On a bad day, it seems to me the only thing that’s different this year is the last digit of the date. We are two weeks into 2016 and ISIS related attacks have happened in Libya, Mali, France, Germany, America, and Indonesia. Yet the Bible insists that God rules in human history; working out everything according to a benign and just plan and purpose (Eph.1:11). On a good day, I see evidence of this.
For example, I woke up this morning to Radio 4 where I heard Prime Minister David Cameron talking about the estimated 38,000 ‘Muslim women’ who have been in Britain many years but don’t speak English; also some 109,000 others who have ‘inadequate’ English to function in our society. So the government is making £20 million available to offer English language classes for such people.
This lack of English, the PM rightly says, slows down the ‘integration’ and ‘assimilation’ process; which makes people vulnerable to manipulation, control and abuse by a minority of unscrupulous radical Muslim men whose views are ‘backward’. This element is repressive to the women in their communities who are effectively shut away, with nowhere to go and no one to speak for them.
Then I got a warm feeling and here’s why – David Cameron (who I have met on occasions and whose cabinet office have us on their radar) is now sounding like he works for an organisations such as my own – Interserve.
Some 30 years ago, Interserve spotted the causal link between learning English and enhancing social integration and protecting the Muslim community from manipulative radicals. To that end we have a team that is cross-culturally and biblically trained, working across the nation. They provide assistance such as English language and personal, cultural and vocational skills for life in British society.
So after such a long time-lag, it’s gratifying to see the government following our three-decade lead. This underlines for me, the fact that my all too limited ‘salt and light’ role within the Palace of Westminster, cannot be judged in weeks or months but can take years or even decades.
So during a rather bleak start to 2016, things are generally moving at the right trajectory. Followers of Jesus who act with ‘grace and truth’ (i.e. faithfulness to biblical truth and a Christly attitude in handling that truth) can be encouraged to persevere as pace-setters.
We can actually help people in politics and media to find the vocabulary and ability to speak out in a more nuanced way, about the complex issues surrounding Islam – whether in its heartlands, or in the West – and also to define and describe, more helpfully, what they see in the peoples of our various Muslim communities.
Thank God ‘political-correctness’ has receded into the rear-view mirror of public discourse. People of grace and truth have been driving the shift in language from “Muslim” and “Islam” being simplistically understood to be synonyms for pure evil, to recognising the distinction between an “Islamist” and an “ordinary” Muslim person. Also the distinction between “Islam” as a varied heritage, which (like Christianity) has dark texts, but (unlike Christianity) lacks the hermeneutical tools to interpret them for the modern world and the fact that Islam is vulnerable to take-over and bullying by its mediaeval literalists; to the embarrassment of many Muslims as an uncomprehending world looks on and blames them.
So let’s cut David Cameron some slack – of course we should be protecting our British Muslim communities by offering appropriate access to English language. In fact this should have been a non-negotiable requirement for citizenship in the first place. The delay has been caused by a mixture of political correctness and the remaining post-colonial guilt in the British psyche.