Above: Ben Jennings cartoon in the Guardian
“My government has a sense of evangelism…
Jesus invented the big society 2,000 years ago”
-David Cameron, April 2014
As Polly Toynbee (not generally one of our preferred columnists) pointed out in Friday’s Graun, Cameron’s Easter Message is “mostly toe-curling stuff”. This sanctimonious outburst is all the more annoying because he has left no previous evidence of being a particularly strong Christian, telling the Graun on 2008, that his faith was “like reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns: it sort of comes and goes.”
Toynbee comments, “Alistair Campbell never gave better advice than in warning politicians off doing God: it’s horrible to behold. Sincere or not, they become as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals, as did Cameron talking of ‘our saviour’”…
What a pity that most of the so-called “left” organisations in the UK (with just one notable exception) fail to denounce the encroachment of religion into British politics, and the consequent erosion of secularism. It’s largely been left up to the apolitical National Secular Society to take up a principled defence of enlightenment values in the UK. Here’s their comment on Cameron’s Easter Message:
In his most recent effort to highlight his strong Christian faith and the importance of Christianity within the UK, David Cameron has called for Christians to be more “evangelical”.
Mr Cameron criticised those promoting state neutrality on religion, saying they failed to grasp the role that religion can have in “helping people to have a moral code”. He contrasted “secular neutrality” with “the Christian values of responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, and love”.
He also expressed the hope that “we can [...] infuse politics with a greater sense of evangelism about some of the things we are trying to change. We see our churches as vital partners. If we pull together, we can change the world and make it a better place.”
The Prime Minister’s comments were made in an article authored by him, “My faith in the Church of England” and published in the Church Times.
He also announced that the government would be giving £8 million to a Church urban fund, Near Neighbours, which brings together people in religiously and ethnically diverse communities.
His article follows a video Easter message, in which he noted “countless acts of kindness carried out by those who believe in and follow Christ”, and an Easter reception at Downing Street in which he called for an expansion in the role of faith and faith organisations in the UK.
His most recent comments come after church leaders have, for the second time in two months, made the headlines by publicly urging the government to take action on food poverty.
As part of a campaign organised by the End Hunger Fast, 47 bishops and over 600 non-conformist leaders and clergy from across all the major Christian denominations in Britain have co-signed a new letter calling for urgent Government action on food poverty
And in February, 27 bishops wrote to the Daily Mirror saying that Cameron had a moral duty to act on the growing number going hungry.
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “The Prime Minister’s description of Britain as a “Christian country” is one most people simply won’t recognise.
“Around half the population don’t belong to any religion and the religious among us follow an increasingly diverse range of faiths. They should not be made to feel like less than equal citizens by the prime minister asserting the moral superiority of Christianity.
“Mr Cameron is of course entitled to his personal beliefs but he must realise that as the Prime Minister of a democratic and diverse nation his remarks are wholly inappropriate.
“Non-Christians may feel particularly aggrieved by Mr Cameron’s divisive assertion that we are a “Christian country”, but everyone should be concerned at his suggestion that essential state functions such as education and welfare should be handed over to religious organisations.”
See also: David Cameron puts God back into politics
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Adam Deen, of the Deen Institute, has been coming in for a bit of flack from (some) Muslims over his ‘modernising’ approach to Islam. In particular he has spoken out against the marginalization of women in university ISOCs, the way they have been excluded from full participation. Now he is at the centre of another controversy, this time sparked by the Happy Muslims video, which you can see at the Pharrell – HAPPY BRITISH MUSLIMS! site here. Deen appears with other Muslims, including his wife Myriam Francois Cerrah, dancing and singing to the Pharrell Williams hit ‘Happy’.
Several different objections have been raised to this project. The most predictable focus on the supposed impropriety of the video:
“We’ve basically lost all meaning for what the word hijab means. I can’t even be bothered to explain this issue again, the fact that hijab is a state, not just a piece of cloth on the head. Anyway, whatever. This isn’t about the women anyway, this is about the mindset of *all* who support such things.”
Others complain that it is pandering to non-Muslim prejudices to put on a display of happiness and normalcy in order to counter stereotypes. A few just find it a bit cringey, and some feel happiness is rather misplaced when there is so much suffering in the world.
