A week or so back, my two-year-old daughter said to me, apropos of nothing: ‘You have been sad since you lost Jesus.’ I didn’t really know what to do, so I looked at her open-mouthed for a bit and then fixed myself a stiff drink. Best not to get involved, I reckon. Later — again, out of the blue — she told me with great happiness that she was ‘covered with the blood of Jesus’, at which point I wondered if I should have a quiet word with her Sunday school teacher, or maybe her Gran, who is a fairly muscular born-again evangelical monkey and from whom this whacko stuff may have emanated. Sad since I lost Jesus? I’ve been sad since Douglas Alexander was made a Cabinet minister and even sadder since the pubs closed. As for Jesus, I wasn’t aware I had lost Him, or even had been properly in possession of Him in the first place. But disquieting though all of this was, it didn’t occur to me to have my daughter arrested.
Two Christian evangelical ministers, Arthur Cunningham and Joseph Abraham, ran into a spot of trouble saying what I imagine was much the same sort of stuff in Alum Rock Road in Birmingham. They were there handing out various bits of Gospel propaganda and a chap called Naeem Naguthney, allegedly, took extreme exception and told them to clear off. He was, the ministers claimed, very threatening in his manner. When he found out the ministers were Americans he started having a go at them about George Bush and the war in Iraq. He told them that Alum Rock Road was a Muslim area and they were committing a ‘hate crime’. Well, fair enough, I suppose; if you wander into a Muslim area and start spraying Jesus hither and thither, you might expect one or two more hot-tempered locals to take offence. Islam is a peaceable religion and anyone who doesn’t think so will have their head cut off, etc, etc.
But then Naeem threatened the two men with arrest: yes, incredible though it may seem, he was indeed a policeman. Or, at least, a community support officer — one of ‘Blunkett’s Bobbies’ — and a chap who is pretty well established within the National Association of Muslim Police. He has addressed government ministers and read to them from the Koran, apparently. Lucky government ministers. A couple of other faux-coppers arrived and one of them told the men that if they returned, they might get their heads kicked in. Cunningham and Abraham have lodged a complaint against the West Midlands police as a consequence — but don’t imagine that very much will come of it. So far the police have steadfastly refused to apologise and merely mentioned that one of the officers involved will be given a refresher course in ‘hate crimes’. Of course, the officer should be sacked immediately.
Hearing about this stuff, you sort of don’t know where to start. Maybe with the suggestion that while Alum Rock Road points in the direction of Mecca (one way at least; it probably points in the direction of, say, Chepstow the other way around. But I suppose that’s not important right now), the rest of the country is nominally Christian. And that it is from our admittedly rather wishy-washy form of Christianity that we draw our fervent belief in the freedom of speech and the freedom of conscience. And that following from this, it is the job of a police officer to protect that freedom of speech (so long as it is not inciting violence against one or another group or individual). It is no use attempting to curry favour with our Muslim minority by employing extravagantly bearded police officers if they won’t sign up to some of the most important laws on the statute book. A Muslim police officer is not at liberty to ignore the laws which do not accord with his faith; if he does that, he is no better than a semi-official vigilante, a uniformed gangster. What would be his reaction if a local bookshop started selling the works of Salman Rushdie?
You may argue that the policeman was merely trying to keep the peace — in which case, we might as well say that Alum Rock Road is, in a serious sense, no longer a part of Britain, no longer under central jurisdiction. Like it or not — and believe me, West Midlands police do not like it one bit — Alum Rock Road is now a no-go area for proselytising Christians; perhaps it has been for some time. But now it is a no-go area officially, according to the local police force — unless they do something about it, quickly.
Then there’s this business about hate crime — and I will have to break off for a moment and fix another drink because the mere phrase makes me cringe and then seethe. It is used today as a new, fundamentalist arm of political correctness, designed to punish anyone who might say anything which might inflame the tender sensitivities of an endless succession of groups which feel they have been somehow put upon and therefore need redress. You can be accused of a hate crime in Birmingham these days, apparently, for suggesting that Jesus is the one true Prophet and the son of God. Or to advance the opinion that you aren’t too keen on buggery, all things considered. Or even be threatened with prosecution for a hate crime for suggesting — as I did — that Geordies are, by and large, thick. None of these things are crimes at all — they are matters of opinion, based upon faith or upon observable evidence or, in the case of the Geordies, both. Meanwhile, to incite violence against a racial group is not a hate crime either — it is a crime, pure and simple.
And finally there are our evangelical Christians, with whom I agree about almost nothing. The one religious group which can, with some authority, claim to be speaking on behalf of the faith which formed the cultural mindset of this country has somehow become the most vigorously persecuted and least protected. If you doubt this, ring your local council and tell them you want Christian-only swimming nights at your local leisure centre and see how long it is before the rozzers are banging on your door with their arrest warrants. Good luck, Mr Cunningham and Mr Abraham; the political force, I’m afraid, is not with you.