Thursday, 4 November 2010

Muslims - compare and contrast

I was appalled at the attack on MP Stephen Timms by Roshonara Choudhry during a constituency surgery earlier this year. This week Ms Choudhry was found guilty of attempted murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 15 years. timmsMr Timms is MP for East Ham in the Chelmsford Diocese and is well known for his Christian faith as well as being a hard working MP and former Chief Secretary to the Treasury in the last Labour government.

I’ve followed the events around the stabbing and subsequent trial with interest, not least because of the sensitive issues the case touches on with regard to faith and community relations in East London. Many of my friends and colleagues work very hard as ministers to foster good relations and positive dialogue against a backdrop of incessant rabble rousing by the BNP and other extremist groups. They are not naive about the problems associated with the radicalisation of young Muslims, however, they are greatly disturbed by the stereotyping and scape-goating that would characterise Muslims as the cause of all the ills facing local communities.

Today the papers and blogs are full of details and comments about the case and the content is all too predictable. To highlight the problem here are two examples of blogs commenting on the case and how it has been handled.

Cranmer has been clear about his reading of both the trial and the behaviour of Ms Choudhry and her supporters. Here is a flavour of his comments:
At the sentencing of Roshonara Choudhry, the trainee teacher who attempted to murder Stephen Timms MP, the public gallery erupted with cries of 'Allahu akbar' ('God is great'), 'British go to hell' and 'Curse the judge'.

Quite why they were not immediately arrested for contempt of court is unknown.

Praising their God in a court of law?
Just about acceptable.

Passing opinion on the limited soteriological options of the British?
Well, it might be ‘racist’, but we’ll call it ‘freedom of expression’.
But ‘Curse the judge’? How did that pass without immediate intervention by the Judge?

Miss Choudhry appeared by video-link because she 'refused to accept the jurisdiction of the court'. Why was this permitted? Are all ‘citizens’ of the UK granted this option? Are we not all subjects of Her Majesty, and therefore all subject to the Crown in Court, on whose behalf the Judge presides and dispenses the Queen’s Justice for the maintenance of the Queen's Peace? More 

Contrast Cranmer’s account with that of Minority Thought commenting on press coverage of the same events:
The front page and main story of today's Daily Express is a clear and unsubtle attempt at maintaining the "us and them" mentality which is so often levelled by that paper against Muslims:


The headline refers to the shouts from "a group of men" (according to the Mail) who were sitting in the public gallery during the trial of Roshonara Choudhry, the woman convicted of stabbing Stephen Timms MP earlier this year.
Rather than leading with the story at hand, the sentencing of Choudhry to "life" imprisonment, the Express has chosen to focus on the deranged rantings of a few nutcases in a courtroom instead. Both the Daily Mail and The Sun have also gone with this angle, but neither has chosen to put it across in as brazen a way as the Express.
That there are Muslim extremists who say such things is beyond a doubt. However, the Express' decision to make this the key focus of the story, along with the language used in the headline, is an attempt to imply that these shouts are in some way an expression of what every Muslims thinks about the British.
Can you imagine, for example, what the Express would have done if the men who broke into shouts of "Go to hell, Britain" were Christians? Would the Express have replaced "Muslims" with "Christians" in the headline? Would they even have mentioned it so prominently in the first place? More
Now I am not for a moment dismissing or diminishing the real problems of extremism, violence and terrorism. My family come from Belfast; I grew up there in the mid 1960s and regularly visited family there throughout the troubles. Yet, despite the generalised picture created by media coverage of blood splattered streets, I learnt from personal experience that not all Catholics were out to murder me in my bed and not all Protestants were frothing at the mouth preachers of hate.

What concerns me is the narrative slant that commentators choose to give to particular stories concerning matters of great sensitivity like the Choudhry case. What is it that these commentators are hoping to achieve? What attitudes are they seeking to foster in their readers? What reaction are they hoping to elicit? What values underpin the choice of their words and presentation of the story?

