A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Henry V's England and Today's Islam


In the 1970's the Saudi regime and its Wahhabi clerics worked out an implicit deal. In exchange for leaving Saudi Arabia alone, Saudi money and resources would be made available for the dissemination of the Wahhabi version of Islam throughout the Islamic world. Madrassas would be built and funded, so long as their faculty were imported Wahhabis. Mosques would be built and funded, so long as their imams supported or did not oppose Wahabbism's extremist creed.

The deal bought the Saudi regime a generation of the Saudi version of domestic tranquility, such as it is. This truce was broken only recently when the mad dog terrorists began turning on their benefactors either in desperation or in a bid for greater cultural and financial blackmail, or both.

Something of what Saudi Arabia faced in the 1970's is reflected in what England faced in the early 1400's, as Shakespeare describes it in Henry V. As the play opens, the Archbishop of Canterbury is huddling with the Bishop of Ely over a tax bill proposed by the late Henry IV that if passed would confiscate church property (Temporal means used for secular purposes; esquires means gentry, one rank below knights; lazars means lepers; indigent means poor; corporal means physical) :

Ely: "But how, my lord, shall we resist it now?"

Cant: "It must be thought on. If it pass against us,
We lose the better half of our possession.
For all the temporal lands which men devout
By testament have given to the Church
Would they strip from us, being valued thus:
Full fifteen earls and fifteen hundred knights,
Six thousand and two hundred good esquires,
And, to relief of lazars and weak age
Of indigent faint souls past corporal toil,
A hundred almshouses right well supplied;
And to the coffers of the king besides
A thousand pounds by th' year. Thus runs the bill.

Ely: "That would drink deep."

Cant: "'Twould drink the cup and all."

How does the Archbishop and the church avoid this budget cutting fate? Why, by supporting Henry V's excellent military adventure in France:

Cant: "For I have made an offer to His Majesty,
Upon our spiritual convocation
And in regard of causes now in hand,
Which I have opened to his Grace at large,
As touching Farnce, to give a greater sum
Than ever at one time the clergy yet
Did to his predecessors part withal."

Ely: "How did this offer seem received, my lord?"

Cant: "With good acceptance of His Majesty…".

So the Archbishop is offering to finance Henry's war in exchange for Henry's agreement to not confiscate church property.

In Saudi Arabia the deal is similar, except that it is the state that is paying the church to export its militant ideology in exchange for domestic peace, such as it is. Apparently Wahhabism renders clerics more aggressive and expansionist than their own governments.

Here the Saudi regime, I mean Westmoreland and the Archbishop, informs its wealth-spoiled, honor-driven, hate-inspired Islamic radicals, I mean the King representing a bloodthirsty English nobility, that radical Islam, I mean an expansionist 15th century England, is spoiling for a fight:

West: "…Never king of England
Had nobles richer and more loyal subjects,
Whose hearts have left their bodies here in England
And lie pavillioned in the fields of France.

Cant: "O, let their bodies follow, my dear liege,
With blood, and sword, and fire to win your right!
In aid whereof we of the spiritualty
Will raise Your Highness such a mighty sum
As never dd theclergy at one time
Bring in to any of your ancestors."

King: "Sounds good to me!"

OK, I made up that last line, but Henry is persuaded to follow his bloodthirsty clerics, and his bloodthirsty populace, into war.

It may be sobering to note this parallel between today's radical Islamic culture and 15th century England. Both were newly wealthy, strongly nationalistic, driven by religious ideology and expansionist. Well, Bardseye would distinguish the radical Islamists for their emphasis on the slaughter of innocents - the pre-Shakespearean English settled for pillage and the occasional rape.

But otherwise, Islamic culture turns out to be not something new, but something all the more frightening in its familiarity; something old and something recurring, if not opposed.

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