The urge to deform Islam into something representing theological play dough has surfaced through many high profile voices. Of course, there is the usual cavalry represented by thoughtless think-tanks, and their string pullers that are the neocons. However, the rise of ISIS has provided sufficient pretext to bully and intimidate Muslims collectively into accepting the need to deform orthodox Islam after thoroughly maligning the faith through the association of crime.
David Cameron himself has, after the ceremonial alarm bells of “extremism”, officially posited “reforming voices” as the face of Islam, undermining the “secularism” of the state in the process and directly interfering with the private sphere of religion.
As this goes on, neocons are also busy re-architecting the national identity of Britain in opposition to this “other” faith. Cameron and co have been loudly dog-whistling Christians. Entering into 2016, we saw Nicky Morgan saying that schools must teach that Britain is “Christian country”.
Cameron’s recent Easter message was a similar feast of clash of civilisations rhetoric: from defining Christian values, which forms the basis of the claim that Britain is a Christian country, as values that can be found in countless other faiths; to speaking of defending them against terror and “the pernicious ideology”, which, as per previous official statements, is a clear reference to “Islamist extremism” (constituted of aspects of Islam itself). Christian persecution in this context is also thrown in, whilst Zionist persecution of Christians remains omitted.
Tony Blair on Muslims
The “heir to Tony Blair” knows how to play the religion card. Religion is what drove Blair. Blair’s spiritual successor is more overt in his expression although not without reason (discussed further below). What the government’s statements have done is create an environment where flippant, inflammatory statements against Islam can be made to the tacit approval of Cameron.
And elements within the Christian community haven’t been lacking when it comes to passionately attacking Islam.
Tony Blair, a devout Christian, was recently blunter than ever before. In Blair’s apocalyptic vision, a global anti-terrorist army needs to be raised to strike anywhere, and ground offensives to “crush ISIS” – just like Saddam and the Taliban were crushed and we have peace and democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan today – need to be instituted.
These calls are against Blair’s backdrop made up of an enemy of potentially millions. Blair highlighted that “many millions” of Muslims hold beliefs “fundamentally incompatible with the modern world”. This arrogant statement contorts the world to the European experience (secular liberalism, capitalism and the nation state) and, like his successor Cameron, externalises Islam and Muslims as “incompatible” with his definition of the modern world. In an essay authored by Blair I critiqued last year, Blair’s definition of “Islamism” and “extremism” clearly entailed orthodox Islamic beliefs and his call to action against this “extremism” was bloodthirsty and very much imperial:
“…you cannot uproot this extremism unless you go to where it originates and fight it.”
Taking this together with his latest statements, the unhinged Blair, blind to his own domineering “Christian extremism”, is calling for a global war against Muslims who differ in terms of their world view. Perhaps the greatest irony in Blair’s comment is that neocons themselves hold beliefs which are incongruent with “the modern world”.
Disturbingly, however, these views and calls are not limited to Blair.
Last year, around this time, Reverend Gavin Ashenden stated that,
“Islam has, I think, over 100 verses inviting people to violence in the Koran which Christianity doesn’t have. If you’re going to invite people to be dedicated … followers of their scriptures, Christians will go around forgiving people and Islamists will do something else.”
That Ashenden blithely and explicitly posits Islam and Christianity at opposite ends of his scale of violence and mercy belies the fact that subtler forms of this binary view is shared with other, more notable Christian voices.
George Carey on Islam
The former Archibishop of Canterbury George Carey’s views, though couched in different terms, are not entirely dissimilar. In noting that Nazi Germany was defeated through military means and Stalinism through decades of cold war, Carey proclaims that “Islamism” – however it is defined – will require a mixture of the two strategies, i.e. both military and ideological warring. Peace in the Middle East, as per the neocon script, requires the “head-on” tackling of “the poisonous ideology of Islamism”.
Carey, failing to inhibit his evangelical, colonial roots, prescribes a very neocon prescription:
“…we non-muslims (sic) must also play our part by encouraging a moderate, reforming and secularising Islam.”
Tying this solution to the Easter message, Carey joins an increasing line of neoconservative, born-again colonialists who are looking to dissect the hearts of over a billion Muslims and effectively Christianise Islam.
Whilst encouraging a deformation of Islam, Carey himself shows aversion to it in the Christian context. In 2006, Carey had commended and endorsed a questionnaire by a group lay Episcopalians who wanted “their Church to remain faithful to the orthodox”. He has staunchly opposed same-sex marriage, which he has called “cultural vandalism”.
In 2006, the peace-loving Carey also voiced his opposition to the General Synod’s vote in favour of divestment in a company active in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The calls to peace and the deformation of Islam is nothing short of hypocrisy.
Justin Welby on Islam and Michael Gove’s Praise
The current Archbishop, Justin Welby, seems to be little different albeit more tactful, playing the role of a “good cop” at times, and then “bad cop” when no one is looking.
Thus in October last year, Welby addressing a Muslim audience insisted that “many faiths, not just Islam” have a problem with radicalisation.
“…there must be a global theological and ideological component – not just one in this country – to what we are doing, and it must be one that is relentlessly pursued and promoted.”
In other words, the ideological, academically-baseless, imperial policy already pursued by neocons and advocated by psychotics like Blair was promoted by Welby. The response from one prominent anti-Muslim neocon was instructive.
Michael Gove subsequently conducted an interview with the Archbishop and published it in the Spectator. Gushing with excitement, Gove enthused,
“The Church of England — for so long caricatured as morally relativist, ethically vague, painfully politically correct and timorously unassertive — has found a new, clear, strong and resonant voice. And to the church’s great benefit, that voice belongs to the Archbishop of Canterbury.”
