There is a fair chance that the sort of comments that attract criticism, not only from the political establishment but also from the self-appointed spokesmen of the Muslim community are worth hearing.
So it is with the weekend’s unvarnished warning from the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, of the perils of multiculturalism. His claim that Islamic radicalism is turning parts of this country into “no go” areas for non-Muslims may be overstated but will resonate with many.
By focusing on the way the adhan, or call to prayer, is delivered through amplified loudspeakers in an attempt to “impose an Islamic character on certain areas” and by questioning whether non-Muslims “wish to be told the creed of a particular faith five times a day on the loudspeaker”, the bishop was raising an issue of genuine concern in many communities.
As a tolerant, Christian country we resent it if any group seeks to take advantage of that tolerance by trying to impose its own views.
His comments have been echoed by fellow prelates, including the Rt Rev John Goddard, Bishop of Burnley, who said that in some northern towns Christians “sometimes feel as though they are strangers”.
Yet Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems have responded with knee-jerk predictability, desperate as ever not to offend Muslim sensibilities. It shows once again how difficult it is to engage in a mature debate about the damaging impact of multiculturalism in this country in general, and the threat posed by Islamic radicalism to our way of life in particular.
It is six years since the Cantle Inquiry into race disturbances in Bradford, Oldham and Burnley exposed the “parallel lives” being lived by white and ethnic groups in Britain today.
Since then, little has been done to make those lives converge. Is that a surprise when a serious attempt to foster public discourse of such profound issues draws such squeals of synthetic outrage?
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