I have never warmed to Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, son of a Pakistani convert. He has about him a haze, nay a halo, of Christian sanctimony and superiority. This week he opined: "Characteristic British values have developed from the Christian faith and its vision of personal and common good. After they were clarified by the Enlightenment they became the bedrock of political life. These values need to be recovered to help us inculcate the virtues of generosity, loyalty, moderation and love."
See what I mean? The Enlightenment was never a period of Christian clarification, but of intensely intellectual contestation between old religious authority and humanism, science and superstition, despotism and incipient democratic idealism. It is only by ignoring the crimes committed in the name of past and current Christianity that Bishop Nazir-Ali can claim what he sincerely does about his faith. His proclamations are as spun and unreal as an enticing advert for a new car.
They were aired during a newspaper interview in which he also criticised those vocal Muslims who use victimhood to extend their domination over British public life. This is a criticism I would concur with, except I can't because the Bishop is enlisted into a new crusade. We could have a terrific argument, the Bishop and I, or the Bishop and any number of Muslims who feel his anxieties but are repelled by his blind faith. We should be able to joust with these adversaries, only we can't. For as soon as any such possibility arises, the bearded and veiled troops of official British Islam hold the nation to ransom.
So it is again that Abdul Bari, general secretary of the most powerful garrison, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), warns with grim predictability that the Bishop should not have spoken as he has because it causes discord and damages "community relations". Under the delicately expressed words lie unspoken threats that even more militancy will be unleashed unless we all agree to a conspiracy of silence over anything Muslim.
These censors live in a developed democracy but want to disable its engine, which runs on verbal dissent and civilised deliberations.
I have just seen a joint statement issued on the MCB web-site, signed by a motley lot, all men (I think), all claiming to be the voice of true Islam. Sent to me by a Muslim doctor and several other worried, educated Muslims, it is one of the most disturbing documents I have ever come across. Go read it for yourself on www.mcb.org.uk and search for "veil".
The signatories command us Muslims to always be "united" whatever our differences and condemn those they believe "create disunity within the Muslim community". They kindly explain this condemnation, using the recent national argument over the niqab: "The veil, irrespective of its specific juristic rulings is an Islamic practice and not a cultural or customary one as is agreed by the consensus of Muslim scholars. It is not open to debate. [my emphasis] We advise all Muslims to exercise extreme caution in this issue since denying any part of Islam may lead to disbelief."
The statement quotes the Koran selectively and uses its holy words menacingly: "We recognise the fact that Muslims hold different views regarding the veil but we urge all members of the Muslim community to keep the debate within the realms of scholarship amongst people of knowledge and authority in the Muslim community . …