November 25, 2013

The Unbearable Lightness of Baroness Sayeeda Warsi

“You are a sushi,” Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the United Kingdom’s Minister for Faith and Communities, recounted friends describing her mixed Sunni-Shia Pakistani-Muslim ancestry during a November 15, 2013, Washington, DC, address.  Warsi’s delectable presentation of her Muslim heritage, however, was part of a junk food understanding of different belief systems having no irreconcilable differences hindering harmony, all past and present evidence notwithstanding.

“Conflict has taken many forms” throughout history, Warsi began her remarks at Georgetown University’s Alumni House.  Today, though, a “dangerous and rising phenomenon” of “religion turning on religion…is forming the fault lines.”  Among the “people…singled out and hounded out simply for…faith” globally were “Baha’is, Shias, Sunnis, and Alawites, Hindus, Sikhs, atheists—I could go on.” 

Warsi, though, placed a “focus on a religion which is suffering particularly in the wake of changes to the Middle East.”  Christian “minority populations have co-existed with the [Muslim] majority for generations,” she claimed, but now they are “increasingly treated as outsiders.”  Religious oppressors “range from states to militant groups, and even to a person’s own family.”  The “countless causes” include “[t]urf wars, social unrest and corruption…[p]olitical transition, authoritarianism and terrorism.”  Thereby “faith is used as a proxy for other divisions.”  Somewhat contradicting her modern focus, Warsi noted that, “of course, this isn’t to say the persecution of religious minorities is new” but “is woven into the history of most of our faiths.” 

In the United Kingdom, Warsi presented a counterexample of coexistence between vibrant faiths.  She “grew up practicing a minority religion, Islam, in a majority-Christian country” with a sense, to cite Hillary Clinton, that “one’s faith is unshakeable” irrespective of hostility.  Enrollment of her daughter, meanwhile, in a “Christian convent school didn’t make her less of a Muslim.”  Here she “adapted the Lord’s prayer and made it her own by ending it ameen, instead of amen.”  Warsi thus expressed opposition to a “worrying phenomenon” of “societies being told they needed to dilute their faith in order to accommodate others.”  In fact, Warsi had “called on Europe to become stronger and more confident in its Christianity” during a February 14, 2012, Vatican visit.

Internationally as well, Warsi called “freedom of religion and belief a key priority for the British government.”  Here Warsi called the Saudi Arabia-headquartered Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a grouping of 57-Muslim-majority states (including “Palestine”) with some of the world’s worst religious freedom abusers, a “key partner in our quest to promote religious freedom.”  The OIC-supported United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Resolution 16/18 also “lays the foundations for combating discrimination against people based on their religion.”

Lurking at home for Warsi, though, is the danger of “Islamophobia,” something that “had passed the dinner table test…it could be found in the most civilized of settings.”  Warsi likewise condemned in the United States “individuals like Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer denying the place of Muslims in society.”  Such “so-called patriots ignore the founding tenets of their nation, of freedom and equality.” 

Warsi demanded to “expose those who seek to twist history, who are neither true to the roots of their faiths or the founding principles of their nations” such as Spencer and Geller. Warsi therefore reiterated President Barack Obama’s twisted politically correct history that “America’s founding father, Thomas Jefferson, over 200 years ago hosted an iftar at the White House and had a Quran on his bookshelf.”  Unmentioned by Obama or Warsi, President Jefferson merely shifted the usual afternoon dinner hour on December 9, 1805, to after sunset in order to accommodate a fasting Tunisian envoy, Sidi Soliman Mellimelli. Mellimelli was negotiating restitution for Tunisian vessels seized by the USS Constitution while running a blockade to the Barbary Pirates of Tripoli.  Their depredations against American merchantmen had caused Jefferson to acquire a Quran in order to better understand his Muslim enemies.

“Spain’s Islamic Golden Age was a period of harmony and progress,” Warsi similarly superficially asserted, invoking an oft-critiqued cliché in order to demonstrate that “history shows that it is possible for these religions to live together.”  “The fundamental tenets of the major faiths…are not intrinsically on some collision course.”  Reiterating a quotation in her Vatican address from Islam’s fourth caliph, Ali ibn Abu Talib, Warsi drew inspiration from “the teachings of Islam, which tell us your fellow man is your brother—either your brother in faith, or your brother in humanity.”

