Photo: Mario La Pergola, Unsplash

Spiritual vacuums of the West

“Collapse of Christianity is wrecking British society – and Islam
is filling the void”; “Church is not doing enough to convert UK Muslims”; “Islam is taking advantage of Christianity’s decline” – are just few of headlines that soared in British media after Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali published his controversial article in newly started Standpoint magazine.

In a time when special attention is focused globally on dialogue between religions and cultures, especially amongst adherents of the most represented religious traditions that are often the brinks of conflict, in a time when even great political centres of power recognize the need to open inter-faith dialogue initiatives, in a time when religion is used and abused by fanatics and extremist – ideas catapulted by a senior bishop of the Anglican church in the first issue of new magazine named Standpoint (which, by the way, praised itself on their web-site for all this “media attention” that it provoked) are worrying in every sense possible. The two most obvious anxieties this kind of contextualization can bring: first is alarming decline of Christianity and the consequences of this on the moral state of the developed world – and more important – the second is dangerous attempt to find someone to “fill the void” of blame. 

The essay Breaking Faith With Britain by Michael Nazir-Ali reminds the western mind that all its present achievements as a civilization is due exclusively to Christian (alone, which is frequent) or (later in the article) Judeo-Christian traditions. Islam, and Muslims, is there only as bystander at the “rediscovery of Aristotle by Europe”! As has been the practice in the West over and over again ignoring contributions made by Muslims is flagrant. – “A rediscovery,” writes Bishop Nazir-Ali “incidentally, made possible by the work of largely Christian translators in the Islamic world. These translators made Aristotle, and much else besides, available to the Muslims, who used it, commented upon it and passed it on to Western Europe…(!?)” and… then Christian thinkers such as St. Thomas Aquinas developed it! – And that would be that! But, where are other great minds of the world: Averroes, Algazel, Maimonides??? What was their role? To whom went their ideas? Why exclude them? Were they not in the first place citizens of the world who “re-discovered” the Old world philosophy and passed it to the New? 

The Bishop’s explanation went on to indicate numerous examples of how today’s Britain and ipso facto “modern western world” most important features descend from Christian faith. But alarming is present day state when “something momentous happened in the 1960s which has materially altered the scene: Christianity began to be more and more marginal to the ‘public doctrine” by which the nation ordered itself and this state of affairs has continued…” This assessment wouldn’t be problematic, as the state of today’s humanity is indeed worrying, if the Bishop was sincere in finding true cures for its society and faith loss. This loss is not specific only to Britain. The crisis characterised by destruction of the family, the abuse of substances and loss of respect for human person, increasing communication gap, affects not only Great Britain but the Muslim world also! The thing that peaked the narrowness of Bishops observation is “filling the void” – of blame – I add, for the “ugly moral” state of modern western societies (Britain in Bishop case). “…And since happily Marxism, in its various forms, has been evidenced a philosophical, historical and economic wasteland that it always was …But we are now confronted by another equally serious ideology, that of radical Islamism, which also claim to be comprehensive in scope. What resources do we have to face yet another ideological battle?” – asks Bishop in an armageddonic style! 

Bishop Nazir-Ali did not stop at ignoring the place of Islam and Muslims in the historical processes of transmission of knowledge, nor its current role in shaping the future of this world. He reserved for them the blame and stigma to be prospective recipients of anger, dissatisfaction and moral edge of coming generations in West – as were Jews in the aftermath of what E.H. Carr described as The Twenty Year Crisis in post-World War when all human effort was directed to permanent prevention of conflicts but ended in Holocaust – titanic crime committed against one people.

The positioning of Islam and Muslims as dangerous and vicious third entity that could “fill the void” in a projected state of moral decomposition of Western societies and change it forever (in negative sense) is kind of a rhetoric similar to that of NATIONALSOZIALISMUS. Some authors sought and found the ideological grounds for the widespread hate toward Jews in Europe in the Christian Church’s narrative about killers and traitors of Christ! After reading Bishop Nazir-Ali conceptualization of current problems we simply ask: Do we witness the rebirth of old fears of some “other” who are there to destroy our societies, culture, religion?! 

As for “radical Islamism” and its manifestations they are out there and seriously threat to our security and integrity, but it is evidenced that this malaise has cost Muslims far more than anyone else! 

Finding ways of dialogue between religions and cultures in today’s world is a question of mutual survival. More frequent initiatives for interfaith and inter-civilization dialogue have political dimensions, and as such hold less chance for success. These initiatives are in most cases endorsed because any other scenario is leading to dead-end. However, extreme ideas sent by representatives of such acclaimed religious institutions offer only exclusivist concepts as prospect for our tomorrow! At the end, the problem of Christianity, (or Islam in the Middle East) or any other religion and its status in society will not be resolved by pointing the guilt to the adherents of other religions. This can only complicate the solution.

Mirnes Kovac is a Bosnian journalist who worked as an editor for Preporod Islamic Newspaper, Al Jazeera Balkan and the Huffington Post. He graduated from the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Sarajevo, and obtained MA degree in International relations, Middle East Politics, at Sussex University, UK.

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