Defend secularism: the separation of church and state

April 19, 2014 at 3:21 pm (Christianity, David Cameron, Guardian, Jim D, religion, secularism)

Ben Jennings cartoon 18.04.2014

 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

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Birmingham schools: the ‘plot’ thickens

April 16, 2014 at 5:34 pm (Brum, children, Education, islamism, labour party, posted by JD, religion, secularism, unions, youth)

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.

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‘Jesus and Mo’ hits back at Channel 4 censorship

January 30, 2014 at 6:39 pm (censorship, Civil liberties, Free Speech, grovelling, islamism, Jim D, relativism, religion, satire, secularism, telly)

Channel 4 News’ disgraceful, craven censorship of ‘Jesus & Mo’ on Tuesday night…

censorship

…has received a splendid response:

black

You can find more Jesus and Mo: here

H/t: Howie and Coatesy

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Polly Toynbee on “limp liberals”, women’s rights and cultural relativism

December 23, 2013 at 3:50 pm (Afghanistan, Guardian, history, Human rights, imperialism, islamism, misogyny, modernism, posted by JD, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", relativism, religion, secularism, women)

In view of some appalling tripe that’s appeared recently on the subject of gender segregation, cultural sensitivity and (alleged) racism, this 2001 Graun article by Polly Toynbee is worth revisiting. Come to think of it, it’s probably the best thing she’s ever written, and quite surprising that the Graun agreed to publish it:

Above: the traditional custom of Suttee

Limp liberals fail to protect their most profound values

Those who enjoy western freedoms excuse the inexcusable elsewhere

A 19th-century general in India confronted an angry delegation complaining that the suppression of suttee was an attack on their national culture and customs. He replied: “It is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and hang them. Build your funeral pyre and beside it my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your national custom – then we shall follow ours.” No moral or cultural relativism there: a burning widow feels the same pain whatever her culture.

Swirling about in the sea of debate on this war there is a fuzzy idea on the soft left of an Islamic cultural otherness that supersedes basic human rights. There is a plea that in respecting certain customs, beliefs and punishments in some Muslim countries, we should somehow overlook the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Some on these pages protest about “intolerant liberalism”, calling for greater understanding of other cultures and accusing secular liberals of neo-colonial, cultural supremacist attitudes towards some Muslim countries. But that risks something worse – a patronising anthropological view of interesting natives who are not people like us, quaint in their time-honoured habits that must remain undisturbed by outside influence. This soft tolerance permits faraway peoples to persecute women, gays, free-thinkers or unbelievers as part of a way of life to be respected and preserved. Apologetic about the brute force of the west, those who themselves enjoy freedoms of every kind excuse the inexcusable in other cultures, romanticising them as more spiritual, less materialist. It is a kind of limp liberalism that will not defend its own most profound values. 

Hard-headed liberals have no problem in opposing the Taliban, Bin Laden and equivocators who start with a cursory side-of-the-cigarette-pack homily that says September 11 was atrocious before piling on the “buts” that imply the US had it coming. Hard liberals have always been very tough on the moral failings of the USA at home and abroad – without blurring distinctions between the Taliban and America. Hard liberals hold basic human rights to be non-negotiable and worth fighting for. They do not turn the other cheek, understand the other guy’s point of view or respect his culture when it comes to universal rights. Promoting liberal values everywhere from Burma to Saudi Arabia, Iraq to Chechnya is not neo-colonialism, but respect for a universal right to freedom from oppression. That was what Tony Blair’s conference speech implied. 

On Afghanistan, limp liberals only distinguish themselves from the old left by adding rather more hand-wringing. Limp liberals are always on the side of peace because it is more morally comfortable. They claim a monopoly of pity, castigating the other side as heartless armchair warriors. They hesitate because the outcome is uncertain: no one can guarantee things will end well. But they will never be to blame for anything, because they never stood up for anything, always seeking third way escapes from hard choices. “If only people would just sit down and talk…”, though conversation with Bin Laden is not on offer. All sane people worry that this war may not be proportionate, may not stop terror attacks or make life in Afghanistan better. But the pacifist position this time is exceptionally odd. What would they do? When G2 asked a string of people recently, the alternatives were hopeless to non-existent. On these pages, there has been much flailing about, lack of alternatives hiding in anti-US bluster. A Gandhian response is a possibility – until you listen to Bin Laden. Understanding racial and cultural diversity is essential, but this time understand what? 

