NAZIR-ALI, MICHAEL, 2012, TRIPLE JEOPARDY FOR THE WEST: AGGRESSIVE SECULARISM, RADICAL ISLAMISM AND MULTICULTURALISM, BLOOMSBURY, LONDON, 195PP, £10.99, PB
Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali considers the impact that aggressive secularism, radical Islamism and multiculturalism are having on the Western world, and particularly Britain. He argues that, because of the rejection of the Judeo-Christian foundations which have shaped so much of the national narrative, these three seemingly diverse pressures are a profound threat to British life. While never denying the deep contribution of varied ethnic, national and religious communities to public life, Bishop Nazir-Ali argues that their stories need to relate to being in Britain and should not be used as an excuse for withdrawal and separation. He suggests that the task of the State should be more than simply balancing the competing interests of different groups, but that it must provide a moral vision for the common good, using the moral and spiritual legacy of Britain’s heritage as its foundations. Considering the areas of society, religion, science and politics, this book asserts that it would be foolish and premature to give up on the Christian foundations which may make the achievement of the equality, justice and freedom sought in our society possible. (from Amazon.com)
By Dr Richard McCallum, Fellow, Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies
For those who have read Nazir-Ali’s books and articles over the years there is nothing here that will come as a surprise. Indeed several of the chapters are reprints of previously published texts and portions of others will seem familiar from previous books. What is new is the urgency with which he writes. He is speaking into a particular moment of history and is imploring action by those with influence in this nation.
Unfortunately, this book does not present a satisfying logical progression of thought and reads as a series of short related and overlapping essays. Basics definitions are missing and there is a lot of repetition of ideas that could easily be rectified by some re-writing and good editing. It would also help if the author painted a clearer picture of the development of the Christian roots he sees in Britain. That said there is plenty that should stimulate debate and hard thought. The book makes uncomfortable reading and will undoubtedly be unpopular in some quarters both amongst liberal secularists and also those Christians, such as Rowan Williams – who is implicitly criticised – who are content to live with procedural secularism (see Williams, Faith in the Public Square, Bloomsbury Continuum, 2012). It will also make difficult reading for Muslims who uncritically accept traditional interpretations and applications of shari‘a. However, for those who accept the distinction between Islam and Islamism and are concerned about the growth of Islamic extremism it should be stimulating.
At its worst this book will be dismissed as the ranting of a conservative-leaning former Bishop concerned with the demise of Christian Britain. At its best it should stimulate careful debate about issues of crucial importance to the future of this country. The concerns raised cannot cavalierly be pushed aside. Rather they should themselves become the topic of a robust conversation between those of faith and those of none within our communities and political elites.
The book starts with an exploration of British identity and bemoans the “thin values”, such as tolerance and respect, so frequently vaunted as British-ness. Rather the author sees the problem as being “massive moral failure” (139) and a “spiritual vacuum” (7) which have been brought about by a “national amnesia” (131) that has lost sight of the Judeo-Christian roots of this country. Amongst the ills of society he explores the decline of the family under what he sees as a deliberate Marxist attack, the explosion of “home-made spiritualities” (23) which demand nothing of people, and the reductionist onslaught against religion by the likes of Dawkins. Alongside this aggressive secularism, multiculturalism has failed us by allowing communities to become isolated. Uncritical tolerance has replaced “Christian hospitality” at a time when new arrivals should have been welcomed and integrated – although not assimilated. Presumably this is not to suggest that other traditions such as Islam, to which he later turns, cannot themselves offer hospitality.
Under multiculturalism a third ideology, Islamism, has gone unchecked and Part II of the book focuses on the threat of radical Islamism. A failure to monitor mosques, mosque schools – where children spend long extra-curricular hours – and madrassas has allowed them to fill with those from “fundamentalist movements” who speak little English (46). Chapter 5 provides a detailed exploration of shari‘a and the need for its reform. As in earlier writings the author sees hope in the writings of Muhammad Iqbal, the “ideological founder of Pakistan”, who focused on maslaha (the public good) and a new ijtihad or re-interpretation of shari‘a. However, he does not make clear what influence Iqbal might have in that nation today. The author explores the possibilities of such reform in the critical areas of: the shari‘a’s treatment of women, apostates and dhimma (minorities); its punishments for blasphemy; and its sanctioning of jihad. Whilst Muslims in Britain should have freedom to organise their own affairs – including the freedom to propagate their faith – they must do so under the law of the land.
The book argues that in the face of the rise of ideological Islamism and the “islamification of nearly every Muslim community” (78) Christians should still be careful “to distinguish between Muslims, Islam and Islamist ideology” (79) and should continue to see the benefit of studying Islam. Dialogue if it is to be entered into must not be “kissy-kissy” but rather must ask “tough questions” (80). Islamist ideology must be challenged wherever it opposes individual or communal freedoms. There is an intrinsic rebuke of Christians and others whom he feels have lost sight of the just war tradition which needs to be a topic of interfaith discussion (91). To this end the West must not flinch militarily (86) and withdraw its forces from Afghanistan too early allowing the Taliban and its Al-Qaeda allies to rebuild a base for global terror. He is particularly concerned for his native Pakistan and suggests that the West should do more to ensure its security and to solve the Kashmir issue (97). Ultimately, along with education, poverty reduction and microfinance, establishing freedom and democracy is the surest way to protect the West from terrorism (81).
Part III then focuses on issues of science, evolution and bioethics, before Part IV addresses recent issues and events adding Nazir-Ali’s own thoughts and recommendations. Moral and economic failure in public life is highlighted and the nation is challenged to recover the “tried and tested paradigm of the Christian faith” rather than risk “untested theories … which can lead to social disaster” (151); freedom of conscience and the dignity of the individual need to be upheld; the teaching of history and RE need to be reformed; and Christian lobbying organizations are commended. The author particularly singles out Prime Minister David Cameron’s “landmark speech on the place of the Bible and Christianity in our national life” as “music” to his ears (160) although he appears doubtful as to its impact. In fact the rather tired national politics need “genuinely popular movements for the renewal of national life” (152) and Nazir-Ali suggests Christian Democracy as one solution although he does not spell out what form that may take. He is issuing a call to action for Christians to be “more focused, pro-active and prepared” (170) for the ideological challenges that lie ahead. “This is not a time to wait and see but a time to act in an informed, prudent and committed way” (169).