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Church heat on multi-faith UK

London, Oct. 8: The Church of England has launched an astonishing attack on the government’s drive to turn Britain into a multi-faith society.

In a wide-ranging condemnation of policy, it says that the attempt to make minority “faith” communities more integrated has backfired, leaving society “more separated than ever before”.

The criticisms are made in a Church document, leaked to The Sunday Telegraph, that challenges the “widespread description” of Britain as a multi-faith society and even calls for the term “multi-faith” to be reconsidered.

It claims that divisions between communities have been deepened by the government’s “schizophrenic” approach to tackling multiculturalism. While trying to encourage interfaith relations, it has actually given “privileged attention” to the Islamic faith and Muslim communities.

The paper says the Church of England has been sidelined. Instead, “preferential” treatment has been afforded to the Muslim community despite the fact that it makes up only 3 per cent of the population. Britain remains overwhelmingly a Christian country at heart and moves to label it as a multi-faith society suggest a hidden agenda, it says.

The report follows a week of tension in which a Muslim policeman was excused armed guard duty at the Israeli embassy in London, Asian and white youths clashed in Windsor, and Jack Straw suggested that Muslim women should not wear the full veil across the face in public.

The report lists several moves made by the government since the 2005 London bombings to win favour with Muslim communities.

These include “using public funds” to fly Muslim scholars to Britain, shelving legislation on forced marriage and encouraging financial arrangements to comply with Islamic requirements. These efforts have undermined its interfaith agenda and produced no “noticeable positive impact on community cohesion”, it says.

“Indeed, one might argue that disaffection and separation is now greater than ever, with Muslim communities withdrawing further into a sense of victimhood, and other faith communities seriously concerned that the government has given signals that appear to encourage the notion of a privileged relationship with sections of the Muslim community.”

Insiders at the House of Bishops meeting last week, where the briefing paper was “well received”, say it marks a radical departure from the Church’s usually diplomatic relations with the government on the multi-faith issue. One bishop said it was the first time the Church had launched such a defence of the country’s Christian heritage.

The paper, called Cohesion and Integration — A briefing note for the House (of Bishops), argues that the effort invested in trying to integrate Muslims has had no positive impact on community relations.

It questions how effective it will be and says the focus for solving the problem should not be placed on one particular minority but “with the ‘majority’ communities and in the core culture”.

The government was misguided in “scapegoating the Muslim community as the source of the problem at the same time as believing that they should be uniquely responsible for solutions”, the paper says.

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