Saturday, January 12, 2008

Tyranny: Muslim, Catholic and Anglican

Cal Thomas, an old-time conservative Californian, Oakland Tribune columnist, and Fox News Watch panelist, has sounded the alarm about Muslim immigration to Great Britain. Segregation, Muslim Style In an off-hand sort of way, he implies that the same warning may apply to the USA, but his main focus is on Britain. Thomas doesn't seem to have noticed, but his warning is eerily reminiscent of the propaganda that nativist Protestants directed against Roman Catholic immigrants, particularly 1830-1850. Anyone remember the Know-Nothing Party? Also known as the American Party? Abraham Lincoln remarked:

"Our progress in degeneracy appears to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that 'all men are created equal.' We now practically read 'all men are created equal, except negroes.' When the Know Nothings get control, it will read 'all men are created equal except negroes, and foreigners, and catholics.' "

But Thomas does have a point about the way Islam is being brought into Britain. And to the same extent that Thomas has a point, the Know-Nothings had a valid point about the potential danger from Roman Catholic immigration. Thomas quotes the Right Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester for the Church of England, that Muslims in England are segregating themselves into neighborhoods where non-Muslims "trespass" at risk of assault or harrassment. David Davis, the "shadow home secretary" accuses Muslim immigrants of shutting themselves off from the surrounding culture, and demanding immunity from criticism. (The shadow home secretary is a wanna-be, a member of the opposition Tory party who would become home secretary if his party wins a majority in the next election.)

Know-Nothings professed alarm that Roman Catholic immigrants were ignorant, illiterate peasants, kept by supersition and an authoritarian hierarchy under the strict supervision of their priests. If such people were allowed to become citizens and vote, the nativists warned, the Pope would dictate government policy and transform the cradle of liberty into a Roman despotism.

We all know that this did not happen in the United States of America. Why not? Because, over time, although most immigrants of whatever nationality and faith lived for a time in ethnic ghettoes, they all sought, absorbed, and embraced at least some of the better principles our nation has, in its brighter moments, tried to stand for. The recently deceased former governor of Wisconsin, Lee Sherman Dreyfus, told Cardinal Carol Wojtyla that the mind-set of Catholics in America was "They are good young Catholics, but they think like Protestants." How fortunate for American democracy.

The same was true for Muslim immigrants, and even the Mormons (many of them immigrants recruited by the LDS Church in Europe) accepted American citizenship, with a little prodding from the Seventh Cavalry. Most Americans whose faith is Islam are fifth or sixth generation descendants of naturalized citizens. Their mosques are generations old. Many recent Muslim immigrants follow their example. And those among the African American population, who have chosen Islam, were established here for many generations before converting.

Perhaps Muslims in Great Britain are not following the same path. It was not always certain that Roman Catholics in America would do so. In the powerful but mostly forgotten book American Freedom and Catholic Power, Paul Blanshard warned as recently as 1951 of genuine efforts by the church hierarchy to mobilize their parishioners for the transformation of church doctrine into government policy. In 1984, Michael Schwartz offered The Persistent Prejudice: Anti-Catholicism in America, which openly declared that it is the role of his church to "convert" America, and that any criticism of this mission is "anti-Catholic bias." (Shades of British immigrant Muslims demanding immunity from criticism).

Let us be clear: the segregation or self-segregation of any ethnic or religious community, by outside hostility and prejudice or by internal self-righteousness, is unacceptable in a pluralistic democratic republic. Religious association is one of the many freedoms we all enjoy, but it is unacceptable for residential, commercial, and political life to be segregated by religion, any more than by ethnicity.

We associate for worship with people who share our faith, we act out our respective faiths in our daily lives, as we encounter neighbors, customers, co-workers, political comrades, of many different faiths, who all share a common citizenship. We all have inherited recipes and family traditions, and generally, we all like going to restaurants offering cuisine from other traditions. Perhaps nothing unites Americans so much as the fact that we all like Chinese food.

