It is often said that Israel is the canary in the coal mine: Whatever happens to it will soon enough be the fate of Europe, America and Canada. According to this view, once Israel’s Muslim neighbors finish with it, they will turn their attention to bigger conquests. But this scenario assumes that Islamic expansion will occur mostly through war and terror. What if Muslim hegemony expands mainly through conversion?

In that case, a better candidate for lead canary might be England. Or, if you prefer a different bird, think of it this way: When the nightingale in Berkeley Square starts singing a different tune, the rest of the world had better take notice.

These thoughts occurred to me after reviewing reports of the peculiar behavior of Prince Charles in recent years. You see, the heir to the British throne has become England’s chief Islamophile. It’s not just that the Prince is the patron of the Centre for Islamic Studies. It’s not just that he’s installed an elaborate Islamic garden at his Highgrove residence. And it’s not just that he has appeared on several occasions wearing turbans and bedouin robes. All that could be passed off as typical of the English elites’ long-standing romance with Araby. But actions speak louder than wardrobes, and the Prince’s actions and words over the years indicate that this may be more than a passing Lawrence-of-Arabia phase.

Take, for instance, his role in the construction of the Finsbury Park mosque in North London. According to Melanie Phillips in her book Londonistan, the mosque “owed its existence to the Prince of Wales, who persuaded King Fahd of Saudi Arabia to donate well over £1.3 million to construct (the building)…” It was not the Prince’s fault that the mosque was subsequently hijacked by radicals and turned into the headquarters for jihad in Great Britain, but the ironic turn of events surely has symbolic significance.

The Prince’s public utterances on the subject of Islam are also revealing. In a 1993 speech at Oxford, Prince Charles praised Islam as a religion of peace, and noted that Sharia law was mischaracterized as cruel and unjust. “My own understanding,” he said, “is that extremes, like the cutting off of hands, are rarely practiced.” Christianity doesn’t fare as well. He goes on to say, “Islam can teach us a way of understanding and living in the world which Christianity itself is poorer for having lost.”

In a 1996 speech on Islamic pedagogy the Prince contrasted Islam’s “integrated spiritual view of the world” with the West’s inability to achieve the same, and opined that “we need to be taught by Islamic teachers how to learn with our hearts as well as our heads.” In a similar vein, addressing a group of Muslims at a Ramadan celebration at St. James Palace in 2001, the Prince praised “the greater sensitivity and imagination” offered by Muslim youth because, lacking that, “we will become so much more dry and sterile.”

For those who like to believe that there will always be an England, the Prince’s words cannot be very encouraging.

Robert Ferrigno’s futuristic novel, Prayers for the Assassin, pictures an America that has by-and-large converted to Islam. Significantly, the elites — in our case, the sports heroes and movie stars — are the first to convert, and the rest follow along. The Prince of Wales is not exactly a sports star (although he is handy with a polo mallet), but he is certainly an elite. Royals, of course, don’t set the political agenda anymore, but they are still influential in setting the social tone.

Charles is, in a sense, a celebrity, and celebrities are celebrated, among other reasons, for doing what’s fashionable. And in England Islam is fast becoming fashionable. The Earl of Yarborough is a convert; so is Emma Clark, the designer of Prince Charles’ garden, and the great-granddaughter of a British Prime Minister. Cat Stevens (now Yusuf Islam) is a well-known convert, and counts the Prince of Wales among his admirers. Prominent soccer players have converted, and “trophy lists” of converts have sprung up on English Islamic websites. “We’re all the rage,” said Emma Clark. “I hope it’s not a passing fashion.” Not since Rudolph Valentino played a desert prince in the movies have sheiks been so chic.

Rumors abound that Charles has already secretly converted, or that he plans to do so. Whether or not there’s any truth to that, it seems that a line has already been crossed. Prince Charles has made it known that when he becomes King he would like to be known as “Defender of Faith,” not “Defender of the Faith” — one of the traditional titles conferred on the English monarch. The faith that he’s supposed to defend, of course, is the Christian faith.

Another title conferred on the British monarch is “Head of the Church of England.” Yes, the Archbishop of Canterbury is the acting head of the church, but he is nominated for his position by the Crown. It’s not likely that we’ll see an “Ayatollah of Canterbury” in the near future, but the heir to the throne seems to be signaling that he thinks Christianity doesn’t have much of a future in England. And if he, the Defender of the Faith, thinks that way, what is the average Christian supposed to think?

Although the majority of English regard themselves as Christians, the faith — if judged by church attendance — is not widely practiced. There are more Muslims attending mosque each week in England than there are Anglicans attending Church of England services. England is, in many senses, a post-Christian society, and Muslims are merely expanding into the spiritual vacuum that has resulted from England’s turn to secularism.

From one perspective Charles could be looked upon as a far-seeing sage who recognizes that a nation needs spiritual sustenance, and who judges that the Church of England isn’t doing the job. In that view he’s paving the way for a peaceful transition to a more vibrant spirituality.

From another perspective he is helping to deliver his countrymen into the hands of puritan zealots who will make Oliver Cromwell seem benign by comparison. Melanie Phillips is of the second opinion. She writes: “At a time when Britain’s fundamental values are under attack, its future monarch is preparing to abandon them with an explicit aim of replacing them by the ‘spiritually superior’ forces of Islam.”

When Queen Elizabeth steps down or passes on, England may witness a royal shake up (or is that “sheik up”) such as it hasn’t seen since the days when an earlier Charles lost his head over another difference of religion.

William Kilpatrick taught for many years at Boston College.  He is the author of Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong, and other books.