Bishop Nazir Ali forgets Iranian hospitality?

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The Bishop of Rochester, Nazir Ali is persistently portraying multiculturalism and Muslims as bogeymen –  a disservice to both his Church and his roots. Surely it cannot be Muslims –  3% of the population – that threaten ‘the distinctively Christian character of the nation’s laws, values, customs and culture’? (Daily Telegraph, 7 January 2008).

It is only recently that the Bishop experienced first-hand some Muslim values – of hospitality and tolerance. In August 2007, during a visit to Tehran, not only was he accorded a guard of honour, but allowed to preach in Teheran’s St Paul’s Church – which he did in a most fundamentalist style:”….The glory of God is seen in the risen Jesus….His risen life is to be found in the Bible. His risen life helps us to lose what hinders life”(Church Times, 10 August 2007).

The total male Sunday church attendance in England was around 2 million in 1989; it dipped to 1.2 million by 2005 (UK Christian Church Handbook, table 2.21.1; 2005/2006). The lack of conviction in organised religion in Britain today has more to do with the nature of a post-Christian society than anything else. Why was Blair so reticent in declaring his faith? Because he feared being described as a nutter.

The Bishop has made numerous disparaging and divisive comments on Muslims in Britain and elsewhere. On ‘Dispatches: Unholy War’ – the notorious Channel 4 programme that was the subject of a Police enquiry for misrepresentation – he declared that Muslims who switch faiths in Britain ‘could be killed if the current climate continues…We have seen honour killings have happened, and there is no reason why this kind of thing cannot happen'(The Guardian, 16 September 2007).

In November 2006 he diagnosed that Muslims suffered from a victim complex: ‘their complaint often boils down to the position that it is always right to intervene when Muslims are victims, as in Bosnia or Kosovo, and always wrong when the Muslims are the oppressors or terrorists, as with the Taleban or in Iraq’.

Following the Jack Straw veil remarks, the Bishop said, ‘I can see nothing in Islam that prescribes the wearing of a full-face veil. In the supermarket those at the cash tills need to be recognised. Teaching is another context in which society requires recognition and identification.’

Now in January 2008 the good Bishop is telling us a thing or two about the call for prayer: ‘Attempts have been made to impose an Islamicí character on certain areas, for example, by insisting on artificial amplification for the Adhan, the call to prayer. Such amplification was, of course, unknown throughout most of history and its use raises all sorts of questions about noise levels and whether non-Muslims wish to be told the creed of a particular faith five times a day on the loudspeaker’.

He participates in Civitas’s oddly-named Centre for Social Cohesion, where colleagues include neo-Cons like Douglas Murray – co-author of ‘Hate on the State: How British libraries encourage Islamic extremism‘.

Michael Nazir Ali grew up in Karachi during the 1960s, a period when the days of British empire were only formally over. The Christian missionaries in Pakistan were a divided lot. The upper class was Anglican and CoE. In colonial times they were able to build their churches and elite schools in prime and spacious locations in a cantonment city like Karachi. In the lower tier were the Roman Catholics, mainly Irish Fathers, who had to make do in less salubrious conditions. The difference is highlighted in the grand old four-storied brown-brick buildings of the Karachi Grammar School in Saddar, and the drab three-floored concrete blocks of St Patrick‘s, located a mile away near the former army barracks. The high-light of the fading colonial period would be a visit from a member of the Royal Family – of course it is clear which of the two institutions would be favoured with the visit! There were the ‘gentlemen’ in one, and the ‘players’ in the other. Michael Nazir Ali was a St.Pat’s boy who jumped shipped, converting from Catholicism to Anglicanism in Britain in the early 1970s. His tale is one of the outsider continuously trying to become the insider.

The Jesuits must be turning in their graves. Not only did Nazir Ali become an Anglican, but an Evangelical one as well – the group that questions the need for clergy to perform certain liturgical rituals. Equally irking must be his Empire-loyalism: ‘Politicians, religious leaders and social activists have all joined in to bewail the undoubted horrors of slavery and to apologise for British complicity in this social evil. Those marching have been shackled hand and foot and have been wearing sweatshirts saying ‘So sorry.’ And yet this should be a time of celebration and of thanksgiving for Britain’s role in bringing this great oppression and cruelty to an end. Why do leaders and people of this country find it so difficult to acknowledge their achievements and to recognise the true source of their moral commitments? If a civilization is constantly criticized, run down and apologised for, the danger is that its virtues will cease to flourish’ (writing in The Mail on Sunday, 25 March 2007).

Whether Bishop Nazir will ever be fully accepted in the gentleman’s Gymkhana remains to be seen. They tend to look down on the ‘players’ who try so hard to please.

He certainly will not be welcome in Pakistan after his remarks that “it is quite possible to imagine a terrorist group, such as al-Qaeda, acquiring enough radioactive material to manufacture a dirty bomb or, indeed, for a terrorist organisation to be armed in this way by a rogue state. It is also possible that a presently stable situation, as in Pakistan, is overtaken by unforeseeable, but not unimaginable, events. More worryingly, the world is faced not with discrete terrorist groups and rogue states here and there”.

Perhaps he should try sipping more tea in Isfahan – if the Iranian Foreign Office is so uninformed as to extend him another invitation. (142)

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