In a rather surreal and (until recently) highly unlikely move, Baroness Warsi, a British Muslim member of the House of Lords, has become one of the most vocal defenders of Christianity in Europe.
Her remarks, made in numerous separate public appearances and speeches of late, build on a recent reversal in European politics (in which various heads of state from Angela Merkel to Nicolas Sarkozy have criticized the nonjudgmental, melting pot model of culture long accepted without question). Warsi is also compounding statements like David Cameron’s recent, public endorsements of Christianity, a position which was considered thoroughly uncouth less than a decade ago when an aide to Tony Blair famously declared that his administration “didn’t do God.”
Yet Warsi’s remarks amount to more than a generic, boilerplate defense of the “value” of religion to national identity, and come much closer to American-style “culture war” rhetoric than the usually staid British political culture is accustomed to. Indeed, as some commentators have pointed out, she seems to be wagering that the time is right for some sort of inter-religious coalition to emerge as a counter-force to European secularism. Invoking a theme often heard in Catholic circles, Warsi sounds the alarm about the rise of a new sort of “dictatorship”:
She also compared the intolerance of religion with totalitarian regimes, which she said were “denying people the right to a religious identity because they were frightened of the concept of multiple identities”
What was left unmentioned, but may well be a subject of discussion for Warsi as she visits Pope Benedict XVI and heads the largest-ever British delegation to the Vatican this week, is the possibility that Europe’s Muslims, who have, until now, been treated with disdain both by right-wing political parties and the broader culture, might come together with serious Christian believers to stand up faith in the public square. Given these recent statements and reversals, is a European Catholic-Muslim alliance against relativism, secularism, and encroaching threats to religious freedom as implausible as it once appeared?