The status of the Broadford-based West Highland Free Press as the UK’s only employee-owned newspaper and its four decade long record of superlative and award winning writing is undeniable. Yet, this article by Professor Donald Macleod – founding member and former principal of the Free Church College in Edinburgh – on the Mediterranean boat-people crisis and relative proselytizing activities within Islam and Christianity would have been expected to disappear into the mist.
It is unclear who raised complaints of Macleod’s article, but the following excerpt caused them:
All minorities prefer to keep a low profile and avoid trouble.
“Generations of British Muslims have done exactly that, many have made an invaluable contribution to British society, and many are perfectly prepared to listen quietly while Christians ‘witness’ to them.
“But when minorities become majorities, things change… in the event of Islamic dominance in Britain our friendly Muslim shopkeepers will have little option but to march behind the radicals.
Regardless of the distinctly illiberal attitudes which which exists in sections of Muslim society (albeit not as high as Daily Express would say), the main challenge to this is coming from other members of Muslim society who display the free will not to march behind the groups Macleod decries.
All in all, though, it appears a very mild comment which does not in any way view observant Muslims as intrinsically bad; and then goes on to be couched in esoteric historical terms:
Apocalyptic delusions of an aged brain? Possibly, but consider Augustine, the greatest Christian mind the world has ever seen. Born in Algeria, he became Bishop of Hippo (also in Algeria) in 396. There, if anywhere, Christianity seemed secure for all time coming. But by 622 Mohammed had established himself in Medina, and a hundred years later Christianity was obliterated in Algeria. It was no victory of the mind. Augustine’s diocese had merely been overwhelmed by a Muslim army.
Furthermore, his article opened with a reproach to those who might ignore the boat-people crisis. In what put me in mind of Marlow’s barbed description of European colonialism in Heart of Darkness, he said:
The flow of migrants from North Africa into southern Europe is no new thing. It has been going on for decades, but now it’s become the stuff of tragedy as thousands cram into tiny vessels scarcely fit for a mill-pond and head off across two hundred miles of treacherous sea.
Europe is suddenly caught in a dilemma. Will it rage against illegal immigrants, or weep over the loss of thousands of lives? But behind the dilemma there is also guilt. For centuries we Europeans shamelessly took advantage of freedom of movement to turn up unbidden and unwelcome on other shores, killing native inhabitants, destroying their culture and plundering their treasures.
Today, people of European origin dominate Canada, the United States, Brazil, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia. From the ‘Mayflower’ to the ‘Metagama’, migration, driven by poverty, has been a key factor in our history. Deep-down, then, we know the heart of a migrant and the curious paradox of a mind that is filled with ‘cianalas’ and yet knows it could never forsake the comforts of central heating and air-conditioning for the romance of a peat-fire.
I would have thought that this display of genuine Christian compassion towards suffering strangers would have appealed to those who, as Maajid Nawaz recently said, refuse to believe that the savagery of ISIS has nothing to do with Islam; and that Macleod cannot be said to be saying it has everything to do with Islam.
Yet, for reasons unclear, the editorial team of this minor newspaper with a weekly circulation of 7,500 decided that Macleod’s position was untenable and that he should no longer write for them. But not before another founding member and former British Cabinet minister, Brian Wilson had written a defence of Macleod’s right to be a rural Scots Presbyterian. One who comes from a social background which might think that Mark Robson’s 1974 Earthquake was sinful waste of money and glorification of other people’s misery or that girls cannot over-arm bowl because of Adam’s rib – as my grandfather and mother’s headmistress did respectively – or that a tornado is Divine Retribution for ferry sailings on the Sabbath: “Chaidh bt’-aisig Sternabhaigh a bhualadh le dealanach” and all that.
Although this article does not appear to be publicly available, the BBC News link quotes Wilson as saying “[…] leading on to wider questions about Islamic influence within Europe, including implications for democracy and freedom”. Again, small beer by the looks of it.
Although both articles were presumably subjected to editorial approval and the principle of collective responsibility should apply, no other members of the newspaper appear to be taking responsibility for these supposedly egregious comments.
UPDATE: that all said, I wonder if Wilson is reflecting on his “Cuba isn’t perfect but” article.