On not fearing Muslims

Anti-racist & proudAndy Newman responds to another Islamophobic report from the anti-Muslim ‘One Law for All’ organisation

One of the characteristics of Islamophobia is to see the Islamic faith as being incompatible with western liberalism, and therefore by definition to see the extremist jihadis or salafist literalists as being somehow more true to Islam than those who happily enjoy both western and Muslim identities. This also means that there is an Islamophobic tendency to see any expressions of organised lobbying or political activity by Muslims as somehow sinister and akin to jihadism.

Furthermore, there has been a sustained campaign of vilification against those on the left and centre-left who have sought to stand against Islamophobia, an example of which is a new document issued by the anti-Muslim organisation, “One Law for All”, which has been unsurprisingly praised by their co-thinkers at the the website Harry’s Place.

It is worth recalling the critique of Harry’s Place from the Eustonite, Marko Atilla Hoare.

Harry’s Place is a blog in which comments have been posted and left undeleted by the moderators, calling for ships carrying illegal immigrants to Britain to be torpedoed, or equating ordinary Muslims with Nazis, or calling for all Palestinians to be expelled from the West Bank. Leaving such comments undeleted may be justified on the grounds of freedom of speech, but I have come reluctantly to believe that one or two of the HP bloggers are somewhat unwilling to fall out with the far-right commenters who frequent the blog – and by ‘far right’ I don’t mean the actual BNP, but the Muslim-hating, immigrant-hating bigots who are one step away from it.

Hoare’s observation of a new synthesis between some parts of the former “Decent left” with the new “counter-jihad” right is significant, as an insider’s judgement:

Harry’s Place bloggers are Eustonite or ‘Decent’ left-wingers, and focus in particular on exposing and opposing radical Islam and human rights abuses in the Islamic world (and elsewhere), and their western left-wing apologists. However, the comments boxes of this blog attract members of both groups opposing the liberal mainstream: the Decent Left and the new far right. And although the two groups are in principle antithetical, there is a very real danger that this will be forgotten and that a synthesis will be formed, in which case Harry’s Place will have acted as incubator for a monster.

Rising tide of Islamophobia

For the record, I do not agree with Hoare’s judgement on the nature of “Decentism” and secularism, which I have critiqued here, but he himself does appreciate the danger that a rising tide of Islamophobia represents:

It is on the basis of hostility to Islam and to immigration that the new far-right is mounting its assault on liberal values and the western liberal world.

With these reservations in mind about Harry’s Place, we should note the endorsement by their contributor, Sarah AB, of the “One Law for All” document:

Siding with the Oppressor: The Pro-Islamist Left (pdf) was flagged over on Maryam Namazie’s blog yesterday. It brings together criticisms of many of Harry’s Place own favourite targets: Stop the War Coalition, Respect, George Galloway and UAF for example.

I start with a discussion of Harry’s Place, because it is a characteristic of the method of  those who subscribe to what we could describe as “left islamophobia” to create  a circle of self-referential support for each other. The document from One Law for All presents itself as a “report”, and is professionally formatted, and given an ISBN and is even nominally for sale at £4 per copy. However, there is no indication of either the qualifications or authority of the previously unheard of author, John Miller, and it reads like under-graduate doggeral.

The sources of information in the document are almost all from insubstantial Internet scribblings, or newspaper or BBC online reports, and the references include 5 from One Law for All, 3 from Harry’s Place, 6 from the IslamophobicTrotskyite cult the Alliance for Workers Liberty, 3 from One law for All’s own director Maryam Namazie, 3 from Peter Tatchell, 5 from the Henry Jackson society, and no less than 15 references from Andrew Gilligan.

Dubious assertions

The lack of reference to real authoritative sources means that there is no serious discussion of either the facts, or the politics. Instead there are only dubious assertions.

I recently highlighted how One Law for All spokesperson, the anti-Muslim campaigner, Anne Marie Waters is seeking nomination to be Labour candidate for Brighton Pavillion. One of the dangers of Anne Marie Waters becoming a Labour candidate is that any resulting election campaign would be hijacked by her controversial obsession. She is seeking to stand against well respected Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, and the following from her website illustrates the danger:

This week, I read a very interesting tweet from the journalist Julie Bindel. She wrote (among other things): “Caroline Lucas panders to extreme Islamists”. As someone who campaigns against Islamic extremism and the accompanying misogyny and brutal human rights abuses, this tweet very much caught my attention. … Throughout my years of campaigning against religious misogyny, including Islamic, I have found the likes of Lucas depressingly common. They’re full of feminist credentials yet stand with those who enslave women. They’re full of concern for gay rights unless those gays happen to be an Islamic state – these gay people should accept their torture and murder: “it’s their culshure innit?”

This is worth unpacking, because we see examples of a number of traits of the anti-Islamic “left” here. In the example I quote from Anne Marie Waters, a dubious amalgamation of guilt by association is used to smear Caroline Lucas, in the One Law for All document (OLFA) by John Miller, an association with Muslim thinkers like Yusuf Al Qaradawi and Azzam Tamimi is used to seek to discredit Ken Livingstone and others.

There is a trap here for those who defend multi-culturism to avoid, we must not simply adopt a symmetrical narrative, and pretend that sometimes deeply conservative thinkers are unproblematic. For example, Azzam Tamimi and Al Qaradawi have both adopted positions over Syria, sympathetic to Sunni militias in the civil war. Qaradawi seems to have made statements that are anti-Semitic, and the distinction he makes between his general opposition to terrorism, and his specific support of the tactic of terror against Israelis is a highly questionable distinction. Sadly the legacy of half a century of war has left wounds, distrust and hatred as part of the mainstream ideological fabric in both Israel and the Arab countries that neighbour it: a cause for reflection for those on either side who promote easy answers.

Socially liberal west

However, we can strongly oppose, for example, expressions of anti-Semitism, and recognise that someone like Al Qaradawi is a political conservative, without concluding that anti-Semitism is inherent to Islam; or that Islam is incompatible with modern western society. Al Qaradawi is an important religious thinker, and his approach to the interpretation of Islam is useful in seeing how a variation of Islam atuned to the pluralist and socially liberal west can develop.

There is too much ground superficially covered in the One Law for All document for me to address all of it, so let us focus on the judgement from the document, that Al Qaradawi is an “extreme Islamist”.

John L Esposito has been described as “America’s leading scholar of Islamic politics” and the estimable Afghan liberal writer, Ahmed Rashid says “There is no one better to explain the phenomenon of the origins and exposition of global jihad than Esposito”

In Esposito’s 2010 book, the excellent “The Future of Islam” he includes a very illuminating discussion of Al Qarawadi, who far from being an extreme “Islamist” is an influential traditionalist trained scholar, who encourages a distinction between mandatory religious obligations (like zakat, almsgiving), and those areas of Islamic law which might be open to re-interpretation due to changing social realities and certainties.

According to Esposito, Qaradawi, although associated with the Muslim Brotherhood criticises its militant ideology and  advocates that Muslims should “see the various shades of gray rather than a black-and-white world and embrace a “balanced” and moderate version of Islam” Qarawadi condemned the 9/11 attacks on New York, has issued a fatwa against Bin Laden, and has said that “Islam, the religion of tolerance, holds the soul in high esteem, and considers the attack against inocent human beings a grave sin … … I categorically go against a committed Muslim embarking on such attacks”

Yusuf Qaradawi also espouses womens’ rights. He affirms the rights of women to function in public spaces, to be educated and employed, and to vote and run for public office. He has been a fierce critic of the Taliban’s treatment of women. On a personal level he often notes his pride that three of his daughter’s have PhD’s from English Universities, and a fourth has a Masters degree from the University of Texas. One daughter is the dean of Qatar University.

Qaradawi argues that women has an unequivocal right to choose her own spouse, and he has argued that a woman has a right to be head of state.

Death penalty

So let us consider the accusations against Qaradawi in the OLFA document, starting with the claim that he advocates the execution of gays. Firstly let us consider the benchmark of the Christian Bible, which calls for the death penalty for same gender sexual activity: Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:24-32. From the New Testament:

For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.

Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

For the religiously observant, there is a necessity to acknowledge that the recording and interpretation of Divine will is a human activity, and therefore susceptible to social influence and error. The great religions, including Islam and Christianity, have developed in contexts where they are the dominant ideology, and have codified what is considered desired social practice, deriving from the cultural and social context in which they originated. Islamic scholars such as Nurcholish Madjid and Yusuf Qaradawi are cognisant of the dilemma for the faithful in distinguishing between the laws which they believe derive from God, and those which reflect human interpretation or originating context.

Qaradawi argues a socially permissive doctrine that, according to Esposito “everything is acceptable (halal) unless proven forbidden (haram) by an explicitly Quranic or Prophetic text.” Moreover, Qaradawi argues that the least severe, not the most severe sanctions should be applied for contraventions of the penal code, and that repentence is sufficient to avoid punishment (hadd).

Same gender sexual activities are considered sinful on Quranic authority and due to the revelation of the natural world (al Kitab al Manshur) by most Muslims, as they are by many Christians due to scripture, and doctrines of Lex Naturalis. While these religious views are broadly inconsistent with the consensus views of modern liberal civic society, people are nevertheless entitled to believe what they want, and religions are entitled to proselytise their views.

Traditional Islamic social rules

In his early but widely distributed work “The Lawful and Prohibited in Islam“, written in the 1950s when he was a young man (and when, we should remember, gay sex was illegal in the UK and USA and punishable by imprisonment), Qaradawi provides a comprehensive guide to traditional Islamic social rules, but interprets them in a reformist way.

As Bob Pitt has previously explained:

Under the various schools of sharia law homosexuality is treated as a sub-section of adultery. The Islamic jurists who formulated the legal position on this issue were trying to put a stop to the barbaric practices in a backward tribal society which did lead to individuals (mainly women) being killed in order to defend the “honour” of the family or community.

These early jurists ruled that it wasn’t adultery, and by extension homosexuality, that was a crime but rather the sexual act itself, and further that four independent witnesses to the sexual act were required for a conviction. The result was to preserve the draconian punishments – stoning etc – as a symbol of extreme social disapproval while raising the evidential requirements so high that in practice it was impossible to sentence anyone to those punishments.

So when Qaradawi was discussing the penalties for gay sex in The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam we have to bear in mind that it was these symbolic punishments he was referring to.

In a 2006 interview on Al-Jazeera, when asked about the Islamic position on homosexuality, Qaradawi argued that there was disagreement among the early Islamic jurists over the issue of gay sex and that in the modern world the (symbolic) draconian punishments should no longer apply. He continued: “Therefore we don’t lock the doors before the homosexuals. No! They have committed sins, but it is within their ability to repent to God.”

So exactly contrary to the claims in the One Law for All document, that Qaradawi calls for the death penalty for gays, Qaradawi actually calls for the “doors to be open” to homosexuals; a position which in the social context of the Middle East is relatively permissive. This is not to deny Qaradawi is a traditionalist, nor that his views are inconsistent with the liberal views of modern Britain; but he is clearly being misrepresented by Islamophobes. Moreover, the approach is broadly consistent with mainstream Anglican and Catholic thinking, in regarding same gender sexual acts as sinful but not extending opprobrium to the people who do them. There is ground here for mutual respect, understanding and tolerance;  as long as we all meet each other half way.

