How can you be shaw?
ONE of the kinder things said about this column recently was by someone who likened me to George Bernard Shaw.You may know Shaw as the man who wrote the play Pygmalion, which is a classic school text as well as being the basis of the musical My Fair Lady.
ONE of the kinder things said about this column recently was by someone who likened me to George Bernard Shaw.
You may know Shaw as the man who wrote the play Pygmalion, which is a classic school text as well as being the basis of the musical My Fair Lady. If so, you may know him as a creator of pithy sayings - “I'm one of the undeserving poor, I can't afford morals”; “I don't want to talk grammar, I want to talk like a lady”; “not b****y likely!”
I hope the person who compared me with him was thinking of my wit, wisdom and sharp intelligence.
In most dictionaries of quotations, Shaw comes right after Shakespeare - and not just alphabetically.
He was a prominent and amusing writer for most of his 94 years, and had plenty to say about a lot of things.
A lifelong socialist, he was one of the founders of the modern Labour Party. It is well known that he remained a believer in Stalin, a fact which sometimes stains his memory.
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With hindsight it may be easy to see that Stalin ranked with Hitler as one of the monsters of history. At the time, however, many socialists failed to see it - at least partly because they so much wanted to believe.
And by 1946, when Uncle Joe's reputation really started to sink in the West, Shaw was 90, an age at which a little blindness is surely forgivable.
The true, murderous nature of Stalin was simply impossible to reconcile with his faith in essential human goodness.
I'm sure the same reason lay behind the aged Shaw's refusal to believe in the Nazis' systematic genocide of the Jews. He was not a conventional Holocaust denier. He certainly held no truck with Hitler and his kind. He just couldn't believe that human beings could be so wicked on such a scale.
As he said: “Hell is paved with good intentions, not bad ones. All men mean well.”
Some would say this is the essential difference between the political left and right.
The left-winger believes people are fundamentally good and only need the opportunity to prove it. The right believes people are essentially bad and need to restrained.
By this definition, Tony Blair, whose term in power has brought in more new laws than any other decade, is a rank right-winger.
I wonder what Shaw would have thought of Blair, and where he has taken his party.
And I wonder what he would have made of the modern direction of Islam.
In fact, as far as I can discover, Islam is one of the few subjects on which Shaw had nothing to say.
So why do I raise it? Because here is a warning to all of us who use the internet for research.
I stumbled recently across an argument about Islam, in which someone quoted this: “I believe that if a man like Mohammed were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world he would succeed in solving its problems in a way that would bring it much needed peace and happiness.”
Now this seemed to me a surprising thing for Shaw to have said. He was, after all, born an Irish Catholic and later become a convinced - and convincing - atheist.
So I Googled his name together with Islam and came up with a startling 3,250 pages linking them.
As far as I can see, they all contain similar “quotes”, some of greater length.
Put together, they suggest that Shaw advocated Muslim rule of Britain and Europe.
Whether you would rejoice in that prospect or fear it, it seems a most bizarre thing for Shaw even to think of, let alone welcome.
Yet there it is, widely spread and widely believed as a Shaw quote. It comes, apparently, from his book “The Genuine Islam”. Except that among the many books Shaw wrote, there was never one of that title or anything like it.
Did he, perhaps, as many serious websites seem to believe, contribute an article in 1936 to a magazine of that name?
Check on that magazine, without mention of Shaw in any form, and that too disappears.
As far as I can tell, it only exists in fantasy. The fantasy, or hoax, of someone who wanted the great Shaw to support their view of Islam.
Shaw may sometimes have been tedious, and sometimes (as on the subject of Stalin) just plain wrong.
On the subject of religion, though, he was pretty clear. And it happens to be one of the many subjects on which I agree with him: “The fact that a believer is happier than a sceptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.”
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