Here is an extract from one of the more aggressive responses, a post by Uthman Badar.
“What we have here is an attempt by Muslims to been seen as ‘normal’ by the mainstream non-Muslim white majority in response to overbearing stereotypes and allegations to the contrary. In the words of the producers,
‘We Brits have a bad rep for being a bit stiff, but this video proves otherwise. We are HAPPY. We are eclectic. We are cosmopolitan. Diverse. Creative. Fun. Outgoing. And everything you can think of.
This video is to show the world despite the negative press, stereotypes and discrimination we are burdened with we should respond with smiles and joy, not anger.’
There is so much wrong with this approach, I don’t know where to begin!
It has Muslims coming in to bat for ‘Brits’ and their bad rep. Reward for the excellent treatment received by Muslims in Britain and by Britain abroad? House-Muslim mentality?”
The quotation from the video’s publicity material, that Badar objects to above, in fact demonstrates that the participants are not complacent about anti-Muslim bigotry, yet still unequivocally identify as British, and want to reach out to non-Muslims with a positive message.
It’s a cheerful video – but I do wonder what it is for exactly. I don’t think EDL supporters will see the error of their ways after watching it – they’ll probably think the performers are practicing taqqiya. Those with more nuanced concerns may quite like the video – but wouldn’t have seen people like Julie Siddiqui as a problem in the first place.
I think Uthman Badar (and others like him) have got this all wrong. My hunch is that this video was never intended to influence non-Muslims, but rather to enable Deen and co. to position themselves in opposition to more conservative, or orthodox, Muslim voices. Participants such as Salma Yaqoob have sometimes seemed keener on differentiating themselves from Quilliam types than from Muslim ‘puritans’ (to use Deen’s term). It’s positive that the battle against real hardliners, usually waged by ultra-liberal Muslims and non-Muslims, is being joined by those who are only moderately moderate.
Events surrounding the so-called Trojan Horse allegations in Birmingham have taken a further, bizarre, twist with the appointment, yesterday, of Peter Clarke, former head of Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command, to investigate claims about the city’s schools.
Regular readers will remember our previous , very cautious, coverage of the Trojan Horse document, which purports to be a letter from a Birmingham-based Islamic fundamentalist to a contact in Bradford, describing tactics used to take over Birmingham schools and boasting of success in forcing out head teachers who resisted the islamification of their schools: the document talks about forcing out the leadership team where a school is “corrupting their children with sex education , teaching about homosexuals, making children pray Christian prayers and [carrying out] mixed swimming and sport.” We have already pointed out that the letter, which contains some accurate information not previously in the public domain, but also some inaccuracies, may be a hoax.
Last week the city council announced a freeze on the recruitment of school governors while it investigates the claims into at least 25 schools, including three run by the Park View Educational Trust. The council stated that it had received more than 200 reports in relation to its enquiry and has appointed former head teacher Ian Kershaw to head up the investigation. Council leader Albert Bore stated that “there are certainly issues in Bradford which have similarities with the issues being spoken about in Birmingham.” He also went on to express frustration with the council’s lack of influence over academies, stating “we do not have the relationship with academies as we do with community schools.”
Then yesterday, Michael Gove announced the appointment of Pater Clarke to head what is, in effect, a parallel investigation. Albert Bore, together with West Midlands Chief Constable Chris Sims and Ladywood MP Shabana Mahmood, immediately condemned the appointment, with Bore stating that Sims’ anti-terror background would “inevitably” lead people to “draw unwarranted conclusions.” The area’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Labour’s Bob Jones, added, “My main concern is that the Secretary of State is attempting to divert attention away from the governance and diversity issues that might be embarrassing to his policies and approach to school governance.”
Bore, Jones and the others are undoubtedly right about this “desperately unfortunate” appointment, and about the hypocrisy of Gove who promotes academies (and now free schools) outside the control of local authorities, whilst simultaneously decrying the influence of Islamic extremists over academies in Birmingham.
