Tony Snow, on Fox, revealed that Britain�s Prince Charles wears Arab robes and reportedly opposes war with Iraq. Snow called him a �Windsor Cat Stevens.�
The mere suggestion that Prince Charles could be interested in Arab culture has of course raised all sorts of alarm bells. Note that Snow deliberately invoked Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) - a noted convert to Islam. It's unsurprising that already some in the blogsphere are chattering about Prince Charles' supposed conversion to the faith. Glenn updated his post with a photo of Charles wearing what looks to be (gasp!) Arab robes and headcovering (at left). The photo is from a breathless article in the UK ragsheet News of the World, which reveals that Charles actually reads the Qur'an daily and sometimes wears Islamic dress at home. I can imagine the consternation among the neocons already: The Windsors are Wahabis! UK to embrace the Sauds as dynastic brethren!
First, it is important to understand that Charles - recognizing that Muslims are a large and growing segment of his subjects - has done groundbreaking work in reaching out ot Islamic communities across Britain, fostering bonds and always emphasising loyalty and patriotism to the Crown. Apart from the vocal fools on the news, the vast majority of Britain's muslims are fiercely loyal to their nation and this is in large part to Charles' untiring efforts at recognizing them as valued contributors to the culture and diversity of Great Britain. Note that France makes no such outreach, seeing its Muslims as just nother pool of cheap labor. This may account for the lack of fraternite´ among French muslims for the tricolor.
Second, if Charles chooses to read the Qur'an, and wear Islamic dress in the privacy of his home, that is his business, just as his views on the impending Iraq war are. Drawing a causal link between these facts is unfair. What's next, demonizing the Shriners? But I have to doubt these claims anyway, given their source. The News of the World is just another weekly royal-bashing rag, and they are always looking for an interesting angle.
Third, the photo of Charles above is actually of the Prince wearing the topi, the headgear of my own community of Shi'a muslims, the Dawoodi Bohras. The "robes" in this photo are a ceremonial shawl draped around his shoulders (and over the Prince's immaculate tailored suit) by the head of the Bohra congregation in London - both topi and shawl were gifts to the Prince, on the occasion of his visit to the Bohra community's Masjid Al-Husainy complex in Northholt (a suburb of London) in 1996. You can see another photo of Charles in topi and shawl here (keep in mind that this was seven years ago).
On the occassion of the Prince's visit to the masjid complex, he planted a "unity tree" (an oak sapling) with the leaders of the community, to represent the loyalty and pride that the London Bohras take in being citizens of the United Kingdom. The tree also symbolizes the unity of Britain, with all its diversity. The Prince said during the ceremony:
What I really wanted to do today is offer my heartfelt congratulations for what you have all managed to achieve here with your community in building this great complex here. Your commitment to building this very special place of worship and something that is of such beauty is I think a credit to community.
I want to congratulate the Dawoodi Bohra Community on the contribution you make to the economic well-being and cultural diversity of the wider community here in the country. And having met a large number of you as I�ve been going round the mosque and having seen how many different businesses you have all started and grown, I am impressed by what you have managed to achieve. And if I may say so, you are a splendid example of the way I believe different cultures can learn to understand one another much better."
There are more details and photos of the Prince's visit in this special edition of the Asian Age newspaper, published for the occassion. In the same issue, there is a discussion of how the community has integrated into the UK and the ongoing commitment that the Bohras have to being citizens of Britain without sacrificing our beliefs and practices.
The Bohras are described in much more detail in the book Mullahs on the Mainframe by Jonah Blank (which I have previously reviewed). I also recommend this entry in the Oxford University Encyclopedia of Islam for a brief overview.
UPDATE: Atrios comments, and zizka has more. Matthew Yglesias asks what exactly am I defending Charles from? The answer is, from News of the World's insinuation that Charles' anti-war opinions (which reflects the general public opinion in Britain) are caused by his secret Arab (implied: Wahabi) sympathies. Since the photo is 1. seven years old, and 2. shows him wearing Bohra (Shi'a muslims ethnically from Gujarat, India) headgear and shawl, this is an unfair and out of conmtext characterization. News of the World chose that photo - which is really a symbol of Charles' outreach and vision - and used it to imply the exact opposite.
'NOTHER UPDATE: Glenn posted again, and Matt took the post down, which makes me feel bad, I didnt mean to pile on. It gave me motivation to clarify my own post, at least. Also, I didn't mean to offend Tiffany, who is miffed that I called her a chattering conservative - which if you read carefully above, you'll note that I didn't. No offense intended Tiffany, I'm sorry. But I'll address the conversion meme in a new post.