Monday, 7 June 2010

How papers feed bigotry about Islam

At the last census, High Wycombe’s population was 92,300, of whom 10,838 were Muslim (11·7 %). If you prick them, do they not bleed? Like the rest of us, Muslims die. Therefore it can come as no surprise that there is a demand for Muslim burials in High Wycombe. The Local Authority has to meet this. Population is growing, and room running out. It would suit Hysterical Islamophobics to be able to say space had been clawed back from consecrated ground in the local graveyard; but that would be barmy because the other 88% of the population also continue to die, so there's absolutely no sense in not extending the graveyard, and land is available.

Enter the Bucks Free Press with a story called “High Wycombe Cemetery Extension agreed for Muslim Burials.” This downpedals the fact that a cemetery extension was needed anyway, and points out Muslims like be buried facing Mecca whilst omitting, curiously, to point out
  1. It doesn't cost any more to bury people in new ground facing any particular direction

  2. The site in question snakes round a hillside in all directions, and where the majority orientation has been East, Mecca is basically East of High Wycombe anyway

  3. Since 11·3% of the town’s ratepayers are Muslim, they surely have the same right to be buried according to their wishes, if possible, as everybody else.
Next, as is the way with Flat Earth News, this scoop (that Muslims in High Wycombe die like everybody else — Shock! Horror!) is routed, via This is Local London, to the Daily Telegraph.

The Telegraph spins the story, by adding an anonymous local resident saying “Yet again many thousands of pounds [are] being spent pandering to the local Muslim community.” Apparently burying the dead is pandering to them.
I disagree. I don’t think High Wycombe is ready for Sky Burials quite yet.

The Telegraph also carries, final killer element, a quotation from the Bishop of Buckingham — oh, that’s me! — pointing out that people of all faiths and none are regularly buried in consecrated ground. This is hardly news, since it’s an obligation laid on the Church since time immemorial and legislated in the Burials Act 1880. The established church is delighted, of course, to fufil this basic civic obligation.

But, final link in the chain, the Telegraph story fulfils its purpose. On Saturday evening I receive a furious email from a gentleman in the North West. He had the character and decency to give his name, but can’t have expected me to use it publicly, so I won’t. I believe my correspondent is a good and decent man. This is his reding of the Telegraph:
Having just read an article where it states you are delighted to serve the Muslim community in allowing an extension of Muslim graves facing Mecca into the main graveyard in High Wycombe, Bucks. I would like to express my disgust at your support of such an action given how Christians throughout the world have and are still being persecuted by Muslims on the instruction of Islam.

I would ask you Sir, where was your support for Christians when Muslims desecrated the graveyard in St. Johns Church, Longsight, Manchester by destroying all the gravestones to make way for a mosque car park. The silence of the media and the Church on this issue, has been absolutely deafening.

By your appeasement and support for Islam you are feeding a hungry lion and when there is no more food to give it, it will turn on you, as can be seen in how Coptics are treated in their own cities in Egypt, a once Christian country. Not only are Muslims taken over our Churches they now want to invade our graveyards and the Church is sitting back and not only saying nothing but encouraging such actions.

It is an absolute disgrace and a very sad day for Christians in this once Christian country
I have to point out to him that I didn’t actually say what he thinks I did. This isn’t a churchyard so it’s none of my business who is buried there. But then my eye is caught by his tale of St John’s Longsight, which I had never heard of before, not being a recipient of Manchester BNP publicity. A video has been posted on the Internet of what I believe is called hard nogging being used as substrate for a carpark, with the strong implication that it is made up of Christian gravestones. This is the message my friend in the north West received, that Muslims have been “destroying all the gravestones to make way for a Mosque car park.”

Trouble is, the gravestones are still there. Indeed, you can see them here. The basic answer to my friend’s question (“where was my support for Christians...?) is that the whole story was a canard, a fiction designed to whip up inter-religious hatred. My correspondent, good and decent man that he is, bought the lie. The Daily Telegraph story in its sexed up form catalysed a response in him, and so the panjandrum of fear, suspicion and hatred gathers momentum.