What is now alarming is the united opposition to the war from almost all British Muslims. The shocking fact is that barely a single leading Muslim is to be found who supports it. Thought for the Day speakers (always the moderate of every faith) are against it. One of them, Dr Zaki Badawi, president of the Muslim College, calls Bush a warmonger, says Bin Laden is a random target picked off a shelf and no good will come of it: he fears greatly for relations between Muslims and others when this is over. The head of the moderate Islamic Council brought into Downing Street with the archbishop and the Chief Rabbi came out declaring the war unjustified. The Muslim News, which features pictures of Tony Blair giving away their annual awards, is full of nothing but angry opposition to the war, (plus the suggestion that Israel attacked the World Trade Centre). So however often the prime minister declares this is not a war on Islam, to them it feels so. However much they detest the Taliban, they cannot support an attack even on these hated Muslims. 

Despite sects and schisms, Islam is united in feeling threatened and it is not just extremists on the streets of Pakistan and Palestine, it is almost everyone. For Britain this has a lethal potential. It underlines how alienated most still feel from the mainstream, how threatened, how culturally uncertain. Unfortunately it unites the peaceful with the violent. On my screen emails full of casuistry attempt to explain away warlike parts of the Koran as allegory: “In classical Arabic idiom the ‘cutting of hands and feet’ is often synonymous with destroying one’s power.” That is not how the Taliban read it, hacking away at limbs. So while the peaceful fail to separate their faith utterly from this violence, Bin Laden gets perilously close to creating his Armageddon war of the cultures. 

What went wrong? Why was the Downing Street/ White House tea and sympathy with Muslim leaders of no avail? The crucial missing ingredient was turning on Sharon and Israeli extremists at the same time as the onslaught on the Taliban. What is needed at once is this world coalition to press Israel back inside internationally agreed borders, to shut down the settlements and to establish a permanent UN force along the border with a free Palestine. Then it is for Palestinians to create a non-corrupt government that will not waste the generous aid they need. No doubt horrific suicide bombings of Israelis would try to destroy any peace, but reprisal by Israeli tanks would be forbidden and prevented. The world would again guarantee in blood and money the rights of both the state of Israel and the state of Palestine. Like Northern Ireland, it wouldn’t work any magic: fighting would continue, but little by little, despite recurring outbreaks, it would gradually subside over the decades. 

What matters is that the Islamic world should for the first time see the west act even-handedly. It matters that the west admits its past errors and draws a line under much shameful history. This shaky global coalition offers a chance to do better in many places, through international joint action. It means demonstrating that human rights values are indeed universal and not western.

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After UUK’s climb-down, keep up the fight against relativism!

December 14, 2013 at 7:43 pm (academe, apologists and collaborators, capitulation, civil rights, Education, Human rights, islamism, Jim D, misogyny, relativism, religion, secularism, women)

Exclusive: The Equality and Human Rights Commission steps into the row over controversial guidelines which said gender segregation on campus should be allowed
Above: Protesters at the small rally in Tavistock Square on Wednesday

At first it looked as though we were shouting into the wilderness: a few blogs (including us at Shiraz) drew attention to the outrage, and a small demonstration took place; just 8,000 people signed an online petition. It looked as though Universities UK (UUK) would get away with one of the most outrageous and craven capitulations to religious bigotry and misogyny  in recent years: their so-called “guidelines” sanctioning gender segregation in UK universities.

Then the issue seemed to take off. To his credit, Shadow Business Secretary, Chuka Umanna declared that a Labour government would outlaw gender segregation at universities, and – belatedly – Cameron intervened, issuing a statement against segregation, and UUK backed down and withdrew its “guidance.”

A truly wretched and shameful performance by UUK’s Nicola Dandridge on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme in which she stated that gender segregation was “not completely alien to our culture,” may well have been crucial. Listeners were outraged, especially when, in the same programme, one Saleem Chagtai of the so-called Islamic Education and Research Academy, claimed (under questioning from the excellent Mishal Husain) that “psychological studies” had shown that men and women were “more comfortable” when seated apart, and that “wanton depictions of women” were not allowed by his organisation.

In a ignominious climb-down, UUK has now withdrawn its guidance and says it will be seeking advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (which has already indicated that UUK’s “guidance” is almost certainly illegal). In our opinion, Nicola Dandridge should now be considering her position.

But we should also remember that the left-controlled National Union of Students supported the UUK “guidance” and that the SWP has helped organise and then defended, gender-segregated meetings. There was a time when the left would be at the forefront in defending secular, enlightenment values. But no longer: cultural relativism and “identity” politics infected sections of the “left” and the Guardianista “liberal”-”left” some years ago, and they are now, all too often, on the wrong side. But our defeat of UUK shows that cultural relativism can be beaten; our immediate and most dangerous enemies are not the clerical fascists themselves, but their “left”/”liberal” appeasers, of the Guardianista / SWP variety.