Broadly progressive view

As described above, Qaradawi takes a broadly progressive view towards women in Islamic society, and is vehemently opposed to the Taliban, and the oppressive treatment of women by salafists. So what of his expressed view of female genital mutilation (FGM)?

FGM is a cultural practice that arose millennia ago in an arc across north Africa, broadly the same cultural milieau that male circumcision arose in. My own view is that non medically necessary surgical procedures should only be legally permitted upon consenting adults; and that both FGM and male circumcision of minors should ideally be crimes under English law. My belief is that religious freedom is a question of choice and consent, and that both male and female children (who cannot consent), need to be protected.

There are different forms of FGM, ranging from the most extreme and barabaric form common in Somalia, where not only the clitoris but also the lips of the labia are removed, and the vagina sewn up; to the least intrusive form more common in the Maghreb, of only removing the hood of the clitoris which is (and I choose my words carefully here) anatomically analogous to male circumcision.

The practice of FGM therefore was a pre-existing one when Islam entered that part of the world. We need to understand the nature of Islamic authority to see how FGM became absorbed into Islam in those parts of the world where it was already practised.

As I have explained before, a universality that embraced cultural differences was always necessary for the social role played by the Islamic faith:

The social context within which Islam arose and spread was one which required it to act as a shared codex of values to mediate the interactions between different societies, and those different societies exhibited diversity.

Traditions

As the liberal Islamic theorist, Tariq Ramadan, argues in “Western Muslims and the Future of Islam“: “in the area of social affairs (al-muamalat) all the ways and means – the traditions, arts, clothes – that do not, either in themselves or in the use to which they are put, conflict with Islamic precepts become not only acceptable but Islamic by definition”

Coming from a society where FGM is widespread, Qaradawi has not transcended the cultural limits of his experience, and he extends to the custom Islamic significance, but FGM is not an intrinsic or universal part of Islam; and Qaradawi is not egregiously conservative on this issue within the society from which he comes.

Recognising this fact does not involve cultural relativism, because it is both possible to oppose FGM, and maintain a dialogue with those from cultures where FGM is still considered acceptable, seeking to move them in our direction.

A real example of cultural relativism over the issue of FGM, and how it is used by “left” Islamophobes is well illustrated by an outrageous article from the Guardian’s Comment is Free, by George Readings of the Quilliam Foundation. Although both Bob Pit and myself had argued against FGM, Readings sought to imply that we supported it. Again, Bob Pit ably demolishes this.

In his Cif piece Readings … accuses Socialist Unity editor Andy Newman and myself of justifying “a direct, physical and brutal tool of patriarchal control” because we drew a parallel between male and female circumcision. Presumably Readings reasons that the words “female genital mutilation” will automatically generate such an outraged reaction among Cif readers that they won’t bother to check the accuracy of his claims. But once again he misrepresents Qaradawi.

Readings refers us to a World Health Organization report, Eliminating female genital mutilation, and asserts that Qaradawi advocates a form of FGM that is categorised in the report as Type IIa, defined (p.24) as “removal of the labia minora”. But the IslamOnline introduction to Qaradawi’s fatwa makes it quite clear that what he is discussing is “removing the prepuce of the clitoris”. Is Readings genuinely incapable of understanding that cutting the clitoral hood is not the same as excising the labia minora? As with the accusations about wife-beating and the execution of homosexuals, Readings has attributed to Qaradawi a position that he does not hold.

Regarding male circumcision, Readings quotes the WHO report as stating that it “has significant health benefits that outweigh the very low risk of complications”. But other informed commentators disagree. I previously cited an article from the BMJ, entitled “Is infant male circumcision an abuse of the rights of the child? Yes”. This is the relevant excerpt:

“Male genital mutilation is not a risk-free procedure. There are potential anaesthetic risks, and the short term risk of bleeding and infection associated with any surgical procedure. Longer term potential complications include pain on erection, penile disfigurement, and psychological problems. A recent report shows that the non-circumcised adult penis is more sensitive than the circumcised penis, largely because the five most sensitive areas, identified in the study, are removed during circumcision. This implies a reduction in future sexual sensitivity for circumcised adults. Far from being a harmless traditional practice, circumcision damages young boys.”

As I pointed out in my original defence of Qaradawi, such objections to male circumcision are comparable to the reasoned criticisms of female circumcision made by the US Muslim Women’s League in a passage that I quoted. Indeed, it was not myself or Andy Newman who described the hood of the clitoris as “the anatomical equivalent of the foreskin of the penis” but the MWL.

… According to Readings, …, the removal of the foreskin from boy babies is completely unproblematic – indeed, despite his lack of any specialist medical knowledge he is convinced that it has uniformly beneficial effects – whereas he claims that the removal of the clitoral hood is “one of the most violently patriarchal acts imaginable”.

George Readings finds it unproblematic to argue that there are “health benefits” for the mutilation of the penis of a male infant, despite the fact that the belief in such “health benefits” is a socially constructed one, mainly promoted by cranks, and is hotly contested within the medical profession; indeed non-religious circumcision is almost unknown in many European and Asian cultures. He however argues that a broadly analogous and equally unnecessary but culturally sanctioned procedure for women, commonly subscribed to in north Africa is “a direct, physical and brutal tool of patriarchal control”. This really is double standards and cultural relativism.

Monochrome Arabness

Tim Winters (Abdal-Hakim Murad) argues the vital point that “As Muslims, of course, we believe that every culture, including the culture of modern consumer liberalism, stands accountable before the claims of revelation. There must, therefore, be a mode of behaviour that modernity can adopt that can be meaningfully termed Islamic, without entailing its transformation into a monochrome Arabness. … The current agreement between zealots on both sides – Islamic and unbelieving – that Islam and western modernity can have no conversation, and cannot inhabit each other, seems difficult given traditional Islamic assurances about the universal potential of revelation. The increasing number of individuals who identify themselves as entirely western, and entirely Muslim, demonstrate that the arguments against the continued ability of Islam to be inclusively universal are simply false.”

So Islam is inherently adaptable and capable of interpenetration both with political democracy, and also with western liberalism and the social mores of modern Europe. As Abdal-Hakim Murad observes “Islamic universalism is represented by the great bulk of ordinary mosque-going Muslims who around the world live out different degrees of accommodation with the local and global reality. One could argue … that Muslim communities are far more open to the west than vice-versa, and know far more about it. Muslims return from the mosques in Cairo in time for the latest American soaps. There is no equivalent desire in the west to learn from and integrate into other cultures. On the ground, the west is keener to export than to import, to shape, rather than be shaped. As such, its universalism can seem imperial and hierarchical, driven by corporations and strategic imperatives that owe nothing whatsoever to non-western cultures, and acknowledge their existence only where they might turn out to be obstacles.”

Islam is no different from any other major religion, or indeed political ideology. It bears with it the marks of its long heritage, and there are aspects that are challenging, as well as aspects that are inspiring. Islam has a strong tradition of social responsibility, and for example, it is better at respecting the need to care for the elderly and infirm than our modern individualist Western society.

Western Europe has been enriched by the encounter with Islam, and immigration by Muslims. The outcome of the resulting cultural social and ideological synthesis is not pre-ordained, but as long as we treat one another with respect and tolerance, and empower people through meaningful and informed choices, then Islam can and does coexist with and strengthen the socially liberal consensus.

114 comments on “On not fearing Muslims

  1. Ralph on said:

    As with your previous post, there is extensive discussion here in which various men talk about women’s rights, women’s bodies, etc. It reads as rather grotesque to me that on FGM it is men’s words you cite. Once again, women,s voices are silenced. Maryam Namazie and Anne Marie Waters should be heard and their words taken seriously, as should the One Law For All report. OFLA are certainly not Islamophobic. Such a claim is bizarre, to put it mildly.

  2. Vanya on said:

    #1 Perhaps we should hear from those women in sub-Saharan Africa etc who promote and inflct fgm on their daughters, nieces and granddaughters?

    Would you then find the discussion more balanced ?

  3. Ralph: OFLA are certainly not Islamophobic. Such a claim is bizarre, to put it mildly.

    Not so bizarre when you go and have a look at their website. Their About page starts off with the claim that they are against “Sharia and all religious laws” (my emphasis) but the rest of the page doesn’t mention any other religious law, focussing solely on sharia.

    There’s also the fact that one of their prominent supporters is Caroline Cox, that staunch defender of secularism, patron of the Christian Institute – the only organisation to start a court case under Section 28, the same organisation that funded the defences of the Islington registrar who refused to carry out civil partnerships and the hoteliers who refused a room to a gay couple.

    It appears that OLFA are not concerned about religious laws at all. They’re only concerned about Muslims. Like some of the commenters on here who talk about being opposed to the EDL and ‘Muslim hate preachers’ but have nothing to say about combatting the EDL, and everything to say about how to ‘tackle hate preachers’.

  4. Ralph on said:

    Nadir Ahmed, I don’t see what’s so *intrinsically* wrong about chiefly focusing a campaign on one thing. OLFA come from a particular perspective which has influenced the direction of their campaigns. Why is that such a problem? Looking at Maryam’s Twitter feed today she is patently hostile to the EDL as well as far-right religious bigots.

  5. Stop concern-trolling, Ralph. Nadir has called you out. Your diversion into “look what someone said about the EDL” is irrelevant, given that the EDL is nothing to do with religion.

    These campaigns focus entirely on sharia law; they weren’t concerned about other religions’ legal issues. It’s like the pretend liberal “secularists” on here who never said a word about other religions, becoming concerned only once they could have a go at Muslims.

    Other religions have the same good and bad issues as Islam. But “one law for all” is simply not concerned with them. As a concern-troll, you want people to simply think they “focus” more on Islam.

    But you’re wrong. These groups are not concerned with Judaism or Christianity. They’re only concerned about Islam. They’re giving themselves liberal cover by pretending to be concerned about others – but their actions, their campaigning and their priorities show that they only pretend to be concerned about other religions so they look less like what they are: Islamophobes.

  6. Ralph, it’s intrinsically wrong when that focus comes from deep-rooted prejudices about Islam, the ‘otherness’ of Muslims, wilful ignorance about what sharia actually is, conflation of cultural practices with religious practices and is bound up in language about immigration.

    If they are genuinely against ‘all religious laws’ and the secularisation of the public sphere, they would be fighting for the disestablishment of the Anglican church. But when you have friends like Caroline Cox, that wouldn’t go down too well, would it?

    They have no interest in secularisation. They’ve just found yet another stick with which to beat the Muslim community.

    Namazie may be patently hostile to the EDL, but the fact is, they feed off each other in terms of their language and propaganda. Some might even say they’re two sides of the same coin.

  7. Vanya on said:

    Hostility to the EDL hardly proves a great deal.

    The BNP are hardly their greatest fans, accusing them of wanting to start a race war among other things.

    I can’t say that makes me feel any warmer towards Nick Griffin.

