessed with the courage of Horatio Nelson and the charm of Emma Hamilton. In her first two months on the bridge, at any rate, Theresa May has skilfully steered the ship of state away from hazardous Continental rocks and into the open sea. Like Nelson and her German counterpart, Angela Merkel, she is a clergyman’s daughter: classless, relentless and fearless. Mrs May’s England, like Nelson’s, expects that every man will do his duty. She insists that Brexit must mean control over borders; she has stood up to China on Hinkley Point; and when asked if she would use the Trident nuclear deterrent, she replied: “Yes.”
One danger, however, that won’t be avoided by leaving the shallows of the EU is that of Islamism. This summer of discontent has seen a wave of terrorism across Germany and France. At the time of writing Britain has so far been spared. But it would be foolish to pretend that the threat has been averted. That terrorism is not our only problem was underlined by the fact that the murder of an Ahmadiyya Muslim newsagent in Glasgow for the “crime” of “blasphemy” could be condoned by some Sunnis; outside the court, the killer’s admirers chanted in his support.
Elsewhere in the magazine, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali calls on the West to respond to the latest attacks by reaffirming the Judaeo-Christian values in which our laws and liberties are rooted. But we must also encourage those in the Islamic world who show solidarity with the victims of terror, as did the thousands of Muslims who attended Mass in France and Italy soon after the July 14 massacre in Nice and the martyrdom of Father Jacques Hamel at his altar near Rouen.
Such interfaith gestures may be significant, but they must be judged by results. It may be too soon to assess the outcome of the meeting last May of Pope Francis with Sheikh Ahmed Muhammad Al-Tayyib, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar. The Cairo university, often described as the Vatican of Sunni Islam, has resumed dialogue with Rome because Francis is seen as more conciliatory than his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. After the murder of Fr Jacques, the Pope referred to his conversation with the Grand Imam: “I believe that it’s not fair to identify Islam with violence. It’s not fair and it’s not true,” he told reporters on the plane en route to World Youth Day at Krakow. “I know how they think. They look for peace, encounter.”
On the face of it, this seems a worryingly tepid response from Francis to the martyrdom of one of his priests. But it got worse. The Pope continued: “It’s war, we don’t have to be afraid to say this . . . a war of interests, for money, resources. I am not speaking of a war of religions. Religions don’t want war. The others want war.”