The fight-back begins here!

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No to gender segregation in universities: protest in London today!

December 10, 2013 at 10:59 am (civil rights, Education, Human rights, islamism, misogyny, NUS, posted by JD, protest, relativism, religion, secularism, sexism, women)

Short notice, I’m afraid, but any readers who are in London this evening are urged to attend:File:School segregation protest.jpg

Above: segregated education in 1950′s America; surely we’ve moved on since then?

At Universities UK, Woburn House, 20 Tavistock Square, London WC 1H 9HQ, 5 pm (for 5.30 start) Tues 10 Dec

From One Law for All:

On the occasion of International Human Rights Day we oppose the legitimisation of forced gender segregation by Universities UK (UUK), the body representing the leadership of UK universities. UUK has issued guidance on external speakers saying that the segregation of the sexes at universities is not discriminatory as long as “both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way.” The document also alleges that universities would be legally obliged to enforce fully, not only partially, segregated seating orders on audiences at universities. Outrageously, the document has been supported by the National Union of Students.

We will meet at 5pm to start the protest at 5.30pm

Speakers will include: Pragna Patel (Southall Black Sisters), Maryam Namazie (Fitnah and One Law for All), Kate Smurthwaite (comedian), Anne-Marie Waters (National Secular Society), Julie Bindel (Justice for Women), Charlie Klenjian (Lawyers’ Secular Society), Helen Palmer (Central London Humanist Group), Sam Westrop (Stand for Peace), Sean Oakley (Reading University Atheist, Humanist and Secularist Society), Georgi Laag (London Atheist Activists Group), Ahlam Akram (Palestinian women’s rights campaigner), James Bloodworth (Left Foot Forward), Erin Saltman (Quilliam Foundation).

A petition against UUK has received more than 7.500 signatures already, and the issue has been extensively covered by the Times, Guardian, Spectator, Indepenent and Telegraph. You can find a collection of the articles below. Sign the petition here: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/petition/Universities_UK_Rescind_endorsement_of_sex_segregation_at_UK_Universities/ A detailed analysis of the document can be found here: http://hurryupharry.org/2013/11/23/you-are-a-woman-you-cant-sit-here-uk-universities-condones-gender-segregation/ Follow us on twitter: @maryamnamazie @lsesusash #no2sexapartheid See More

Woburn House 20 Tavistock Square London WC1H 9HQ
 :

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Standing up for Dawkins against ‘Standpoint’

November 30, 2013 at 2:39 pm (apologists and collaborators, atheism, Catholicism, Christianity, Jim D, publications, relativism, religion, secularism)

Above: Michael Coren exposes himself as a stupid bigot, even in this friendly interview

Standpoint magazine, a publication supposedly dedicated to enlightenment values, seems to be increasingly in thrall to religion – or at least to Christianity and to a lesser extent Judaism. The mag maintains a hostility to Islam that I would describe as “healthy” but for the evident fact that it takes such a sympathetic line on other religions.

Last month’s edition carried a particularly crude and self-righteous attack on Richard Dawkins, penned by one Michael Coren (billed by Standpoint as “a broadcaster and columnist in Canada”). A clue as to where Mr Coren was, so to speak, coming from, might have been picked up from his comments about Catholic child abuse (involving “at most 3 per cent of clergy” and “the vast majority of cases were in the past”) as well as his approving reference to a particularly silly quote from the Catholic fake-”Marxist” Terry Eagleton. Oh, go on then: read it for yourself here.

Matters were made worse by the fact that the magazine (as part of its regular “Overrated … underrated” feature, compared Dawkins unfavourably to the egregiously overrated misanthrope and ontonologist, C.S. Lewis.