    I’m not comparing one law for all with the BNP btw, asI don’t have enough evidence to make such an allegation.

  8. Omar on said:

    Vanya: I’m not comparing one law for all with the BNP btw, asI don’t have enough evidence to make such an allegation.

    But it’s probably not a stretch to suggest there might be folks who have membership in both organisations?

  9. jack ford on said:

    It’s been said before but needs to be hammered home: the Islamophobic rhetoric we now suffer from is very similar to the kind of anti Semitic bigotry you had in Britain in the 1880s and 1890s – these immigrants are alien to our way of life, many of them aren’t making enough effort to learn English but stick to Yiddish, they wear strange clothes, they follow a backward religion, they oppress their women, they are liable to go in for extremism and anarchist terrorism. Very similar.

  10. Marko on said:

    I like to view this Islamophobia in it’s wider context, which ultimately is cover for imperialist mass murder and slaughter and aggressively pursuing it’s criminal interests.

    The role of decents is that of propagandists for the imperialism.

    I would refuse to join any organisation that gave them a voice.

  11. Ralph on said:

    Marko,

    OK, But you do OLFA a disservice if you are linking their work and campaigning to Islamophobia.

    The fact that unsavoury racists cite OLFA isn’t proof of anything. We all know that this is a way in which every shade of ‘decent’ opinion is denigrated and is a cheap way to do it.

  12. Ralph: But you do OLFA a disservice if you are linking their work and campaigning to Islamophobia.

    Ralph, people are going on the words and actions of OLFA and people associated with it. If they were genuinely concerned about the impact of religiously-derived laws, then they’d have nothing to do with Caroline Cox. She’s happy to support people who discriminate against lesbians and gays – as long as those doing the discriminating are Christian, of course. It’s clearly not One Law for All. More like ‘Any Law But Sharia’. And therefore Islamphobic.

  13. Ralph on said:

    Nadir Ahmed,

    I don’t know about Caroline Cox, but I would imagine it would be possible to damn any political organisation by pointing at particular supporters’ views. What matters to me is what they say and do. I don’t see there is necessarily a problem with them chiefly concentrating on one aspect of religious law. Given the history of OLFA, this is hardly surprising.

  14. Ralph, Caroline Cox – a patron of the Christian Institute – isn’t simply a supporter. She’s promoted by OFLA and frequently given a platform by them. Why would an organisation that’s opposed to all religious laws promote her and give her a platform? OFLA serves no purpose other than to provide fodder for anti-Muslim bigotry.

  15. Ralph on said:

    Nadir Ahmed,

    Nadir, I disagree. Their list of ‘prominent supprters’ includes RAWA, Women Against Fundamentalism, and many others. I go back to my original point: campaigning chiefly against Islamic Fundamentalism is not evidence of Islamophobia. It’s evidence that, like most small campaign groups, focus is concentrated on a particular issue. I agree with OLFA that this focus is one which merits attention.

  16. Andy Newman on said:

    Ralph,

    The Islamophobia is inherent in the nature of OLFA’s campaigning. For example, we know that FGM is only an “Islamic ” practice because it predated Islam, and the nature of Islam means that it accepts as Islamic any cultural or social practices not specifically haram, because the universality of revelation means that Islam is compatible with all communities.

    Islam specifically arose to provide a shared codex of values to facilitate interaction beteen cultures that are different.

    OLFA is Islamophobic in falsely claiming that FGM is intrinsic to Islam and therefore there is a threat of it being spread to Britain, whereas in fact recognition that FGM is culturally unacceptable in Britain is actually itself Islamic.

  17. Ralph on said:

    Andy Newman,

    Sorry for being obtuse, Andy, but I don’t really understand this point. In practice, there is, as I understand it, legitimate concern about the practice of FGM here, and that it exists. Your answer sounds as if it is rehearsing textual scholarship (?), whereas surely our focus should be on actually existing practices and interpretations. OLFA are secularists, which is not the same as being anti-Islam. It is, I suppose, entirely possible that their interpretations of scripture may be different to yours, but that is not the same as being Islamophobic.

    On a related note, and with reference to scholarship, moderates and reformists, this conversation between Mehdi Hasan and Irshad Manji is interesting
    http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/headtohead/2013/06/201361091619207870.html

  18. Ralph,

    FGM is already illegal in Britain, it is also a practice adopted by Christians and other localised sects across north Africa.

    So to link FGM with Islam displays ignorance and prejudice on yr part. By all means campaign against FGM, but you are not doing that, you are using FGM to essentialise Muslims.

    And yes you are being obtuse, you are campaigning against Islam without even understanding how it works!

  19. Ralph on said:

    Andy Newman,

    I’ve never exclusively linked FGM to one religion, and OLFA,s chief focus is not about FGM anyway! It was your original post which majored on this. Sorry, but I just don’t buy your argument that this group are racist, and I’m still quite baffled as to why you continue to assert this.

  20. jim "where's my black flag" mclean on said:

    The monotheist religions have always had an ability to adapt and incorporate local custom and practice into the religion, a bit like the trade union movement. It has not always been a positive thing as FGM shows yet we do not see these campaigners highlight Islamic opposition to these customs. A good example being the Mauritanian Fatwa against FGM. As one commentator states the problem is than many believe the tradition has Islamic support when in reality it is not so. Now in relation to the illegal FGM cases in the UK they are from the Islamic and Christian traditions. I was heartbroken last month watching the Christian treatment of “witch” children in the UK and Africa, the sheer inhumanity, how do we deal with this?.

  21. Ralph: I’ve never exclusively linked FGM to one religion, and OLFA,s chief focus is not about FGM anyway! It was your original post which majored on this.

    You are correct, OLFA’s chief focus is ill-informed scare mongering against Muslims, their ill-informed remarks about FGM are simply one of the themes they use.

  22. Jerry on said:

    Andy, can you guarantee the community that you are not a former colleague of Pete Black and Bob Lambert? Rumours are growing that you set up socialist unity as part of a long term special branch undercover operation.

  23. Marko on said:

    “But you do OLFA a disservice if you are linking their work and campaigning to Islamophobia.

    The fact that unsavoury racists cite OLFA isn’t proof of anything. ”

    Very true Ralph, but it isn’t this that makes me sick to the stomach of the decents, it is their propaganda for imperialist mass murder and slaughter and aggressively pursuing it’s criminal interests. To be fair, from this perspective they are far worse than the racists.

  24. jack ford on said:

    It is standard propaganda for imperialist powers to claim that they are not primarily motivated by materialist interests but have a civilising mission whether it was converting the dark continent of Africa to Christianity in Victorian times to promoting freedom, human rights and democracy now. You don’t have to be a cultural or moral relativist to see through the bullshit. It is perfectly true that women’s rights and gay rights are far more advanced in the metropolitan centre than the periphery but unfortunately for the Decents people tend not to love armed missionaries and they will fight for their country against a foreign invader even if they don’t like the way it’s governed.

  25. jack ford on said:

    I should add that the most effective bullshit merchants for Empire are perfectly sincere and principled such as the late Christopher Hitchens; that’s what makes them so dangerous.

  26. Ralph on said:

    Andy Newman,

    Ok, Andy. We disagree. You assert that you are better informed than OLFA. I think you’re misguided, and remain baffled as to exactly why you have a problem with them.

  27. Ralph on said:

    Marko,

    No idea what you’re getting at Marko. That’s a genuine bafflement, by the way, not ‘concern trolling’. You obviously don’t like OLFA. Fine. Does your dislike spring from the same concerns Andy raises in his post? Or…?

  28. Ralph: u assert that you are better informed than OLFA.

    Can you explain why a “secularist” organisation called “One Law for All”, campaigns against Muslims, and not – for example against the established role of the Anglican church, and the C of E’s opposition to marriage equality?

    That is a genuine issue of the state denying one law for all, and religious input directly into the mechanisms and processes of governance.

    Instead the “secularists” campaign against Islam, which is already seperated from the institutions of state in a secular way.

  29. Andy Newman,

    I would have thought that was blindingly obvious even to those with a blinkered outlook since at the moment the main threat to a secular society comes not from Christianity but from within Islam.

    The fact that women in particular remain disadvantaged within Muslim many communities does not seem to bother you does it? Sharia law is discriminatory and conservative or are you that reactionary you cannot recognise that fact?

  30. Vanya on said:

    #32 What’s blindingly obvious is thst we don’t live in a secular society, as we have an established church. The head of state
    must be a member of that church. Leaders of that church have automatic representation in the upper house of parliament.

    That’s the reason why England can accurately be described as a ‘Christian country’, whether any of us like it or not.

    So rather than worrying about our non-existent secular society being threatened, why don’t the militant secularists concentrate on t he task of actually creating a secular society by campaigning for disestablishment rather than concentrating their attacks on religious minorities?

    And while we’re on the subject of the relative threats from islam and christianity, why does there seem so litle to say about the very powerful group of evangelical christians who believe in the imminent end of days and that the USA has a duty to defend Israel because God gave it to the Jews?

  31. Manzil on said:

    And when it comes to major attempts to impact people’s lives owing to a religious outlook, hasn’t it been due to Christian political mobilisation – whether over the ‘blasphemous’ Jerry Springer opera, the exact scope of incitement to religious hatred laws, opposition to same-sex marriage etc.

    Among the people who consider themselves most violently opposed to what they perceive as the dominant, supposedly secular culture, I would imagine that self-identifying Islamists would constitute a significant number. This is unsurprising, given that it is far easier to become fundamentally alienated as part of a minority, which also suffers considerable prejudice. But that is very different from believing the ‘threat’ posed by them is very serious.

    The common-or-garden bigotry of the ‘Tory party at prayer’ exercises a much greater influence over the country, and potentially is far more of a serious threat to those agitating for a secular public sphere.

    Yet curiously, the ‘threat’ from the (supporters of) the dominant and well-established, as opposed to the utterly marginal and excluded, is never really considered ‘serious’.

  32. John Grimshaw on said:

    Howard Fuller: I would have thought that was blindingly obvious even to those with a blinkered outlook since at the moment the main threat to a secular society comes not from Christianity but from within Islam.

    Is this from the same person who was recently advocating TULIP, and denying that they were a Zionist influenced organisation?

  33. Howard Fuller: I would have thought that was blindingly obvious even to those with a blinkered outlook since at the moment the main threat to a secular society comes not from Christianity but from within Islam.

    “really”, Well from the National Secular society:

    Secularism is a principle that involves two basic propositions. The first is the strict separation of the state from religious institutions. The second is that people of different religions and beliefs are equal before the law.

    i) It is the Anglican church which is an established part of the state, not Islam
    ii) English law does not discriminate on the basis of religious affilition.

    Since we actually do not live in a secular society, but in one with an established church, then it is hard to take seriously the idea that it is Islam and not the actually established Anglican church that is an obstacle to us living in a secular society.

    With regard to this obviously inflamatory language:

    Howard Fuller: the main threat … comes … from within Islam.

    “They come over ‘ere!”

  34. Over at Harry’s Place Howard Fuller fulminates that excising the hood of the clitoris (a practice that I abhor-if it is done non-consensually), is the equivelent to male castration!

