Former U.K. Bishop Nazir-Ali: Don't Underestimate Islam

A Pakistan-born church leader in the United Kingdom is urging the international community not to "abandon" terrorist-plagued countries nor underestimate Islam's "capacity for disruption and destruction and its desire to remake the world in its own image."

"In the face of such an ideology, the international community must not lose its nerve," stated the Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, who served as the bishop of Rochester for 15 years before stepping down nearly four months ago.

"Any withdrawal from a political, military and even intellectual engagement will be seen by the Islamists as capitulation," he added in an opinion piece featured in Standpoint magazine. "Instead of leading to containment, it will only encourage even greater attempts at the expansion of power and influence of movements connected with this ideology."

As the Church of England's first non-white bishop, Nazi-Ali came to be well known locally and even internationally for having been an outspoken defender of the importance of Christianity in the United Kingdom, and, more recently, for his remarks on the rise of radical Islam.

Last year, the bishop found himself embroiled in a row after saying that Islamic extremism had rendered some areas of the country "no-go" areas for non-Muslims.

Shortly afterward, Nazir-Ali said the erosion of Christianity in Britain is leaving the country with a "moral vacuum" that radical Islam is ready to fill.

In his latest remarks, the Anglican minister specifically spoke out against any abandonment of Afghanistan, saying that doing so "will create exactly the kind of chaos in which these movements flourish."

"Not only will al-Qaeda seek to attack Western and other targets but fresh oxygen will be given to those groups training people for terrorist activity in both Afghanistan and Pakistan," he argued. "It is well known that their training and activity is not limited to South and Central Asia but that they are very capable of exporting extremism and terrorism by radicalizing vulnerable young Western Muslims and using them in their own countries. It has been shown beyond doubt that Britain is particularly exposed in this matter."

In a globalised and highly mobile world, Nazir-Ali said it is "vital" that people in the West begin to appreciate that their interests are not confined to their territorial borders and that "minding their doorsteps" is not enough.

He welcomed U.S. President Barack Obama's recent decision to send in 30,000 more American troops to secure crucial areas of Afghanistan – including leading cities such as Kandahar – from attack and occupation and the pending addition of British and some other NATO forces.

Nazir-Ali said that while alliances, agreements and treaties are preferable, there are times when armed intervention is required.

"'Winning the peace' is now widely recognized as a necessary accompaniment to a conflict that may be justified," he stated.

But the Anglican reverend made it clear that religious leaders are neither politicians nor military officers.

"Their task is not to decide when to undertake a particular mission of this kind and how it should be conducted. Their role is the much more modest one of praying and working for peace, of always asking whether any armed action being contemplated is a last resort and, in the end, reminding ministers and generals of the moral criteria to be used in their decision-making and in their operations," he stated.

In closing, Nazir-Ali encouraged the United States and its allies to increase efforts to hand over security matters to properly trained Afghan troops as soon as possible, without mentioning any dates.

And once the dangers of militancy are removed, there will be a greater chance for "at least" a semblance of democracy to emerge in the new Central Asian republics.

"These are important gains and we must not lose sight of them," he concluded.

Since stepping down as bishop of Rochester on Sept. 1, Nazir-Ali has expressed his desire to work with a number of church leaders from areas where the Church is under pressure, particularly in minority situations, who have asked him to assist them with education and training for their particular situation.

Nazir-Ali holds dual Pakistani and British citizenship.