The Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali stoked the flames of sectarianism in Britain this weekend when he blamed ‘Islamic extremism’ for the development of separateness and ghettos in some cities. This has been linked to the humble requests from some Muslims to be allowed to have the call to prayer amplified from the mosque.
Many have commented on the absence of evidence for his extraordinary claims. He has not fabricated evidence to try to associate Muslims and Islam with all things negative like a right wing think tank might, but seems to have just decided to abandon the use of hard evidence as the basis for his opinions.
The issues of separateness and societal cohesion are not matters unique to Britain or the Muslim community. The cultural ghettos of Paris have erupted into violence many times in the past few years. In the United States a black man who is wealthy and willing to utterly extricate himself from his community and assimilate in to the political classes could become president. Yet it still has deep rooted social and race problems producing its own inner city ghettos, so vividly uncovered by Hurricane Katrina.. Here in Britain, the monoculture in most of sub-urban and rural England and the very different monocultures that exist in places like Brixton, Stamford Hill and Southall have little to do with Islam. Although not all of these examples of separateness are problematic, all of them exist under secular capitalist systems. Indeed, one could strongly argue that the problematic cases are the inevitable products of these secular capitalist systems.
The Bishop seems to have forgotten the terrible racism that existed in Britain in the early 1970’s. Not so many years ago, bigoted voices in Britain would have argued that a Pakistani appointed as an Anglican Bishop would be a fundamental assault on the cultural fabric of Britain. Even critics of multiculturalism could be forgiven for raising an eyebrow that the Bishop has effectively joined the attack on the very policy that gave him some degree of acceptance.
His attack on Muslims could be seen as a defensive stance, to protect himself in a climate that labels asylum seekers, Muslims, Polish people and anything ‘foreign’ as a problem. A Bishop with a South Asian accent might well feel vulnerable at this time, when the politics of race and religion have been so interwoven with the politics of fear and terror.
More cynical observers might think that he merely follows in a line of a certain breed of clergyman who aspire to high office. Over the years the Church has seen many individuals who seek to achieve promotion through Machiavellian means. Knowing the mood in the country is hardening against anything ‘foreign’ in this ‘war on terror’ climate, and knowing that any future Archbishop of Canterbury is effectively a political appointee of the Prime Minister.
In either case, he is the Bishop of the moment. A beneficiary of multicultural policies but now inadvertently or otherwise aiding the aggressively assimilationist policies that have emerged since 2001. The right wing press and politicians adore brown faced commentators – some even Muslims – who have exotic eastern names like Ayan, Sookhdeo and Nazir-Ali, who have more licence to lambast Islam and Muslims than do white Anglo-Saxon protestant voices. They have become the tools behind which neoconservative policy makers and commentators can hide. It will be interesting for the Muslim community to see how many in the church distance themselves from this position.
Most Islamophobia is little more than xenophobia and has increased since the start of the war on terror. With succour from voices such as that of Bishop Nazir-Ali, it is likely to increase yet further.
Regardless of this, our organisation will continue its campaign of dialogue and debate to increase understanding of people’s differences and viewpoints to counter the on going negative war on terror propaganda, those who propagate it, and those who become drawn in by it.
Dr Abdul Wahid
Chairman UK Executive Committee