I intended to write in, mainly to point out Lewis’ grotesquely inflated reputation and all-round unpleasantness, but of course didn’t find the time. The eulogy to Lewis remains unanswered, but I’m pleased to note that at least two Standpoint readers have rallied to the defence of Dawkins and their excellent letters are worth reproducing here (especially as they don’t appear on the mag’s website):

Michael Coren’s foam-flecked hatchet-job on Richard Dawkins (Overrated, November) is one of the most singular examples of the pot calling the kettle black that I can ever recall reading.
He castigates Dawkins for having “this selfish, perhaps genetic, need to be noticed.” This is rich coming from a notoriously abrasive, attention-seeking controversialist who has regularly appeared on shouty talk shows on North American television such as Two Bald Guys with Strong Opinions.
Having sneered at Dawkins for having “suburban” views, he proceeds to accuse him of being “snobbish”, albeit in a context which suggests he is ignorant of the meaning of the word.
He claims that Dawkins would be anonymous were it not for his “ostentatious” atheism. His own Catholicism, as expressed in books entitled Why Catholics are Right and Ten Lies They Spread About Christianity, is no less ostentatious. Dawkins’ followers, he alleges, often act in a “cult-like manner”. What is the Catholic Church if it is not a cult? (OED: “a system of religious worship directed towards a particular figure or object”.)
Dawkins, he further alleges, “is a man happy to silence those with ehom he disagrees”. Has no pontiff ever done this?
If Coren doesn’t enjoy the experience of being “ridiculed with contempt” by the likes of Dawkins, the remedy is in his own hands: he can refrain from slash-and-burn polemics in trying to defend the indefensible.

Martin Green, Bridgnorth, Shropshire

So for Richard Dawkins to expect that the prevalence of abusers in the Catholic clergy might be less than 3 per cent was for him to operate with a “deeply flawed premise”.
I am sure that Dawkins will have no difficulty in lowering his future expectation so that it more accurately reflects the empirical evidence. And he might do so even though “the vast majority of cases were in the past” because it is not as if they could be anywhere else.
However, for my own part, I think I shall abstain from expecting that an Emeritus Fellow and retired Professor for Public Understanding of Science be at the “cutting edge” of evolutionary biology. I would not wish to incorporate a false premise into my own arguments.

R. Thomas, Newcastle upon Tyne

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Tariq Ramadan – reactionary bigot – to give Orwell Lecture

November 13, 2013 at 1:04 am (academe, Andrew Coates, AWL, celebrity, From the archives, homophobia, Human rights, humanism, intellectuals, islamism, Middle East, misogyny, murder, palestine, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", relativism, religion, secularism, strange situations, women)

TR

Above: Prof Ramadan

Comrade Coatesy draws our attention to the unspeakably depressing fact that Tariq Ramadan (Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at St Antony’s College, Oxford and poster-boy for supposedly “moderate” Islamism) has been chosen deliver this year’s Orwell Lecture.

Now, Orwell was no saint, and certainly had his prejudices and blind-spots. He can reasonably be accused of a degree of sexism and homophobia. There are passages in his writings that have been considered anti-Semitic. He was a child of his time, and did not always rise above the prevalent backwardness of that time. But he was aware of his weaknesses and seems to have made genuine efforts to fight his inner demons. He was nothing if not scrupulously honest, self-critical (to a degree that sometimes played into the hands of his enemies), and humanist. He was also hostile to all forms of totalitarianism, religion and spirituality, despite a sentimental soft spot for the rituals of the C of E. All of which makes the choice of Professor Ramadan to deliver the lecture named after him, especially unfortunate.

The French revolutionary socialist and Marxist Yves Coleman wrote a trenchant critique of Ramadan back in 2007, published by Workers Liberty. We republish it below, preceded by Workers Liberty‘s introduction. Given Ramadan’s evident popularity not just on sections of the “left”, but also with Guardianista-liberals, and his selection as the Orwell lecturer, this is a timely reminder of just how unpleasant his underlying politics are:
**********************

“40 reasons why Tariq Ramadan is a reactionary bigot” was written by the French Marxist, Yves Coleman and has been reproduced by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL). The text presents factual information about the politics of Tariq Ramadan.

There are many issues the Left must address.

First is the question of honest polemic.

Useful political debate requires clearly presented political positions and an attempt to honestly engage with opponents.

And yet Yves Coleman believes that it almost impossible to either ‘catch’ or ‘corner’ Tariq Ramadan. He is difficult to pin down. The reason is simple: Tariq Ramadan often says one thing to one group, and something different, or contradictory, elsewhere.

This slipperiness connects with the second issue for the left.

No doubt, given the support Ramadan has on the “left”, there will be further “left” attempts to refute the damning contents of this document. However, it will not be good enough to answer Yves Coleman by producing further quotes from Ramadan.

It just won’t do to reply to the reactionary statements Ramadan has made on the issue of women’s rights, for example, by presenting other quotes suggesting he is a liberal on the question (and so implying Ramadan can’t have made the statements cited by Yves Coleman without having to address the quotes directly). Ramadan might well have made both the reactionary and the liberal statements. As Yves Coleman shows, on many issues Ramadan has done exactly that.

