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[Rt. Rev. and Rt. Hon. Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester and member of the House of Lords, holds dual citizenship of Britain and Pakistan. See his Dioceses biography and Wikipedia entry.
Islamic radicalism did not begin with Muslim grievances over Western foreign policy in Iraq or Afghanistan. It has deep roots, going back to the 13th-century reformer Ibn Taimiyya, through Wahhabism to modern ideologues such as Sayyid Qutb in Egypt or Maududi in Pakistan.
The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan gave it the cause it was looking for, and Afghanistan became the place where Muslim radicals were trained, financed and armed (often with Western assistance).
The movements that were born or renewed do not have any kind of centralised command structure, but co-operate through diffuse networks of affinity and patronage. One of their most important aims is to impose their form of Islam on countries such as Pakistan, Egypt, Malaysia and Indonesia. This may be why they were not regarded as an immediate threat to the West. Their other aims, however, include the liberation of oppressed Muslims in Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya and elsewhere, and also the recovery of the Dar Al-Islam (or House of Islam), in its historic wholeness, including the Iberian peninsula, the Balkans and even India.
In this cause, the rest of the world, particularly the West, is Dar al-Harb (House of War). These other aims clearly bring such movements into conflict with the international community and with Western interests in particular.
So how does this dual psychology — of victimhood, but also the desire for domination — come to infect so many young Muslims in Britain? When I was here in the early 1970s, the practice of Islam was dominated by a kind of default Sufism or Islamic mysticism that was pietistic and apolitical. On my return in the late 1980s, the situation had changed radically. The change occurred because successive governments were unaware that the numerous mosques being established across the length and breadth of this country were being staffed, more and more, with clerics who belonged to various fundamentalist movements.
There were no criteria for entry, no way of evaluating qualifications and no programme for making them aware of the culture that they were entering. Until quite recently, ministers and advisers did not realise the scale of the problem, even though it was repeatedly brought to their attention. Secondly, in the name of multiculturalism, mosque schools were encouraged and Muslim pupils spent up to six extra hours a day learning the Koran and Islamic tradition, as well as their own regional languages. Finally, there are the grievances. Some of these are genuine enough, but the complaint often boils down to the position that it is always right to intervene where Muslims are victims (as in Bosnia or Kosovo), and always wrong when they may be the oppressors or terrorists (as with the Taliban or in Iraq), even when their victims are also mainly Muslims.
Given the world view that has given rise to such grievances, there can never be sufficient appeasement, and new demands will continue to be made. It is clear, therefore, that the multiculturalism beloved of our political and civic bureaucracies has not only failed to deliver peace, but is the partial cause of the present alienation of so many Muslim young people from the society in which they were born, where they have been educated and where they have lived most of their lives. The Cantle Report, in the wake of disturbances in Bradford, pointed out that housing and schools policies that favoured segregation, in the name of cultural integrity and cohesion, have had the unforeseen consequence of alienating the different religious, racial and cultural groups from one another.
A very significant number of policies will have to be rethought. In this, the Government will need expert help. There must be greater encouragement for moderate Muslim voices to be heard more clearly. All religious leaders, representing any faith, wanting to work here, must be required to show that they are properly qualified, can speak English and are willing to undertake courses in adaptation to culture in this country: a number of suitable institutions offer such courses. Immigration policy should be shaped in such a way as to be able to discover whether potential immigrants have sympathy for characteristically British values and for the way of life here.
The cultural heritage of people who come here must be respected. They should be able to take pride in their language, literature, art and spiritual background. At the same time, if they are to adjust to life in this country, they should be prepared to live in mixed communities, and not on their own. Their children should attend school along with those who come from the host culture, or from other cultures and traditions. They should be willing to learn through the medium of English and to be socially mobile, rather than “ghetto-ised” on the basis of religion, language or culture.
Politicians keep talking about the need to teach British values so that there can be national cohesion. But what are these values, and whence do they come? The most fundamental of these has to do with the innate dignity of all human beings, with fundamental equality, with liberty and with safety from harm. Those learning such values will know how to respect the dignity of people who are quite different from them in appearance, language or belief.
They will not see themselves as superior because of their religious or cultural roots, but regard every human life as of equal worth. They will be committed to freedom of belief and of expression. They will know that their fellow citizens have the right to safety from harm and that this extends not only to individual security, but also the safety of those institutions, such as democracy or a free press, that make liberty possible and actual.
Values, however, are not free-standing; they are deeply rooted in a vision of society. Whether we like it or not, characteristic British values arise out of the Christian faith and its vision of personal and common good. These were clarified by the Enlightenment and became the bed-rock of our modern political arrangements. The Enlightenment, however, by consigning Christianity to the private sphere, also removed the basis and justification for these values in the public sphere.
It is this basis and justification that needs to be recovered if our values are to be secure, and if they are to help inculcate the virtues of generosity, loyalty, moderation and love that lead to personal fulfilment and social wellbeing.
The author is the Bishop of Rochester.
(Posted on August 17, 2006)