Why Rochester is not a no-go area for Michael Nazir-Ali

Michael Nazir-Ali, bishop of Rochester (previously: [1], [2], [3]), has been given another bit of space in the Sunday Telegraph to write an Islamophobic article (also see front-page feature here). This time, he’s alleging that Muslims have set out “‘no-go’ areas where adherence to this ideology has become a mark of acceptability”. This is not the first time a publication of the Telegraph group has made this accusation: it is part of Patrick Sookhdeo’s stock-in-trade of accusations. Nazir-Ali today claimed that this resurgence of “the ideology of Islamic extremism” accompanied the loss of “confidence in the Christian vision which underlay most of the achievements and values of the culture” and a “novel philosophy of ‘multiculturalism’”. (More: Osama Saeed, Abu Eesa, Kashif @ Peace, Bruv, Suspect Paki.)

There is a definite sense of “biting the hand that feeds him” about Nazir-Ali’s attack on multiculturalism. If it were not for multiculturalism, the idea of an Asian bishop of a southern English bishopric, let alone a Black archbishop of York - the second highest-ranking clergyman in the whole church - would be unthinkable. It is not only Muslims that benefit from it, but everyone who is not absolutely stereotypically British. For the most part, the extent to which the most unacceptable cultural practices of minorities are tolerated is exaggerated; some of the most notorious unacceptable cultural practices are illegal, like female circumcision, and serious talk has been heard of outlawing forced marriages as well. From my own contacts in the teaching fraternity, I know that teachers are not allowed to tolerate forms of “discipline” which are regarded as abuse in modern society.

Moving on to his claims of “no-go areas”, he does not offer a single example or other piece of evidence. In London, where Islamic extremism was openly preached into the early years of this decade, it did not produce a single no-go area. Finsbury Park, for example, was traversed by a main road, the A503, which remains a main road, and by two Tube lines and suburban and main-line railways. I have personally seen Jews walking quite peacefully and unmolested in the park itself, and Muslims are only one of many ethnicities, not all of them Muslim by any means, represented there. Most areas in London, at least, where Muslims are well-represented are mixed and well-visited by others, including Tooting in south London, which has three main roads crossing it and Hindu as well as Muslim Asians living there.

This may be less true in the north, but I would question whether any “no-go areas” are the work of Islamic extremists or simply of Muslims who are common criminals. Those I have met in provincial towns who are part of the Tablighi Jama’at, which is commonly associated with accusations of being an “ante-chamber to terrorism” or whatever, are actually remarkably placid. He alleges that “those of a different faith or race may find it difficult to live or work there because of hostility to them”, but does not provide evidence of where that is actually the case. On the other hand, we have heard an example this week of presumable Christians from Slovakia being driven out of a neighbourhood in Salford, not by Muslims, but by racist local white thugs and delinquents. Any criticism of Muslims in the north for “ghettoisation” must consider how welcome they would be in poor white neighbourhoods.

Nazir-Ali brings the issue of calling the adhan (Muslim prayer call), questioning “whether non-Muslims wish to be told the creed of a particular faith five times a day on the loudspeaker” besides the issue of noise levels and the fact that amplification of the adhan is a new thing. The fact is that in the UK, the adhan is not called five times a day where it is called at all; it is usually foregone at least for the dawn (fajr) prayer when non-Muslim neighbours are likely to be in bed and would not welcome being woken up for this purpose. In the case featured today in the Sunday Telegraph, the Muslims in Oxford propose to call the adhan in the open only three times per day, and it should be remembered that these would mostly be times when many of the non-Muslim locals would be at work.

The Telegraph family has long sat alongside the Times as habitual vilifiers of the British Muslim community; while the Times seems to prefer sensationalism and attacks on individual figures, most recently Shaikh Riyadh-ul-Haq, the Telegraph and Spectator have a fondness for “native informers”, Asians and Muslims willing to dish dirt on the community, including Nazir-Ali and Sookhdeo. They do not seem to care about how preposterous their assertions are; Sookhdeo’s claim that Muslims establish sacred spaces by means including marches is easily disproved, because nothing in Islamic texts specifies marching at all, and there has never been any attempt in this country to close a road which had been used for a Muslim march, such as the Mawlid marches carried out by Bareilawis, who are associated with no political Islamist tendency.

As far as “losing Christianity” is concerned, the reality is that the likes of Nazir-Ali are losing their flock because the people no longer choose to attend church. His claim that this has anything to do with the rise of Muslim extremism is tendentious; the rise of some of the extremists had much to do with the fact that the forcible takeover of mosques was tolerated in the 1990s, and its influence was exaggerated by the media, which asked certain fringe “clerics” for their opinions time and again. The rise of some Muslim ghettos is known to have been in reaction to the racism these communities suffered in past decades, besides the fact that people naturally gravitate to where their community’s shops, places of worship and people are. The Muslim communities in this country are far from the only groups to have done this.

Nazir-Ali should be challenged to provide proof of his “no-go areas” claim, because he does not attempt to prove it in this article. There is a difference between outsiders being afraid to enter an area because of real threats to their safety, and being afraid to enter because of perceived threats based on rumours or even on outdated memories, or not going there because there is no reason to go there. If he cannot, it must be dismissed as an unfounded claim made with malicious intent. The fact that the Conservative Party has chosen the perpetrator of the most unbalanced analysis of terrorism and rioting by Muslims, in the Spectator in 2005, complete with a Sookhdeo hatchet job, as its candidate for the position of Mayor of London, and that this has not been greatly commented on and that local radio - at least BBC London - has not seen fit to call him to account for it, is distressing.

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