To the surprise of many, Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali, the (Anglican) Bishop of Rochester, England, has announced that he will retire next September. The 59-year old Bishop says that he is resigning so that he can work “for endangered or beleaguered Christian minorities both abroad and in the UK.”
Bishop Michael and his family live under constant police protection following death threats made in January 2008 after the Bishop had warned that there are several ‘no-go areas’ across Britain where non-Muslims live in danger. His assertion was dismissed, both explicitly by politicians (including Conservatives) who denied the existence of no-go areas because they have “never seen any,” and implicitly by clerics from his own church who declared that the introduction of Sharia law in Britain is “unavoidable” in order to “maintain social cohesion.”
Last June, when I visited Bishop Michael at Bishopscourt in Rochester, police were discreetly guarding the premises. Contemporary Britain not only has neighborhoods where one cannot enter without endangering oneself, but also topics which one cannot mention without endangering oneself – one of these topics being reference to the existence of such no-go neighborhoods. By threatening to kill those who warn the British people, Britain’s enemies are stealthily forcing the country into submission. Meanwhile, its political leaders are betraying the people through their cowardice. Not a single politician from Britain’s mainstream political parties came to Bishop Michael’s aid. On the contrary, the conservatives muttered that he was “putting it too strongly”, while the liberals said he was making “a gross caricature of reality.”
Bishop Michael told us that he was not naive. He knew that speaking out could be dangerous. He felt, however, that it was his duty to speak on behalf of persecuted Christians, including those in his own country, Britain. He had been through a similar ordeal before. Dr. Nazir-Ali is Pakistani-born, the son of a Muslim who converted to Catholicism. In 1984, he became the Anglican Bishop of Raiwind, Pakistan, but, as his life was in danger in his native country, he had to flee to Britain in 1986. Fifteen years ago, when he was ordained in Rochester, he became England’s first diocesan bishop of non-European descent.
As such, ironically, he spoke out more forcefully in defense of his adopted country and its Christian values than British-born church leaders, let alone British politicians. In a 2006 Sunday Times interview he said: “Characteristic British values have developed from the Christian faith and its vision of personal and common good. After they were clarified by the enlightenment they became the bedrock of our modern political life. These values need to be recovered to help us to inculcate the virtues of generosity, loyalty, moderation and love.” In an op-ed article in Standpoint magazine last year he criticized the British for having replaced their Christian heritage by multiculturalism which has left them utterly defenceless against extremist Islamism. “While some acknowledge the debt which Britain owes to the Judaeo-Christian tradition, they claim also that the values derived from it are now free-standing and that they can also be derived from other world-views. As to them being free-standing, the danger, rather, is that we are living on past capital which is showing increasing signs of being exhausted,” Bishop Michael warned.
The collapse of Britain is visible in the utter lack of political leadership in a nation which in the past has provided Europe with many of its most distinguished and courageous politicians. Today, even the finest of British politicians, such as Daniel Hannan, an intelligent and eloquent Member of the European Parliament for the British Conservatives who recently became a star among American conservatives, is blind to the danger which Islam poses to Europe.
When I met Bishop Michael I asked him whether he had a political remedy for the dire situation that Britain (and Europe) is currently in. He had not. Religious leaders are not politicians and should not be treated as such. When I pressured him he said that he thought Britain might be in better shape if it had a Christian-Democrat Party. That remark struck me as politically naïve, since Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands and other European countries are in no better shape than Britain, suffering from the same multiculturalism, despite having been governed by strong Christian-Democrat parties during most of the past decades. Though Bishop Michael is definitely not naïve, it was unfair of me to try to make him articulate a political remedy. As a Bishop his duty is not to engage in politics but to speak the truth “for the truth shall set you free.”
Speaking the truth is what Michael Nazir-Ali has been doing throughout his years as a bishop. It is unclear why he has decided to resign. Some think that he was pressured into leaving the Church of England. Perhaps he was. He is only 59 and was expected to serve until the age of 70. Some have called his resignation a “victory for Islamism.” However, even if he is resigning voluntarily because he feels that “the endangered or beleaguered Christian minorities both abroad and in the UK” have more need of him than the diocese of Rochester does, his resignation indicates the terrible shape Britain is in now that Christians are once again being persecuted there.
Many hope that he might “become a global figurehead of Christian opposition to Islam and to certain forms of multiculturalism.” As The Guardian’s Andrew Brown writes, that post “is vacant (the pope certainly doesn't want it).” One thing is certain, Bishop Michael is not shirking his responsibilities and running away from danger. He is one of the few Church leaders who are prepared to share in the passion of Christ. If Britain (and Europe) is going to be saved it will be by people like him, not by its politicians.