It seems that the UK is making its own position on Islam clear: it must be crushed. This emerges from the pronouncements last month across the political spectrum, by former PM Tony Blair, in a speech to Bloomberg, and incumbent David Cameron in his Easter message. Blair belongs to the Labour Party, Cameron to the Conservative; thus there would appear to be a bipartisan consensus on the issue. As Blair spoke about the Middle East, and Cameron spoke about domestic Christianity, it might appear that separate issues were being addressed, but in reality, the background was the same.

Blair spoke of the Middle East, but he also said that the West should not intervene against Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Indeed, he spoke of joint action against terrorism. That can only be seen as a recognition that the West and Europe have cooperated on Syria so far, and that that cooperation should continue, not turn into the Cold War that seems about to resume over Crimea. It should be noted that the Syrian port of Tartus is the only Soviet naval base in the Mediterranean, indeed anywhere in the world. Blair is thus going back to the Labour Party’s old socialist roots, which gave a certain leeway to the USSR. However, it must also be remembered that the Labour Party was always hardnosed with the USSR, and always backed the US fully worldwide. Indeed, Blair took considerable criticism for backing the US over both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Blair also looked upon Syria as a lost opportunity, as it should have been invaded. Syria is where the Al-Assad regime is fighting to survive, where Saudi Arabia and Qatar are intervening, and which is being portrayed as either part of the Arab Spring, which has been characterized as a struggle for Western democracy, or a sectarian fight, between a Sunni majority and a Shia minority. While the Alawite Assad regime is backed by Iran, the Sunni opposition appears to be backed by the US and UK. This disguises the fact that the US has not yet shown its hand, and has not shown its alternative to Assad. It is this lack of an alternative which has created the space for a ‘third option’ to Assad not owing anything to either the US or Russia: the Caliphate. This lack of an alternative owes itself to the refusal of the Syrian opposition to accept having a leadership foisted upon it. One reason points to the past success of the Assad regime in rooting out any opposition. There are now none to be put forward.

This has meant that there has been a scramble to portray the opposition as sectarian. This might be convenient, but is demeaning to the opposition, which have suffered at least 100,000 deaths. However, when Cameron’s Easter message is considered, there is every sign that this is an attempt to revive the ‘muscular Christianity’ that used to prevail in British ruling circles. Of course, perhaps the first thing that it reminds one of, is the old definition of the Church of England, the denomination that Cameron belongs to: ‘the Tory Party at prayer.’ It is a salutary reminder that while Cameron’s party has had a woman of Pakistani origin as its Chairman, all its Prime Ministers have belonged to the Church of England. It is only Blair’s party which has contributed to the UK’s only Nonconformist PM, in Harold Wilson. The Church of England has been inextricably entwined with the British establishment for nearly 500 years, ever since it came into existence because of Henry VIII’s split with the Roman Catholic Church. Incidentally, Blair converted to Roman Catholicism in 2007, after stepping down as PM, and though he remained Church of England because of the constitutional problems he foresaw, his wife had been openly Catholic, bringing up their children as Catholics. The Roman Catholic attitude to Islam may be gauged from Lepanto, the 1911 poem about the 1571 naval defeat of the Ottomans, written by another famous British convert to Catholicism, G.K. Chesterton, which fits in well with the chauvinistic ethos of the times, just before World War I.

However, it has been Cameron’s message which may well signal an end to British multiculturalism, which is a product of the Empire, which contained a large number of ‘muscular Christians’ in its ranks. It is no coincidence that the 19th century heyday of the Empire coincided with the peak of Victorian Evangelism. It is not insignificant that the US, though founded to escape the British established church, and though its Constitution forbids the establishment of any church, is a hotbed of evangelism today.

This made the US military comfortable with the Zia regime, which was also fundamentalist, but in a different religion. It is behind the attraction between the US and Indian militaries, which is making India willing and able to play the USA’s regional policeman. It almost seems that evangelism is as necessary to the US military, the successor to the British military, in the creation of an empire. There is logic in this, for it is not possible to “die for democracy”; therefore, a more powerful concept has to be called forth.

One difficulty with Cameron’s openly announced faith is that it goes against British multiculturalism. The emphasis on Britain as a Christian country is correct, for it unabashedly has an established church. As it was a Prime Minister’s message, it must also be seen in the context of British diplomacy, of yet another attempt to ride on American coattails to play the role of a world power. If that means pandering to the US’s Religious Right, so be it.

Pakistan must not lose sight of the reason behind its very creation, in dealing with this new situation. It must keep in mind the large Pakistani diaspora in the UK. Though the diaspora is the result of the Raj, at the same time, the Pakistan government should remember that any revival of the Christian evangelism that built the Raj can only be harmful. It should also remember that the US, where there is also a large Pakistani diaspora, will always see freedom-of-religion arguments against Islam, and in favour of the protection of evangelism. Blair and Cameron have managed to show this. It should not escape notice that the Anglo-Saxon countries, which too are witnessing a rise in Christian fervor, are also racist. That is the underlying message of evangelism, strongest in that most racist region on earth; the American Deep South.

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.

Email:maniazi@nation.com.pk