Thursday, March 23, 2006

Someone’s Been Fighting the Wrong Battles

Christians have to choose carefully what battles they will fight and how they will fight them.

After 7/7, Patrick Sookhdeo (pictured on the right) wrote an insightfully information piece.

Then came the cartoon controversy and an item looking ostensibly like an interview but frankly coming across more as a megaphone for Mr. Sookhdeo's prejudices appeared in the Telegraph.

That piece has since been removed from the Telegraph website for "legal reasons" , as the blurb on the page used to say. Now it just tells us the page is not available without giving the reason .

It only takes a little speculation to identify the offending item. Actually, there are potentially two offending and unnecessarily provocative statements. The first one is his reference to "a book" which Sookhdeo cagily intimates should be banned. I'm sure he's aware he's referring to the Koran.

OK, yes the Koran has some statements that are clearly incitements to hatred and perhaps even murder. But how this is interpreted is a theological matter. It's not a sociological matter. Unless one adopts a "historicist" view once could equally say some passages of the Old Testament are also incitements to hatred or even genocide.

Christian and Jewish theologians (but not all of them) take the historicist view that this was for that particular time and that particular place and is not intended to be normative. Some (but not all) Muslim theologians take a similar view of similar injunctions from the Koran.

Unfortunately, due to the different view Islam takes on the nature of Scripture, those who take a historicist view of the Koran are a very small minority indeed; but, they do exist.
The Swiss-born Egyptian Muslim philosopher Tariq Ramadan (pictured on the left) appears to be one of them greatly tempering its literal injunctions which brings us to the second piece of indiscretion committed by Mr. Sookhdeo when he is quoted in the interview as saying :

"Take, for example, Tariq Ramadan, whom the Government has appointed as an adviser because ministers think he is a 'community leader'. Ramadan sounds, in public, very moderate. But in reality, he has some very extreme views. He attacks liberal Muslims as 'Muslims without Islam'. He is affiliated to the violent and uncompromising Muslim Brotherhood."

Is he ?

This accusation has been repeated time and time again by numerous people usually with a hostile agenda and always without substantiation. Some have said the things Ramadan says in Arabic are of a more radical nature than what he says in French and English for western consumption. But, even that has been left unanswered by his attackers who are also fluent in Arabic (see here - particularly the comments section ).

Therefore, one doesn't need to be a rocket scientist to conclude that such accusations amount to "slander" and "libel" . As such, they are rightfully actionable in courts of law. This may indeed be why the Telegraph has taken the article down realising it probably did not have a legal leg to stand on and was not in the mood to shell out a few hundred thousand pounds to Mr. Ramadan.

So where does that leave Mr. Sookhdeo?

As a Christian, I have to say it leaves him in not a very nice place.

For one thing the Barnabas Fund (his organisation)has become (the unwilling) poster boy for the racial supremacist British National Party! He has recently announced that he is taking steps to have link to his own organisation removed from this web page put up by the BNP .

UPDATE : click HERE for an update on some Christians' response to the BNP's attempt to use Christianity for it's own supremacist ends.

It will now be more difficult for him to be taken seriously in the future when he tries to make any judgement or when he suggests policy on how the majority should be relating to the Muslim population in the UK. (He bewails the fact that he is being ignored by the Blair government. I'm thinking now there may be good reason to ignore him: one of the traits expected from folk who advise governments is wisdom ).

He has slightly lost his way in this arena where he puts himself out as an expert and, frankly, he only has himself to blame as the withdrawn Telegraph article and the unwanted attention from the BNP loudly testify.

As an aside, had the Religious Hatred Bill gone through as intended then we could have had oddball situations like good Christian ministries being prosecuted for the actions of evil people using Christianity as a cover. As the BNP now seems to be pursuing this very strategy we should be grateful for and commend the efforts of the Lawyer's Christian Fellowship (also featured on the BNP website) for forcing last minute changes to the bill.

Actually, most Christian organisations are misguidedly and unwisely fighting peripheral or wrong battles . The real war is happening elsewhere folks, in a (metaphorical) place which the political philosopher Robert Kraynak has very ably isolated and identified but most people don't have a clue.

I hope to touch on the Kraynak diagnosis and possible cures later, God willing.

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