The Secret Islamicization of Britain?

This blog has not become a vehicle for conspiracy theories or religious hatred, but the title of today’s post picks up on something that is becoming a common media theme: the Islamicization of Britain by stealth. First we had stories about schools in the Birmingham area being targeted by Islamic fundamentalists in so-called Trojan Horse attempts to secure control; now we learn that many British supermarkets and fast-food chains are selling halal meat without labelling it as such. There is a feeling that this is not quite above board and many (including some Muslims) have expressed dismay that it will stoke existing fears and lead to further misunderstandings. The supermarkets and fast-food chains may have misjudged the public mood in their pursuit of profit, but have they unwittingly highlighted something that should concern us all and which has implications far beyond questions of how schools are run or meat is prepared?

You may remember that last year Channel 4 broadcast the Muslim call to prayer during Ramadam. At the time, many welcomed it as indicative of the religious pluralism that is now a mark of British society. Others were more neutral, wondering whether it was a sign of ‘special treatment’ hard to justify to other religious groups; a few were very hostile indeed. Today many would argue that while one can choose whether or not to listen to a broadcast, there is much less choice about where to send one’s child to school, and none at all about what one eats if the packaging/menu does not give the relevant information. So, it is not only the perceived underhandedness of this latest ‘scandal’ that is the problem, it is the lack of control and the fear it engenders. That feeds into all kinds of other fears — of State surveillance, E.U. bureaucracy, even the break-up of the Union. But it has an extra piquancy because, like it or not, many people in this country see Islam as an alien and often negative force. The activities of the Boku Haram in Nigeria, for example, are cited as just another instance of the cruelty and injustice many associate with contemporary Islam. Even as one objects that not many Muslims would identify with its aims, one must also acknowledge the reality of the sense of hurt and grievance people feel.

It is for Muslims to prove to the rest of the world that the behaviour of groups like Boku Haram is at odds with the teachings of Islam, but I think Christians also have a duty to ensure that there are no knee-jerk reactions of hatred and fear. The historically-minded may like to think back to the anti-Jewish movements of the earlier twentieth century and the importance of Christian defence of Jews. It wasn’t always what, with hindsight, one thinks it should or could have been, but without those instances of sometimes heroic courage and determination to see truth and justice prevail, things could have been much worse. We have a duty to protect our neighbours and see that they are not made victims of prejudice and fear. But we need to do more than that. I’d argue that it is not the secret Islamicization of Britain we need to worry about so much as the sometimes very public disintegration of social cohesion and concern that is becoming characteristic of Britain today. The banking and political scandals of recent years did not arise out of a vacuum. They proceeded from a selfish and immoral preoccupation with ‘what’s good for me’. They too were underhand. Maybe a forkful of halal meat could prompt us to do some serious thinking about bigger and more weighty matters — such as society itself and the ways in which responsibility and accountability are managed? I hope so.


Murdering Children

Many of you will have read this brief report of an attack on a school in north-eastern Nigeria, It is on page 5 of the BBC website, which in itself is a little shocking, but more shocking still is what the report reveals of human nature. That anyone could think it a good or Godly act to burn children alive as they slept, or to shoot them as they tried to escape, beggars belief. All this in the hope of creating an Islamic state in the north of  Nigeria!

Inevitably, those who think in terms of violence and hatred will let rip with the usual diatribes against Islam; and, if one is honest, one may find oneself secretly agreeing with some of their condemnations. But note what I said about what the violence reveals about human nature. When I was much younger, a Jewish friend of mine, who had survived Buchenwald, said, very seriously, that what we all needed to learn was that the concentration camps and the death camps were not about what Nazis could do to Jews, but what human beings could do to one another. In other words, before we start pinning violence on to an ideology, we have to look at the hearts of those who embrace the ideology. The violence is already there. The ideology merely provides an ‘excuse’.

I find that a sobering thought. This morning, as we pray for the children and teacher killed in Mamudo, for their families  and those who are in shock, let us also look at the violence in our own hearts and resolve to root it out. We have a choice. Let it be for life, not death.

Although this subject will stir up strong feelings, please remember that this blog is NOT the place to express hatred or violence. Comments that fail to abide by the standards of courtesy and mutual respect will not be tolerated.


Prejudice and Fear

Last night I listened to part of the World Service and learned that another Catholic church in Nigeria had been burned to the ground by Islamist extremists. It reminded me that when I last saw Mother Charles of Enugu (a Benedictine community of nuns) she remarked, very quietly, that she was expecting her community to be martyred. Expected it! I think we in the west sometimes forget that our fear of a terrorist attack, though real, is light years removed from the daily reality of many Christians in Africa, India and the Middle East.

As the fireworks burned and blazed last night in memory of 5 November, I couldn’t help reflecting that very little has changed in over four hundred years. The name of the enemy may have changed, but we continue to be afraid of the ‘other’. Whether we live in Nigeria or New Jersey, London or Lagos, we feel our vulnerability. The only difference is that we in the west have security forces which devote considerable time and energy to trying to keep us safe, irrespective of our opinions and beliefs. Perhaps today we could remember all those who don’t enjoy that kind of security, who fear the corruption of police or army and who live with an ever-present fear of being bombed or butchered by their fellow citizens.