I had to remind him, as the Christian he professes to be, that the Ninth Commandment is a Christian value. He does not care to admit that he bore false witness, although he patently did, and he goes on to suggest “the bottom line is not about this or any other story put out by the British press.” Really?


Lesley Fellows said...

Excellent post, dripping in irony. Always amazes me when Christianity is used to defend the rights of the privileged majority over the marginalised.. struggling to find that sentiment in my Bible, but then what do I know?

Fr David Cloake said...

This is what we are talking about, my lord Bishop - excellent. I, with you, am just about getting the righteous hump at the way the white world wants to beat up on Muslims (like we have a noble right, Sir Squire). One can only guess the outrage that would play out in Daily Mail central (Tunbridge Wells?) if the journalistic world took agin the followers of Christ in the same way. This stuff that you rightly highlight is just plain old dumb racism. There are good and bad in all faith groups, and actually, I have more to worry about in this world from the white folks and their anti-Islamic antics. Yes, there are Mulim nutters, but there are Christian loons too - the threat from the rest of the Muslims of Wycombe or anywhere else is, well, just a pigment of our imagination

Archbishop Cranmer said...

Absolutely superb. Incisive, factual and replete with Christian humility. Bless you.

changingworship said...

I suspect that the BNP are using the current lack of understanding of burial legislation and a fear of death fueled by the modern sanitisation of the whole process.

I can't remember the last church I went in that didn't use headstones as paving slabs (as the video you linked shows as well).

When I spent two years at a church that dated back a thousand years the grave yard had be used from east to west for a thousand years. When it was full they had returned to the east end and started again working west towards the church. This repeated until modern times.

John Allister, Cheshire said...

I must admit I'd rather assumed that the fees people pay for burials cover the cost of the lease of the land in which they are buried for 50 years (or however long it is they retain a claim on it).

So unless these Muslims in High Wycombe are receiving government subsidies for what everyone else has to pay for (which would be unfair), isn't this simply the operation of a market economy?

Totally agreed about the importance of love and not bearing false witness, by the way.

John Hayward, Jubilee Centre said...

I would be interested in knowing your thoughts on the Inspired By Muhammad campaign and Colin Chapman's assertion that 'Christians should listen to the internal debate between moderate and extremist Muslims and add whatever weight they can to support Muslims who challenge the more violent interpretations of the Qur'an.'

Vinaigrette girl said...

Just wondering - did you write to the Torygraph to correct their misrepresentations?

We in the choir, though, appreciate the lively sermon none the less, mind you.

Robin Usher said...

Excellent post, Alan. Much neglected Commandment, No.9!

Might nip down to Longsight and have a look at the graveyard myself.

Great word 'panjandrum', bye the way.

Barney said...

Fantastic blog, Bishop Alan. If you ever feel like writing an article for our website
I'm sure I (and the rest of the members at USoB) would love to read it.
Ed USoB United Shades of Britain
"United Britain - Many faiths - One voice."

Aoife USoB said...

Excellent work as always.

If it helps, part of the fictitious and malicious gravestones story was lifted from this news piece

This is a story that crops up time and again, and is so easily proven incorrect. The mind boggles as to how people can prefer to fume and rant, rather than make a simple web search and find they can relax and be happy instead.


United Shades

Razorblackgirl said...

What a beautifully written piece! It makes me so sad that reasonable voices are so often drowned out by sensation and scandal, especially when done so cynically just to shift more newspapers.

Thank you so much for this - I'll be passing the link on to everyone I know!

Kindest regards

Tim said...

Excellent post Bishop Alan. Thank you for your efforts.

Chronicles of a Nomad said...

I'm a Muslim and I'm saying to you sir with absolute honesty and humility: that you are righteous. God bless you. And yes, hate is not a family issue.

Anonymous said...

"And thou wilt find the nearest of them in affection to those who believe (to be) those who say: Lo! We are Christians. That is because there are among them priests and monks, and because they are not proud." Qur'an 5:82

Anonymous said...

The Daily Mail, Daily Star, The Sun and some of the broadsheets should be ashamed of themselves. They constantly manipulate stories to their anti-muslim narrative. Half baked, half truth stories to whip up their anti muslim agenda. The fact this this is unchallenged by mainstream British society is the saddest part.