    I don’t know whether Howard has never seen a naked man or a naked woman.

    I also don’t whether Howard has ever heard the explanation of where babies come from.

  35. Howard Fuller on said:

    Andy Newman,

    Descending into personal abuse eh, Andy. Disappointing, I thought better of you. Still why not, you blocked my reply to a couple of above comments before you did so which proves to me you are uncomfortable with debate.

  36. Howard Fuller on said:

    The World Health Organisation says:

    “FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. The practice violates a person’s rights to health, security and physical integrity, the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and the right to life when the procedure results in death.”

    http://www.equalitynow.org/sites/default/files/UK_FGM_Workshop_Report.pdf

    Womens rights are not negotiable, whther they come from the Christian, Jewish or Muslim communities.

    Have a little think about your jest. Its’ not at all funny for the women who suffer from this barbaric practice.

  37. Vanya: And while we’re on the subject of the relative threats from islam and christianity, why does there seem so litle to say about the very powerful group of evangelical christians who believe in the imminent end of days and that the USA has a duty to defend Israel because God gave it to the Jews?

    If god did indeed give Israel to the Jews she must have using a dodgy satnav. According to a review in the current London Review of Books
    A 2010 study by researchers at Emory University, Johns Hopkins and the University of Texas found that Ashkenazic Jews are more genetically diverse than a comparable sample of non-Jewish Europeans, possibly because they ‘arose from a more genetically diverse Middle Eastern founder population’ than previously believed. The researchers also found that Ashkenazim were more closely related to Italians and French than to specific Middle Eastern groups such as Palestinians, Druze or Bedouins, which is consistent with a broadly eastern Mediterranean population flowing into Northern and Central Europe via Italy and the Rhone Valley.
    So today’s Jews are in significant measure descended from the Jews of classical antiquity, except that the Jews of classical antiquity were not from Judah, but from the broader region.

  38. Dr Paul on said:

    Andy Newman: Since we actually do not live in a secular society, but in one with an established church, then it is hard to take seriously the idea that it is Islam and not the actually established Anglican church that is an obstacle to us living in a secular society.

    All the talk about the established church and the dangers emanating therefrom would be a bit more convincing if the left actually campaigned on the question of the secularisation of Britain. In over three decades of being on the left, I can’t bring to mind any occasion at elections or other times when I have seen the demand of the full separation of church from state being promoted, or the call made for the secularisation of education, or when this has been more than just an item in the small-print of a party programme of any left organisation. It seems that the Labour Party has always happily accepted the continuation of a state church and the existence of sectarian schooling within the education sector. One might think that the full separation of state and religion would be a prominent demand of any left-wing organisation.

  39. Ralph on said:

    Andy Newman: Can you explain why a “secularist” organisation called “One Law for All”, campaigns against Muslims, and not – for example against the established role of the Anglican church, and the C of E’s opposition to marriage equality?

    That is a genuine issue of the state denying one law for all, and religious input directly into the mechanisms and processes of governance.

    Instead the “secularists” campaign against Islam, which is already seperated from the institutions of state in a secular way.

    Andy, I just don’t buy this argument at all, It strikes me as very similar to perncious claims that people campaigning against Israeli human rights abuses who do not devote the same energy to other causes are therefore ‘anti-Semitic’. I would grant that organisations which apparently obsessively fixate on a theme such as Islam or Israel may have questions to answer, and that such activity may be motivated by racism, bigotry, etc, but in the case of OLFA I see no evidence of this. Their moniker may be unfortunately chosen; their approach and arguments may be intellectually flawed or need attention; but neither of these is proof of racism.

  40. Vanya on said:

    #41 You have a point, but bear in mind that in the absence of such a widespread campaign there are people claiming to be on the left who are singling out followers of a minority religion as part of their stand for “secularism”.

    I don’t consider mysef to be at fault for not banging on about separation of church and state because I feel I have more important things to occupy my time. But if I considered it important to fight for secularism as a priority, my fire would be directed at the existence of a state religion.

    I wonder if some people actually know what a secular society actually is.

  41. #17 Ralph, you appear to have misunderstood what I’ve said. I’m not talking solely about the fact that Caroline Cox is listed on their prominent supporters page (although that in itself does raise a few questions). I’m talking about the fact that OLFA have her speak at their rallies and meetings. Caroline Cox has no interest in secularisation; quite the opposite, in fact.

    She’s a patron of the Christian Institute – the organisation that funded the defence of the Islington registrar who refused to carry out civil partnerships, that also funded the defence of a hotelier who refused a room to a gay couple, and were the only people to try to bring a case under Section 28. Why would an organisation that is dedicated to secularism work with someone whose views are antithetical to their own? Like I said, OLFA have no interest in secularisation, or even one law for all. They’ve just found another stick to beat Muslims with.

  42. Ralph on said:

    Nadir Ahmed,

    If what you say about Cox is correct, I agree this seems an unwise alliance. I would be interested to hear how OFLA would explain this. It would not surprise me if it was a (potentially unwise) strategic decision in order to raise this small organisation’s profile and media reach. Nevertheless, OFLA’s continuing alliance with, for instance, the National Secular Society, not to mention reports such as their ‘Enemies not Allies: The Far-Right’ (link below), are at the very least mitigating factors in their favour (particularly the latter).

    http://www.onelawforall.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Enemies-not-Allies-web-version1.pdf

  43. Dr Paul: It seems that the Labour Party has always happily accepted the continuation of a state church and the existence of sectarian schooling within the education sector..

    Personally I have little problem with either religious schools or Bishops in the House of Lords.

  44. Howard Fuller,

    You are revealing a very poor grasp of the issue in dispute.

    FGM is a barbaric practice, however, there are a number of variations in its practice, the least invasive being only the removal of the hood of the clitoris – which is anatmically analogous with male circumcision. the point however is to locate politically and socially where it comes from.

    My view, is that in all forms of FGM and non medically necessary male circumcision should be illegal on children or non-consenting adults.

    It is you arguing that there is something benign about mutilating the sexual organs of male infants, not me,

    There is intelectual dishonesty in you presenting me – who opposes FGM – as a supporter of it just because I argue that the practice of FGM is not intrinsic to Islam; and is a cultural one that has been given religious saction in some societies.

    You also dishonestly conflate different types of FGM, so that you attribute support for the most horrific practices to those who support only the least invasive.

    It is also intellectually dishonest to present FGM as a weapon to discredit Islam, when it is also common amongst Christians.

    Specifically, someone can support FGM which is unremarkable in the context of the society they come from, and that can be something we disagree about, which still acknowledging that there is room for dialogue.

    In the same way that you are a supporter of the non-consensual mutilation of the penises of small children, but I recognise that this is because you have not transcended the culturral and social limititations of your environment, it is not because you are a monster.

  45. Ralph: OFLA’s continuing alliance with, for instance, the National Secular Society,

    Not necessarily the benign organisation that you make out, the NSS seems to be a bunch of self-righteous obsessives; consumed in particular by anti-Catholic and and anti-Islamic prejudice. It is not suprising that an organisation dedicated to spreading fear and distaste for Muslims, like the OLFA, would see the NSS as an audience ripe for their nonsense.

    Incidently, while we have your attention, Maryam Namarazie and Anne Marie Waters seem to be involved in full time politics, where does the funding come from?

  46. Vanya on said:

    #45 Organisations that campaign raise their ‘profile and media reach’ in order to further the interests of what they are campaigning for. Maybe those who have attacked them should direct the question to OLFA, but it’s you who has chosen to defend them on here, so perhaps you could get an answer and share it with the rest of us, as you appear to identify with them.

    You say the decision to involve themselves with Cox was unwise. I suggest that it may be because it exposes what OFLA are really about, in contrast with what they claim.

  47. Howard Fuller on said:

    Andy Newman,

    What happened to the post that I submitted then? I’ve been on automatic moderation for weeks, several of which were never posted, perhaps it was one of your co-editors.

    Of course there is always the possibility it was a technical fault,.

    I’ll see what happens with this one before I respond

  48. Howard Fuller on said:

    Andy Newman: Specifically, someone can support FGM which is unremarkable in the context of the society they come from

    Appalling. And yes we will disagree.

    Widow burning was “unremarkable” in India, so should we not campaign against that?

    Andy Newman: It is you arguing that there is something benign about mutilating the sexual organs of male infants, not me,

    I have said nothing of the sort.

  49. John Grimshaw on said:

    #40 I would be pleased if you can give me the complete reference for this book you mention Nick. As far as I know there have been a number of studies both scientific and historical on the origins of “Diaspora” Jews, and predictably different people have come up with different answers. Some studies have shown Jewish communities to be relatively isolated and therefore to be genetically similar whereas others show, as you point out, that there must have be a degree of intermarriage with other populations. And conversion.

    It is generally accepted that the royalty and nobility of the Khazar Khaganate converted to Judaism in the 8/9th century for example. This is not as unlikely as it sounds as the Greek cities of the Crimea and Black Sea had long had Jewish populations and those populations had been swelled by refugees fleeing the Ummayyad/Abbasid Caliphates. The Khazars were a Turkic people but they ruled a poly-religious and poly-ethnic empire, however sandwiched between the Orthodox Empire and the Caliphate, it may have been “politic” to adopt a “third” path. The debate however has been to what extent, after the end of the Khaganate, modern populations of Jews can trace their inheritance from these Turkic peoples. Of course this is fraught with danger. In the past anti-semites have tried to argue that most modern Jews are descended from the Khazars in order to attack the Diaspora story and thus delegitimise the state of Israel. Of course just because this has been seized on by some anti-semites doesn’t mean that there isn’t some truth in the notion that some modern Jews, at least, originated from the Crimea and Caucasus not Israel/Palestine/ Judah etc. At the same time, the Israeli state and its religious supporters, have an interest in maintaining and proselytising the Diaspora story because it justifies their existence. Below is a blog entry (I know nothing about the blog and can’t vouch for it) reporting a recent minor controversy at the BBC. At the last minute and without explanation the BBC pulled a version of a longer film made by an Israeli director. In essence he was arguing that the Diaspora didn’t really happen, or it was much smaller, and that ancient Jewish populations stayed put but converted first to Christianity and then to Islam. Thus they never went away. European Jewry he argues came about from conversion of other peoples. You can imagine that the Zionist movement was not particularly happy with that line of argument.

    http://barthsnotes.com/2013/04/27/the-bbc-an-archaeological-mystery-story-as-jerusalem-doc-is-pulled-from-schedule/

  50. Howard Fuller: Widow burning was “unremarkable” in India, so should we not campaign against that?

    YOu seem egregiously stupid here. Not only am I opposed to widow burning and FGM, but THESE PRACTICES ARE ILLEGAL IN THE UK. The law should be enforced, and if it is necessary to strengthen the law to prevent it being evaded by taking childern out of the country for procedures that are illegegal here, then the law should be strengthened.

    There is no disagreement between us on this.

    However, while I disagree with the practice of medically unnecessary male circumcision, I would not to object to Americans coming to the UK who advocate male circumcision due to the strange prejudices inhabiting the American medical profession.

