Bri­tons crit­i­cal of Christ­less Christ­mas; anti-Mus­lim back­lash feared

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Paul Ma­jendie

LON­DON — Chris­tian and Mus­lim Bri­tons joined forces Nov. 13 to tell city of­fi­cials to stop tak­ing the Chris­tian­ity out of Christ­mas, warn­ing them that this sim­ply fu­els a back­lash against Mus­lims.

They at­tacked lo­cal au­thor­i­ties who used ti­tles such as “Win­ter­val” for their Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tions and avoided us­ing Chris­tian sym­bols in case they of­fended mi­nor­ity groups, es­pe­cially Mus­lims and Hin­dus.

The ques­tion of how best to in­te­grate Mus­lims into Euro­pean so­ci­ety, which has Chris­tian roots but is in­creas­ingly sec­u­lar, has be­come a burn­ing is­sue, with Bri­tain play­ing its part in the de­bate af­ter years of pro­mot­ing mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism.

The Chris­tian Mus­lim Fo­rum, set up by Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury Rowan Wil­liams, the spir­i­tual head of the Church of Eng­land, com­plained that tak­ing the Chris­tian mes­sage out of Christ­mas played into the hands of ex­treme na­tion­al­ists who then ac­cuse Mus­lims of un­der­min­ing Bri­tain’s Chris­tian cul­ture.

“The de­sire to sec­u­lar­ize re­li­gious fes­ti­vals is in it­self of­fen­sive to both our com­mu­ni­ties,” said Ataullah Sid­diqui, vice chair­man of the fo­rum.

Angli­can Bishop of Bolton David Gil­lett said that when lo­cal au­thor­i­ties re­name Christ­mas so as not to of­fend other reli­gions, their stance “will tend to back­fire badly on the Mus­lim com­mu­nity in par­tic­u­lar.”

“We are con­cerned that those ap­proaches, which are based on anti-re­li­gious philoso­phies or a fear of re­li­gion, are caus­ing alien­ation in a wide variety of com­mu­ni­ties and fan­ning the growth of ex­trem­ism,” said Bishop Gil­lett, the fo­rum chair­man.

“Sadly, it is [Mus­lims] who get the blame for some­thing they are not say­ing. And af­ter all, the Ko­ran speaks with honor about Je­sus and tells of his birth to Mary, a vir­gin,” he added.

The threat of rad­i­cal Is­lam, rammed home by the Lon­don bomb­ings in July last year, has led Bri­tain to re­think its tra­di­tion­ally tol­er­ant at­ti­tude to­ward eth­nic mi­nori­ties.

The gov­ern­ment has opened a de­bate on whether the pol­icy of not im­pos­ing a sin­gle Bri­tish iden­tity on im­mi­grants, and in­stead pro­mot­ing mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, has led to the seg­re­ga­tion of mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties.

The Lon­don bomb­ings prompted much soul-search­ing over what led four young Mus­lim Bri­tons to be­come sui­cide bombers and kill 52 per­sons.

Many an­a­lysts fear the fo­cus on Is­lam could back­fire if Bri­tain’s 1.8 mil­lion Mus­lims feel they are un­der at­tack.

Re­li­gious con­tro­ver­sies have made front-page news in Bri­tish pa­pers this year, in­clud­ing Mus­lim protests over car­toons of the prophet Muham­mad, Pope Bene­dict XVI’s re­marks about Is­lam and the de­bate over Mus­lim women wear­ing full veils.

Bishop Gil­lett said: “Fol­low­ing the many con­tro­ver­sies through which my Mus­lim friends have gone this year [. . . ] I am par­tic­u­larly con­scious of want­ing to say to them in my Christ­mas cards and in per­son: May the peace and bless­ing of God be with you this Christ­mas.”

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