By Sunanda K Datta
Baroness Warsi, a
Muslim, glories in Britain's underlying Christianity and denounces British
society's ‘intolerant secularisation'.
I once asked the late
Sikander Bakht what a Muslim was doing in the Bharatiya Janata Party. He
replied it was the only party for a Muslim to be in. Unfortunately, there was
no opportunity to press him to elucidate, but no doubt Baroness Sayeeda Hussain
Warsi will give an equally enigmatic answer if anyone questions her
championship of Christianity and demand that the British state should be
redefined in Christian terms.
Her zeal is
misdirected for, in theory at least, there is little division between Britain’s
ecclesiastical and temporal authority. Queen Elizabeth is head of state as well
as supreme governor of the Church of England. Traditionally, the lords
spiritual (Anglican bishops) sit with the lords temporal (peers of the realm)
to make laws. The problem is with practice. What the Queen says and does is
determined by the Government of the day. The House of Lords, of which the lords
spiritual and temporal are members, has virtually no power left. Most
tellingly, the native British are profoundly uninterested in religion.
Less than a million
people attend church service, and they are mostly elderly or female. A survey
by the vehemently atheist Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason
claims that even people who call themselves Christian do so as an automatic
reflex. They have no belief and know nothing about the Bible. The poll showed
that 74 per cent of respondents don’t want religion to influence public policy
with only 12 per cent agreeing that it should. Religion suffered a further
setback recently when a judge ruled that prayers couldn’t be a formal part of
municipal council meetings.
Muslims are possibly
the only militantly religious British. Most are immigrants from the Indian
sub-continent, Somalia and West Asia, but there is also a small number of
converts, including native White women who strongly defend the Hijab and Burqa.
They demand Halal meat, Friday holidays, revised school curricula and a ban on
anything in folk culture (like the tale of the Three Little Pigs) which is seen
as un-Islamic. The non-Muslim public is usually accommodating, but the poll
referred to earlier also showed that 92 per cent of Britons believe the law
should apply equally to all. That means no special concessions to Muslims in
terms of dress, food, religious sensibilities or holidays.
psychological gulf, it’s surprising to find a Muslim woman defending
Christianity with what can only be called Muslim zeal. Baroness Warsi is the
41-year-old British-born daughter of Pakistani immigrants. Her second and
present husband, Mr. Iftikhar Azam, was born in Pakistan (the first husband is
glossed over) and she is the Conservative Party co-chairman and a Minister in
Mr David Cameron’s coalition Government. Just back from leading a five-member
official British delegation to the Vatican, she reminds me of Syed Shahabuddin,
the former MP, with her claim that Britain’s Christian roots “shone through”
its politics, public life, culture, economy, language and architecture.
Mr. Shahabuddin made a
similar comment about India, saying that ceremonies most people take for
granted and regard as simply Indian — like lighting a lamp for an inauguration
or breaking a coconut to launch a ship — are exclusively Hindu. But he said it
in a different spirit. As a Muslim, Mr. Shahabuddin deplored secular India’s underlying
Hindu ethic, while Baroness Warsi, also a Muslim, glories in Britain’s
underlying Christianity. Sending her daughter to a Christian school has
reinforced her Islamic identity, she says.
At other times,
especially when attacking secularism, she might be one of our saffron
politicians. True, she does not use the phrase “pseudo-secularism”, but comes
perilously close to it when denouncing British society’s “intolerant
secularisation”. The pseudo-secularism of the one can be equated with the
intolerant secularism of the other. Baroness Warsi also strikes a familiar
chord when she storms there is absolutely no reason why “we need to erase our
religious heritage” to protect the minorities. The irony is that she herself is
one of the protected minorities.
Her case is that
Britain’s nine other faiths (Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim,
Sikh and Zoroastrian) would be safer if the majority were more stridently
Christian. The rationale is that “being sure of who you are is the only way in
which you will be more accommodating of others”. By that token Hindus are safe
only in a militantly Muslim Pakistan and Muslims won’t be secure in India until
an unapologetically Hindu revivalist party is in power.
Baroness Warsi is a
solicitor and not an historian. But even school history should have taught her
of the horrors perpetrated in the name of religion. Europe’s Catholic monarchs
burnt Protestants at the stake. Protestant monarchs robbed Catholics of
everything, including the right to worship. Christian rulers of both
denominations persecuted and dispossessed Jews.
A religious monopoly
doesn’t always mean acceptance of others; it leads to scriptural absolutism as
under Emperor Aurangzeb when Hindus had to pay the jaziya tax. Far from being
honoured with peerages and political office, immigrants of a different faith
like Baroness Warsi would be at the state’s mercy.
Even the Pope would
hesitate to endorse her boast that Roman Catholicism toppled Communism. She is
on less fanciful ground in complimenting Catholics for bringing peace to
Northern Ireland, but other groups like the Rev Ian Paisley’s Presbyterians,
Anglicans and the US Government also played a constructive role.
Clearly, Mr. Cameron
rejects the legacy of Mr. Alastair Campbell, Mr. Tony Blair’s spin doctor who
famously declared “We don’t do God”. He even made the Queen regret in the
opening event of her Diamond Jubilee celebrations that the Church is
“misunderstood” and “under-appreciated” because religion does “provide an
identity and spiritual dimension.” He may be trying to distract attention from
serious economic problems, mobilise support for his coalition, or woo Americans
by projecting Britain as a god-fearing Christian nation. With race crimes
rising, the choice of Baroness Warsi may be intended to reassure immigrants
that one of their number ranks high in the Government and show White racists
how stoutly a South Asian Muslim defends their religion.
Some of these aims may
meet with partial success but church services won’t fill to overflowing and Baroness
Warsi’s credibility is unlikely to improve. The assumption is that a minority
community politician feels the route to advancement lies in being demonstrably
more loyal than the king.
Source: The Daily Pioneer, New Delhi