    OLFA clearly argue that FGM is a specifically Islamic custom, and that it is a custom that Muslims want to spread to the UK. Both of these contentions are substantantially false; because the nature of Islam is that it accepts both the practice and the non-practice of FGM as equally Islamic. Muslims coming to the UK, even those who beleive FGM is Islamic, should be expected to obey the law and custom of the UK on this matter.

    So OLFA is deliberately creating a controversy where there is no controversy, to smear Muslims

  51. Howard Fuller: I have said nothing of the sort.

    On Harrys Place you wrote:

    “Oddly [Newman] suggests that “unnecessary surgery” including ” circumcision for male minors” should be illegal.”

    So why is it “odd” to oppose non-consensual male circumcision if you think it is not benign?

  52. John Grimshaw on said:

    Dr Paul: It seems that the Labour Party has always happily accepted the continuation of a state church and the existence of sectarian schooling within the education sector. One might think that the full separation of state and religion would be a prominent demand of any left-wing organisation.

    I am reminded of that famous quote from whoever about the Labour Party having more to do with Methodism than it does with Marx. In actual fact there are clergy within the CofE who are still in favour of disestablishment . They are in the minority I suspect, but were it to happen see it as an opportunity for them to pursue their mission more honestly. As I see it as long as the CofE is part of the government it can hardly be taken entirely seriously when it critiques whatever the government is doing. Furthermore it seems to me discriminatory against other major faiths that the CofE continues with this privilege when, in terms, of numbers it is in reality no longer the “national” religion.

    Unlike Andy, I am against denominational schooling. The continued existence of these schools is socially devisive. I have no objection to adults practising their faith (in a safe and responsible fashion) but I fail to see why children should attend institutions part of whose mission is to co-opt them to a certain way of thinking.

  53. John Grimshaw: why children should attend institutions part of whose mission is to co-opt them to a certain way of thinking.

    As good a definition of familly life as you will find.

    You present the issue as if the alternative is that children are free spirits, whereas the choice is really whether parents have to send their children to a school where the state decides what values they are taught.

    The primary school my children attend(ed) is now an academy but was a community school run by Swindon BC. It has been agressively Christian pushing hard-shell Baptist beliefs at them which I am unhappy about. they invited one lay-preacher from the local church who told 7 year old that Muslims all go to Hell.

    If this is your “secularism” you can keep it.

    Had I sent them to the local Church Of Engand School, they would have received both less and more mainstream religious steering.

  54. Manzil on said:

    Andy Newman,

    So you’re comfortable with religious schools because you think there will possibly be less religious education…?

    I went to local state schools. My experience of the religious element was Jewish and Jehovah’s Witness kids being singled out by having to leave the assembly during prayers and singalong (everyone together now, “He’s got the whole world, in his hands…”). Which may not seem like much, but was just another little signifier, from a child’s perspective, that compulsory organised religion was basically a bit shit. None of the assemblies talking about being nice to one another, that didn’t invoke angry desert gods, made my friends feel like they were different or unwelcome.

    In retrospect this implicit lesson, that there’s nothing inherently nice about enforced celebration, was probably the most useful thing to happen.

    Anyway, I bring it up as another example of the kind you mentioned – the lack of delineation between schooling and education means there are problems in the bog standard sector too. But that doesn’t mean parents should have to try and pick and choose which is the least bad option; their kids shouldn’t have to deal with this anyway.

    If parents wish to inculcate their social, religious or political views in their mini-me, they have plenty of time to do it at home. There’s no need to spend time and money on it in school when so many people leave the place essentially functionally illiterate and innumerate. Especially as it’ll go over the heads of most of them (they are, well, children) and the only impact it does have, as in my anecdote, is to make one or two people feel different or excluded.

    I sometimes think discussions of this sort get rather too abstract. The actual effect of this stuff is mostly overblown; children are as capable of ignoring religious instruction as they are of how to perform long division. But because of that distortion, the much smaller but very real little injustices get overlooked. A bisexual friend of mine went to Catholic school. It didn’t screw him up for life or anything – if anything the religious influence came out in what they DIDN’T teach – but looking back, one does have to say, really, was there anything there that couldn’t have been equally well done without it being affiliated to a particular faith community?

    I’m not against religion being discussed and even practiced I schools; but when a single faith is regarded as ‘official’, that in a child’s mind it elevates what is an obviously personal and contentious matter to the same level as the formal, incontestable curriculum.

  55. Vanya on said:

    John Grimshaw: In actual fact there are clergy within the CofE who are still in favour of disestablishment

    Laiity as well.

    Andy does in fact make an interesting point #58.

    As far as I understand, the C of E was created in the reign of Elizabeth I with a view to increasing the authority of the state (specifically the Crown) by having a national church that was as inclusive as possible. Therefore someone with very strong Protestant views could co-exist with someone who was in essence a Catholic so long as they rejected the claim of the Pope to absolute spiritual leadership.

    As many such Protestants could not tolerate any concession to Catholicism and since few Catholics would have been happy to reject the claims of the Pope (although of course Henry VIII was one who did :) ) it was inevitable that a substantial number of christians would put themselves outside of the C of E, but those who defend it as an institution would undoubtedly point out that having an all- embracing state religion actually helped guard against the horrors of all-out religious based war such as anhiliated large chunks of the population of other parts of Europe at the time.

    In the USA where there is constitutional separation of church and state, the influence of religion on politics and government is undoubtedly greater than in England and Wales. Moreover, the secularism that prevails in France does not seem to have altered the fact that the attitudes towards Muslims are to a large extent based on them being “outsiders” unlike Christians.

    On the other hand, the “broad church” is clearly limited in its breadth. Whatever jokes may be made about it, the reality is that nobody who rejects the basic core christian beliefs could be a member.

    And I am not in favour of the existence of an established church. While like Andy, I don’t have a serious objection to bishops in the House of Lords, while we still have an upper chamber of that type, I would only only want them there on an equal footing with equivalent and representative leaders from other faiths, and not because the constitution of the country priveleges one religion over others.

    In fact I remain to be convinced that there should be reserved seats for anyone based on religion.
    But one thing is clear, you can’t be a militant secularist and talk about one law for all unless you take a strong stance in favour of disestablishment without being open to the accusation that you are the enemy of particular religions, and by extension their followers.

  56. Manzil: So you’re comfortable with religious schools because you think there will possibly be less religious education…?

    No, that is a facetious point. My substantive point is that there is nothing wrong with parents being offered choice.

  57. Manzil: My experience of the religious element was Jewish and Jehovah’s Witness kids being singled out by having to leave the assembly during prayers and singalong (everyone together now, “He’s got the whole world, in his hands…”).

    It is the law, I understand, that all state schools in England have a compulsory act of Christian worship, the parents of non-Christians, or in the case you quote Jehovah’s, may ask for their children to be excluded.

    I think there is a very good case for non-faith schools dropping the act of Christian worship,it is the sort of thing you would expect “secularists” to be concerned about, but they are too worried about Islam.

  58. Vanya: it was inevitable that a substantial number of christians would put themselves outside of the C of E, but those who defend it as an institution would undoubtedly point out that having an all- embracing state religion actually helped guard against the horrors of all-out religious based war such as anhiliated large chunks of the population of other parts of Europe at the time.

    This is a good point, and why rejecting Anglicanism was regarded as being a threat to the state, and treated accordingly.

    The treatment of apostates in early Islam serves the same function, as islam was a universal religion, to place oneself outside it was a threat not only to the state, but the social foundation upon which the state rested.

  59. Manzil on said:

    Andy Newman: No, that is a facetious point. My substantive point is that there is nothing wrong with parents being offered choice.

    Isn’t the point that it’s not the choice of the child?

    Beyond a certain point, that can’t be helped. Parents’ views will always rub off on their children. But need publicly funded, compulsory education be religiously partisan in any sense whatsoever? A good third of state-maintained schools are faith schools. It’s not as though, in citizenship classes (or whatever they were called when I was at school), they went through the institutions and practices of representative democracy, then recommended a vote for the Conservative Party. Education about religion is unobjectionable, but that doesn’t require it to be a faith school.

    People are rightly pointing out how ‘militant secularism’ is incredibly partial, generally overlooking the majority experience of religious involvement in education, which is overwhelmingly Christian-based. I disagree with that; but equally, I do think endorsing a particular religious (or political, social etc.) outlook is as absurd as schools requiring you to support the local football team.

    Completely agree with #64, incidentally.

  60. Manzil: But need publicly funded, compulsory education be religiously partisan in any sense whatsoever? A good third of state-maintained schools are faith schools.

    Well you have stumbled upon the Realpolitik there. A third of parents send their children to, and therefore support faith schools. I would also hazard a guess that the proportion of Labour voters amongst children sending their kids to faith schools is proportionately higher than the general population.

    No party could win an election based upon abolition of faith schools, in whillch case it is best to learn to love them. #democracy

  61. John Grimshaw on said:

    Andy Newman: As good a definition of familly life as you will find.

    You argue, or I think you do, that other than for medical reasons, of which there are some (it happened to me, but it wasn’t a big deal) male circumcision of non-consenting humans i.e. children should not happen. I think you are right. This is not entirely dissimilar it seems to me to the argument put forwards by the “Anabaptists” of Germany in the sixteenth century that children should not be baptised until they are of an age to understand the commitment they will undertake. For example Balthasar Hübmaier wrote: “I have never taught Anabaptism (the word Anabaptism being an insult aimed at the peasant revolutionaries by their enemies) …But the right baptism of Christ, which is preceded by teaching and oral confession of faith, I teach, and say that infant baptism is a robbery of the right baptism of Christ.” In the spirit of both of these things why do you think that children should be educated in an overtly religious institution when they may not have the maturity to make appropriate decisions about what is being “forced” upon them? Equally legally at least, they are not allowed to absent themselves from these institutions.

    It seems to me that there is a difference between “family life” and the much more serious business of religious indoctrination.

    Andy Newman: The primary school my children attend(ed) is now an academy but was a community school run by Swindon BC. It has been agressively Christian pushing hard-shell Baptist beliefs at them which I am unhappy about. they invited one lay-preacher from the local church who told 7 year old that Muslims all go to Hell.
    If this is your “secularism” you can keep it.

    This is not my idea of secularism. I would complain if I were you.

  62. Prove me wrong about your censorship policy and post.

    I’m a bit sick of this pathetic hand-wringing liberal nonsense. If this blog decides as a policy that we want to curate comments, that is our right. It is not censorship. If we decide that we don’t want this blog to be a platform where liberals can assist the rise of the EDL and BNP, that’s our right. Your comment wasn’t deleted, but it’s fantastic that you think your words are so fucking important, you keep copies to post again. How arrogant are you, Howard? At best, we tolerate your apologetics – we don’t particularly want them on here.

    It seems to be that Howard Fuller and his liberal ilk just want to bleat about how hard done by the are everywhere, without ever doing anything to stand up for the people who really are being targetted right now. It’s a nice comfortable little world that you people have built for yourselves.

    You need to know how true anti-racists see you, how true anti-fascists see you. They know that you do nothing but provide liberal cover for racists. They know that your professed “secularism” only matters when it comes to Islam – from where, you said, the main problem comes. Yup, Howard Fuller doesn’t see the main problem being the people who are planting bombs outside mosques. He sees the main problem as coming from within Islam.

