Bishop refuses to take action over vicar’s ‘creeping Islamisation’ article, says he ‘would not wish to discourage’ such views

Last week Canon Eric Woods, the Vicar of Sherborne in Dorset, published an article in the Western Gazette opposing “the invasion of halal meat”, which he claimed was part of “the creeping Islamisation of our country”. Unsurprisingly, Woods’ article has been enthusiastically welcomed by far-right Islamophobes and fascists.

I wrote to the Bishop of Salisbury, the Right Reverend Nicholas Holtam, to complain about Woods’ shocking outburst of anti-Muslim bigotry.

Here is the email I sent:

I am writing to express my concern at an article by the Vicar of Sherborne, Canon Eric Woods, which was published in this week’s issue of the Western Gazette.

The article, which is written in response to the present outbreak of media hysteria over halal meat, is on one level simply ignorant. It asserts that halal abattoirs slaughter animals while they are fully conscious, when in reality 88% of halal meat produced in the UK is from animals that have been stunned before being killed, and the slaughter of sheep without pre-stunning has been illegal in New Zealand since 2010.

Much worse, though, is Canon Woods’ claim that “the invasion of halal meat” is part of “the creeping Islamisation of our country”, to which Christians are opposed. Quite frankly, this is the sort of paranoid nonsense I would expect some drunken thug to post on an English Defence League Facebook page. It is entirely unacceptable coming from someone holding a responsible position in the Church of England.

Over the past few weeks the UK Independence Party has taken action against its candidates who have published offensive remarks about the Muslim community and its faith. I hope that the CofE will take a similarly robust attitude to Canon Wood’s comments.

Today I received the following reply from the Venerable Stephen Robbins, who is chaplain and press officer to the Bishop of Salisbury:

Unfortunately the Bishop is away at the moment and he has asked me to respond on his behalf to the article by Canon Woods. Canon Woods writes a regular column in the Sherborne edition of the Western Gazette. He often chooses controversial topics in ways that are often challenging. The Bishop would not wish to discourage him in this. Therefore the Bishop suggests that the most appropriate response is that you challenge Mr Woods yourself, either through the paper or directly.

This is my reply:

Thank you for your email. I find Bishop Holtam’s refusal to take any action over Canon Woods’ disgraceful Western Gazette column very disappointing.

When Woods wrote about the “creeping Islamisation of our country” he was promoting a paranoid racist fantasy popular on the far right, according to which Muslims are engaged in a stealth takeover of British society. This has obvious parallels with the antisemitic conspiracy theories prevalent in far-right circles during  the early decades of the last century.

It is hardly surprising that Woods’ column has been widely circulated by anti-Muslim extremists, under the headline “FINALLY! Church of England speaks out against halalification and Islamization of the UK”.

If Canon Woods had written that the failure to label meat from animals slaughtered by the shechita method was an example of the “creeping Judaisation” of the UK, to the applause of far-right antisemites, I doubt the Bishop would describe Woods’ claim as merely “challenging”. He would at the very least have issued a condemnation of Woods’ views. But when Woods says the same thing about Muslims, the Bishop says he “would not wish to discourage him in this”.

Bishop Holtam should be ashamed of himself.