In recent years we have run a course in the diocese as part of our Lent and Eastertide Schools. Living With Other Faiths helps people explore why we should engage with other faith communities and how we can go about doing so. The course objectives are to identify biblical principles for engaging with other faith communities; to develop an understanding of the beliefs and sensitivity to the practises of other faiths; to consider a range of ways of engaging with other faith communities and to identify particular approaches appropriate to participants’ situations.

Approaches like Living With Other Faiths may be dismissed by some, sadly including some Christians, as a typical P.C. response to the issues raised by our multi-faith society. I prefer to see it as just one of many positive responses to our calling as Christians to seek the common good.
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so
move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the
people of this land], that barriers which divide us may
crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our
divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Archbishop Cranmer said...

His Grace is sorry to observe that you misrepresent him with what you claim to be 'a flavour' of his comments.

Why have you ignored the title of his post?

Why have you sought to give your readers the impression that this 'flavour' is just a taste of His Grace's 'frothing at the mouth' as though he were a 'preacher of hate' compared to the moderate (and clearly favoured) Minority Thought?

Why have you COMPLETELY OMITTED to mention the primary purpose of His Grace's post, as evidenced in the title?

Why have you not quoted the comments of the Judge, which are clearly the 'key focus'?

Why have you not included the section:

"...there are values in the strident Sunni-Wahhabi expression of Islam which are antithetical to the common law of this country, and not every Muslim in politics is there for the right reasons or with the right motives.

Of course, the same can be said of professing Christians Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists and atheists..."

If you are so concerned by the 'narrative slant that commentators choose to give to particular stories concerning matters of great sensitivity', you might check the beam in your own eye first.

Blessings and peace,

Archbishop Cranmer said...

Come to think of it, why did you not also quote the comments of the Muslim Baroness Warsi?

Why have you sought to give the impression that there are no Muslims who comment on these 'sensitive issues' and who might even agree with the caricature of the proposition you attribute to His Grace?

Does she not go even further than His Grace?

You say you are concerned with 'stereotyping' and yet you clearly bring your own prejudicial stereotyping to bear in your crass distortion of what many have appreciated as a thoughtful and considered piece.

Do you really believe that reputable blogs would link so frequently to such articles if they were but a breath away from the BNP, as you suggest?

His Grace can hardly wait for your response, though he won't hold his breath for the apology.

Philip Ritchie said...

Archbishop Cranmer, thank you for your comments.

You say that I misrepresent you by giving a distorted flavour of your post. I simply quoted a significant section from the beginning of your post which sets the tone of your article. I did not include the title of your post, however, I did link to the piece so that readers could view it in full, including the comments of the judge and Baroness Warsi.

I did not claim or imply that you were "'frothing at the mouth' as though a 'preacher of hate'..". Those statements in my post clearly refer to my comments about the caricatures of Protestants and Catholics during the turmoil in Northern Ireland.

The accusation that I imply your articles are but a breadth away from the BNP is not supported by the content of my post. I neither said nor implied any such thing. I quoted from two blogs commenting on a matter of importance and invited comparison and contrast. I asked readers to consider various questions when reading the posts.

I realise that, in your eyes, I have committed a grave offence in daring to comment on your blog in a manner less than favourable. No doubt you feel I have sullied your erudite observations with my crude ramblings. You clearly consider me unworthy to offer an opinion on what 'many have appreciated as a thoughtful and considered piece' and on a blog that reputable blogs link to so frequently.

I have written what I have written and I am content to leave it for readers to decide whether I have been prejudicial in my post.

Justin (3MinuteTheologian) said...

Why refer to the blogger as "Archbishop Cranmer"? I don't see why Adrian Hilton, failed parliamentary candidate for the Conservatives, should be accorded any of the status which might accrue to the historical figure of Thomas Cranmer. There may be occasions where it is appropriate to humour someone who insists on being referred to as "Emperor Napoleon", but I can't think what they could be outside the psychiatric hospital.