(Updated) A Pakistani-born Bishop in the Church of England has written that some areas of Britain have become so dominated by Islam that these areas are a "no-go" area for Christians and anyone who is not Muslim. His comments have prompted an angry response from Muslim groups in England who accuse him of fear mongering.
Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester, wrote in the Sunday Telegraph that,
In fewer than 50 years, Britain has changed from being a society with an acknowledged Christian basis to one which is increasingly described by politicians and the media as "multifaith".
One reason for this is the arrival of large numbers of people of other faiths to these shores. Their arrival has coincided with the end of the Empire which brought about a widespread questioning of Britain's role.
On the one hand, the British were losing confidence in the Christian vision which underlay most of the achievements and values of the culture and, on the other, they sought to accommodate the newer arrivals on the basis of a novel philosophy of "multiculturalism".
This required that people should be facilitated in living as separate communities, continuing to communicate in their own languages and having minimum need for building healthy relationships with the majority.
In addition to immigration and multi-culturalism, Nazir-Ali also blames the loss of consciousness of the Christian roots of British culture. He says it less "less possible for Christianity to be the public faith in Britain" because of the rise of multi-faith chaplaincies and programs that treat different faiths with the same favor.
Needless to say, Nazir-Ali's words have provoked a reaction.
(New:) Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, writing in the Independent, called his column a "rant" that uses "divisive rhetoric and stoking up hatred" which "cannot and should not be forgiven."
The nutter, I thought when first skimming through yet another fundamentalist intervention by the Bishop of Rochester, The Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, Pakistani son of Christian converts. Or maybe he is again seeking attention because he needs it so, sad guy that he is.
It could be his disappointment speaking – he never got to be an Archbishop, and possibly still thinks it should have been him when they were choosing the great men of York and Canterbury. Whatever his psychological flaws (and in true Islamic spirit I extend my sympathy to the brother), his latest rant in a right-wing newspaper cannot and should not be forgiven.
She says that his writing will inflame Britons justifiable concern over religiously driven terrorism into hatred, and that the Bishops words will "validate hostility." She also wonders why the Bishop has not addressed the question of violence against Eastern European immigrants in "white enclaves where Eastern Europeans are regularly beaten up and driven out by indigenous Brits." At the same time, she acknowledges that there is a segment of the Muslim community that is committed to another, more exclusive and radical vision of Islam.
He knows the nation is already edgy and suspicious of Muslims and that his words will validate the hostility. I do understand why so many non-Muslim Britons are wary of us. Islamicists pose real terrorist threats, and have successfully launched one terrible attack. There are indeed some localities where Wahabi Islam has taken a hold and imposed cultural separatism between those believers and the rest, including diverse other Muslims who are contentedly European. The power of the Wahabis – funded by our ropey friends the House of Saud – is frightening and growing. Some Muslim organisations are mad, bad and dangerous, make demands on the state that are unacceptable. They encourage total religious identification and self-exclusion. Readers know I detest this willed disconnect from the nation and its other citizens.
Read the rest here.
The Independent also reported other reactions:
Inayat Bunglawala, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, accused Dr Nazir-Ali of scaremongering.
"Bishop Nazir-Ali's remarks are quite frankly more like the kind of commentary we would have expected from the far-right BNP, not a responsible figure in the Church of England," he said. "Where are these so-called "no-go" areas that he speaks of? He doesn't say."
The Bishop cited the fact that several mosques have applied for permission from local authorities to broadcast the daily call to prayer using loudspeakers.
Those of a different faith or race may find it difficult to live or work there because of hostility to them. In many ways, this is but the other side of the coin to far-Right intimidation. Attempts have been made to impose an "Islamic" character on certain areas, for example, by insisting on artificial amplification for the Adhan, the call to prayer.
Such amplification was, of course, unknown throughout most of history and its use raises all sorts of questions about noise levels and whether non-Muslims wish to be told the creed of a particular faith five times a day on the loudspeaker.
Sheikh Imam Ibrahim Mogra, a Leicester-based imam who runs interfaith programs with Christian clergy, said he was very disappointed by the bishop's decision to criticize the call to prayer.