Yet all of Warsi’s examples of religious repression involve various Muslim oppressors, with the exception of Burma’s Muslim Rohingha population and “attacks against Christians” in “in some parts of India.”  The mass exodus of Jews from Arab countries following Israel’s establishment in 1948 also belies Warsi’s assertion of past coexistence between religious minorities and Muslim majorities.  Hardly any objective observer would share Warsi’s view that the “Arab Spring” manifested no Muslim “sectarian tension” but merely a “mutual desire for democracy, freedom, and equality.”  Warsi’s controversial claim of a “moderate Syrian opposition” with a “strong commitments to protecting minorities” has additionally failed to win public support around the world for intervention in Syria’s civil war.

Seemingly some examination of aggressive and authoritarian teachings of Islam such as sharia and militant jihad would be in order.  Appropriate as well would be explanation by Warsi concerning how her Shiite and Sunni relatives avoided conflict while these two branches of Islam have battled each other up to the present day.  Warsi would not lack for material on these issues; whole books have appeared on dhimmitude, for example, such as Mark Durie’s The Third Choice:  Islam, Dhimmitude, and Freedom and Bat Ye’or’s Islam and Dhimmitude:  Where Civilizations Collide.  Yet Warsi apparently denies any actual Islamic motive in the numerous international security issues that have vexed the world since Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks.  Islam merely serves as a “proxy” in the persecution of Christians in places like Nigeria, Pakistan, the Middle East, Muslim terrorist attacks, or the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.   

Warsi’s behavior following her return to the United Kingdom suggests that her superficiality has not improved.  Her fellow peer, Lord Pearson, expressed on November 19 in the House of Lords his “fear that the dark side is moving strongly within Islam” and considered “part of Islam’s problem” that the Quran “commands the faithful to kill the unbelievers.”  Warsi responded with a West Wing segment criticizing various archaic Old Testament passages to argue that “[t]hese texts from the Old Testament could so easily be manipulated to cause mischief and indeed have been manipulated in the past.” 

As Warsi’s bête noir Spencer noted at his website Jihadwatch, Warsi’s “argument is “extremely common and extremely disingenuous.”  While there are “armed jihad groups justifying violence by referring to the Qur’an and Sunnah all over the world,” both Judaism and Christianity distinguish between various forms of law in the Old Testament.  Judaism sees the religious laws of the Old Testament, in contrast to moral laws, as applicable only to Jews and has interpretations defining various brutal practices in the Old Testament as no longer applicable (see here and here).  Christianity, meanwhile, sees Old Testament religious law’s completion in Jesus Christ’s life (see here and here).

Warsi’s approval of UNHRC Resolution 16/18 indicates that she is not terribly interested in rebuttal.  The resolution references “derogatory stereotyping, negative profiling and stigmatization of persons based on their religion” and “denigration.”  Hidden behind such words is the OIC’s long term goal of criminalizing Islamic blasphemy, something even more evident in earlier OIC resolution drafts abandoned in the face of Western resistance.

Speaking on February 7 to the 2013 OIC summit in Cairo, Warsi evinced no opposition to this agenda.  Using the OIC’s favored propagandistic terminology, Warsi argued that the “OIC has for many years been concerned about the scourge of Islamophobia, or anti-Muslim hatred, and other hate speech.”  Warsi noted that “incitement to religious hatred remains an offence in Britain” under the Racial and Religious Hatred Act, such that speech like Quran burning is illegal.  Opposition to “Islamophobia” has similarly barred Geller and Spencer from entering the United Kingdom.

A Muslim version of Obama, Warsi believes that belief systems like religions are equivalent to ice cream flavors, tasting different but having the same basic ingredients.  Yet Islam’s core canonical teachings do indeed claim in various ways the propriety of using force in the name of faith.  Like the communist regimes discussed by Warsi, orthodox Muslims want “to remove all ideological opposition.”  Warsi’s assertion following her address that religious fanaticism comes from “not too much religion, but from too little” is thus hardly accurate.  Warsi’s support of “Gay rights,” meanwhile, risks infringing a religious “freedom to manifest…beliefs” as shown in the United States and the United Kingdom

Bold Christian witness simply does not always bring forth a benign response from ideological competitors like Muslims and homosexuals.  Warsi apparently has forgotten what Christian confidence entailed in the Roman Empire.  Christians and others seeking to advocate conflicting ideas peacefully should remember this, Warsi’s well-meant but shallow appeals for interfaith harmony notwithstanding.


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