And it is important to note that whether or not the Trojan Horse document proves to be genuine, there is no doubt about the influence of Islamic fundamentalists over many Birmingham schools: teachers and other school staff members have already come forward with reports of segregation of boys and girls in classes and assemblies, bans on sex education and bullying of non-Muslim staff. Shiraz Socialist has spoken to several Birmingham teachers, including activists within the main teaching unions, who have confirmed that these claims are true and, in some cases, such things have been going on for years. The all-too predictable line taken by an article in today’s Guardian (“Despite reasonable evidence suggesting the plot letter is a hoax, it has spaked debate in the city, with far right groups looking to capitalise”) simply will not do: the concerns about Islamic fundamentalists undermining secular education are not the preserve of the far right, but are felt by teachers, Labour councillors and MPs and -not least - many Muslim parents who want their kids to have an inclusive, secular education.
You don’t like it? Go back to Atheostan
More of the comedy of “politically correct persecution of Christians” from the UK:
Militant atheists should “get over it” and accept that Britain is a Christian country, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has said.
That’s what a “Communities Secretary” is for is it? I wouldn’t know, because we don’t have one in the US, not at the federal level at least. We don’t have one for sport, either, or one for faith. How impoverished we are. Anyway so the job of the Communities Secretary is to piss on people who are part of the wrong kind of “communities”?
“I’ve stopped an attempt by militant atheists to ban councils having prayers at the start of meetings if they wish,” said Mr Pickles.
“Heaven forbid. We’re a Christian nation. We have an Established Church.
“Get over it. And don’t impose your politically correct intolerance on others.”
Get over what? Wanting to keep politics out of religion and religion out of politics?
Funny that he’s accusing other people of intolerance.
NB: Comrade Coatesy, with his knowledge of France, has an interesting take on all this
Shiraz Socialist has for some time been in possession of documents that seem to show a conspiracy by Islamists to exploit the Tories’ academy programme in order to take over schools. We have, up until now, refrained from using this material or commenting upon it, because we were not clear on its provenance and not satisfied of its authenticity. There must, properly, be the suspicion that the documents have been faked in order to stir up anti-Muslim feeling. However, this material is now in the public domain (the Birmingham Mail, the Independent, the Daily Mail and the Times have all carried articles), so we’ve decided it’s time for us to cover the story.
Firstly, what do the documents contain?
The documents’ central and most alarming content is what seems to be a letter from a Birmingham Muslim fundamentalist to a co-thinker in Bradford.
This details a five-point guide called ‘Trojan Horse’, for taking over schools and urges the rolling out ‘Trojan Horse’ to Bradford and then Manchester, boasting that considerable success has been achieved in schools in predominantly Muslim areas of Birmingham
The documents outline alleged successful plots carried out against a number of Birmingham headteachers and other members of staff.
The documents also give a step-by-step guide for targeting “under-performing” schools with dirty tricks methods, involving the spreading of lies about the school heads.
The recipient is first urged to identify any Salafi (ie: hard-line fundamentalist) parents sending pupils to the school.
‘They are always the most committed to the faith and are hardliners in that regard and once charged up they keep going for longer,’ says the letter.
‘When the parents have been identified, we start to turn them against the headteacher and leadership team.
‘The only way to do this is to tell each parent that the school is corrupting their children with sex education, teaching about homosexuals, making their children pray Christian prayers and mixed swimming and sport.
‘If you can get them to be very vocal in the playground as they drop off or pick up their children that will stir up other parents.
‘The parents MUST be given direction and told not to discuss this with anyone, you only need a maximum of four parents to disrupt the whole school, to send in complaints to question their child’s education and to contact their MP and local authority.’
Once the head has been forced out, Islamist governors push through plans to make the schools academies.
The academy status, as promoted by the Tories, allows them to be run out of the control of the local authority, with funding provided direct from central government.
The letter states: ‘’Operation ‘Trojan Horse’ has been very carefully thought through and is tried and tested within Birmingham, implementing it in Bradford will not be difficult for you.’’
Trojan Horse, the letter states, has been fine-tuned so that it is ‘totally invisible to the naked eye and allows us to operate under the radar. I have detailed the plan we have in Birmingham and how well it has worked and you will see how easy the whole process is to get the whole process is to get the head teacher out and our own person in.’’
