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Irene Lancaster: Williams Speech “Like a Hitler Rally”

More than enough has already been written about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s ruminations on shariah and the problem of conscience in conflict with the state, so I’ll keep things brief. I haven’t waded through all the commentary systematically, but my views are close to those of Justin McKeating at Chicken Yoghurt and Tom at Blairwatch, who radically actually read Williams’ speech and noted its theoretical underpinnings in the work of Ayelet Shachar. Williams’ suggestions are arguable, but the level of debate has been an embarrassment.

The most discreditable commentary I’ve seen inevitably comes from the absurd Irene Lancaster:

Of course I’ve read the original speech, plus the amended material…I don’t care how erudite, numerous or conciliatory the audience was. To me it sounds like a Hitler rally, in which Hitler also received standing ovations from the learned academics, lawyers and clerics of the day…

Lancaster goes on to list her academic credentials as evidence as to why this assessment is true. Lancaster was responding to an email from Lambeth Palace – hopefully it will now finally dawn on the PR people there that this is not a person to be taken seriously, nor is it someone who can be dealt with in a rational manner.

I’ve blogged Lancaster a couple of times in the past (here and here), and it is only reluctantly that I return to the subject now. Lancaster is a fairly average UK academic now living in Israel; she emerged as a pundit on Jewish affairs a couple of years ago and became the inter-faith advisor for the organisation now known the Anglican Friends of Israel (run by individuals connected with the Libertarian Alliance and the 1980s “libertarian” Tory right). Lancaster used her new-found fame to denounce critics of Israel as anti-Semites and to demand that a pro-Palestinian public speech be banned, but as her rhetoric has become increasingly unhinged it seems that most journalists (Ruth Gledhill remains a true believer) have decided increasingly to give her a wide berth; just recently she was complaining that the BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen had found an excuse not to meet her. In a typically self-regarding email – which she posted online and then removed – she berates Bowen thus:

…as I recall you told me when you would be in Israel and asked me to contact you then. When I did, various excuses were given not to meet, including the faintly ridiculous one that you wouldn’t be coming to Haifa…I have managed to travel down to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to meet other members of the British media, and have always found such meetings mutually beneficial. Some of them even bought me lunch (and kosher at that!!)…You are regarded by the BBC as playing an objective role in getting the facts of the situation here across to the license payer. However, you are the only journalist from any organisation who has refused to meet me when asked even though, in the first instance it was you who suggested that I get in touch on a specific date…

Bowen had written to Lancaster, enigmatically, that

[you said] I had agreed to meet you in Israel but cancelled using a fatuous excuse. I think both you and I know that is not strictly accurate.

Given that Lancaster has lived in Israel for less than two years and is an expert in medieval Jewish manuscripts from Spain, one wonders why any journalist would feel the need to consult her on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And given her tendency to make weird insinuations against some journalists she has met (the case of Giles Fraser comes to mind) or seen (the head of BBC Radio religious broadcasting), there are good reasons to avoid her.

(Incidentally, Israel has shariah courts…)

5 Responses

  1. She sure undermines her causes by such over the top language. Having read Williams lecture, it is nothing like a Hitler rally. And the suggestion of anti semitism is crazy. Indeed it is Ms Lancaster’s methods of debate that most align to the totalitarian mentality.

  2. I think that most of us have long since ceased to treat most of what she writes with a large pinch of salt – she is now being increasingly discredited in the Jewish community here in the UK who are increasingly embarrassed by her self-opinionated academic status (most real academics of merit don’t need to continual state their credentials), her ill-informed comments on individuals she hardly knows (I have been tarred by this inhinged Lancaster brush personally)and her rather crining claims to direct access to leading Christians.

    It used to be interesting to challenge her contributions on blogs such as Ruth Gledhill’s but she now simply discredits Ruth herself which is really sad.

    Sooner or later Lambeth and others will realise that now purpose is served by continuing links. Guessing who the author of the Lambeth email is I shall suggest that directly.

  3. The psychology is fascinating: Lancaster was put in a position where what she said carried some weight with the media and with some public figures, and the sense of power went completely to her head. Judging by her lack of media presence in recent months, though, I think she must have blown it. I’m sure that some of her supporters and political comrades, even if they won’t admit it, must be privately embarrassed by her.

  4. To be fair to Irene, I genuinely believe she is a nice person. The problem as I see it is that by being given a high profile role in interfaith work, she now seems to be using that as a weapon to hit others – particularly the Anglican Church and Muslims.

    Anyone who then says something she disagrees with is anti-semitic and also stands against the luminaries on ‘her side’ including Lord Carey, Andrew White, the Dalai Lama and so on.

    Last time I spoke with her at any length, she set out to disprove things I saw with my own eyes and was insistent that I buy her book on the history of Jewish intolerance in Europe even though I am not an academic and have no interest in attempting to plough through an academic tome. It is really hard to communicate with someone as blinkered as that, member of the British Academy or no.

  5. […] which allows for various kinds of private arrangements. And some months before that, Rowan Williams opined that some recognised shariah courts might be […]

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