The Enemy Within: A tale of Muslim Britain
Allen Lane £20
Church Times Bookshop £18
SAYEEDA WARSI stood out from her first appearance in the House of Lords, not so much because she is a Muslim woman, but because she has the strongest Yorkshire accent in the chamber.
In this book, she gives a vivid and affectionate picture of herself growing up in Dewsbury in a family that had started in this country with her grandfather as a poor immigrant, but which was spiritually and culturally rich, tolerant of different forms of Islam, and fully supportive of the advancement of the five daughters in the family. Racism
was around at the time, but what concerns her is how this has now morphed into anti-Muslim feeling; so “Right now, for many British Muslims, it feels dark, certainly
the darkest I’ve known it be.”
Baroness Warsi, who has not only chaired the Conservative Party, but has been a government minister in two departments, believes that four things have gone fundamentally wrong in terms of political policy toward Muslims. First, the idea that terrorism grows out of conservative forms of Islam. This has meant a focusing on “Islamism”, or non-violent extremism, and has had the effect of targeting whole sections of the Muslim community, their consequent alienation, and the growth of Islamophobia.
Then, allied to this is the unwillingness of government to collaborate with certain Muslim organisations in Britain, even despite a willingness to relate to states with far more conservative policies abroad.
Third, there is the teaching in schools of “British Values” as part of the counter-terrorism policy rather than as a commitment to identifying and promoting the shared values that we have in common. Finally, there has been the failure to carry through some good policies, particularly from the early years of the Cameron government.
It is an analysis that was also arrived at by the recent Commission on Religion and Belief in British Society, in its report, Living with Difference. All this is crucially important and needs to be heeded by those responsible in Government. Warsi is also critical of the Muslim community, both for its sectarianism, and for the unwillingness of many members to engage with the modern world.
The book is well researched, with nearly 70 pages of footnotes. It contains a valuable appendix on the variety of Muslim organisations in the UK and what they stand for, as well as pages of heartfelt thanks to all those who have supported her over the years, from her friends at comprehensive school to David Cameron.
It is somewhat repetitious in places, and has the style of someone who is a defence lawyer by training, and who has had to fight hard all her life against prejudice in her own community and reactionary elements in the Conservative Party. Her own statement of faith is one that Christians could well ponder.
”Belief for me is not a stagnant position, it’s a journey not a destination, evolutionary not revolutionary and ultimately a source for daily reflection, self-evaluation at times of great success and a source of strength at times of distress.”
The Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth is a former Bishop of Oxford. He is the author of The Beauty and the Horror: Searching for God in a suffering world (SPCK, 2016).