    You need to know that we reserve the right to block any comments that feed into a racist narrative. And you can stop bleating about it. Seriously, have some fucking dignity man. We all see through this ridiculous “even” facade you put up, where you claim to be against Bad Things but only ever talk about Islam – and talk about it offensively and with incredibly poor knowledge.

    Seriously. We don’t care about your poor hurt feelings. We care about the liberal cover that’s being given to the people who are settings mosques on fire.

    Time to take sides, Howard. If your posts have anything like “but we need to deal with…” in them, if you claim Islam is the problem, you’re on the wrong one.

    And please, stop debasing your politics by claiming that a comments policy is anything to do with whether someone is a democrat or not. Folks, you might not have seen Howard bleating everywhere about how Andy can’t be a “social democrat” if he deletes posts.

    Well, he can be and he is. But that doesn’t change the view of the people who run SU, and the majority of the people who comment here, that people like you are part of the problem.

    Perhaps you just can’t see that we genuinely think you are assisting the rise of racism. Well, we’re not lying. We mean it. We genuinely put some of the blame on your shoulders. And the debates have long been had – since 2002, the debates have long been had. You’ve got nothing new to add. This site stands strongly with anti-racists and anti-fascists. If you want somewhere to promote your zionism, your fake “two states” nonsense, your anti-Islam bullshit, go find somewhere else to do it.

    The hallmark of a democracy isn’t that people who assist racism should be allowed to do so wherever they want. That’s your fake democracy, not ours. In our democracy, the first thing we do is stand up for people under attack by racists and fascists.

    And we don’t put conditions on doing so.

  63. John Grimshaw on said:

    Andy Newman: No, that is a facetious point. My substantive point is that there is nothing wrong with parents being offered choice.

    Andy “parental choice” when it comes to education is not a choice at all at the moment. The name of the game is selection. Schools select the parents if they can get away with it. It is well documented that faith schools select, particularly CofE primary schools. They have much broader catchment areas so they can ensure they have the “right” students. Faith schools require parents of the right plausible faith. They require letters from the vicar/priest. They require the parents to go to church for a period of time to justify their being chosen and so on and so forth. Granted this is not just faith schools; “secular” academies are free to deploy numerous strategies to select and Free Schools are just a sop to the aspirant middle classes to reel in the votes at the next election. In Tower Hamlets we have two types of secondary schools. State maintained schools with Muslim children in them and CofE/Catholic schools with black/white/Phillipino etc. children in them. I think that is socially divisive.

  64. OK, so I’m testing some nice li’l things above the comments, box, specially for John Grimshaw :)

    You should see b (bold), i (italic), link (to put a link to another site) and quote (to make things a nice indented block quote).

    You can do it one of two ways:

    Before typing, click the button you want. This inserts the tag. Then, type your text – at the end of the relevant section, click the same button and it will insert a “closing” tag.

    Or, type the whole section, and then highlight the section you want in bold etc., and click the button – it will “wrap” the section in tags.

    Go ahead, try it.

    For links, it’s slightly more complicated. The link contains the internet address of the website you want to link to – but you can hide it behind some text. So, when people say click here for more info, they’ve hidden the link behind the text “click here for more info”. So to add a link, type in the words to describe the link, such as “this important report from the BBC”, highlight those words with your mouse, click “link” and then paste in the link address.

  65. John Grimshaw on said:

    Tony Collins: OK, so I’m testing some nice li’l things above the comments, box, specially for John Grimshaw

    You’re just trying to say nicely that I’m a Luddite aren’t you? :)

  66. Mikey on said:

    [note from tony: As if I'm gonna let such an utterly scummy Harry's Place person like Michael Ezra come on to this site and accuse me of being a supporter of genocide something something herp derp - seriously, you people exist only to try to destroy any real left, any real progressive movement. Guess whether you're welcome to post here anymore or not, Ezra?]

  67. Manzil on said:

    Andy Newman: Well you have stumbled upon the Realpolitik there. A third of parents send their children to, and therefore support faith schools. I would also hazard a guess that the proportion of Labour voters amongst children sending their kids to faith schools is proportionately higher than the general population.

    No party could win an election based upon abolition of faith schools, in whillch case it is best to learn to love them. #democracy

    Lolwat.

    There’s so much to deconstruct here.

    A third of parents sending their children to faith schools tells us only that they feel their children will have a good education at a faith school. On my mother’s side alone I have two cousins whose children, four in all, were all educated at Christian schools. Would you like to hazard a guess as to the sincerity of either my cousins’ religious commitment or their parents?

    It is undeniable that faith schools are most commonly experienced as a form of implicit selective education – they overwhelmingly take fewer children eligible for free school meals than their local average. The nous to have one’s children meet the requirements for faith school induction – e.g. parent-teacher interviews, attendance at local religious services etc. – are a form of social capital generally lacking from most families in deprived areas, who may not have the time or even the thought to go through the rigmarole of working the system. If you don’t have the means to buy into a ‘good’ comprehensive’s catchment area, then faith schools are a handy and cheaper alternative.

    So let’s not pretend that one third of parents feel that a central religious dimension is the most important concern when it comes to their children’s education.

    Even if we regarded your generalisation as accurate, ‘democracy’ is not about accepting the existing state of opinion as static and immovable. Not does it establish the relative weight given to that issue – for instance, despite consistent support for the return of capital punishment, no one cares about it enough for it to have a determining affect on their voting behaviour. #blindinglyobvious

    I mean really Andy, ‘it is best to learn to love them’?? And you talk about facetious arguments! The choice is not between demanding complete and total abolition of faith schools, and just opting for a hands-off, have-at-it approach to every religious organisation that wants to raise believers from scratch, rather than do the time-honoured thing and attempt to convert people during times of major personal crises or by offering regular coffee mornings.

  68. John Grimshaw on said:

    John Grimshaw: You’re just trying to say nicely that I’m a Luddite aren’t you? :)

    As a fellow Mossad operative and second grade Illuminati initiate with double stars awarded by the H. P. Lovecraft institute for dream seeking. I know exactly what you mean.

  69. Manzil: It is undeniable that faith schools are most commonly experienced as a form of implicit selective education – they overwhelmingly take fewer children eligible for free school meals than their local average. The nous to have one’s children meet the requirements for faith school induction – e.g. parent-teacher interviews, attendance at local religious services etc. – are a form of social capital generally lacking from most families in deprived areas, who may not have the time or even the thought to go through the rigmarole of working the system. If you don’t have the means to buy into a ‘good’ comprehensive’s catchment area, then faith schools are a handy and cheaper alternative.

    I am not sure about that at all, where I live the Catholic schools have a selection intake that is poorer, more working class and more weighted towards immigrants.

    Manzil: Even if we regarded your generalisation as accurate, ‘democracy’ is not about accepting the existing state of opinion as static and immovable. Not does it establish the relative weight given to that issue – for instance, despite consistent support for the return of capital punishment, no one cares about it enough for it to have a determining affect on their voting behaviour. #blindinglyobvious

    That isn’t true, for example, I recognise that my support for capital punishment is a political stance that is simply to controversial to advocate.

  70. Manzil: Even if we regarded your generalisation as accurate, ‘democracy’ is not about accepting the existing state of opinion as static and immovable.

    Ok, of course I do accept that politics is about changing things, and that means changing opinions; however, you also have to decide what issues are strategic, and which are not.

  71. Manzil: So let’s not pretend that one third of parents feel that a central religious dimension is the most important concern when it comes to their children’s education.

    If it determined the voting intentions of even 2% of voters, it would be a massive big deal.

  72. Manzil on said:

    Andy Newman: I am not sure about that at all, where I live the Catholic schools have a selection intake that is poorer, more working class and more weighted towards immigrants.

    That isn’t true, for example, I recognise that my support for capital punishment is a political stance that is simply to controversial to advocate.

    But it is true. It just is, regardless of your own experience. Even a glance at Wikipedia of all thing’s shows that – it even links to The Guardian’s coverage of the government report, which incidentally showed that Catholic schools are particularly poor in terms of their social composition (“73% of Catholic primaries and 72% of Catholic secondaries have a lower proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals than the average for the local authority”).

    In my own experience, there is a significantly more consciously working-class strand to Catholicism than to, say, the C of E. And likewise you’re more likely to find Labour voters who assert or value a Catholic identity than an Anglican one. But that doesn’t change the overall nature of the Catholic Church, or indeed of (at least, Christian) faith-based organisations in general and their schools in particular, as reflecting wealthier sections of society and of their own faith communities. At most it is a commentary on the uneven development of different branches of Christianity, no?

    As to the capital punishment issue (and incidentally: oh you big rogue, you :P), what isn’t true sorry? That public support for, or opposition to, a particular issue doesn’t translate into that support being decisive or even influential on civic identity and behaviour?

  73. Manzil on said:

    Andy Newman: Ok, of course I do accept that politics is about changing things, and that means changing opinions; however, you also have to decide what issues are strategic, and which are not.

    Sure. Which is why I’m not wasting my time concentrating on it. It’s at most a marginal concern. But that doesn’t mean I can’t/shouldn’t express my views on it, on the basis that, at some point, and probably in ‘little’ issues, it will be both possible and a good idea to chip away at the continuing, massive role that the church plays, particularly in primary education.

  74. Just got this from Hope Not Hate:

    I’ve just heard the news that American anti-Muslim rabble-rousers Pam Geller and Robert Spencer have both been banned from entering the UK.

    As you know, they were heading here to address an EDL demonstration in Woolwich on Saturday and spread their anti-Muslim hate. This is both a victory for common sense and people power.

    You were one of 26,000 people who signed the HOPE not hate petition calling on the Home Secretary to prevent these anti-Muslim activists from entering the UK. Others soon took up the call. Together, we let the Home Secretary know the strength of feeling on this issue.

    This is your victory and it proves, once again, that we have the power to force change if we decide to use it.

  75. Dr Paul on said:

    Andy Newman: Personally I have little problem with either religious schools or Bishops in the House of Lords.

    Well, there we have it, don’t we?

    I won’t comment on the bishops in the House of Lords here, beyond saying that I’m not in favour of a non-elected body as an integral part of the legislature, and that as I’m in favour of a separation of church from state, nobody, bishop or otherwise, would have an automatic right to a seat in an elected second house.

    However, the real issue here is religious — that is, sectarian — education. There is no reason in Britain today why any educational establishment should be running a school; they should all be under the state system and have no religious affiliation. If a church, mosque, shul or whatever wishes to run a ‘Sunday school’ for kids of its denomination, then I have no objection, only these should not be part of kids’ daily education, but something additional to it.

    Religious schools, whether they aim to or not (and I suspect not a few do), end up helping to divide kids of different backgrounds from one another. I went to a pretty liberal Church of England secondary school, and even there the Jewish or Roman Catholic kids (we didn’t have any from other faiths) were made to feel different because of the curriculum and assembly rituals.

