Some time ago the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin told a curious inquirer that, yes, it was indeed true that there were plans to build new lavatories in one of their buildings which would have a deliberate peculiarity.
They were being installed so that Muslims using them would not have to face Mecca while they were seated on the loo. This is important business for Muslims, who are enjoined by their code to refrain from relieving themselves unless it is absolutely essential. Under the Qadaahul Haajah code the natural processes of the human body for disposing of its waste are regarded as unclean; so they are advised to pray upon entering and leaving the lavatory, to enter with the left foot first and to leave by first stepping out with the right and neither to face nor to turn their back on Mecca when they are inside.
I mention these details with a single purpose: to explore the enormity of the task governments in Western Europe assumed when they sought, in varying extent, to absorb large immigrant minorities which included large numbers of Muslims. To some leading Christians, the way forward was, and is, clear. “I don't believe in multiculturalism,” declared the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, not long ago. “When people come to this country, they have to obey the laws of the land.” The key difficulty — as my first paragraph seeks to indicate — is that the leadership of the Muslim immigrants did not desire their people to be absorbed at all — for two reasons. The first is that the Islamic code is so diametrically different from the Christian that absorption is not a simple option.
The second is that in all things Muslims are guided by the Koran; and the Koran makes it clear that Islam is not in the business of being absorbed in anything — not if Chapter Nine be taken as a guide. Here we find the injunction that, when confronted with the infidel, ie, the non-believer, the faithful should “Slay the idolaters wherever you find them; and take them captive and besiege them, and lie in wait for them in every ambush ... ”
The first thing to say about this is that it appals very many law-abiding Muslims whose only wish is to live in amity with their neighbours so that they can earn a fair crust. The second thing is that this particular teaching of the Koran has still influenced a much smaller number of fanatics who have done — and continue to attempt to do — terrible deeds involving the slaughter of their fellow-citizens. For them the Koranic ideal of world conquest is very real: for, in its teaching, Islam is the sort of religion Christianity used to be: imperialist and ambitious of universal supremacy. The mission of St Patrick to Ireland has often been quoted as notable because it is possibly the only known example of the peaceful conversion of a nation without the loss of a single life. But other Christian ventures, such as the medieval Crusades, were bloody indeed.
In the United Kingdom, the Government has sought to sidestep confrontation with Islam by adopting a non-partisan stance, heavily backed by legislation. The difficulty is that it is impossible to be neutral about religion: you either accept it — or you reject it. So the attempts, particularly by local officials and teachers, to be non-partisan have led to discord, ridicule, and embarrassing retreats.
There was the case of the Christian nurse who offered to pray for a patient; of the foster mother struck off the register because the Muslim teenager in her charge (whom she had offered to take to the mosque) insisted upon becoming a Christian; and the case of the child of five in the Devon school who was scolded for mentioning Jesus to a classmate; and so on. The problem here is that, by aspiring — often hamfistedly — to be neutral, council officials and teachers find themselves being accused of hostility to Christianity. Not for the first time it has been left to the two leading black bishops of the Church of England, John Sentamu of York and Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester, to call time. The next general election is now almost within sight. Archbishop Sentamu's charge is that the new intolerance towards Christians in the public sector is a sign of the growing gap between the governing and the governed. The politically correct, who have for so long enjoyed privileged seats in the Cabinet Room, should hear him and inwardly digest. Ridicule is now turning to anger. Practising Christians, and the millions of silent believers who never miss Songs of Praise, also have votes.