The documents propose that schools with poor Ofsted reports and with large Muslim student populations should be targeted for takeover.
They add: ‘’The poor performing schools are easy to disrupt, the better performing with strong head teachers is much harder and so we have to manufacture a strong enough reason, but rest assured we have not failed yet, no matter how difficult removing the head teacher may be. You just have to be clever and find the most appropriate way to deal with the school.’’
The documents add: ‘’This is all about causing the maximum amount of organised chaos and we have fine-tuned this as part of operation Trojan Horse. You must identify what the heads strengths are and build a case of disruption around that.’’
One passage reads: “We have caused a great amount of organised disruption in Birmingham and as a result we now have our own academies and are on our way to getting rid of more headteachers and taking over their schools … Whilst sometimes the practices we use may not seem the correct way to do things you must remember this is a ‘jihad’ and as such all means possible to win the war is acceptable.”
Yesterday’s Times (11 March) drew attention to “glaring errors” in the letter, suggesting that it might be a fake. The main “glaring error” is a reference to the ousting of the former head of Springfield School in Sparkhill/ Moseley, Birmingham. The letter states “We did this perfectly to Noshaba Hussain from Springfield School. However, the Governors reappointed her so now we have another plan in place to get her out.” In fact, Ms Hussain was dismissed in 1994 and was not reinstated. The Times also states that “the crudeness of the apparent forgery is underlined by another error. It identifies two Birmingham schools where the plotters claim credit for removing head teachers late last year. However, the author seems to have muddled up their departure dates.”
The Times goes on to quote Tahir Alam, a former “education chief” at the Muslim Council of Britain, and named in the letter as involved in the plot: “This ridiculous assertion is based entirely upon a leaked document nonsensically referred to as ‘Operation Trojan Horse’ … the authenticity of which any decent and fair-minded person would question and quickly conclude as a hoax. Any reference to me is a malicious fabrication and completely untrue.”
As against this, Shiraz can report that we’ve spoken to a number of teachers from some of the schools named in the documents, and they are of the opinion that the documents are probably genuine – if only because their content tallies with verifiable events in at least two of the schools named in the documents. The former headteacher of Saltley School, Balwant Bains (who we have not spoken to) is reported as saying he was “bullied and intimidated” in the months before he resigned last November after clashing with the school’s governors. The Birmingham Mail (10 March) reported that “Friends claim the respected head, of Sikh origin, was undermined when governors over-turned his decision to expel a Muslim pupil found with a knife. The harassment of Bains included an anonymous text message branding him a “racist, Islamophobic Head teacher.” Five non-Muslim governors of the school have resigned, leaving 12 Muslim governors out of 14. The problems at Saltley School began, according to our sources, when Mr Bains was asked by governors to make curriculum changes, including the scrapping of sex education and citizenship classes because they were allegedly deemed “un-Islamic”. He was, we’ve been told, instructed to introduce Islamic studies into the curriculum and told that only halal food should be served to pupils, even though Saltley is a non-faith school. Mr Bains resigned after an Ofsted report concluded that he had a “dysfunctional” relationship with the school’s governors.
Shiraz has also been told by Birmingham teachers that at another school named in the documents, Adderley Primary, four Teaching Assistants have been forced out following the school’s receipt of resignation letters that the four denied having written. As a result of the ‘Trojan Horse’ documents the police have now re-opened their fraud investigation into the letters. At least one of the Teaching Assistants is now pursuing an unfair dismissal claim.
Shiraz Socialist will be following this bizarre affair and will report on developments. In the meanwhile, whether or not the ‘Trojan Horse’ documents prove to be genuine, what is clear is that the Tories’ academy programme is opening up education to religious fanatics, sectarians and bigots, making a mockery of the government’s proclaimed commitment to social inclusion.
Above: “slavery-like conditions” at Magdalene laundries
Vatican ‘must immediately remove’ child abusers – UN
The UN has demanded that the Vatican “immediately remove” all clergy who are known or suspected child abusers.
The UN watchdog for children’s rights denounced the Holy See for adopting policies allowing priests to sexually abuse thousands of children.