It will not do to protest that Ramadan is more liberal-minded, less rigidly reactionary than extreme Islamist groups like Hizb-ut Tahrir. He is. Mainstream Catholic ideologues are less rigidly reactionary than the Tridentines. They are still not allies for the left.

Nor will it do to try to change the question by saying that the left has also had Christian preachers sometimes share platforms with it to denounce apartheid or war. The left will work with campaigners who may be Muslims on the same basis. But Tariq Ramadan’s left-wing friends promote him not because he has campaigned on some progressive political issue (and despite his Islamic ideas), but because he is a (sometimes left-sounding) Islamic ideologue, regardless of him doing nothing for progressive politics other than making bland statements against poverty and so on.

The only possible “left” responses to this document are: to attempt to prove Coleman has mis-quoted Ramadan; or to attempt to explain away Ramadan’s statements (by claiming some sort of special privilege for Muslim bigots); or to accept Ramadan is a reactionary.

Third is the peculiar fact – one which Yves Coleman notes in his text – that the left finds no problem in condemning Catholic reactionaries, but often praises and promotes Islamic reactionaries such as Ramadan who have similar views. Criticisms of Tariq Ramadan are often called “Islamophobic”. But we do not say that Ramadan is worse than a Catholic reactionary because he is Muslim rather than Catholic. We only say that a Muslim reactionary is no more defensible than a Catholic reactionary.

The problem is that large sections of the left have degenerated and decayed to such an extent that they become unable to differentiate between critics of existing society who offer a positive alternative to capitalism (the working-class, class-struggle left), and those critics who are backward-looking reactionaries.

The kitsch-left has – seemingly – forgotten what it positively stands for, and can only remember what it is against (Blair, Israel and, most of all, America). Since Islamists are against Israel and the USA, and Catholic reactionaries generally are not, the kitsch-left thinks the Islamists are progressive. Or that Ramadan, a Swiss university professor, is the best person to invite to be a “Voice of the Global South” at the European Social Forum, precisely because he is an Islamic ideologue.

It is organisations such as the SWP – which found itself unable to condemn 9/11, and which supports the so-called resistance in Iraq – that promote Ramadan.

Forth is to understand Ramadan’s project.

Yves Coleman writes: “The basic thing is that Ramadan wants is to enlarge the power of control or religion on society. Ramadan always invokes French racism (which exists and can not be denied) and colonial history to explain the hostility he provokes in France. In this he is partly right, but what is at stake is the meaning of secularism. For him (as well as for the SWP and its French followers) secularism means that all religions are treated equally by the State and are respected. For the French Republican tradition, it means something different: it means (in theory) that people should not express religious views in the public sphere (in their job, in the schools, in Parliament, etc.) and should keep their religious views to the private sphere. That’s where the difference lies.

“Ramadan may not be a fundamentalist of the worst sort but he is clearly training a whole generation of religious cadres who are trying to change the content of secularism in France in a more pro-religious direction.”

Fifth is to understand the role Ramadan is playing in NUS.

Behind Ramadan – urbane, reasonable sounding – stand the Islamists of the MAB/Muslim Brothers.

Ramadan is the reasonable face of Islamic politics, and he is the thin end of the wedge.

Finally, we need to understand that attempts to shout down Marxist critics of Ramadan with demagogic accusations of “Islamophobia” and even “racism” are absurd.

Discrimination and even violence against Muslims are real. We oppose such bigotry.

However we also demand women’s liberation, gay liberation. The AWL is an atheist organisation, and fights for secular values. Therefore we will not ignore Ramadan’s bigotry or backwardness.

*******************
40 reasons why Tariq Ramadan is a reactionary bigot
By Yves Coleman

Tariq Ramadan often complains that the media accuse him of being two-faced. He considers that this critique is a plain racist slander in the line of the eternal cliché about so-called Arab “deceitfulness”. If we read Mr Ramadan’s writings we reach a much simpler conclusion: Tariq Ramadan is a sincere Muslim who defends reactionary positions on a number of issues, but that does not prevent him from holding critical views on many injustices, while being fundamentally a moderate in politics.

Just as Pope John Paul II condemned the “excesses of capitalism”, unemployment, greed, poverty, the war in Iraq and the way Israel treats the Palestinians.

Only somebody who has never thought about about the function of religions (of all religions) can be surprised by this coexistence of different interpretations of the world: a faith in myths (as in the Bible, Torah, Quran, Upanishads, etc.) and absurd superstitions; a use of reason in many daily (manual and intellectual) activities ; a sincere revolt against all injustices; a misogynist and homophobic moralism; a need for dreams and utopias, etc.

