Spinning religion and winning the Muslim vote
Now we know that the next General Election will be fought between the son of a Scottish manse and a nominal Anglican, Cranmer looks forward to a detailed investigation into how matters of faith shape these men. Gordon Brown gives his prescription straight, and it is puritanically monochrome and two-dimensionally boring; David Cameron embraces the Church of Engalnd's via media (no pun intended), and communicates creatively. He may indeed have something of the chameleon about him, but being all things to all people in order that some may vote Conservative is precisely what is demanded in politics, and in this postmodern, relativist era, why not use religion and spirituality? Politicians may no longer 'do God' or advocate any particular religion, and if they do, they ought not to advocate it strongly, for therein lies suspicion and accusations of bigotry. And Mr Cameron cannot afford to have his shiny new brand tarnished by such perceptions.
So in The Observer is an account of what Mr Cameron learnt this week from his stay with a Muslim family. How this family was chosen is unknown to Cranmer, but living in a £500,000 house in the leafy suburbs of Birmingham, overlooking Warwickshire’s cricket grounds and unpressured by trivial matters of economics, unhindered by the complexities of educating their children, untroubled by mosque dynamics, and unconfused by their view of the family and the role of women in society, this was not a typical Muslim family, nor even a typically Asian one.
However, Mr Cameron has used his experience of this family to highlight the UK’s ‘challenges of cohesion and integration’, and for the need to end ‘racism and soft bigotry’. Cranmer is unsure what Mr Cameron means by ‘soft bigotry’, but perhaps a meaning may be elicited from the context. He talks of the ‘deep offence’ felt by Muslims by the use of the word 'Islamic' or 'Islamist' to describe terrorist threats. He refers to it as a ‘lazy use of language’, and is thereby sending a message to his MPs and candidates that they may no longer use such terms. This will trouble Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, and Paul Goodman, to name but three, because to use such terms now means that one may suffer the same fate as Patrick Mercer, and yet to be denied the right to do so silences the intelligent and eloquent identification of the true roots of this terrorist threat. Fanatical religio-political ideology may be distasteful, but it should not silence legitimate debate or mean that one may not discuss such concerns in the vernacular.
Mr Cameron exhorts faith-based schools, yet the example he gives is that of an undoubtedly successful Jewish school which has a mixed roll with some 60 per cent of Muslim families, who study alongside Jews, Christians and Sikhs. Mr Cameron’s Muslim hosts explain that they send their children there because of ‘good discipline and good results’. But such attributes are not unique to faith schools, and had Mr Cameron probed further, he would almost certainly have discovered the desire of this Muslim family to send their children to an Islamic school. The question then becomes one of how many Jews, Christian, Hindus and Sikhs would send their children to such a school, and this is territory into which Mr Cameron dare not tread.
In talking of society, the Leader of HM Opposition sates: ‘the picture is bleak: family breakdown, drugs, crime and incivility are part of the normal experience of modern Britain’. This is profoundly pessimistic, and Cranmer doubts indeed that this is Mr Cameron’s experience in Wantage. But whilst it is doubtless true that many marriages end in divorce, some youths are drug addicts, crime is a constant fear in some areas, and expressions of incivility have become more commonplace, to focus on these ills is to negate the immense positives of those marriages that last for 50 years, that many young people strive to achieve, that policing strategies often result in falling rates of crime, and that polite expressions of civility are intrinsic to being British. Yet Mr Cameron credits these positives to ‘the British Asian way’; he insists that these are values only ‘they hold dear’, and this is an expression of racism itself. Ignoring Mr Cameron’s superficial suggestion that Asian and Muslim are synonymous, his most offensive proclamation is in his conclusion that ‘it is mainstream Britain which needs to integrate more with the British Asian way of life, not the other way around’. What is this 'mainstream' if it is not the Judeo-Christian heart that gave the nation its foundation, and still nourishes the richness of its spiritual life?
No, Mr Cameron, you will find such virtues in people of the Christian faith, and of the Jewish faith, and (had you bothered to spend a week with such [dare one say?] ‘indigenous’ families), you would have discovered that the British values you identify – ‘hospitality, tolerance and generosity’ – are intrinsic to 'religious conservatism', and may therefore be found in households of all faiths. And we do not, as you assert, need Muslims ‘to show us what those things really mean’, and, moreover, it is not ‘racist’ or ‘soft bigotry’ to say so.