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Jewish World Review July 30, 2002 / 21 Menachem-Av, 5762

Diana West

Diana West
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An unstable common ground | When Rowan Williams was appointed archbishop of Canterbury this week, the international press made much of the gray-bearded Welsh bishop's "outspokenness."

There was extensive coverage of his leftist opposition to the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan -- "embarrassing and morally tainted," he calls it -- and his publicly stated opinion that any future invasion of Iraq without a United Nations stamp of approval would be both "immoral and illegal." Various accounts also made clear that this new leader of the world's 70 million Anglicans is a big booster of the ordination of both women and homosexuals.

Is the new archbishop just an old arch-liberal? While his past as a former Vietnam War protester adds a corny, final touch to the stereotype, a spot of heresy mars this otherwise picture-perfect ultra-liberal orthodoxy. Turns out the Rev. Williams opposes abortion, even having denounced Britain's efforts to increase availability of the so-called "morning after" pill. Equally as interesting is that the lefty cleric's anti-abortion position has received scant coverage. While such doctrinal conservatism apparently fails to rate as a measure of the man's celebrated "outspokenness," it nonetheless raises the possibility for at least some common ground between the liberal cleric and the more conservative members of his flock.

There's more to his heterodoxy. Rowan Williams harbors a deep, dark distaste for what he calls "the Disney empire," which he castigates for prematurely turning children into consumers of a mass culture that, in turn, prematurely turns them into sexual beings. He's onto something here. I don't have much use for modern Disney with its garish aesthetic and its adherence to the PC pantheon, either. While I'd say Disney's most dubious contribution to Western civilization is a "Bambi"-driven enviro-motionalism that has harmed more than it has helped, I'll never forget when, as a new mother, I examined tot-sized pairs of Little Mermaid slippers -- plush little numbers out of which jutted plastic little mermaids -- and discovered (ack) plastic little cleavages.

Liberal parents might agree -- sort of. The ones I know will object to Disney's "ethnic stereotyping," and go on about the studio's "demeaning" roles for women. (At this point, I usually nod and say we don't watch much Disney, either.) Where I would look at the Little Mermaid slippers and see the sexualization of children, they would be appalled by the objectification of women. The end result, though, is the same; neither of us shoe our tots in these Disney duds. Thus, common ground is gained and held -- so long as you don't dig too deep -- and everybody plays in the same sandbox.

But if the slogan "Disney-haters of the world unite" has its eccentric appeal, such appeal is as limited as it is narrow. After all, these same liberal parents would vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton. Some of them did. Which calls into question the significance of these patchy sorts of cultural alliances. The new archbishop's position on abortion, for example, will unite conservative Anglicans, but what happens to unity should he use his new pulpit to push for homosexual marriage or to thwart the war against Islamist terrorism?

Such questions remain theoretical for the time being, but they raise another one in connection with a weird, new alliance that has come into existence over the past year between conservative-American Christian groups and Islamic governments at the United Nations. According to the Washington Post, conservative-American Christian non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, have sought political links with a bloc of more than 50 Islamic governments, including Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Libya, Iraq and Iran. Why? These American Christian groups have made common cause with some of the most repressive and anti-American regimes in the world -- ones that deny freedom of religion, speech and movement, condemn women to death for adultery and incarcerate homosexuals -- in order to team up to block the U.N. drive to expand homosexual and abortion rights.

"We look at them as allies, not necessarily as friends," a leader of a conservative Catholic organization told the newspaper. "We have realized that without countries like Sudan, abortion would have been recognized as a universal human right in a U.N. document."

Of course, without countries like Sudan, freedom from slavery, for example, might well have been recognized as a universal human condition by now, too. Which begs the question: Is there a point at which such fundamental differences render common ground -- even that of anti-abortion principles -- less than fruitful, if not altogether uninhabitable? Playground peace is one thing; is political alliance another? Something to think about.

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JWR contributor Diana West is a columnist and editorial writer for the Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Diana West