It is now socially acceptable to hate muslims. If these types of stories were directed at any other minority their would be outrage. How can this show the best of British society, this is not fairness and tolerance, this is mass propaganda and persecution of a largely non media savvy, generally poor minority by a trashy maligned media with a sinister agenda. It has overtones of another sad era in 20th century European history.

Yes there are problems with islam. Yes for the last 10-20 years terrorism has been a big global problem. If you look at the last 200 years.. slavery, imperialism, hiroshima, WW2, carving up of Africa, colonialism etc etc.. womens vote only in the last 100 years, gay equality only really in the last 5.. it hasnt all been a bed of roses. Dont whitewash your own history as it does not look that great to me.

All societies are on their own timeline of progress. to judge another society by our own standards and using that to discriminate against them is using the same logic as bin laden. Real change comes from supporting progressives on both sides, not whipping up fear and hatred - this hardens the progressives and radicalises more people and makes the problem worse. You havent learnt anything from your own history. How sad, the politics of fear, control and vested interests are alive and well.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

This is a really great discussion, and I;m very rateful for its thoughtful and incisive tone. IN some ways what worries me more than anything is that there are areas of concern within which it just isn't possible for people to communicate mutually.

The power of reflection upon our own story (good and bad) is certainly an engine for personal growth, hunility, and some joy and possibility for the future. We all have curses and resources from our pasts, skeletons in the closet, things to learn in surprising places.

We all have ideological loadings and blind spots. nd it all works o levels. For my friend in the NW Christianity was a block dogma to be propogated and protected by pressure tactics. For me it is a way of life founded on the golden rule and great commandment.

Being truly progressive begins inside with one's own awareness, humility and faith development, or religion just becomes a higher species of football hooliganism, as we can see all around us in the world...

Erika Baker said...

"Being truly progressive begins inside with one's own awareness, humility and faith development, or religion just becomes a higher species of football hooliganism, as we can see all around us in the world..."

The big question is - how do those who have begun that journey help others along the way?
I don't want to sound trite - but the founder of our faith, who lived this with every breathing moment, paid with his life.
It sometimes seems an absolutely impossible task.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Sir. I echo the sentiments Mr./Ms. Anonymous (post 14):

"And thou wilt find the nearest of them in affection to those who believe (to be) those who say: Lo! We are Christians. That is because there are among them priests and monks, and because they are not proud." Qur'an 5:82

"They are not all alike. Of the People of the Scripture there is a staunch community who recite the revelations of Allah in the night season, falling prostrate (before Him). They believe in Allah and the Last Day, and enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency, and vie one with another in good works. These are of the righteous. And whatever good they do, they will not be denied the meed thereof. Allah is Aware of those who ward off (evil)." Qur'an 3:113-115
I pray that you and your congregation are among the aforementioned peoples.

Gratefully Yours,

Anonymous said...

so if 89% of people say "What tosh, they are dead, how do they know which direction they are facing?" your reply should be "But the minority are more important than you!"

No offense, but this isn't desecration we're talking about here. Bit of work from the family of the deceased searching for a plot that faces East is your best bet. Possibly forcing North or South facing plots to fit you in is very rude to be 'kind'.

Fight cancer, fight tobacco use, fight kids doing drugs, fight drink driving.

Stop fighting Christians and Muslims. Neither of them 'really' want to fight.

Sure, there's nut jobs here and there, but they usually use religion as a shield to hide behind. Not a torch to bring light to some darkness.

oh and your subject matter, 'bigotry', really? More like 'overbearing sense of self-importance' of the minority.

Bring back common sense before you burn or cut yourself on your torches and pitchforks.

Anonymous said...

There are those who claim to follow Jesus, & then there are those who are trying to follow his message.

Manty of the first type are like sectarian "football" fans, whilst the many of the latter are like the disciples.

As a Muslim, I echo the brotherly spirit to our Christian brother, lover of God. The Quran implies this kind of friendly rivalry is why there are many faith communities, competing in goodness. Naturally the humble are just moved by the love of God. Salam, shalom.

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