Themes and Thoughts
Food From Thought

6 Triple Jeopardy for the West

Michael Nazir-Ali, Triple Jeopardy for the West, Aggressive Secularism, Radical Islamism and Multiculturalism, London,  Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012.

ISBN 978-1-4411-1347-4


At times, this book seems like a collection of articles (plus a book review); at times, it seems to be one of those books which have been very of-the-moment and timely when produced, but is now a little dated. It is none the worse for either of those things.

Because of the identity of its authorship, the reader knows he is in the hands of an orthodox Christian, and one who, because of his unusual origin and life-journey is in a unique position to instruct the still-predominantly white middle-class Church of England, and indeed, British Christianity as a whole.

Nazir-Ali makes a number of very valuable points, and particularly, fully accepts and acknowledges various things that the politicians, mainstream media, academia, and “liberal” Church leaders, either deny or keep quiet about:  that aggressive secularism, Islamism, and multiculturalism are much the same thing – and tend to totalitarianism (p. vii); that secularism/atheism is a world-view/belief system, and in no way neutral (pp. x, 31); that ‘Britishness’ and British ‘values’ (“’thin’ values”, pp. 3, 9, 145) are not the same as Christian or Judeo/Christian values (p. xi); that all religious traditions do not produce the same results in society (p. xiii); that the monarchy, the national anthem, prayers in Parliament, bishops in the House of Lords, etc., are not just “tourist-friendly vestigial elements left over from the Middle Ages” (p. 5); that Church leaders utterly failed to resist secularism, the decline of Christian thought and observance,  and the sexual revolution, when they arrived (p. 7); that ethics and values cannot be “freestanding”, divorced from belief in their (Judeo-Christian) source (pp. 12, 137); that the destruction of marriage, the family, childhood and fatherhood did not come about by accident, but were the result of intentional political engineering (pp. 21-2, 148); that school children are very much not taught the ‘upside’ of British history, or Britain’s contribution to the world (p. 29), or the role of Christianity in creating science, and originating the concept of individual freedom (pp. 167-8); that Christianity should not let any ‘culture set the agenda’ (pp. 40-1); the lack of impartiality on the part of the BBC regarding ‘euthanasia’/assisted dying (pp. 107, 110); that the secularisation of nursing and the health professions is maintained, if not created, by the legal system (p 136) (there are surely more).

Certainly, the unique contribution of Bishop Nazir-Ali is his knowledge and insight concerning Islam. His descriptions of the nature and development of Islamic law, the changes in Islamic thinking (particularly in our society) in the last few decades, and the nature of jihad and the Islamic sense of grievance, are probably unequalled, and probably, in parts, go over the head of some readers, because of their technicality, but are not less valuable for that (Chs. 5-7, etc.). He seems, in the end, to stop short of saying (as some do) that ‘the (true) nature of Islam is the problem’, saying that we can distinguish between Islam and “Islamist ideology” (p. 79) but elsewhere seeming to show how this ideology affects many/most Muslims in our world today. The good relationship that existed between Islam and British rule (in what is now India and Pakistan) may come as something of a surprise (pp. 72-73).

On the question of the nature and value of human life (“personhood” seems to be his preferred concept, eg. p. 115), the use of human stem cells, and the ‘end-of-life debate’, he has much of value to offer, speaking as he does, from a Christian perspective; his account of Mary Warnock and her book and ideas (Ch. 12) makes one wish that so much status and influence might not be awarded to such people, in our society. At times, he can seem rather over-optimistic and excessively hopeful: eg. how Pakistan’s Islamist ills may be removed (Ch. 8); the changes for the better which Christianity and Church schools can produce (p. 35, 37); the strengthening of ‘moderate’ Islam (p. 47); the “Cure for National Amnesia” (Ch. 13).

At times also, one has to admit, he does remind the reader of the old non-critical Christian theologian, eg. in his attitude to Darwin and evolutionism (Ch. 9), where he seems uncritically to accept the old myth about Bishop Wilberforce (p. 101). His approach to Theilhard de Chardin (Jesuit priest perhaps, but more of a New Ager than a Christian) also has a slightly old ring (pp. 27, 104-105). His reflection “It has always been a surprise to me why such high priority should be given to embryonic stem cells when, in fact, most effective treatments have been derived from adult cells …” (p. 114) perhaps shows a certain lack of insight into the motivations and values of some researchers (and the depth of human wickedness) – but, of course, he has had far more direct experience of scientists and ethical philosophers than such as I have had.

Bishop Nazir-Ali, above all, is a senior orthodox Christian who fully acknowledges the perilous situation (‘Triple Jeopardy’) that we are in – many do not – and by “we”, I mean the Christian Church, and Western society and civilisation as a whole; where others brush grim reality under the carpet, make light of things, and indulge in over-optimism, Nazir-Ali does not. If only such leadership could be found at the head of the Church of England (and others)! I suspect, actually, that he is able to do far more in his present role (Director of the Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy and Dialogue) than he would if things were otherwise.


November 2014



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