The answer to what may be happening in Britain is not to affirm that nation's or any nation's "Christian identity." It is to affirm that no person and no group of persons may inflict their own faith upon another by physical, secular, coercive means. There are nations where religious doctrine is enforced by the police. Anyone who believes that is right should remove themselves to such a nation, only, be careful to find out which branch of what doctrine the police enforce before buying a plane ticket!

We should also keep in mind that immigration is seldom motivated by a desire to "take over" the land people move to. The last time that happened was when John Smith arrived in the Chesapeake Bay region, and the Separatists (Pilgrims) and Puritans landed in Massachusetts. Nobody has a better right to complain about ungrateful immigrants taking over from their hosts than the Powhattan, Pequot, the Narragansett, and the Mohegan.

Every wave of immigration to the independent United States of America was inspired by the fact that American industry was looking for cheap labor to fill up their factories, mines and slaughterhouses. Captains of industry didn't really care what this might do to the religious character of a righteously Protestant nation, nor what kind of citizens and voters their new employees might make. There way money to be made. Great Britain's immigrants are a kind of reverse flow. Britain made itself a wealthy and powerful nation by going out and building a colonial empire. Now, some portion of the population of that empire is, quite naturally, gravitating to the center of all that wealth. How they are received has everything to do with what sort of "citizens" their children will become.

Thomas insinuates that multiculturalism is faithless, "because in this view, truth does not exist." Hmmm... I thought that is what he was criticizing Muslims for, insisting that truth exists, and they know what it is! I can see Thomas and a couple of mullah's trading accusations of "Infidel" until the end of time. Many who practice multiculturalism understand that there is an absolute truth, which does not depend on the vagaries of popular opinion or human will. We just have enough humility to recognize that God will judge, we are not called to impose our limited understanding of The Truth upon our neighbors.

I am a Christian, and a Protestant. I have found Roman Catholic mass a moving worship service, learned from the teachings of Orthodox rabbis, and understood God a little better by reading from the Qu'ran. (The opening verse is one of the most moving prayers ever written in any language). I am not moved to give obedience to the Bishop of Rome, to renounce Christianity, or to pray five times a day facing Mecca.

Thomas also throws up the tired lie that paganism, hedonism and greed undermined past empires, presumably the Roman and Greek empires. Nobody denounces hedonism more rigorously than al-Qaeda. The Roman Empire was quite intact and powerful when Constantine made his deal with the Christian bishops of the day. If anything, the fall of the Roman Empire would suggest that Christianity is what brought the empire to its doom. (No, not really, but empirically it is a more accurate statement.) And western civilization was built upon pure, unadulterated greed.

Right Reverend Nazir-Ali mixes apples and oranges when he writes, with Thomas's evident approval, "None of this will be of any avail if Britain does not recover that vision of its destiny which made it great. That has to do with the Bible's teaching that we have equal dignity and freedom because we are all made in God's image." No it doesn't.

Those are beautiful principles, well worth teaching. One could even make them the foundation of a rapprochement between Christianity and Islam, to the extent that the foundation for them can be found in the Torah, the first five books of what Christians call the Old Testament, which are also sacred to Muslims. However, they have little to do with what made Britain "great."

Nazir-Ali is the bishop of an Established Church. Less than 200 years ago, membership in this church was required in order to vote, hold public office, or serve in many professions. Noncomformists were explicitly denied "equal dignity and freedom." England didn't fully embrace such principles until well after World War II. The aristocracy which built the British Empire begrudgingly gave in, kicking and screaming, when they needed their former colonies' aid to recover from the devastation of the last war.

Perhaps Britain's problem is that Muslim immigrants still feel that they are NOT welcome to participate in the larger culture, with equal dignity and freedom. Perhaps they feel that retreating into their own little ghettoes is a natural survival reflex. Maybe what the British need to do is "take a Muslim to lunch." (And accept a return invitation, even if the food is new and different.) Welcome wagons are more effective than mandatory indoctrination. There is no need to glorify old tyrannies in order to reject new ones.