- More or less
The television version of Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall is the latest account to challenge St Thomas More’s reputation as a courageous defender of the rights of conscience. Was he, in truth, a liberal icon, a religious fanatic or something in between?
- Home News
- World News
- Parish Practice
- Letters Extra
- The living Spirit
- Historic ordination of first woman bishop in Church of England throws down unity challenge
- BBC shakes up religious programming in drive to cut costs that sees religion grouped with history
- Churches warn MPs not to rush into passing ‘irresponsible’ three-parent baby law
- Pope enlists volunteer barbers to give the homeless a haircut in St Peter's Square
- Tainted theology Fr Ashley Beck
- Churches should be safe places for those with mental health issues Katharine Welby-Roberts
- Did we have to lower our flags for the Saudi king? Alistair Macdonald-Radcliff
Old habits of denial die hard, even as we watch the “Trojan Horse” disgorge its sinister cargo on our television screens. After the Ofsted report into an alleged plot by Islamist hardliners to take over Birmingham community schools, several Anglicans emailed me this week saying things like: “I am so confused about this issue and torn between my views of tolerance and religious freedom and what seems to be going on. Also don't want to be gripped by fear.” And “It’s hard to stay focused and to know whom to trust when I try to read articles on the political and social ramifications of Islam and Islamicism in Britain.”
These are the normative reactions of “Islington folk” to something so counter to every liberal nerve and sinew in the dominant culture that it simply does not compute. What we are seeing is not “extremism” but the consolidation of strict Islam, by sects specifically formed long ago in pre-partition India to “purify” any deviance they considered syncretistic.
Much of this is Deobandi Islam, which originated in Deoband in Uttar Pradesh where the Taliban imams trained. Another significant strand is Jamaat-i-Islami – whose UK manifesto leaked out in the 1980s – committed to “arresting integration” and to the ideal of “changing society into an Islamic society”. Much of it is Tablighi Jamaat – another Indian-origin sect who according to the progressive Muslim Institute disorientate, brainwash and bully their adherents into medieval garb and burqas and ban social contact with non-Muslims. Most mosques in the UK that are not Barelwi – a more moderate strain taught in almost half of Britain’s mosques – adhere to the latter’s training methods.
Much has conspired to allow these ambitions free rein. The consolidation of ethnic enclaves was actually government policy from the 1960s onwards, abetted by the Church, and funded by the state with ethno-linguistic libraries, public provision of mosques disguised as ‘community centres’, the encouragement of cousin marriage through the abandonment of legislation that might have curtailed it, and the cry of “racist” levelled at any who, like longtime Keighley MP Anne Cryer, dared to speak out.
Collapse is now happening very fast, to the point where wise people who have tried to stem it warn darkly of the breakdown of the “unity of the state”. Revd John Ray MBE retired as chairman of the board of governors at the 97-per-cent-Muslim girls’ school Golden Hillocks on the eve of its takeover by the Park View Trust. The Trust’s results were so outstanding that the Prime Minister himself praised them the following year as if they had happened overnight. But within less than one year under Tahir Allam, that school is now one of the three in special measures, and targeted in this week’s Ofsted report.
Mr Ray, who for 23 years in the 1960s, 70s and 80s was head of Tyndale Biscoe School in Srinagar, Kashmir, witnessed his own headmaster at Golden Hillocks subsequently driven out, on the point of breakdown. As he told Sky News this week he told the Department for Education in a letter dated 27 May: “We have massive intimidation, manipulation, bullying, harassment and exclusion of all – Muslim or non-Muslim, Pakistani, black or white – who dare to challenge.
“Here personal choice does not apply. Those who dissent can only do so anonymously. Middle-class white Britain can scarcely imagine the pressure to conform on ordinary Muslim people in such areas.”
He told me previously in an interview of “massive injustice to teachers and heads”. And worse: “Children suffer the most because their birth right of freedom is taken away from them.”
His issued a similar warning to John Patten, then-Tory Secretary of State for Education, which went unheeded. That was in 1994.
Dr Jenny Taylor is Chief Executive of Lapido Media, Centre for Religious Literacy in World Affairs. She is the author with Lamin Sanneh and Lesslie Newbigin of Faith and Power: Christianity and Islam in Secular Britain, 1998. www.lapidomedia.com