As OFSTED moves in on 25 schools in Birmingham, to investigate accusations that Muslim hardliners have taken control, David Cameron’s declaration that Britain is a Christian country sounds like wishful thinking.
The Prime Minister declares that we should be proud of our Christian heritage and confident to evangelise about our faith. He is, of course, quite right in asserting that Britain’s heritage is based on Christian beliefs, values and institutions. And as Larry Siedentop explains in his recent book, the concept of individual freedom, upon which even liberal secularism is founded, is rooted in Christianity. Cameron is right and the angry atheists and unbelievers who have written to the Telegraph are wrong.
He is also right to call upon those who share his belief in Jesus to be confident in sharing their beliefs with others. Proselytising is something most British Christians engage in rarely, yet the branches of the Anglican church which have seen the most growth in recent years, which have no difficulty in filling their pews and in planting new churches, are the most evangelical.
In Birmingham, however, and in other schools and communities where a particular and intolerant version of Islam has taken hold, men and women in positions of authority have signally failed to uphold the Christian worldview. In local authorities, the police, social services and other public agencies, the fear of being labelled racist has silenced all criticism of non-Christians.
As different ethnic groups have entered the UK in large numbers they have, not surprisingly, been drawn to areas where they are most likely to find family members and friends. Whole villages have moved, intact down to their own particular dialect, into British neighbourhoods, where the lack of pressure to assimilate has left them, literally, a race apart. Their ability to dominate and, if so motivated, to capture local institutions, is thus facilitated.
Former Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw has added his voice to those troubled by this failed attempt at multiculturalism.
Good for you, Jack, but what do you have to say about presiding over an open doors immigration policy when you were in charge? Don’t you think assimilation might have stood a better chance of succeeding had the arrival of non-English speaking migrants been a trickle, not a flood? Do you think you made a mistake in providing translation services instead of mandatory English classes?
Perhaps the sight of segregated classrooms, Arabic school signs and al-Qaeda assemblies will be enough to jolt liberal complacency. It has certainly startled the Department of Education into action, threatening as it does Michael Gove’s vision of giving academy status to every maintained school.
With free schools policy already under fire following the scandal of Al-Madinah, it’s imperative that academies are not similarly discredited. Hence Gove’s decision to involve first Peter Clarke and now OFSTED chief Michael Wilshaw in sorting out the problem and attempting to restore parents’ (and teachers’) confidence.
The Birmingham episode is a stark reminder that failure to uphold Christian institutions in the face of challenge from other cultures is not a sign of liberal enlightenment. On the contrary, a shared belief system is essential to enable us to live together free from excessive government control. Just as social conservatism is a prerequisite for the successful functioning of a liberal market economy, so multiculturalism and fragmented communities can only be held together – if at all – by the heavy hand of the state.