Revolutionaries do not question Tariq Ramadan’s right to defend his religious beliefs, or to proselytise. After all, as he rightly notes, nobody in France is scandalized by the constant propaganda waged by missionaries like Mother Teresa or Sister Emmanuelle in Asia. Nobody protests against the repeated presence of Sister Emmanuelle, Cardinal Lustinger (former cardinal in charge of Paris) and other priests, nuns and monks in all sorts of French TV shows and programs.

Nor is this a matter of a theological dispute with somebody who is always going to know Islam better than any “Western” atheist.

What we insist on is that there are other interpretations of Islam, from Muslims who are much more democratic and secular than Ramadan.

And we reject the dishonest gambit used by this Swiss philosophy lecturer to deflect criticism: each time a Muslim intellectual defends an opinion which is different from his, it is because she or he is “westernized”, has adopted a “West-centred vision”, or worse, has sold out to imperialist, colonialist and racist Western powers.

Revolutionaries do not claim that Tariq Ramadan holds reactionary positions on all issue. We simply ask his “left-wing” friends not to knowingly dissimulate his obscurantist positions and not to dismiss in advance the positions of other Muslims who are much less conservative than him as regards morals, secularism and all the issues of daily life.

This dissimulation comes sometimes from a unworthy paternalism (“he will shift as he comes into contact with us”), sometimes from a manipulative approach (“we are not interested in him, but in the immigrants he influences”), and sometimes from a political vision which blurs all class divisions (“the confluence of all anti-capitalist movements”, the “revolt of the multitudes”, and other such rubbish), sometimes from the cynical relativism of disillusioned former adherents of dialectical materialism (“after all, no-one knows whether scientific truths exist”), and sometimes from a “Third Worldism” which has still not given up on the Stalinist illusion of “socialism in one country”.

In all these cases, such hypocritical attitudes to Ramadan’s bigotry do a disservice to workers who still believe in Islam but who also want to fight against capitalism. And after all, as revolutionaries, it is those “Muslims” who interest us.

Tariq Ramadan does not approve of flirting, sex before (or outside) marriage, homosexuality, women’s contraception or divorce. He thinks that Muslim women should submit to their husbands if they are “good” Muslims. He believes that men must be financially responsible for the well-being of their family, and not women. In other words, Tariq Ramadan is opposed to or equivocal about feminism, women’s rights, gay rights and sexual liberation. One should also have strong doubts about his respect of the freedom of speech and thought: in Switzerland he contributed to a campaign against a Voltaire play, and he wants Muslim parents to control the content of State school programs according to “Islamic values”, to give only two examples. But that does not prevent him from constantly using the key words of today’s public relations industry: “respect”, “tolerance”, “communication” and “dialogue” in the manner of a cynical politician.

What a strange friend for the Left! Read the rest of this entry »

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Malala Yousafzai and “the Brown Man’s Honor Complex”

November 9, 2013 at 3:36 pm (conspiracy theories, good people, Human rights, misogyny, Pakistan, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", relativism, secularism, solidarity, terror, women, youth)

It’s fairly well known that some people in Pakistan hate Malala Yousafzai and sympathise with the Taliban barbarians who tried to murder her. Other elements deal in conspiracy theories to the effect that she wasn’t really shot at all and the whole thing was some sort of elaborate conspiracy by “Western” forces, etc.

But such opinions are not confined to backward elements in the Swat Valley. In Britain, Malala has her detractors, peddling even more pernicious conspiracy theories – more pernicious because they’re dressed up in the pseudo-sophisticated language of post-colonial studies, third-worldism and cultural/political relativism.

A classic example of such loathsome, wheedling, dishonesty and de facto appeasement of clerical fascism, is a piece by one Assed Baig that first appeared on the Huffington Post website, entitled ‘Malala Yousafzai and the White Saviour Complex.’ It effectively sums up the poisonous politics that lie behind much of the Chomskyite/Saidite so-called “left” (and Guardianista liberal-”left”) that has come to the fore in British, European and US w-w-wadical circles in recent years. A fuller version of the article is published here.

For those who cannot bring themselves to read the article (though you should), the following gives a pretty good flavour:

“There is no justifying the brutal actions of the Taliban or the denial of the universal right to education, however there is a deeper more historic narrative that is taking place here.

“This is a story of a native girl being saved by the white man. Flown to the UK, the Western world can feel good about itself as they save the native woman from the savage men of her home nation. It is a historic racist narrative that has been institutionalised. Journalists and politicians were falling over themselves to report and comment on the case. The story of an innocent brown child that was shot by savages for demanding an education and along comes the knight in shining armour to save her.”

