The bishop as pawn
The term “Uncle Tom” has for a long time been a way of denouncing people of colour who ingratiate themselves with the white ruling classes. Well, the Right Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester for the established Church of England, certainly fits the bill. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, the bishop claims that immigration and multi-culturalism are threatening Britain’s so-called Christian heritage. He claims that that some Muslim communities are “no-go areas” for people of other faiths.
Perhaps unbelievably, he is president of the Anglican Church’s Network for Inter-faith Concerns. He has accused childless married couples of being “self-indulgent”. The bishop has also said that laws should be introduced to give officials power to lift a woman’s veil for security reasons. More seriously, he has the distinction of being the only UK bishop in a poll to be able to name all five Spice Girls.
Despite authoritative evidence from population experts showing that that his claims about neighbourhood segregation are utter rubbish, Nazir-Ali’s comments have been seized upon by the Telegraph and many of its reactionary readers to encourage anti-immigrant, anti-Islamic rants.
Some of Nazir-Ali’s flock in Kent will no doubt be encouraged to be confirmed in the backward view that the real problems of unemployment and high-cost housing are down to immigration rather than government policies. The fact is that it was Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who shut down Kent’s pits and New Labour’s worship of corporate globalisation has continued to devastate local farming and fruit growing which earned Kent the name “Garden of England”.
The reverend bishop is aware of the effects of unbridled private enterprise. Only last February he rightly denounced the government’s massive Thames Gateway development in and around Rochester as likely to increase alienation and giving young people “no stake in prosperity”. The £400 million Thames Gateway project is a government showpiece which stretches 40 miles from east London to Southend in Essex and Sheerness in Kent. The idea is to create 120,000 new homes and 180,000 jobs along the Thames Estuary by 2016 but is more likely to result in isolated housing estates built on a flood plain.
But less than a year later, the Bishop has shifted his ground to single out Muslims in a way that has shocked many community leaders. Sheikh Imam Ibrahim Mogra, based in Leicester, for example, has said that Nazir-Ali has “given ammunition to the hatemongers. He is helping to foster the false perception that Muslims are misfits who really shouldn’t be here”.
As Roman Catholics surpass the Church of England in the numbers attending religious services, the role of the Anglican church is under pressure as never before. The search for targets to blame for its historic decline is on, with people like Nazir-Ali leading the charge. In addition, his attack on multi-culturalism is just what the racist far right and New Labour need - an attack on immigrants from someone from an Asian background to provide a scapegoat for the economic disasters that are looming on the horizon.
7 January 2008