And the reason?
“…he had explained, with great lucidity and authority, that Islamic State would not be defeated by military action alone. The temptations of religious and political extremism also needed to be countered with a more robust ideological response.”
Gove, resonating with Carey above, also praised Welby’s adherence to the Christian orthodoxy:
“After decades of front-rank Anglican clerics trying to meet secular critics halfway by diluting traditional beliefs, there is something refreshing about the archbishop’s orthodoxy.
“For Justin Welby, the lesson appears to be clear. Don’t worry about what others might think, don’t tailor your views to the demands of the moment, don’t allow your conscience to be qualified or your heart to be misled. Constancy in faith is the great virtue.”
The lesson from the above is clear. A double standard is to be applied where Islam must change whilst Christianity must not compromise by “diluting” its traditional beliefs.
As the year turned over, a different tone was revealed as a private opening address to his thirty-eight fellow Primates meeting in Canterbury was leaked. A gloves off approach in identifying the threats facing the Church was taken:
“Islam is engaged in more and more violent activity in its civil war. Its violent arms subvert, attack, kill and destroy without mercy or conscience, as Christians did during the reformation.”
In other words, gone is the diplomatic language of non-discrimination; the personified Islam himself is to blame as he becomes “more and more violent”, and “destroys without mercy or conscience”. Within the above statement is an implicit contradistinction with Christianity (which has advanced beyond the stage of reformation) echoed by Ashenden above.
Indeed, the neoconservative narrative of highlighting decontextualised violent activity and ascribing it to Islam whilst backing airstrikes using theology is evident in Welby’s words. Muslims are merciless destroyers. Christians bless bombs of peace.
Understanding the Neoconservative Exploitation of Religion
The political dog-whistling by the likes of Cameron et al and the religious exploitation of the question of Islam by those named above is perfectly in sync with the ideology pulsating in Westminster. The positing of Islam as an ideological enemy has been a decade old narrative promulgated by various neoconservative outfits like Michael Gove’s Policy Exchange, Civitas, and Douglas Murray’s Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC) in concert with Christian hate-mongers like Robert Spencer from across the pond. CSC in the past has been known to infiltrate and court influence within the Anglican Communion. Carey and the notorious “sectarian” Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali were on the 2007 advisory council of the CSC. The anti-Muslim, Anglican Caroline Cox also mixes within this divisive milieu.
Whilst keen to highlight the use of theology in the Muslim context, neoconservatives actively use religion as a Machiavellian tactic to implement their objectives.
The neoconservative alliance with Christianity is a well-known and established strategy imported from the United States. Irving Kristol for instance, emphatically stated that “If the Republican Party is to survive, it must work at accommodating these people”. They saw the rise of evangelical Christianity and used it to carve the Republican Party with ideological control firmly in their hands. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are the present day fruits of this alliance. It is interesting to note that the article in which Welby is interviewed by Gove is titled, “the tide is turning in this country”. The tide is turning under the control of neocons.
Whilst free of morality themselves, the neocon statesmen believe that they must deceive the people by adopting and respecting the “noble lie” of religion to ensure societal control. Neocon Carnes Lord quotes Machiavelli’s deceitful usage of opinion as “statecraft”:
“A prince should thus take greatest care that… he should appear all mercy, all faith, all honest, all humanity, all religion.”
Christianity is central to neocons for primarily two reasons.
It helps foster the “Judeo-Christian” national identity which Cameron and his neocon friends are eager to forge. Murray explains in the education context that,
“Both believing and non-believing neoconservatives agree that Judeo-Christian values should pervade our actions.”
This “Judeo-Christian” indoctrination of children is needed to forge, in the words of Murray, “responsible citizens”.
From a neoconservative perspective then, the use of Christianity serves a dual purpose; they believe it creates pliable relations among citizens and it also helps forge nationalism. It is the noble lie which needs to gently bubble in society so that order is maintained and neocons can get on with their own, often contradicting, policies. Drury elucidating Leo Strauss’ position in this context explains,
“Biblical faith provides Western civilization with its noble delusions. Political philosophy uses its clever rhetoric to sustain these delusions in the very act of introducing contrary principles that cater to the sordid business of political survival.”
Hence, whilst Cameron calls Britain a Christian country, his views on sexuality and family have been consistently antithetical to the orthodox Christian view. This was the right “wrong” thing to do in order to ensure “political survival” and therefore, ideological control. Incidentally, the same is also true of liberalism – whilst promoting British values, neocons are busy introducing closed-society, rights-eroding measures in Britain. The chilling consequence of this is that, too much religiosity and political assertion in people is a threat to neocons which needs quashing.
This is something that Welby, and other learned Christians would do well to understand before toeing the neoconservative narrative on Islam, counter-extremism and foreign policy. Neocons have no other purpose except to establish and maintain power and their manipulation of varying groups is geared towards this aim.
It is a divisive, damaging dynamic, premised upon the clash of civilisations thesis that threatens societal cohesion in Britain.
 Kristol, I., Neoconservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea, New York: Free Press, 1996, p.368
 Carnes, L. The Modern Prince: What Leaders Need to Know Now, R.R. Donnelley & Sons, Virginia US, 2003, p.65
 Murray, D.K., Neoconservatism: Why We Need It, Encounter Books: New York, 2006, p.175
 Fn.1 p.365
 Drury, S.B. The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2005, p.166