The veil, the cross and a vital debate over the heart and soul of our nation  

melani philipsSource Daily Mail 

Suddenly, Britain seems to be developing into a cultural and religious battleground.

Hard on the heels of Jack Straw's criticism of the Muslim full-face veil, local government minister Phil Woolas has said that Aishah Azmi, the Dewsbury teaching assistant who insists on wearing such a veil in her primary school classroom, should be sacked.


Not to be outdone, the Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, has accused Muslims of proproa kind of "voluntary apartheid" by shutting themselves away in closed societies and demanding immunity from criticism, corroding the very foundations of British culture.

 Meanwhile, British Airways is being sued for religious discrimination after it required a Christian woman employee to conceal her cross while permitting other faiths to wear turbans, hijabs or Hindu bangles.

This echoed the controversy earlier this month when the BBC agonised over whether newsreader Fiona Bruce should wear a small cross on a chain in case it might cause offence.

How can Britain have arrived at a situation where it is seriously argued that a class of children who don't speak English as their first language should be taught by a shrouded woman whose expression they can't see and whose voice they can't even hear properly - while the BBC thinks that wearing the symbol of Britain's established religion might be offensive? Extreme The source of this confusion is a profound loss of national, cultural and religious nerve.

The Christian values that once defined national identity have simply collapsed, creating a cultural vacuum which Islam - Britain's fastest-growing and most assertive religion - is busily filling. Those who defend the Muslim veil are grossly misreading the situation. It is not some picturesque religious garment equivalent to the often curious attire worn by members of other religions.

It is associated instead with the most extreme version of Islam, which holds that Islamic values must take precedence over the secular state. Only a small minority of British Muslim women choose to wear this veil.

But unlike other religious attire, it is thus inherently separatist and perceived by some as intimidatory.

That is why it is unacceptable. Belatedly, there seems to be a dawning recognition in Government of the extreme danger into which British society has been placed both by the doctrine of multiculturalism, which holds that upholding majority values is somehow illegitimate, and by the official policy of appeasing Islamic extremism.

Hence Mr Woolas's remarks, the show of ministerial support for Jack Straw, and the threat last week made by Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly to withhold funding from Muslim institutions that do not combat extremism. Although hundreds of thousands of British Muslims have no truck with extremism, opinion polls reveal that between 40 and 60 per cent of British Muslims want to live under sharia law, and parts of our inner cities are fast becoming unofficial sharia enclaves.

This has led to desperate suggestions to combat such a threat to social cohesion. Lord Bruce-Lockhart, chairman of the Local Government Association, says schools should have racial quotas, while the Government is proposing to force faith schools to open a quarter of their intake to other faiths.

Both approaches are badly misguided. Faith schools would be forced to turn away children of their own religion in favour of others who would significantly dilute the cultural and religious identity of the school. And can anyone really see non-Muslim parents being forced to send their children to Muslim schools where - as one Muslim headmaster has already declared - non-Muslim girls would have to wear the hijab? But the problem lies deeper still.

It is not so much separatism as a desire in some quarters to Islamise Britain. Mohammed Abdul Bari, chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain, has said explicitly that he wants to encourage Britain to adopt Islamic traditions, including arranged marriages, and can't see any reason why anyone should object. Unsurprisingly, the MCB is now accusing ministers of being "Islamophobic".

Certainly, it is vital to prevent the demonisation of all Muslims. But the fact is that the persistent failure to tackle such extremism is providing fertile territory for white racists to exploit. The recent disturbances in Windsor sounded an urgent alarm. The Muslim owner of a dairy in the town applied for planning permission to turn it into a mosque and Islamic centre.

Although the council turned down the application, locals say the owner ignored this and extremist worshippers regularly turned up in the dairy to pray. Trouble flared when a 15-year-old non-Muslim boy was attacked outside the "mosque".

When the boy's mother and 18-year-old sister arrived to remonstrate, they were apparently set upon by people, allegedly from within the building, wielding iron bars and pitchforks. This set in train four nights of disturbances when, according to the police, both white racists and Muslim extremists muscled in and the dairy was firebombed.

In a further unrelated but disturbing development in the town, four British soldiers returning from Afghanistan were forced to abandon a house they were planning to rent after threats and intimidation by Muslims. And all this in the heart of the Home Counties.


Such Islamic aggression is gaining ground because of the collapse of British majority values. In remarks in his controversial interviews that have been largely ignored, the head of the Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, observed that Britain's Christian anchor had been pulled up, leaving the country's "moral compass spinning".


As a result, its values were being threatened by a "considerable body of opinion that would like to challenge the nature of this society".

 Offensive On this issue, the General was absolutely right. Christianity is being written out of the national script. Local councils have abolished Christmas as offensive.

Christian voluntary groups are denied funding on the grounds that they are not committed to "diversity".


And despite Ruth Kelly's recent strictures, the Church of England is dismayed that her Commission for Cohesion and Integration contains - astoundingly - no Christian representative.


Within the Church itself, there are faint stirrings of a challenge to its hitherto supine surrender to cultural collapse.


An unpublished paper written by the interfaith adviser to the Archbishop of Canterbury says the Church has been sidelined by "preferential" treatment afforded to the Muslim community, including using public funds to fly Muslim scholars to Britain, shelving legislation on forced marriage and encouraging national financial arrangements to comply with Islamic requirements.


The most grotesque example of all, however, is surely the proposal to build the largest mosque in Europe on the site of the Olympic village in east London. The most prominent landmark on the Olympic site, it is intended to symbolise Islamic power in Britain.


Worse still, it is being funded by the Tablighi Jamaat, said by French intelligence and the FBI to be the most significant recruiters for Al Qaeda in Europe.


And to cap it all, within a mile of the site, the largest church in Europe - the Kingsway International Christian Centre - has been compulsorily purchased and is about to come down.


What greater symbol can there be of the retreat of Christianity and its replacement by militant Islam? This is why the argument over the place of the veil and the cross in public life is so significant.

 This is not about prejudice or discrimination. It is about cultural survival.  

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