In a report, it criticised Vatican attitudes towards homosexuality, contraception and abortion.
The Vatican responded by saying it would examine the report – but also accused its authors of interference.
“The Holy See takes note of the concluding observations on its reports… [but] does, however, regret to see… an attempt to interfere with Catholic Church teaching on the dignity of the human person… [and] reiterates its commitment to defending and protecting the rights of the child,” it said in a statement.
And a Vatican official, speaking to Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity, said the statements on homosexuality, contraception and abortion were outside the committee’s remit and “heavily agenda-driven and smacking of acute political correctness”.
The Vatican has set up a commission to fight child abuse in the Church.
The UN committee’s recommendations are non-binding and there is no enforcement mechanism.
In its report, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) said the Holy See should open its files on members of the clergy who had “concealed their crimes” so that they could be held accountable.
The committee said it was gravely concerned that the Holy See had not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed.
In the report, the committee expressed its “deepest concern about child sexual abuse committed by members of the Catholic churches who operate under the authority of the Holy See, with clerics having been involved in the sexual abuse of tens of thousands of children worldwide”.
It also lambasted the “practice of offenders’ mobility”, referring to the transfer of child abusers from parish to parish within countries, and sometimes abroad.
The committee said this practice placed “children in many countries at high risk of sexual abuse, as dozens of child sexual offenders are reported to be still in contact with children”.
The UN report called on a commission created by Pope Francis in December to investigate all cases of child sexual abuse “as well as the conduct of the Catholic hierarchy in dealing with them”.
Ireland’s Magdalene laundries scandal was singled out by the report as an example of how the Vatican had failed to provide justice despite “slavery-like” conditions, including degrading treatment, violence and sexual abuse.
The laundries were Catholic-run workhouses where some 10,000 women and girls were required to do unpaid manual labour between 1922 and 1996.
The report’s findings come after Vatican officials were questioned in public last month over why they would not release data and what they were doing to prevent future abuse.
The Vatican has denied any official cover-up. However, in December, it refused a UN request for data on abuse on the grounds that it only released such information if requested to do so by another country as part of legal proceedings.
In January, the Vatican confirmed that almost 400 priests had been defrocked in a two-year periode by the former Pope Benedict XVI over claims of child abuse.
The BBC’s David Willey in Rome says the Vatican has set up new guidelines to protect children from predatory priests.
But, he adds, bishops in many parts of the world have tended to concentrate on protecting and defending the reputation of priests rather than listening to the complaints of victims of paedophile priests.
Many campaigners feel the Vatican should open its files on priests known to be child abusers
Channel 4 News’ disgraceful, craven censorship of ‘Jesus & Mo’ on Tuesday night…
…has received a splendid response:
You can find more Jesus and Mo: here
H/t: Howie and Coatesy
Further to Jim’s piece taking apart Christina Odone’s lament about religious beliefs not being given their due weight in public life, I’d like to draw attention to this in the SkepticLawyer:-
Christina Odone, former deputy editor of The New Statesman, in the course of arguing that religious believers are being pushed out of public life by a new intolerance, drew attention to the Law Society revoking permission for a conference on traditional marriage to be held on its premises.
Suppose it had been a conference on the need to reinstate traditional legal prohibitions on Jews. Or Catholics. Would it then have been unreasonable for the Law Society to say that you can not hold such a conference on our premises?
Suppose it was a conference on the need to revoke voting rights for women? Or re-impose coverture marriage? (Which was, after all, for centuries the “traditional” form of marriage under English law.) For what group does opposition to equal protection of the law become an acceptable conference subject matter for the Law Society to provide a venue for? Would Ms Odone care to specify?
Almost certainly, it does not occur to Ms Odone that there is any parallel with coverture marriage, or the controversy over Jewish emancipation, etc. But, of course, that is precisely what is going on. Indeed, the fight over queer emancipation is almost completely a re-run of the fight over Jewish emancipation, with exactly the same arguments being run — they are offensive to God, giving them legal equality goes against the authority of Scripture and Western tradition, they will corrupt any institution they are allowed into, they prey on minors, they are predatory recruiters, they spread disease — and almost exactly the same fault lines showing up in social debate.
Do read the whole thing.
