On her 18th birthday, in 1944, one year before World War Two ended, Queen Elizabeth, who was a princess then, joined the war efforts as a mechanic in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), the women’s branch of the British Army.
Her biographers all agree that she insisted on joining the army. It is clear thus that her world view, as she succeeded her father George VI on February 6, 1952, was shaped by the war. Her earlier years on the throne may have been focused on the rebuilding of her country and Europe following the destruction caused by WWII, but the memories of the war seemed to have occupied a good part of her thinking.
She saw the war against Hitler’s Germany as just — henceforth her insistence on joining the war efforts. But that may have influenced her later to go along with the war designs of Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair and Boris Johnson. The victim countries of most of those conflicts have been Arab or Muslim.
British monarchs of course don’t have an executive role; thus the Queen may have had no actual policy-making role in those decisions. But she yielded a grand influence on her country’s domestic and foreign policy. I assumed she thought those wars were just too.
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In contrast, her son, Charles III who was proclaimed King on the weekend, opposed some of those wars. He was outspoken in his opposition to the war on Iraq in 2003 to the degree that annoyed Prime Minister Tony Blair who preferred to toe the line of US President George W. Bush.
Charles was born in 1948, three years after the end of WWII. He grew up during the Cold War years. Just like everybody else, he dreaded the thought of a nuclear war. That may have had a great influence in shaping his world view. But there is another significant factor in his opposition to belligerence and loathing for waging wars on Arab and Muslim countries, namely his fascination with Islam.
His remarkable interest in the religion of 1.8 billion people goes back to the early 1980s when the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies was established in 1985 and Charles became its ‘Patron’.
UK’s strong ties with Muslim world
Britain continues to have strong ties with the Muslim world. For more than two centuries, until the early 1970s, Britain had ruled dozens of Arab and Muslim countries in Asia and Africa, including such major areas such as India, Egypt and the Arabian Gulf. Charles probably chose that angle for his world view rather than the horrors of WWII that greatly influenced the thinking of his departed mother.
He clearly shuns the idea that Islam and Christianity are on a collision course and reject the idea East vs West. It is clear, from countless speeches and interviews, that the new British monarch believes Islam has had a significant and positive role in the evolution and rise of Europe.
During a visit to Egypt’s Al Azhar in 2006, Charles reminded the audience that “we in the West are in debt to the scholars of Islam, for it was thanks to them that during the Dark Ages in Europe the treasures of classical learning were kept alive.”
We should remember that he gave this speech, called ‘Unity in Faith’, at the height of the global tension, fuelled by Bush’s war on terror that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Bush was accused of waging a new crusade.
Charles most probably saw that his duty was to remind everybody that both worlds have more in common than Bush or the Bin Ladens of this world would want us to believe. And that was hardly the first time Charles contradicted the zealous right wing politicians and scholars in the West to highlight the close connection between the West and Islam.
Clash of civilisations
Years before Samuel Huntington’s call for a ‘clash of civilisations’, Charles, in 1993, said in a long speech titled ‘Islam and the West’” at Oxford, that “if there is much misunderstanding in the West about the nature of Islam, there is also much ignorance about the debt our own culture and civilisation owe to the Islamic world.”
That Western ignorance about the influence of Islam on Europe stems “from the straitjacket of history which we have inherited. The medieval Islamic world, from Central Asia to the shores of the Atlantic, was a world where scholars and men of learning flourished. But because we have tended to see Islam as the enemy of the West, as an alien culture, society and system of belief, we have tended to ignore or erase its great relevance to our own history.”
His relationship with Islam isn’t just words of praise either. To the surprise of his advisers and the royal circle, Charles in 2008 founded Mosaic, an organisation that provides “mentoring for the young and disadvantaged in the Muslim community in the UK.”
The group also helps non-Muslims living in such areas as London, the Midlands and Yorkshire. Mosaic’s website says the charity has arrangements with more than 50 UK schools to provide mentoring, support and exclusive educational opportunities to their students. In addition, the new King helps and cooperates with dozens of Muslim charities and foundations around the world to provide aid, education and work opportunities for the poor and disadvantaged communities.
For 73 years, King Charles lived under the grandiose shadow of his mother, the longest reigning monarch in the world until her death. His influence may have been curtailed by the fact that he was a heir to the throne. But as King, Charles in expected to bring his worldview and philosophy to action as he takes the reign in a more diverse and multicultural kingdom than the one Queen Elizabeth had inherited in 1952.
He may very well be a bridge between the West and the Islamic world. He will for sure be a strong voice for integration and cooperation against the rising right wing and ultranationalist trends in Europe and the United States.