By Sunanda K Datta Ray
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.
Given this 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