But a pretty strong reply has since appeared, nailing Assed’s hypocrisy, dishonesty, relativism and sexism in the matter of Malala. We’re pleased to reproduce it below:
________________________________________________________________________

Silencing Malala Yousafzai and “the Brown Man’s Honor Complex”

By Meriam Sabih

-a reply to ‘Malala Yousafzai and the White Saviour Complex.’

“I want to give my message to Pakhtoons, to educate their sons and daughters. Not just school, work on them so they treat every human being well…Teach them tolerance. Teach them how to tolerate the ideas of others and how to live in coexistence with others.”– Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai at the Global Education First...Malala Yousafzai at the Global Education First Initiative anniversary event (Photo credit: United Nations Information Centres)

In a Pakistani interview long before she became a household name, outspoken Malala shared her dreams of becoming a politician, gave advice on foreign policy (yes including drones), and thanked the Pakistani Army for their successful operation in Swat. Malala was a force to be reckoned with long before the Taliban shot her in the head for speaking out for the education of girls. And despite their best efforts, she is an even greater force to be reckoned with now.

Assed Baig in his article, “Malala and the White Saviour Complex” failed to understand the universality of Malala’s message and did not give her the credit that she deserves. This is not the story of “the weak native girl being saved by the white man,” it is the story of the bravest girl in the world. A girl with a voice so powerful she had to be eliminated. The West didn’t offer Malala protection when she was receiving daily death threats nor did a knight in shining armor rescue her when she stood face to face with the Taliban. She endured these threats alone without the tactical support of the world’s largest armies; let alone a bullet proof vest or a bodyguard.

Baig argues that although her message is true and profound it has been “hijacked by the West.” Therefore this coverage must be scorned and vilified. His very masculinity as a brown man and worldview in which the West must remain the enemy are brought into question when Malala receives a warm welcome by the international community. How can the West be the enemy and then do any real good? He cannot fathom doctors, activists, institutions, and politicians around the world engaged in humanitarian work unrelated to a larger racist narrative.

More troubling, he can not fathom Malala being a true inspiration to the West. As she spoke from the podium of the United Nations inspiring millions by her words as the likes of Pakistan’s little Mother Teresa — others such as Baig felt a sense of shame that a native girl stood on a world stage “unveiling” herself as the poster child for a narrative which dishonors the brown man.

Does Baig realize he is identifying every brown man with the Taliban? At the UN Malala demanded the strongest leaders in the world “…to change their strategic policies in favour of peace and prosperity,” as she averred the urgency to protect the rights of women and children. Since being attacked she has not hesitated a single day in speaking out against the Taliban. In meeting with President Obama, Malala reiterated the concerns back home about drone attacks. One wonders if a Muslim man had made such a fearless litany of demands to both world leaders and terrorists alike would Baig and others have referred to him as a “tool for the West” or celebrated him as a hero?

Remnants of Baig’s distrust eerily reminded me the rambling letter Taliban Commander Adnan Rashid wrote to Malala explaining that every perceived Western good must have within it a sinister plot, a suspicion so deep and twisted that he justifies the killing of polio workers and education activists. He offered Malala a safe return to Pakistan only if she study Quran at a Madrassa and reject a western education. He too accused Malala of being easily swayed and “using her tongue at the behest of others” depriving her of her own agency and ideas.

Similarly Baig’s argument seeks to confine Malala and place restrictions lest she become impure with Western exposure, sympathy, or indoctrination. Though it was the Pakistani military who cleared Swat from the hands of the Taliban and the Pakistani military doctors which removed the bullet from Malala’s head, Baig continues in making even her medical treatment in England a means of shame for the native brown man. Such divisive attitudes seek to perpetuate a cycle of hate, cynicism, and distrust. There seems to be no room in such a world view for reconciliation, redemption, or working together with “the white man” for common goals.

Furthermore it is a sexist narrative. Vilifying coverage of Malala’s message is another attempt to silence her. Comparing her to victims of violence who were not specifically targeted for their fierce activism (literally called out by name and shot in the head for only that reason alone) doesn’t make sense, even though their deaths are tragic and wrong. Extremists have intentionally killed far more people in Pakistan than any drone. They have deliberately destroyed countless Pakistani schools and vow to continue doing so. And if we are comparing, how many schools have the Taliban built?

