Joanna Williams Joanna Williams

Harry and Meghan’s glib Afghan statement

(Photo: Getty)

Finally, some news to cheer us all up on this grim, relentless August. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have been rendered ‘speechless’ by the news from Afghanistan and Haiti. No doubt, there’ll be no more Oprah interviews or birthday messages. And there’ll be no more lectures from Harry on the importance of imagining how it feels to be a raindrop or from Meghan on the importance of people asking her if she is okay.

At least, that’s what we should assume, right? Surely being left ‘speechless’ is a sign that you are about to shut up? Unless, of course, you are Harry and Meghan. In their world, being ‘speechless’ requires the release of a 200-word public statement.

What’s so frustrating about this word soup is that Harry could have something useful to say about Afghanistan

And so follows a tortured account of ‘the exceptionally fragile’ world that has reduced the pair to such loquacious muteness. It’s the pain in Afghanistan that leaves them ‘speechless’; the earthquake in Haiti that sees them ‘heartbroken’ and the ‘global health crisis’, complete with ‘constant misinformation’, that makes them ‘scared’. As they write:

‘The world is exceptionally fragile right now. As we all feel the many layers of pain due to the situation in Afghanistan, we are left speechless. As we all watch the growing humanitarian disaster in Haiti, and the threat of it worsening after last weekend’s earthquake, we are left heartbroken. And as we all witness the continuing global health crisis, exacerbated by new variants and constant misinformation, we are left scared. When any person or community suffers, a piece of each of us does so with them, whether we realize it or not. And though we are not meant to live in a state of suffering, we, as a people, are being conditioned to accept it. It’s easy to find ourselves feeling powerless, but we can put our values into action — together.’

When the world suffers, Harry and Meghan suffer. Indeed, their message is that a ‘piece of each of us’ suffers ‘whether we realise it or not’. And so the platitudes continue. We have grown used to hearing the couple’s banal sentiments expressed in elaborate rhetoric. But what jars is when their statements are so completely at odds with the wider context. Meghan’s complaint on her tour of southern Africa that no one had asked if she was okay made us groan because it was issued in one of the poorest nations on earth, not because we are unsympathetic to her mental health.

The suffering of the people in Afghanistan, Haiti and countries wracked by Covid does indeed touch us all. But these are complex issues exacerbated by historical, national and international politics, economics and natural disasters. None will be resolved through glib statements. Disease, conflict and natural disaster are ever-present and humanity is, arguably, better placed to deal with at least some of these things than ever before.

One thing this week’s official Archewell release undoubtedly succeeds in doing is to focus our attention on the Duke and Duchess. It is their ‘heartbreak’ and their ‘suffering’, rather than that of the people of Afghanistan or Haiti, that is foregrounded. The not-so-subtle message is that they are more sensitive and better informed than the rest of us. As always with Harry and Meghan, no matter the context, it feels like everything is about them.

What’s particularly frustrating about the pair’s latest word soup is that Harry could have something useful to say about the situation in Afghanistan or, at the very least, have a genuinely heartfelt sentiment to express. We know that Harry saw active military service in the country and, for this, he won the respect of many people around the world. He would have some justification for expressing solidarity with the Afghan people or sympathy with the families of personnel who lost their lives. It would be hard not to take such a statement seriously.

But to do this, Harry needs to step away from the schmaltz, the cliches and the vacuous platitudes. He needs to find a way to communicate that does not involve first putting his words through a PR spin-cycle. Whether Harry can circumvent the LA publicity machine that now engulfs him – whether Meghan will let him or, indeed, if he actually wants to do so – all remain to be seen. One thing’s for sure, issue more statements about being speechless and few of us will care.