Excellent piece by Amiad Khan at Left Foot Forward on the Maajid Nawaz affair.
Read the whole thing, and wonder at some liberals’ definition of liberalism.
Compare this to a thin and feeble piece in the New Statesman Spectator. [Yikes - dumb mistake. The New Statesman is silent on this matter]. What a stable of writers they’ve got – gone in the wind, can’t run a furlong without falling over. [Still think that about the Staggers.]
Also a tweet from Maajid Nawaz, which strikes a Protestant dissenting note, and a dignified one:-
I am a free Muslim. My prophet left no heir. My faith was never ruled by pope nor clergy. For my sins I answer to God alone. You are not God.
Also – here’s a piece by Nawaz in, wonders of wonders, The Groan:-
My intention was to demonstrate that Muslims are able to see things we don’t like, yet remain calm and pluralist, and to demonstrate that there are Muslims who care more about the thousands of deaths in Iraq, Pakistan and Syria than we do about what a student is wearing. My intention was to highlight that Muslims can engage in politics without insisting that our own religious values must trump all others’ concerns, and to stand before the mob so that other liberal Muslim voices that are seldom heard, women’s and men’s, could come to the fore. And many such Muslim voices have been heard this last week.
However, in the final analysis, my intentions are irrelevant. What matters is this simple truth: I am free not to be offended by a cartoon I did not draw. If my prospective constituents do not like me not being offended, they are free not to vote for me. Other Muslims are free to be offended, and the rest of the country is free to ignore them. I will choose my policies based on my conscience. As such, I will continue to defend my prophet from those on the far right and Muslim extremes who present only a rigid, angry and irrational interpretation of my faith. I will stand for fairness, as Amnesty International once stood for me when I was a prisoner in Hosni Mubarak‘s Egypt. Because I believe that the difference between fairness and tribalism is the difference between choosing principles and choosing sides.
Channel 4 showed the cartoon like this:-
The transgressive showcase for the alternative Christmas Message and Embarrassing Bodies suddenly goes coy and tasteful on us.
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Above: Maajid Nawaz
If a Muslim expresses some reservations about Quilliam’s rhetoric or strategies, I tend to assume, not that they are an Evil Islamist, but that – they have some reservations about Quilliam’s rhetoric or strategies. These are things reasonable people may disagree about. However some recent responses to Maajid Nawaz’s decision to tweet a Jesus and Mo cartoon go beyond reasonable criticism.
He tweeted the picture after it featured (on a T shirt) on BBC’s The Big Questions, where it was the focus of a debate about free speech. This is the offending image in question.
Nawaz’s tweet has apparently caused many Muslims, including Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadan Foundation, to make a formal complaint to the Lib Dems. (Nawaz is the Liberal Democrat PPC for Hampstead and Kilburn.)
Of course it is quite proper to draw attention to bigoted remarks made by politicians, and expect the whip to be withdrawn, or some other form of censure applied, depending on the level of offence. But the fact some Muslims think it is inappropriate to depict Muhammad does not make Jesus and Mo offensive. Non-Muslims, and Muslims (like Nawaz) who don’t think pictures of Muhammad are taboo, should not be bound by others’ religious dogma.
Reactions to Nawaz cover a spectrum ranging from death threats to warm support – and many of his supporters are fellow-Muslims. In the middle of the spectrum we find people who would certain not condone or incite violence but who demonstrate clear hostility towards the reformist Nawaz. Not all of his antagonists are Muslims. Here’s Gorgeous George’s response.
“No Muslim will ever vote for the Liberal Democrats anywhere ever unless they ditch the provocateur Majid Nawaz, cuckold of the EDL”
5Pillarz, a blog written largely by and for British Muslims, has decided that Nawaz should be their top candidate for ‘Islamophobe of the Year’. The EDL is mentioned at the bottom of their list of suggestions, as a kind of afterthought.
As Maajid Nawaz says:
“Why are many on the “Left” largely silent on Muslim reformers. Want to defend minorities? Well, we’re a minority within a minority, defend us”
As someone from the ‘Left’ I’m happy to defend and support Maajid Nawaz – though I’d draw the line at voting for him.
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