    In these days of official policies of ‘multiculturalism’ — please note, not the fact of people of myriad different cultural influences living in Britain, but a state policy which boxes everyone into his or her little ‘cultural’ box, and implies that ‘cultures’ are discrete, immutable factors — it is not surprising that the question of religious education is becoming hotter, a every ‘culture’ wants to have its own schools. This can only result in further alienation of kids of different ‘cultures’ from each other, and as official multiculturalist policy tends to emphasise what divides people from one another and thus the more narrow, conservative aspects of a ‘culture’, support for religious education leads to more divisions amongst people of different ‘cultures’.

    That, as Andy N states, religious schools are popular should not be grounds for socialists to support them. Just think of the policies we would have had to support over the years had we backed them purely on the criterion of their popularity.

    If, as I hope we all do, wish to see barriers, divisions and suspicions amongst people of different cultural backgrounds to be overcome, then one of the places to start is the ending of all religious education in kids’ daily schooling and the establishment of a truly non-denominational educational system that favours no denomination and discriminates against none either as an institution or in its curriculum.

  76. jack ford on said:

    Dr Paul, I agree. Ideally all state schools paid for by taxpayers’ money should be secular. If parents want to send their kids to a religious school they should pay for it themselves.

    But it would take a very brave politician to do it since the vested interests that would oppose it would be enormous. I think public opinion could be won over though.

  77. lone nut on said:

    ” Ideally all state schools paid for by taxpayers’ money should be secular. If parents want to send their kids to a religious school they should pay for it themselves”.
    Can I point out for the millionth time that religious people do have to pay taxes and in exercising their right to send their children to a religious school they are not freeriding off the the long suffering secular taxpayer of your imagination. I am sure you would be suitably aghast if anybody suggested that gay marriage was all very well provided the gays paid for it themselves and didn’t leech off “the taxpayer”.

  78. Ralph on said:

    Andy Newman:

    Incidently, while we have your attention, Maryam Namarazie and Anne Marie Waters seem to be involved in full time politics, where does the funding come from?

    That question sounds rhetorical Andy. I don’t have any knowledge of this. Is this soemthing we should be concerned about? (Genuine question)

  79. Ralph on said:

    Vanya:
    #45 Maybe those who have attacked them should direct the question to OLFA, but it’s you who has chosen to defend them on here, so perhaps you could get an answer and share it with the rest of us, as you appear to identify with them.

    You say the decision to involve themselves with Cox was unwise. I suggest that it may be because it exposes what OFLA are really about, in contrast with what they claim.

    Not sure I would say I ‘Identify’ with OLFA. I was just a bit taken aback when I saw them being called Islamophobic,.

    Re your interpretation of Cox’s involvement, perhaps you’re right, but for me it is not evidence enough to prove a malign racist agenda as some here seem to suggest. It may be deeply stupid, misguided, etc. but as I’ve said above in my view OLFA’s big picture agenda and actions mitigate against such a narrative. I imagine that any organisation, no matter how noble, will contain some flaw or foolishness.

  80. Vanya on said:

    #89 But my point is that the relationship appears to contradict the stated purpose of OLFA at a fundamental (sic) level.

  81. John Grimshaw on said:

    Manzil: Tony can you fix John G please, he’s malfunctioning.

    I think we should go back to the steam era and telegrams.

  82. John Grimshaw on said:

    lone nut:
    ” Ideally all state schools paid for by taxpayers’ money should be secular. If parents want to send their kids to a religious school they should pay for it themselves”.
    Can I point out for the millionth time that religious people do have to pay taxes and in exercising their right to send their children to a religious school they are not freeriding off the the long suffering secular taxpayer of your imagination. I am sure you would be suitably aghast if anybody suggested that gay marriage was all very well provided the gays paid for it themselves and didn’t leech off “the taxpayer”.

    Of course religious people pay their taxes, or rather the ones that do do, as much as none religious people do or don’t, but this is not the point. First of all, why should the state fund schools for a minority religious group? Yes 75% of the people in the UK may profess to some belief in a god, but most do not go to church or follow the precepts of Catholicism, Anglicanism or any of the other main religions. Observant Christianity has been in decline for many years now. Secondly, why should the tax payer hand over control of educational institutions to what are obviously wealthy institutions in their own right? Voluntary aided schools get the vast amount of their funding from the state (the church or Synagogue or exceptionally Mosque) but the school is run by its governing body and relevant diocese or board. Head teachers who are also influential in running these schools must be of the relevant faith. So for a 15% contribution to building upkeep the relevant faith gets a chunk of publicly owned real estate to do with as they want. Yes I know that Academies (but remember a lot of them are religious as well – mainly CofE) and now Free Schools are in essence the same (although in some sense converters are probably better in this respect), but I oppose them as well. Thirdly religious institutions have their own aims and objectives, which in this case is the indoctrination of children. “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man” etc. Now I know you can argue that all education is indoctrination but this is indoctrination of a specific nature on behalf of a partial and unrepresentative authority. Most people in this country pay their taxes because they understand that the state has to perform certain roles which they think are of benefit for the majority. This is not the case with religious institutions. Fourthly, religious schools are divisive. Religious schools only accept children of a certain type. Or percentages of a certain type. As I have said earlier it is unusual ( especially in London) to find Muslim background children in Catholic or CofE schools. In Tower Hamlets for example this means non-denominational schools are often de facto Bangladeshi schools. Granted some of this is also self-selection often based on racism actually, but this couldn’t happen if religious schools didn’t exist. Andy’s comment about Catholic schools being less likely to be selective (the evidence shows that this is true to a certain extent, although that may be accounted for because the intake for such schools came from a discriminated against minority) not with standing, religious schools, especially CofE primary schools are much more likely to be selective than state maintained schools. And by this I do not mean an entrance exam and then the “thick” kids are not accepted, there are all sorts of devices that are used. Religious schools are also divisive on a meta level. That the CofE and Catholic schools exist in such numbers discriminates against other religions. This then leads to other religions demanding parity of treatment which then leads to more division or anger when parity isn’t given. My own union regularly has motions to its conference submitted on this matter but usually avoids discussing it by talking it out. The reasons for this are varied. Cowardice is one I suspect. Self-interest is another because presumably no-one wants to upset the genuine religious teachers who are working in a religious school for religious reasons. But elements of the left don’t want the discussion either because they don’t want to be seen as Islamaphobic. They seem to think that a call for the end of religious schools will be construed as essentially curtailing any ambitions for state funded Islamic schools. Wouldn’t it just be easier to have no state funded religious schools at all?

  83. John Grimshaw on said:

    John Grimshaw: any ambitions for state funded Islamic schools.

    Of course there is truth that government, with the exception of a couple of token schools, is not very happy about extending the privileges enjoyed by Catholic and Anglican churches to the Muslim community.

  84. John Germain on said:

    Read the OLFA pamphlet and then skimmed through this debate. Don’t know who John Miller is, but am mindful that Mariam Namazie may have a different relationship with Islam and Islamism than white left wing men. Maybe I missed it, but there didn’t seem to be any attempt to locate OLFA perspective within the struggles of secularists and feminists within societies with large Islamist movements / governments. This is clearly where M.Namazie is coming from. However, I’m not sure that all the comments ascribed to L.German and others were as unreasonable as John Miller implied (an Islamist attacked as a Muslim would warrant our solidarity, just as would a Zionist attacked as a Jew see p.55). Nonetheless it was sobering to see firsthand the concerns and experiences of Iraqi left and secular activists being ignored in local StTW meetings, I don’t know whether this indicates that the SWP are pro-Islamofascist or simply a political racket, probably the latter – like most of the traditional left, SWP are in the business of building power bases,

  85. Dr Paul on said:

    Ralph: Not sure I would say I ‘Identify’ with OLFA. I was just a bit taken aback when I saw them being called Islamophobic. Re your interpretation of Cox’s involvement, perhaps you’re right, but for me it is not evidence enough to prove a malign racist agenda as some here seem to suggest. It may be deeply stupid, misguided, etc. but as I’ve said above in my view OLFA’s big picture agenda and actions mitigate against such a narrative. I imagine that any organisation, no matter how noble, will contain some flaw or foolishness.

    I think that some of the bother boils down to the people whom secularists view as allies. If one is primarily a secularist, then the main thing is that the people with whom one associates, runs campaigns and so on are secularists as well; their broader political views are of a secondary importance.

    This can lead to associations that many of us would find peculiar or suspect. If one looks at the National Secular Society’s site, you’ll find pro-war types such as Nick Cohen, whom most of us wouldn’t touch with a barge-pole. Some others can’t be called left-wingers at all, although others are. I found the remarks made by Anne Marie Waters — who, as someone hoping to be adopted as a Labour candidate, presumably considers herself as a left-winger — on the link on another SU post, that devout Muslims should consider whether they wish to live in Britain, to be rather too reminiscent of the ‘send them back’ rhetoric of the hard right. A few years back, Professor Dawkins made a very dodgy statement about the ‘Jewish Lobby’ in the USA (see my comment here).

    For me, secularism is part of my worldview as a socialist; it is important but not the primary factor. For that, I’m probably viewed as soft on religion (or on aspects of it) by secularists when, for example, I march alongside religious people on demonstrations; and too hard on religion by some left-wingers when I argue against the presence of religious schools in everyday education.

    There are, however, limits. Were a religious spokesman to insist on the separation of men and women in a political meeting (I believe that this happened in an anti-war meeting somewhere up north), then I would definitely protest. I thoroughly disagreed with Respect’s downplaying of certain central left-wing demands when it was trying to cobble up electoral agreements with Muslim groups.

    For all of Andy N’s protestations about the liberal nature of Yusuf Qaradawi, should we really associate with him? Well, we know that, contrary to foul rumour, he doesn’t actually believe in killing gays, but he believes that they are sinners and need to repent; so I do not believe that ‘there is ground here for mutual respect, understanding and tolerance’ here. Qaradawi has also recently called for a sectarian Sunni campaign in Syria; just the sort of thing that really helps a democratic fight against Assad’s regime.

    It is not an easy job for the left to defend a religious group that is under attack when some prominent spokesmen of that religion, even ‘liberals’ such as Qaradawi, are almost provocatively reactionary in some of their statements. In defending Muslims against the anti-Islam brigade, it would be wrong to defend or excuse ideas held and practices carried out by some of that faith. There are some barriers that we do not cross. Working out what those barriers are is an important — and not at all easy — task for the left.

  86. Omar on said:

    Dr Paul,

    You may want to ask yourself why it is Muslims seem to be subject to these qualifiers and conditions when the same questions should be asked of White,secularist, left-liberals whose ideas and slogans denigrating Islam often end up being adopted by the fascists of the EDL/BNP and their ilk and who always seem to shout about “free speech” when bans and direct action against such groups are proposed ?
    Should we be questioning hijab-clad women as to their position on gay rights as they are being pummelled by skinheads before we decide whether they are worthy of being defended ?
    Tony Collins has already made the point that defence of the Muslim community should be unconditional for socialists. If it isn’t then the Muslim community will be left to do it on their own, with potentially horrifying outcomes.

  87. Dr Paul on said:

    To reply to Omar, it is not a question of our not defending a Muslim when he or she is attacked; indeed, that is not what I wrote.

