Firemen ignore the real fires

While the unions are being asked to demonise Israel, one courageous cleric faces up to the real demons


This week, the Fire Brigades Union asked the Trades Union Congress to support a motion exhorting the massed ranks of the British trades-union movement to endorse a policy of boycott, divestment and sanctions against the state of Israel. Under the motion, the TUC would have to promote a boycott of goods and services originating from Israel, and do its damndest to encourage divestment from companies operating in the territories. Additionally, the TUC would be obliged to reconsider its relationship with the Histadrut, its Israeli counterpart.

Why the FBU should preoccupy itself with matters of international diplomacy when the overriding concern of its members must (I would have thought) be with their own pay and conditions (to say nothing of the putting-out of fires) is beyond me.

So, taking a deep breath, I telephoned their press office in the hope of finding an answer to this question. As I waited for the acting head of this department to return my call, a friend drew my attention to an altogether more positive story.

At the beginning of this month, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali retired as Bishop of Rochester. To mark the occasion, he is establishing a charity to support persecuted Christians living in the Islamic world.

Dr Nazir-Ali is my kind of Christian, brave enough to point out our society’s moral vacuum

Dr Nazir-Ali is my kind of Christian. That is not to say that I agree with everything he has to say. On matters of religion, I daresay (though we have never actually met) we would find a great deal about which to disagree with each other. But, agree with him or not, you have to admit that he is a cleric of deep conviction, who stands by his principles come hell or high water.

Last year, he incurred the displeasure of the intelligentsia by declaring, rightly, that the propaganda of Islamic extremists had turned certain parts of England into “no-go areas.” He has made no secret of his view on the sinfulness of homosexual activity. More generally, he has had the guts to point out that our so-called permissive society has resulted in a moral vacuum, which religious extremists have had no difficulty in filling.

It takes a great deal of courage to say any of these things at the present time. The fact that Dr Nazir-Ali is of Pakistani origin, and that his father was a convert from Islam, makes his courage all the more inspiring.

His next challenge will be to facilitate the training of Christians to become lay and ordained exponents of the Christian faith in Muslim societies. I have on previous occasions used this column to draw attention to the persecution that Christians face in Islamic states, and the meagre publicity that this attracts in the UK.

Both problems appear to be getting worse. Last Saturday, a prayer-vigil was held outside the Iranian embassy in London to draw attention to the plight of two Iranian women, Maryam Rostampour and Marzieh Esmailabadi, who have been imprisoned simply and solely because they are Christians. Or rather, simply and solely because they have converted to Christianity.

Iranian propaganda would have us believe that Christians enjoy complete religious freedom in Iran. In fact, converts from Islam enjoy no freedom whatsoever.

Under Iranian law, converts can be detained at any time and, while in prison, are customarily pressured into recanting or into giving written undertakings that they will cease to attend Christian services.

Along with other converts, Maryam and Marzieh have been imprisoned without trial as a punishment for their apostasy and as a warning to others thinking of embracing the Christian faith.

I searched the TUC’s website in vain for any evidence of the slightest concern about this dire situation. There was — of course — none. The Fire Brigades Union seems equally unmoved.

But the FBU did give me one piece of good news. When their acting press officer returned my call, I asked him whether FBU members would continue to attend fires at premises occupied by Zionists.

He assured me, categorically, that they would, adding that it would be illegal for them not to.

Here’s wishing you all a Happy New Year.

    Last updated: 12:57pm, September 17 2009