Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: No-go areas that are all in the bishop's mind

What makes an immigrant priest turn into such a vicious bulldog?
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The Independent Online

The nutter, I thought when first skimming through yet another fundamentalist intervention by the Bishop of Rochester, The Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, Pakistani son of Christian converts. Or maybe he is again seeking attention because he needs it so, sad guy that he is.

It could be his disappointment speaking he never got to be an Archbishop, and possibly still thinks it should have been him when they were choosing the great men of York and Canterbury. Whatever his psychological flaws (and in true Islamic spirit I extend my sympathy to the brother), his latest rant in a right-wing newspaper cannot and should not be forgiven.

He seems to take pleasure in divisive rhetoric and stoking up hatred, this man of God who abuses the power vested in him. In the past five years Nazir-Ali has stood out against gay rights and the ordination of gay priests; he condemns multi-faith initiatives, and, most immoral of all, pronounced that the war on Iraq was justifiable when his own church nobly and bravely condemned the offensive which has led to the devastation of an entire country.

Now the pastor rises with a fire- and-brimstone warning: Islamic extremists have created "no-go areas ... where those of a different faith or race may find it difficult to live and work". Pray where are these Islamicised, armed fortresses? He doesn't tell us, because that is not his concern. The effect of Nazir-Ali's comments is to suffuse toxic fear through the land, and is prepared to inflate, exaggerate and invent perils in order to push his particularly fanatical Anglicanism.

He knows the nation is already edgy and suspicious of Muslims and that his words will validate the hostility. I do understand why so many non-Muslim Britons are wary of us. Islamicists pose real terrorist threats, and have successfully launched one terrible attack. There are indeed some localities where Wahabi Islam has taken a hold and imposed cultural separatism between those believers and the rest, including diverse other Muslims who are contentedly European. The power of the Wahabis funded by our ropey friends the House of Saud is frightening and growing. Some Muslim organisations are mad, bad and dangerous, make demands on the state that are unacceptable. They encourage total religious identification and self-exclusion. Readers know I detest this willed disconnect from the nation and its other citizens.

There are no crusading ghettoes in Britain, but the Bishop isn't too bothered about that, it seems. Nor about white enclaves where Eastern Europeans are regularly beaten up and driven out by indigenous Brits. And he averts his burning eyes from the truth that in this country, unlike the US, France and Germany, we do not have territorial apartheid demarcating different tribes.

The population expert Danny Dorling confirms that there are "no ghetto communities in Britain ... Racism is rife but it is not being expressed through rising levels of neighbourhood segregation". Dr Ludi Simpson, who has studied population enclaves for many years, is also clear that "racial self-segregation and increased racial segregation are myths for Britain. The repetition of these myths sends unhelpful messages to policy makers". Professor Ceri Peach of Oxford says: "Let us be clear, there is not a single ward in Britain in which the population is a hundred per cent minority-ethnic ... there are several wards where, if one aggregates all minority-ethnic populations they form the majority. However, 78 per cent of the minority-ethnic populations do not live in such wards."

The Bishop goes on to blame immigrants for upsetting this country (by questioning the whitewashed history of Empire), and for falling church attendance yes we rush around on Sundays and tie up faithful Christians to stop them from praying. That is why the pews are empty. And in the crudest of bids for populist applause, Nazir-Ali seems to suggest that only Christian immigrants should be welcomed into this land, which is largely secular.

What makes an immigrant priest who hails from the Indian subcontinent turn into this vicious bulldog? The answers can only be speculated. He is a product of religious conversion and many converts are unable to be nuanced or open minded they have to fiercely hold on to extremes to show they are "authentic". You see it with Muslim converts too.

Conversely Bishop John Sentamu is a natural-born Anglican, compassionate and with nothing to prove. Meanwhile, little does the Bishop of Rochester know that even a dog collar can't stop him being seen as a "Paki". Or maybe he is trying to unnerve and unseat the soft and humane Anglicanism that currently prevails. If so, his unholy tactics may succeed and destroy all that makes the Church of England benevolently Christian. God help us all.

y.alibhaibrown@independent.co.uk

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