As Malala Yousafzai stood on the world’s stage, she paid homage to her culture, her religion, her heroes, and her dreams. Her eloquent voice aligned with those of countless other girls whom she spoke for, and imagining them all standing before her gave her peace. Far from needing a savior she embodied a remarkable image of Muslim female leadership and power — she was the savior — the likes of that of Benazir Bhutto — Pakistan’s first female Prime Minister, her ideal, and another woman attacked and killed by the Taliban. Her message remains that we must join hands with all people from all walks of life who support education, and that includes Gordon Brown. It echoes the highest ideals of her heroes who taught mercy, unity, forgiveness, reconciliation even with one’s staunchest foes, and also called for non-violence.

“Our words can change the whole world because we are all together, united for the cause of education. And if we want to achieve our goal, then let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge and let us shield ourselves with unity and togetherness…” Malala Yousafzia

Malala’s dreams have not been hijacked, she has been given the largest global platform in order for her to amplify her voice. Why should that disgust us? Shouldn’t it make us proud? It is not just the West, but also the East which lauded her with praise. Pakistan’s former President has awarded her the highest national award in Pakistan and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has named her the Education Envoy for the country. If Gordon Brown, now the UN special envoy for Global education is presently ‘using’ Malala, it is certainly not to spearhead another war, but to grant free primary education to all children — a campaign that Malala along with other Muslim Nations fully supports.

By denigrating Malala’s profound message as “western propaganda” Baig and those like him are doing far more to try to rob Malala’s dreams before they even come to fruition simply because it’s not the kind of “so-called propaganda” they would like highlighted.  Yet the irony of such sensationalism is that had the media largely ignored Malala’s story, Baig would be outraged that the image of a courageous Muslim fighting terrorism instead of promoting it is not deemed news worthy. And had she succumbed to her wounds, the media frenzy around her would not have amounted to some sinister plot to use her as a “tool.”

Yes there are hundreds and thousands of girls like Malala who struggle, who are robbed of an education, who are silenced, and whom Malala now speaks for. But as fate has it, there is only one Malala Yousafzai the captivating activist, just as there was one Hellen Keller, one Benazir Bhutto, and one Martin Luther King. The world needs heroes because of their innate leadership qualities, electrifying charm, and resolute unshakable commitment to their dreams that make them stand apart from every crowd and inspire us all to higher ideals. Even the Taliban could long see that Malala is no ordinary girl, but is intensely special, and that’s why they still want her dead.

Those who want to paint Malala as an easily influenced “tool” and not as a strong young Muslim woman driving an inspirational campaign have failed to really listen to her message. They failed to know who Malala is and to know the message she has always stood for. We face a grave danger to our own advancement as a society if we label brave female activists who use an international platform as ‘tools’ or ‘traitors’ hurling an attack on the native man’s honor. Shouldn’t we instead rally to their causes as their biggest supporters as opposed to being cynical of their fame, and even join in applauding them when the world takes notice of our own heroes? Whose side are we on?

Meriam Sabih has a BA is English and Psychology from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

Follow Meriam Sabih on Twitter: https://twitter.com/@meriamsabih

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The Cruel Cut: the barbarism of FGM

November 7, 2013 at 11:58 pm (child abuse, Guardian, Human rights, internationalism, Jim D, reactionay "anti-imperialism", relativism, secularism, television, women)

I missed Wednesday night’s Channel 4 documentary by Leyla Hussein on FMG (female genital mutilation). Fortunately, there are several excerpts available on YouTube, of which this is one:

We also have a helpful review by Zoe Williams in the Graun, which includes the following:

Another caper saw Hussein demonstrate the perils of political correctness by asking people on a high street to sign a petition in favour of FGM, on the basis that it “keeps us clean, it keeps me pure” (19 people did and only one refused). She was terrifically upset at the end of it, in tears, saying: “I can’t believe people would sign this petition.” And that makes a sound point about the relativism in gender politics now, where all the people who should naturally be defending women against the barbarism committed in the name of purity are instead looking the other way, fearful of an accidental alliance with Richard “When did you last see a poppy on a burqa?” Littlejohn. Hussein is right; what a shocking waste of “cultural sensitivity”, for it to be used as a cover for avoidance, the genuine disregard for the suffering of other cultures

When even the Graun attacks relativism, and calls barbarism by its right name,  you know that humanity and universal enlightenment values are winning the day.

* End FGM: Amnesty’s European campaign against this barbarity: http://www.endfgm.eu/en/
* Stop FGM in the UK: https://twitter.com/intent/user?screen_name=stopFGM&original_referer=http://inagist.com/all/398383442590564352/?utm_source=inagist&utm_medium=rss

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