"I cannot understand why a man of faith would have a problem with God's name being called out in an increasingly non-religious society – it's beyond belief," he said. "We've had church bells ringing in our country for centuries and yet the character of our country is not really Christian, we are a predominantly non-religious society."
Reuters reports that there has been a wide-ranging debate in Britain over integration and radicalization among Britain's 1.8 million Muslims since four UK Muslims killed 52 people in suicide attacks in London in 2005.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has spoken of the need to integrate communities better and isolate extremists from the moderate majority of Muslims.
A spokesman for his Downing Street office had no comment on the bishop's remarks.
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said Nazir-Ali was "talking nonsense" and had no evidence to support his views.
"This is irresponsible scaremongering," an MCB spokesman said. "Where are these so-called areas that he's talking about?"
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said the idea of no-go areas was "a gross caricature of reality", while Conservative Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague told Sky News the bishop had "probably put it too strongly".
Bishop Nazir-Ali is president of the Network for Inter-faith Concerns of the Anglican Communion, but also has been known to play up the differences between Britain's various faiths. Some in the Muslim community believe that he can no longer be trusted to lead efforts at interfaith dialog. Others have accused him of whipping up hatred for Islam.
Mohammed Shafiq, a spokesman for the Ramadhan Foundation, a Muslim youth group, caalled on the bishop to resign. "His article is once again an attempt to whip up hatred against Muslims and cause division," he said.
Ajmal Masroor, spokesman for the Islamic Society of Great Britain, said: "It's nonsense. It's a distortion of reality. I believe our communities are far more integrated than they were 10 years ago. If the Church of England had an iota of fairness in their minds they would definitely take serious action."
Inayat Bunglawala, assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, accused the bishop of scaremongering. "Bishop Nazir-Ali appears to be exercised by what he perceives as the decline in the influence of Christianity upon this country, but trying to frantically scaremonger about Islam and Muslims seems to us to be a rather unethical way of trying to reverse this," he said.
An editorial in the Telegraph differs with Nazir-Ali on some points but lends support to his claim by saying that the problem is not religious difference, but a perceived misunderstanding of the nature of democratic procedure in Britain, the nature of the rule of law, and a resistence of the new groups to take on 'British values.'
In 2008, it is not necessary to be Christian to enjoy the full liberties of the British subject (and it has not been for at least 150 years). Although it may be the result of a Christian heritage, the British way of doing things today has little to do with commitment to a specific religion: those of different faiths, whether Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or whatever, are of course full members of any British society that is worth having and preserving. What is required, however, is commitment to the democratic procedures by which law is made in Britain, and to the laws those procedures produce.
That is not a commitment that excludes much - but it does exclude the idea that all "man-made", as opposed to "God-made", law is illegitimate. So it excludes, for example, the narrow theocratic extremism of the Islamist sects that insist that only laws which derive from the Koran or Islamic tradition should be obeyed or enforced, and that they must be allowed to rule their own communities by Koranic law.
Multiculturalism allowed narrow theocratic extremism of that kind to flourish in Britain. The Government has finally realised that this was a mistake, and has promised new policies based around inculcating "British values". That is a huge improvement on multi-culturalism, which did not even insist that immigrants learn English. But it has yet to dismantle the enormous bureaucracy dedicated to promoting multiculturalism, or the jobs of the thousands of officials that depend on it.
The government has been more circumspect in it's response but it is critical nonetheless.
A spokesman for the department of Communities and Local Government said most Muslims found the views of extremists "completely abhorrent".
He said: "The overwhelming majority of Muslims are peaceful, make a huge contribution to British life and find the views of a small minority of violent extremists completely abhorrent. Britain also has a proud tradition of different communities living together side by side. But we are not complacent - the Government has completely re-balanced its community cohesion strategy putting far greater emphasis on promoting integration and shared British values (as the Bishop acknowledges in his article)."
Read Nazir-Ali's column here
and the editorial in the Telegraph here.
Here is the Reuters article and here is the Press Association reaction piece.
Hat tip to Thinking Anglicans for gathering the material on this here and here.
New: Ekklesia said this.
Inclusive Church says Bp Nazir-Ali undermines the work of the Church of England here.