Jonathan Wynne-Jones, London Telegraph, January 7, 2008
Islamic extremists have created “no-go” areas across Britain where it is too dangerous for non-Muslims to enter, one of the Church of England’s most senior bishops warns today.
The Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester and the Church’s only Asian bishop, says that people of a different race or faith face physical attack if they live or work in communities dominated by a strict Muslim ideology.
Bishop Nazir-Ali warns that attempts are being made to give Britain an increasingly Islamic character
The Muslim Council of Britain today described his comments as “frantic scaremongering”, while William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, said the bishop had “probably put it too strongly”.
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said the idea of no-go areas was “a gross caricature of reality”.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Bishop Nazir-Ali compares the threat to the use of intimidation by the far-Right, and says that it is becoming increasingly difficult for Christianity to be the nation’s public religion in a multifaith, multicultural society.
His comments come as a poll of the General Synod—the Church’s parliament—shows that its senior leaders, including bishops, also believe that Britain is being damaged by large-scale immigration.
Bishop Nazir-Ali, who was born in Pakistan, gives warning that attempts are being made to give Britain an increasingly Islamic character by introducing the call to prayer and wider use of sharia law, a legal system based on the Koran.
In an attack on the Government’s response to immigration and the influx of “people of other faiths to these shores”, he blames its “novel philosophy of multiculturalism” for allowing society to become deeply divided, and accuses ministers of lacking a “moral and spiritual vision”.
Echoing Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Equalities and Human Rights, who has said that the country is “sleepwalking into segregation”, the bishop argues that multiculturalism has led to deep divisions.
David Davis, the shadow home secretary, has accused Muslims of promoting a kind of “voluntary apartheid” by shutting themselves in closed societies and demanding immunity from criticism.
In the Synod survey, to be published this week, bishops, senior clergy and influential churchgoers said that an increasingly multi-faith society threatens the country’s Christian heritage and blamed the divisions on the Government’s failure to integrate immigrants into their communities.
It found that more than one in three believe that a mass influx of people of other faiths is diluting the Christian nature of Britain and only a quarter feel that they have been integrated into society.
The overwhelming majority—80 per cent—said that the Government has not upheld the place of religion in public life and up to 63 per cent fear that the Church will be disestablished within a generation, breaking a bond that has existed between the Church and State since the Reformation.
Calls for disestablishment have grown following research showing that attendance at Mass has overtaken the number of worshippers at Church of England Sunday services.
Bishop Nazir-Ali, whose father converted from Islam to Catholicism, was criticised by Ibrahim Mogra, of the Muslim Council of Britain. He said: “It’s irresponsible for a man of his position to make these comments.
“He should accept that Britain is a multicultural society in which we are free to follow our religion at the same time as being extremely proud to be British. We wouldn’t allow ‘no-go’ areas to happen. I smell extreme intolerance when people criticise multiculturalism without proper evidence of what has gone wrong.”
But the Bishop’s concerns are shared by other members of the General Synod.
The Rt Rev Nicholas Reade, the Bishop of Blackburn, which has a large Muslim community, said that it was increasingly difficult for Christians to share their faith in areas where there was a high proportion of immigrants of other faiths.
He believes that increasing pressure will be put on the Government to begin the process of disestablishment and end the preferential status given to the Church of England. “The writing is on the wall,” he said.
Gordon Brown relinquished Downing Street’s involvement in appointing bishops in one of his first facts as Prime Minister—a move viewed by some as a significant step towards disestablishment.
Last night, Mr Davis said: “Bishop Nazir-Ali has drawn attention to a deeply serious problem. The Government’s confused and counter-productive approach risks creating a number of closed societies instead of one open, cohesive one. It generates the risk of encouraging radicalisation and creating home-grown terrorism.”
Inayat Bunglawala, assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “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 talks about the rise of ‘Islamic extremism’ but fails to mention how some of the policies of our government and especially that of the United States in the Middle East over several decades now has clearly contributed to this phenomenon.”
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.
Alongside these developments, there has been a worldwide resurgence of the ideology of Islamic extremism. One of the results of this has been to further alienate the young from the nation in which they were growing up and also to turn already separate communities into “no-go” areas where adherence to this ideology has become a mark of acceptability.
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.
This is happening here even though some Muslim-majority communities are trying to reduce noise levels from multiple mosques announcing this call, one after the other, over quite a small geographical area.
There is pressure already to relate aspects of the sharia to civil law in Britain. To some extent this is already true of arrangements for sharia-compliant banking but have the far-reaching implications of this been fully considered?
It is now less possible for Christianity to be the public faith in Britain.
The existence of chapels and chaplaincies in places such as hospitals, prisons and institutions of further and higher education is in jeopardy either because of financial cuts or because the authorities want “multifaith” provision, without regard to the distinctively Christian character of the nation’s laws, values, customs and culture.
Not only locally, but at the national level also the establishment of the Church of England is being eroded. My fear is, in the end, nothing will be left but the smile of the Cheshire Cat.
In the past, I have supported the establishment of the Church, but now I have to ask if it is only the forms that are left and the substance rapidly disappearing. If such is the case, is it worth persevering with the trappings of establishment?
Much of this has come about because of a “neutral” secularist approach which refuses to privilege any faith. In fact, secularism has its own agenda and it is certainly not neutral. It is perfectly possible for Britain to welcome people on the basis of its Christian heritage.
Christian chaplains can arrange for people of other faiths to have access to their own spiritual leaders without compromising the Christian basis of their own ministry.
Instead of this, the multifaith “mish mash” is producing a new, de facto, establishment as the Government attempts to bring particular communities on to its agenda for integration and cohesion, an agenda which still lacks the underpinning of a moral and spiritual vision.
If it had not been for the black majority churches and the recent arrival of people from central and eastern Europe, the Christian cause in many of our cities would have looked a lost one.
At last it seems the Government may be waking up to the situation; to the importance of English as a means of communication, to greater integration in housing, schools, and leisure pursuits and in citizenship education.
But none of this will be of any avail if Britain does not recover that vision of its destiny which made it great. That has to do with the Bible’s teaching that we have equal dignity and freedom because we are all made in God’s image.
It has to do with a prophetic passion for justice and compassion and it has to do with the teaching and example of Jesus Christ regarding humility, service and sacrifice. Let us pledge in this New Year to restore this noble vision to the centre of our national life.