    My question is this: we have here a prominent Muslim philosopher, Yusuf Qaradawi, who is on record — cited in the original article — saying that gays are sinners but can be redeemed, so do we accept that his attitude towards gays is acceptable or not?

    It is not a question of asking a Muslim woman in a hijab what her line is on gay rights before we consider defending her, but whether we should accept without quibbling bigoted ideas from a prominent Muslim philosopher that we would not let go uncriticised were they from the mouth or pen of, say, a Roman Catholic or Anglican priest or philosopher.

    I am perfectly aware that within the secularist movement there are those who pick on Islam in a disproportionate manner, or whose phaseology is rather too close to those of the anti-Islam far-right; indeed, I pointed it out in respect of Anne Marie Waters. I would be suspicious of this kind of behaviour. But that is not the main question here.

    The point of contention is whether we pull our punches in respect of Qaradawi and other Muslim intellectuals who are fond of making reactionary statements on the grounds that we are in a period in which Muslims are facing increasing hostility from uncouth rabble-rousers and refined ideologues alike. Would presenting a critique of Qaradawi on the issue of gay rights be tantamount to or actually increasing hostility to Muslims? Some left-wingers seem to think this is the case. But if such views are not challenged, are we not as socialists betraying our basic duty to defend democratic rights?

  88. Howard Fuller on said:

    Dr Paul: f such views are not challenged, are we not as socialists betraying our basic duty to defend democratic rights?

    Straight answer -Yes

  89. Omar on said:

    Dr Paul,

    If you’re asking me honestly, I would have to say that, given the severe threat Muslims are under at the moment, it may be wise to “pull our punches” for the time-being. Some of my union brothers and sisters from both religious and secular backgrounds have expressed less-than-progressive opinions about gays, visible minorities and so on in the past, but that doesn’t mean I can’t wait until the immediate, pressing struggle that we share common ground on can’t first be dealt with. If we attack a figurehead who has done good work to foster communication between Muslims and the wider community, we risk potentially dividing a force for, ON THE WHOLE, progressive change. We also make the error of assuming those who follow him agree with his entire outlook. In my lifetime I’ve met more practising Catholics that are pro-choice than not, regardless of what the Pope has to say on the matter, for example.
    I needn’t tell you the world isn’t black and white and demanding ideological purity is a sure path to political irrelevance.

  90. Manzil on said:

    Very nicely put, Omar.

    Although all these boxing metaphors are unnerving me. Can we not talk in Wimbledon jargon? It’s all about love.

  91. John Grimshaw on said:

    Omar,

    Just to be awkward. I presume by on going struggle you mean the fall out from the Lee Rigby affair? Lets be honest however, Islamaphobia is likely to be an on going concern for quite some time. So when’s the right time to stop “pulling punches”?

  92. Omar on said:

    John Grimshaw,

    Sorry,John, I don’t remember using the phrase “on going struggle” rather “the immediate, pressing struggle”, just to be persnickety. :)
    As to “when’s the right time to stop “pulling punches”?” I suppose that’s dependent on how this struggle evolves .

  93. Dr Paul on said:

    Now, how would posters here deal with the arguments in this broadside against the supposedly ‘pro-Islamic left’ here by the semi-Eustonite James Bloodworth in today’s Independent?

  94. Omar on said:

    Well, the phrase “pro-Islamic Left” should give you some hint of the biased,loaded terms of debate the Eustonites/EDL engage in . And Bloodworth’s article uses the One Law for All report as it’s foundation, which should raise the eyebrows of anyone with half a brain. Andy has already demolished this organisation for their obvious anti-Muslim bias.

    What is glaringly obvious to all but these “defenders of secular democracy” is that THEY are the seed from which the EDL sprouted. It is they who helped provide intellectual cover for the former BNP racists (reborn as EDL) to bash Asians under the auspices of “anti-extremism”, rather than leftists who are unwilling to speak out.

  95. Vanya on said:

    Dr Paul:
    Now, how would posters here deal with the arguments in this broadside against the supposedly ‘pro-Islamic left’ here by the semi-Eustonite James Bloodworth in today’s Independent?

    I read the post and gave up reading the comments when I noticed how many blatantly pro-EDL commentators were supporting what he said.

    Omar,

    Exactly. People like Bloodworth attack the left for providing cover to islamists, but the likes of him are the ones providing cover to the EDL. It reminds me of the way Paxman crawled on his belly on front of Yaxley-Lennon but is always so ready to stick the knife into George Galloway.

    And bear in mind that Boris Johnson was using this type of argument to implicitly blame part of the left for the death of Lee Rigby.

  96. Dr Paul: There are, however, limits. Were a religious spokesman to insist on the separation of men and women in a political meeting (I believe that this happened in an anti-war meeting somewhere up north), then I would definitely protest.

    Oh really? This kind of obsession with trivial and peripheral social customs is ridiculous. How would you feel about a non-religious spokesman insisting on segregated toilets – would you be equally disruptive? How about women who feel uncomfortable sitting with men? Would you force them do so, or would you exclude them from the meeting?

  97. Vanya on said:

    I heard there was this primary school somewhere down south (or maybe it was East Angular) where the children were banned from having a nativity play cos the Muslims would have complained. And there’s this pub somewhere in the north (or maybe it was the south) where they got banned from flying our flag, and that’s in our own country. And what about that bloke from Afghanistan (or maybe it was Albania) who got the DWP to supply him with a car so he could sign on somehere in Cornwall (or was it Yorkshire).

    Political correctness gone mad, that’s what it is.

  98. Vanya,

    It’s not just the Muslims, there is this German familly living off the social, who were given this bloody council house

    buckingham-palace

    and she moved her Greek husband in!

  99. Dr Paul on said:

    A couple of previous posts took exception to my comments I wrote about an occasion when a call was made for the separation of men and women at a political meeting, as if this was one of those oft-repeated but quite erroneous (and malicious) tales of the ‘Winterval’ brand that are retailed by right-wing papers and organisations.

    Although I don’t the details at hand, this was discussed at some length on the left when it occurred around 10 years back. It is not the same as accepting, say, the situation at orthodox Jewish weddings where men and women don’t sit together; neither is it a case — I guess the author was trying to be witty — of demanding mixed toilets on the grounds of equality. It raised fundamental political questions in the way of what compromises are admissible and what things are not at political meetings and in political campaigns.

    If someone tried to impose a Zionist agenda in a campaign against anti-Semitism, I would protest, as I would if someone opposed the opening of a Muslim school whilst saying nothing about the need for a general secularisation of education. As far as I am concerned, those who criticised Respect for downplaying key sections of the left’s programme on women’s and gay rights when it was looking for electoral allies, were correct. This was discussed at great length, and it was not just the muck-rakers of Harry’s Place who raised it, several left-wing groups did as well.

    I’ve had experience of this sort of thing. When I was doing a paper-sale in Brixton some time back, a young black chap came to up to our stall. He said that he was gay and he told us about the level of anti-gay sentiments both in the West Indies, from where his parents came, and amongst West Indians here. I wasn’t aware of this, and it was an upsetting story he told. I said that I’d raise it in the party; that I did, only to be told that to raise the question of anti-gay prejudice amongst West Indians would not help the fight against racism. So where would this leave this bloke and others like him?

    Another example was when Baruch Hirson and Paul Trewela exposed the story of the treatment of dissident members of the ANC and SWAPO, where dozens of young men and women who fell foul of the organisations’ leaderships were maltreated in internment camps. I raised this in the party, only to be told that this was not useful in the fight against apartheid, it would only play into the hands of the apartheid rulers and the imperialists. So where did this leave the maltreated dissidents?

    These episodes are rather reminiscent of certain left-wingers who refused to denounce the crimes of Stalinism because — as they put it — doing so would only give ammunition to the anti-communist ideologues and the imperialists. Not surprisingly, this enabled the ‘Decents’ of the day, such as Encounter magazine, to lump in the non-Stalinists who refused publicly to criticise Stalinism with the Stalinists themselves, and to try to brand pretty much the entire left as ‘apologists for totalitarianism’.

  100. Dr Paul: neither is it a case — I guess the author was trying to be witty — of demanding mixed toilets on the grounds of equality. It raised fundamental political questions in the way of what compromises are admissible and what things are not at political meetings and in political campaigns.

    In what possible way could what I wrote possibly be interpreted as “trying to be witty”?

    Nowhere did I advocate demanding mixed toilets on the grounds of equality. However, your comment makes my point for me. Amongst some groups of people, having separate toilets for men and women is considered perfectly unremarkable. Amongst some groups, having separate seating areas for men and women is considered just as unremarkable. Both are social customs with no real rational basis but people who follow them accept them as perfectly normal. Your comment about me trying to be funny betrays your own prejudices i.e. accepting other peoples’ harmless but irrational social customs is reprehensible but if anybody points out parallels with yours, they are trying to be funny.

    Personally, I have no problem with any kind of seating or toilet arrangements. If I had to choose between both mixed or both segregated, I’d probably feel more comfortable with the latter. It is not crucial to me to be sitting within a metre or two of women at a political meeting. For you though, a seating arrangement based on social customs of people whose social customs you don’t share raises “fundamental political questions” and is potentially an inadmissible compromise. You said in an earlier post:

    “Were a religious spokesman to insist on the separation of men and women in a political meeting (I believe that this happened in an anti-war meeting somewhere up north), then I would definitely protest”

    This is a shameful admission. You would disrupt an anti-war meeting during an imperialist onslaught over, of all things, seating arrangements – despite the fact that such arrangements may well encourage more women to attend. What an idiotic thing that would be to choose to be outraged about. I would consider such disruption to be on a par with some wacko complaining about segregated toilets. If I were attending such a meeting, I would be doing so hoping to discuss anti-war campaigning – as, I imagine would be the case with most people attending. So, if you were too vociferous about it, I’d have no problem with stewards escorting you from the venue.

    Fortunately, despite any faults it may have had or mistakes it may have made, the leadership of the anti-war movement at its height never pandered to people like you. Hence the movement never become an arena for you and others like you to bicker about your petty foibles.

    Here is a nice article about it

    http://communistcorrespondingsociety.org/reflections.htm

  101. lone nut on said:

    ” I raised this in the party, only to be told that this was not useful in the fight against apartheid, it would only play into the hands of the apartheid rulers and the imperialists”
    If the “party” in question was the RCP, I would find this a quite extraordinary response, given that their main “contribution” in relation to South Africa during the 1980s was denouncing the ANC and the fight for sanctions against the apartheid regime.
    “So where did this leave the maltreated dissidents?”
    Without the support of a couple of hundred ultra left but rightward moving middle class faddists, presumably. What I find most astounding in all this endless debate about “the left” and its relationship to secularism/Islam etc is the belief that the stance taken by this “left” of a few thousand white middle class people on these issues is of the slightest relevance at a mass scale.

  102. Ralph on said:

    Zaid,

    Segregation of men and women is not a question of a ‘petty foible’ when (and i accept this may not always be the case) it is emblematic of misogyny. If people were segregated on the basis of race or sexuality would you be so sanguine about this?