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Localism Can Harm the Nation's Health

In my last blog I paid tribute to the clarity and value of Ziauddin Sardar’s book Reading the Quran I think it is a book that has the potential to change lives both inside and outside the Islamic community. So it is with a little trepidation that I take issue, though very mildly, with one particular perspective.

A chapter in the third section of the book deals with the issue of the individual and the community. Ziauddin Sardar says: “We exist only in connection with other people, our family, our neighbourhood, our community and our country.” He talks about the importance of face to face contact.

I was a child in Darlington in the 1950s and every day my mother talked to her neighbour over the backyard wall. Friends and relatives would let themselves into our front door and suddenly appear in our kitchen.  I loved it and will never forget it but I think it’s gone now. It was supportive and we had time for it. With the enemy at the gate long cups of tea and gossip are a luxury we may no longer be able to afford.

I am currently reading a little book Christianity and the Social Order. It was written by Archbishop William Temple in 1942. Sardar and Temple share a lot, not least a beautiful clarity of expression. Temple says, “the problem is we have to deal with men as they are, not with men as they ought to be”. This attitude is very Islamic I think. My understanding from what little I have read of the Qur’an is that what we ought to be is eternal but what we are changes with time.

Neighbourhoods have changed. They are not what they once were and whilst EastEnders and Coronation Street are not the exact truth it is a moot point whether they paint a picture that is worse than the reality or one that is actually marginally better.

The internet allows the creation of communities that can ignore space.  Books can wipe away time. Commonality of belief and ambition is now more important than physical proximity. It does not make life easier. The information we now have available imposes an irresistible community of need and duty; a bond in the form of an unwritten contract between those who have power and riches and those who have not.  

The Government proposals set out in the Localism Bill aim to foster "community". I have to say my view is that the current proposals will waste the time of the well intentioned and are certain to involve an opportunity cost that the "gifted and talented" cannot afford in a time of crisis.

Temple sheds light on the Christian doctrine of Original Sin, which says we sin even before we can speak. How so? Thankfully it has nothing to do with the way we are conceived. He explains that from the beginning our standard of value is the way things affect ourselves: ”Each of us takes his place at the centre of our own world. But I am not the centre of the world, or the standard of reference between Good and Bad. God is.”

A child is not guilty but the child’s view is wrong. It seems to me that the same can be said of country. From the day a nation is born it is in a state of sin because it takes the same self-centred rather than God-centred view as a child. But the nation is guilty because we know full well what we are doing. We have got ourselves to the point where the SATS results of children in Wandsworth are seen as far more important than the deaths of children in Somalia. If that is what belonging to a nation means then perhaps it is time for me to reject flag and country. 

Ken Mafham is a Muslim Insitute Fellow and a Town Planning Consultant with 40 years experience. His work has taken him to Mauritius, Bauch State Nigeria , Merseyside and the East Midlands. He has also taught lessons to 30-40 individuals a week for the last fifteen years, from Year 1 to A level. This leaves little time for hobbies but he does like to play the violin and sing. Not both at the same time though.