Michael Nazir-Ali deliberately muddies the waters in his response to Sayeeda Warsi’s comments on Islamophobia:
‘I know from personal experience that extremism as a mind-set is spreading throughout the Muslim world. We do not want it to spread here through the teaching of hate and the radicalisation of the young.
‘That is why we must distinguish between those Muslims who want to live peacefully with their non-Muslim neighbours and those who wish to introduce Shari’a into this country, restrict freedom of speech and confine women to their homes, not to speak of introducing draconian punishments such as death for blasphemy recently awarded to a poor Christian woman in Pakistan.
‘If relations are to improve between Muslims and other people in the world, these are the kind of issues that must be tackled.’
What does Pakistan’s blasphemy law have to do with bigotry towards Muslims in the UK? Surely, given his connections to the country, he must know that attacks against Christians in Pakistan are sometimes ‘justified’ on the basis that British and American warmongers are self-proclaimed Christians.
Giles Fraser adds something more sensible:
The other difference between robust critique [of Islam] and what is tantamount to bullying has to do with the power relations between those involved. The Muslim community in this country is generally more socially disadvantaged and has less access to the levers of power. British Muslims do worse at school than any other faith group, they are more likely to be unemployed and live in poorer housing. It is generally from communities such as this that the prosperous and the powerful find their scapegoats.
This is also why the growing idea that there is in this country such a thing as Christianophobia – an equivalent to Islamophobia – is such total nonsense. Following Warsi’s comments, the usual suspects of the Christian right have waded in with another rendition of “what about us?” What about those nice Christian B&B owners who have just been fined for sticking to their sincerely held beliefs about gay couples not sharing a bed under their roof? But the power relations here are altogether different. With bishops in the House of Lords by right, with the monarch being head of the Church of England, with the long history of Christianity shaping our values and culture, Christians are not a persecuted minority, however much they may feel misunderstood.
Being a good Anglican liberal, Fraser though still shares the same blind spot other liberals do: sometimes, may be most of the time, the line between ‘believer’ and ‘belief’ is fuzzy and not as clear cut as liberals presume it to be.