From the Revd R. C. Paget
Sir, - As an Arabist for more than 40 years, and one who left
Syria just a few weeks before the insurrection, I am deeply
concerned about the highly misleading pronouncements by senior
politicians and clergy on the nature of Islam and its goals.
Recent events in Birmingham schools and in France ought to alert
us all to some of the unpalatable realities about both mainstream
and extremist Islam: refusing to be open and honest about these
things does the people of this country a great disservice. It is
time to dispel some of the myths, lest we unwittingly create a
nightmare for future generations: it is not the time to worry about
political correctness, to turn a blind eye, or to mistake the
Anglican sin of niceness for true compassion.
While there are many different sects within Islam, their
majority world-view is an all-encompassing one that has no word for
"secular" in its politics: democracy is simply a tool through which
they hope one day to secure, simply by numbers, a vote to replace
it with theocracy.
Western pluralism is, again, something of which to take
advantage for the time being; and witnessing the demise, largely
from libertarian rule, of Western society - break-up of the
traditional family, teenage pregnancies, alcohol abuse, etc. - they
see the social and legal order of patriarchy and sharia as the
antidote. And then there are the extremists!
That we all know and respect decent and well-meaning Muslims
from a variety of sects does not mean that we should be naïve about
the consequences of introducing sharia principles in finance and
law, the true agenda of mainstream Islam, and its attitude to
unbelief and apostasy, or the choices that our "good Muslim"
friends will one day be coerced to make by their fellow
R. C. PAGET
The Vicarage, Brenchley
Kent TM12 7NN
From the Revd Paul Cowan
Sir, - I AM against all extremism, terrorism, violence, and
killing, especially in the name of God.
I AM for doing unto others as I would wish them to do to me.
I AM for respecting and trying to understand the faith of
I AM for the marginalised, the ethnic minority, and the outcast
in our society.
. . . Am I Charlie?
St George the Martyr
Newbury RG14 6NU
From Janet Leythorne
Sir, - There is no condoning the terrorist attacks in France
last week. But would they have happened if the publications of
Charlie Hebdo had been less unkind?
Being hurtful not only causes pain and distress, but often
provokes retaliation, particularly in this case in the minds of
those already angry at the killing of tens of thousands of innocent
Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan by Western attacks.
Freedom of the press means that what Charlie Hebdo published was
lawful. Was it necessary? It has already caused tragedy, and there
is more to come. St Paul said that it is better not to eat meat
offered to idols if by so doing one upsets or offends. Does not the
same principle apply here?
Alexanders, The Cliff
Arbor Lane, Pakefield NR33 7BQ
From Mrs Viven Moores
Sir, - Next week is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Would it not be better to have a week of prayer for Inter-Religious
Peace and Understanding? Isn't prayer for unity among Muslims far
more urgent today than prayer for unity among Christians?
4 Redwing Road
Bury BL8 4ET
From Mr Gordon James
Sir, - I have long thought of myself as an old-fashioned liberal
Anglican: in favour of women's ordination and gay marriage,
convinced of the uniqueness and divinity of Jesus, while being
unconvinced that God intends to condemn all non-Christians to
eternal torment. It seems I am mistaken. Under two of Professor
Koopmans's three criteria (News, 9 January), I am a
As a lay preacher, I constantly draw on the Bible and the wisdom
of the Church over the ages to question and problematise current
assumptions and unexamined traditions, referring back in particular
to the life and teachings of Jesus and of the New Testament
authors. If that is returning to the roots of Christianity, then I
am convinced that we should do this. This doesn't mean that I
believe that the 21st-century Church should or could become the
It is Professor Koopmans's third criterion that most concerns
me, however. "The rules of the Bible [the Qur'an] are more
important to me than the laws of [survey country]." Yes, they are.
Not in detail, but in general. To say "no" would be to assert that,
should Parliament ever enact a law condemning all Jews to death in
gas chambers, that law would take ethical priority over God's
prohibition of murder. Every challenge to constitutional evil, from
the slave trade to the denial of votes for women, comes from people
with a commitment to a law higher than the law of the land.
Often, the higher authority appealed to is God, but it may be an
abstract principle, such as human rights. Indeed, establishing the
law of the land as the ultimate ethical standard is incompatible
with democracy, since there would be no standpoint from which the
legislative status quo could be subjected to a critique, and thus
no need ever to change it.
A few weeks ago, we celebrated the festival of Christ the King,
a festival inaugurated in the face of growing nationalism and
totalitarianism in Europe in the early 20th century. To acknowledge
Christ as King is to reject the doctrine that any government has an
absolute right to enact whatever law it chooses, however oppressive
or evil, and to assert that human beings retain the right to
dissent from, and even to resist, the dominant ideology. If bombs
and bullets persuade us to abandon these freedoms, then we will
have surrendered very liberties we claim to defend.
Gordon James (Reader)
4 Lincoln Place, Macclesfield
Cheshire SK10 3EW
From the Revd Tom Brazier
Sir, - I was saddened by your report last week of a survey that
contrasts Christian and Islamic fundamentalism.
We have come to understand the word "fundamentalism" to mean
religiously motivated hatred, a concept that we rightly reject.
There is, however, a prior and deeper understanding of the word
which is about following the basic or fundamental principles of a
discipline. In this sense of the word, Christians should, indeed,
This kind of fundamentalism results in self-sacrificial love as
opposed to other-sacrificial hatred. We tend to recoil equally
strongly from self-sacrifice as we do from religious hatred; so it
is imperative that true Christian fundamentalism receive as much
encouragement as possible.
The survey, itself, fails to grasp the true nature of Christian
fundamentalism. It asks respondents to agree or disagree with three
statements to ascertain whether they are fundamentalist.
The first, "Christians should return to the roots of
Christianity," is surely one that all Christians should affirm (the
root in question being Jesus, and we all as sinners needing to
return to him); but only 21 per cent did.
The other two statements, for a true Christian fundamentalism,
are surely meaningless. "There is only one interpretation of the
Bible and every Christian must stick to that" is far too narrow. A
Christian fundamentalist can respond only that the Bible is far too
varied and deep for any such simplistic statement, or its converse,
to make sense.
Finally, to the third statement, "The rules of the Bible are
more important to me than the laws of [insert country]," a
Christian fundamentalist can respond only that presuppositions
about the Bible's being a rule book fly in the face of the epistles
to the Romans and Galatians, which argue that all rules - religious
or secular - are a distant second best to a life of freedom in
We should deeply lament both the desperate paucity of Christian
fundamentalists (21 per cent) and the tragic misunderstanding of
fundamentalism as hatred rather than love.
38 Brancepeth Road
Tyne & Wear NE38 0LA