Politics & Policy

The London View of It

British concerns.

The Times of London ran heavily on Monday with news and analysis of the antiwar protest, though it had to struggle a bit with the paradox of its former editor William Rees-Mogg. In his column, he contended that the protesters were hardening Saddam Hussein’s obstinacy in the matter of arms inspections, thereby polarizing the two fronts and so encouraging the likelihood of war. The Sunday march became, then, an Antiwar Protest for War.

But how much of Iraq can the British reading public take? The editors acknowledge that there are other interests, and therefore featured on the front page an article entitled, “Prince Plucks/Up Courage/To Pop the/Question.” The prince in question is of course Charles, and one would suppose that the person to whom he is plucking up the courage to pop the question to is: Mrs. Parker Bowles. Well, she of course does figure in the Times question, but by no means exclusively. The paper reminds its readers that in l772, the Royal Marriages Act was passed. Its provisions are that the marriage of any “linear descendant of George II” is invalid unless royal consent is first obtained.

This poses a special problem in Buckingham Palace for two reasons. The Queen does not like Mrs. Parker Bowles, and she does not like Prince Charles. One would think that a neat way to accommodate these complementary dislikes would be to wish the two upon each other! But that can’t be done without also giving them, as a testamentary wedding present, the Crown. That Her Majesty is not disposed to do.

So can they just marry anyway? There is the problem of the Church. The upcoming Archbishop of Canterbury has indicated that he may not marry the two, because the law of his Church says: No marriage to a divorced person. That kind of objection is smiled away, in most auspices, Christian or secular; but the problem is more difficult in England because the sovereign is the principal official of the Church, indeed, he/she becomes the Defender of the Faith. Henry VIII cracked that problem, but 500 years down the line, the question opens up again.

But back to the other war; the Times noticed one or two anomalies. One of them was Rania Kashi, a 19-year-old Iraqi student at Cambridge who mailed her views of the war protests to Tony Blair, no less, and he read them out as having had great emotional force on him. Ms. Kashi was born in Kuwait after her parents fled there. The time came to flee again when the Iraqis forced Kuwait to repatriate the refugees. Little Miss Rania got out with her parents; not so her uncle, who was tortured and killed. In her letter to Prime Minister Blair, addressing the protesters, she wrote, “Saddam has murdered more than a million Iraqis over the past 30 years; are you willing to allow him to kill another million?” But the killer line was yet to come, at the end of her letter: “Of course, it would be ideal if an invasion could be undertaken, not by the Americans, but by, say, the Nelson Mandela International Peace Force. That’s not on offer. The Iraqi people cannot wait until such a force materialises.”

Everybody knows that the Crown cannot have an overt say in these matters of state. It was only very recently that the sovereign involved herself in civil matters. That was a couple of months ago when the Queen told the prosecution that she knew that the man being prosecuted for theft, Princess Diana’s former butler Mr. Paul Burrell, hadn’t rifled Diana’s leftovers, that in fact he had told her he was taking them away for safekeeping. The butler rushed to the press to provide details, one of them that he had indeed discussed the matter of Princess Diana’s things in a three-hour discussion with the Queen. But that elucidation had the effect of deflating the butler’s credibility because, as one royal analyst observed, the only object the Queen would conceivably devote three hours of her time to was her Corgis.

The newspaper gave details of the protest march, quoting the playwright Harold Pinter as saying that “the United States is a monster out of control.” And then, “The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the American political evangelist, chanted some mystifying slogans. The crowd, on the whole, did not chant back. He then asked everyone to pray.” The paper concluded its coverage with some “Number Crunching”: “99.96% — the number of Iraqis who voted for Saddam in l995. 100% — the number of Iraqis who voted for Saddam in 2002. 11,807 — The number of pages in Iraq’s dossier listing its weapons of mass destruction. 0 — the number of weapons of mass destruction that Iraq claims to possess.”


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