Prince Harry is just protecting his family
Two things have always fascinated me about attitudes to the British royal family. The first is how protective many people are about the monarchy as an institution and how vindictive many people are against ‘dissenting’ minor royals or royal in-laws. The other, specific to the Muslim community, is how many Muslims (including some scholars) regard the royal family as somehow embodying Islamic values and being a bulwark against modernity, and take a similarly harsh view of dissenters or those exploited by its behaviour. The first was something we saw in bucketloads when Prince Charles married Camilla Parker-Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall, who was well-known to always have been his choice of bride even before he married Lady Diana; the second was directed at Diana herself. We have seen both in the reaction to Prince Harry and his wife Meghan’s decision to step back from royal duties and attempt to become financially independent and not reliant on public money in their activities.
In reaction to their decision last week, there was a storm of outrage in both the sycophantic right-wing media (e.g. the Daily Telegraph) towards the couple who it turned out had not discussed the issue with the Queen (Harry’s grandmother) before making the announcement. Prince William was reported to have said that the two were from now on “separate entities” as if they had previously been joined at the hip. As examples of unequal media treatment of the mixed-race princess compared to Prince William’s white, middle-class princess Kate were being widely shared on social media, the TV presenter Eamonn Holmes told the nation on Talk Radio last week that though he had never met her, the mere look of her gave him the impression of an “awful, woke, weak, manipulative, spoilt” woman — ‘woke’ being African-American idiom for politically conscious, here used as a derogatory term meaning both politically correct and uppity. I read an article on the Daily Telegraph’s site about the National Trust planning to plant forests on much of the farmland it owns (meaning their tenant farmers will have to find somewhere else to graze their sheep), and they had five articles linked down the side to the effect that the royal family had done nothing wrong, that of course Meghan was not receiving racist treatment, that his ‘failure’ to consult the Queen was ‘unforgivable’, etc.
Harry was, of course, one of the two sons of Lady Diana who had to carry her coffin after she died in a car crash while being pursued by photographers on motorcycles in Paris in 1997. The blame for the crash is generally accepted to lie with the speeding driver, but the whole thing would not have happened but for the pursuing photographers hungry for a picture they could sell to a newspaper. I do not follow royal stories that closely but it is widely reported that Harry blames the press for his mother’s death and resents their continuing intrusion into his and his family’s lives and the often derogatory commentary on his wife’s appearance. I have seen someone on Facebook declare that of course Meghan has not had the same treatment as Diana; this is clear as she is still alive, and Harry understandably wants to keep her that way. Another social media ‘expert’ claimed that Meghan had exploited a ‘vulnerable’ young man and was now threatening to ‘steal’ him back to the USA or Canada. The fact is that Harry is a grown man and a former Army officer who can look after himself quite easily. Of course, losing his mother was traumatic but it was more than 20 years ago and it’s something that happens to a lot of people. Meghan has already given up her acting career to marry him, much as Grace Kelly did when she married the prince of Monaco (though hers was past its best). More egregiously, people openly call for the couple to divorce and speculate openly that this will happen soon. I have a hunch that some of the women saying this are envious of Meghan for marrying someone they might have had hopes, however unrealistic, of themselves marrying.
On Muslim social media, I saw a post by an imam which connected the “gradual disintegration of what seemed the impregnable House of Windsor ie the latest Prince Harry and Meghan drama etc” with “what is happening with what also seemed the impregnable ‘Islamic family’ concept”. This reminds me a lot of conservative Muslim authors in the 90s who praised the Windsor family (“staid but genuinely self-abnegating” according to Abdul-Hakim Murad) while suggesting that Lady Diana was not good enough for them; there was insistence that monarchy was a more Islamic form of government than representative democracy, and there were diatribes against republicanism and every modern ideology. The Turkish Sufi shaikh Muhammad Nazim was even quoted as claiming that Prince Charles was Muslim and that he would one day be king of America as well as Britain. On the contrary, the Windsors’ behaviour until recently was more in keeping with the worst stereotypes of Muslim family structures, treating marriage as a means to an end, i.e. producing heirs (preferably male), expecting heirs to enter loveless marriages if deemed necessary, and chewing brides up and spitting them out.
It is Harry, here, who is behaving more like a normal family man, acting to protect his wife and son from a predatory and prejudiced media, and the reaction of sections of the public have proved him right. He wants to become as self-sufficient as he can so that, not being dependent on public money, he and his family will not be considered public property. And of course he did not consult the Queen; most men in their 30s with a wife and children do not consult their grandmother before making major decisions about their families’ futures. He has given the public a big wedding spectacle at Windsor Castle but now wants future decisions about his family to be made by him and Meghan, not some committee at Buckingham Palace. He is not a direct heir to the throne; Prince William and all of his children would have to die (or renounce their claim to the throne) in the interim for him to become king, which is why he was allowed more leeway in whom he married and the name he gave his son than Wills would have been.
Personally, over the years I have moved from being firmly in favour of a republic to believing that the status quo, with some changes, is better; many republics in Europe cultivate founding myths and use them as excuses to oppress minorities, notably Muslims as in France whose every difference is held up as an incompatibility with the “values of the republic”. The problem now is that we are too deferential to wealth in this country; of our last five prime ministers, three were educated at elite private schools and the two that were not, governed for the shortest time. Any suggestion that this class has too much power is derided as the “politics of envy” while house prices and rents are allowed to spiral out of control to the benefit of existing owners (many of whom bought them cheaply in the post-war years) and financiers and the detriment of young people who cannot live anywhere near where they work. I have come to favour a figurehead republic similar to that of Germany or Ireland, where the president is elected but is not the executive in themselves. However, I forecast that this will not happen in the near future as the establishment moves to shore up the monarchy as the crown passes from Elizabeth II to Charles, who has nothing like the popular appeal and acceptance she does, so any hope of change is likely to have to wait until well after he succeeds her. However, the cruelty and intrusion of the press into the lives of younger royals in particular has long been cited as a major reason for reform, and the attitude of the popular press to Harry’s and Meghan’s decision last week will only strengthen that aspect of the case.
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