If you think religious oppression only exists in other lands, it is time to think again. Forget Dawkins’ mild, intellectual harassment of believers. I’m talking about serious, credible death threats issued to people of faith in England’s ‘green and pleasant land’.
One of my friends, an 23 year old Afghan man called Ali (name changed), attends South Birmingham college and has permission to stay in this country. One of his tutors there, a Muslim woman, engaged him in discussion yesterday in the ESOL class he attends. She asked him ‘what is your favourite day of the week ‘? ‘Sunday’, was his reply. Why? He attends the same church that I do in town and he enjoys the meetings very much. Ali converted to Christianity some years ago, whilst in England.
His tutor, surprised, asked him why he went to church as his mother country was Muslim and that meant that he ought to be a Muslim himself. She emphasized his responsibilities to the faith of his fathers and said that, as an apostate, he could be killed if he returned to Afghanistan. Under Islamic law, this is an appropriate sentence for a convert to any other religion.
At this point in the conversation, things took a sinister turn. Some Afghan men in the ESOL class had been participating in the discussion and, when the tutor mentioned Ali’s life being endangered if he returned to his homeland, they put it to Ali that he didn’t need to go to Afghanistan; they were ready to kill him right here. These men, from the Pashtun tribal grouping in Afghanistan, mean business. The Police have been informed, as well as his college, and we’re making provision for Ali to go to a safe house in the city where he will be reasonably secure from the prospect of imminent death.
The sad thing is that many people hearing about this event will dismiss it as a manifestation of a primitive and problematic sub culture that just happens to exist on our shores because of government migration policy. ‘Afghan tribes people always fight one another’. ‘Bloody asylum seekers’. ‘Look, religion causing trouble again.’
Such analyses are lazy and naïve. Much though I respect her stand for ‘faith’, Baroness Warsi doesn’t do us any favours if the message she puts over is that all faiths are the same. They are not, and the attempt to be a ‘defender of faith’, as Prince Charles described it, is as questionable in its helpfulness now as it was when he first voiced the idea. Some belief systems are benign, some are downright toxic. That is true of obnoxious pseudo-Christian groups who hate gay people as much as it does Islamic fascists.
The only faith worth defending is one that passes the test of enhancing and sustaining human dignity and free society and which places absolute value on the individual. Christianity does not persecute and kill ‘apostates’. The word is never used in the Bible in reference to people who convert to other faiths. Fundamentalist Islam does. In this strain of the belief, now current in UK, those deemed kufr – ‘coverers’ or rejecters of the truth – are rubbish, fit for disposal. The guys who threatened my friend Ali may be unsubtle, but they express something of the genuine contempt that this ideology holds towards people of any other belief system, whether Christian, Hindu or atheist.