UK Muslims & the “War on Christmas”

A belated merry Christmas to all who celebrated the holiday.

Interesting and ironic news from the British front of the “War on Christmas.” In the UK, some seemingly unlikely champions for the Christmas spirit are entering the lists. Muslims and Hindus are urging people not to throw the Baby Jesus out with the Yuletide bathwater by needlessly deemphasizing the holiday’s theological message. British Muslims say: Put Christ back in Christmas:

Muslim leaders joined Britain’s equality watchdog Monday in urging Britons to enjoy Christmas without worrying about offending non-Christians.

“It’s time to stop being daft about Christmas. It’s fine to celebrate and it’s fine for Christ to be star of the show,” said Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Mr. Phillips, reflecting on media reports of schools scrapping nativity plays and local councils celebrating “Winterval” instead of Christmas, worried the unintended consequences of secularizing the holiday would “fuel community tension.”

So he joined forces with minority religious leaders to put out a blunt message to the politically correct: leave Christmas alone.

That’s a sentiment that I as a Muslim second wholeheartedly. Christians shouldn’t have to tiptoe around Christmas for fear of offending the thin-skinned. Non-Christian though I am, in our day of rampant narcissism, materialism, and short-term thinking I appreciate getting reminded once a year of timeless values and higher priorities.

Yet what is often overlooked by those railing against the Christmas season’s increasing inclusiveness is that respect is a two-way street. Christians are going to celebrate Christmas and their higher numbers in society are going to naturally translate into a higher cultural profile for their festivities, but that doesn’t absolve the majority from its responsibility to recognize and strive to accommodate the sensibilities of other, non-Christian communities and traditions. When that responsibility to be open to diversity is systematically neglected, otherwise innocent expressions of mainstream sensibilities can become inconsiderate or even intolerant to others.

But who’s really at war with Christmas? There’s something else curious about these campaigns, which often seem informed more by xenophobia and contemporary right-wing ideology than traditional Christian piety. Jeremy Gunn made some pointed but profound points in a piece in USA Today (A fictional ‘war on Christmas’) two years ago about how inconsistent the overall ethos of these American Christian revivalist movements are with Christ’s self-evident message of love, mercy and peace:

Make no mistake about it. These warrior-lawyers are not asking us to love our neighbors (and certainly not our enemies), nor to turn the other cheek, nor to be peacemakers, nor to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.

Nor is this a joyful effort to encourage the Christmas spirit in the millions of places where it can be promoted without any conflict: in people’s hearts, in their homes, with families, in churches, or with friend and neighbors.

Thus, the culture warriors on the Right who’ve appointed themselves Christmas’ defenders may extol the virtues of love and peace on earth on December 25, but the other 364 days of the year play the Grinch, fighting tooth and nail against humane social and economic policies for America’s weakest and most disadvantaged in the name of heartless standards of responsibility or efficiency that I suspect Mary would have found hard to understand as she found herself forced to give birth to her son in a manger.

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