Warsi on secularism: Cameron’s ‘useful canary’?

February 19, 2012 at 5:01 pm (Catholicism, Christianity, intellectuals, Islam, Jim D, populism, religion, religious right, secularism, Tory scum)

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6: 5-6)

When Lady Warsi came out with her denunciation of “militant secularism” allegedly  “denying people the right to a religious identity” in Britain and Europe, my initial reaction  was to treat it as self-evident bollocks from a self-evident dim-wit, unworthy of further comment.

I’ll leave aside for the moment the fact that Warsi’s comments were delivered during an official visit to the Vatican – an outfit responsible for the systematic  cover-up of  mass  child-rape and torture by its own clergy, as well as the appeasement of Hitler and collaboration with Franco’s Spain, Tiso’s Slovakia and Pavelic’s Croatia. No, what struck me as self-evidently preposterous was that Wasi could claim that religion is being victimised at a time when, in Britain:

* Christianity (specifically the C of E) remains the state religion, with reserved seats in the legislature.

* “Religion or Belief” (but in practice, just religion) has legal protection in employment matters and religious organisations are exempted from other aspects of equality legislation.

* One third of state schools are run by religions (mainly, but not only the C of E), while religions are busy setting up ‘free schools’ where they will have something close to a free hand to promote their dogma within the curriculum.

* More and more ‘outsourced’ social service provision is being given to religious organisations, who are then free to proselytize to vulnerable clients.

* Religion is given a free plug (Thought for the Day) in the middle of the national broadcaster’s flagship news programme every weekday.

Hardly a picture of religion being “sidelined, marginalised and downgraded in the public sphere” (Warsi’s words), is it?

The other self-evidently (at least to me) preposterous aspect of Warsi’s ignorant and self-righteous bleating wes her use of words like “militant” and “intolerant.” Does she know what these words mean? Compare are contrast:

* The National Secular Society brings a court case against Bideford Council, to stop it holding prayers as part of its official business (councillors would, of course, remain free to pray before or after meetings if they so choose).

* At Queen Mary College last month a meeting had to be called off when a man came in, filmed the audience and threatened to “hunt down” anyone who he considered had insulted his religion.

Who, exactly are the “intolerant”, “militant” people at large in Britain today, Lady Warsi? Secularists, with their occasional legal actions, petitions and letters to the Guardian, or violent religious fanatics threatening people, picketing plays and demanding the banning of books? And that’s not to mention suicide-bombings.

As for the wider world, who is it terrorising Christians in Africa, the Middle East and Asia (where physical attacks have risen by over 300% between 2003 and 2010)? Secularists or religious people? Surely even Wasi knows (or can guess at) the answer to that.

Sadly, it seems that Warsi’s arguments have not been laughed out of court, at least not by the ‘intelligensia’ (the picture amongst the general public, and even most self-identifying ‘Christians’ seems to be more encouraging – further proof of the contention sometimes attributed to Orwell, that “There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them”). A large part of the problem seems to be a confusion between secularism and atheism. Just as all cows are animals but not all animals are cows, so it goes with atheists and secularists. As Dave explains here,  secularism is no more and no less than the seperation of church (or mosque or synagogue) and state –  far and away the best arrangement for religious freedom. Julian Baggini makes the same point here, though in my opinion he is too willing to concede the maintenance of religious privilege in the public sphere.

It has certainly come to something when a leading liberal intellectual like Will Hutton (in today’s Observer) clearly doesn’t understand what secularism is (“Secularism unsupported by atheism is nonsensical,” quoth he) and has to be put right by Richard Dawkins, who has always been clear on the distiction between atheism and secularism, even while he is an outspoken advocate of both:

“Secularism unsupported by atheism is nonsensical.’ Really? You mean the US first amendment is nonsense? The Indian constitution? Their idealist founders enshrined secularism in those constitutions because they wanted all religions to be free: no religion should dominate; no religion should impose. Secularism is supremely liberal, the epitome of tolerance, and you, Will, should be the first to treasure it.

“Gandhi’s and ML King’s inner strength may well have come from religious conviction but they were passionate secularists because they believed religion was a private matter – inner, indeed – and an area in which, for everyone’s sake, it was important that the state remained neutral.”

Read the rest of this fascinating exchange here.

But my main mistake on Wasi was to assume that her Valentine’s Day message to fellow-bigot Benedict XVI was merely a frolic of her own. As Polly Toynbee (not someone I often quote with approval) has suggested, “For Cameron, Lady Warsi may be a useful canary: testing if American flag-and-faith culture wars might fly over here.”

Yes, the more you think about it the more it makes sense: Cameron’s too canny and sophisticated to be seen to advocate a turn to US-style religious bigotry and anti-science ignorance in British public life. But Warsi: she’s just the canary for the job.


  1. Rosie said,

    When the Pope came to Edinburgh, he moaned about the secularism of the UK and Europe. Of course if secularism hadn’t spread, the cheeky old bugger would not be able to set one foot in Edinburgh without howling Presbyterian mobs acting much like a crowd of Muslim rage boys against cartoons of Mohammed.

    Similarly, Warsi should consider what it would be like if the UK was a devoutly Christian country as it used to be. She wouldn’t be allowed to take part in politics unless she was baptised – as Jews were excluded until 1858.

    “In 1858 came the emancipation of the Jews and a change in the Christian oath required of all members of Parliament.”

    When Jews did stand for Parliament their opponents thought it hilarious to demonstrate by waving legs of ham. Imagine how a Muslim would have been greeted.

    Of course as a woman she wouldn’t be allowed to open her yap either. The Abrahamic religions have always found divine sanction for women not opening their yaps on public affairs.

    However, the general public in Britain seems to dislike people who make too much of their religion or their atheism – it’s thought to be embarrassing to go on about either, and that is probably the best attitude for keeping sectarian peace.

  2. SteveH said,

    It is page one (or maybe two) for socialists to call for seperation of church and state and in Britain you are correct to hold Warsi to account…………………but this kind of argumentation is poor:

    “who is it terrorising Christians in Africa, the Middle East and Asia (where physical attacks have risen by over 300% between 2003 and 2010)? Secularists or religious people?”

    Firstly, isn’t Nigeria a secular society for example, or at least one in name? The Islamists have argued that Nigeria isn’t a secular society when justifying Islamic banking for example. The point is that calls for secularism don’t really address the ills of society, they are a nice liberal milestone (which I support) and nothing much else.

    Also we tend to be immune from some of the more drastic affects of global production and speculation, we don’t have to worry about access to clean water or kerosene scarcity for example. Religious conflict often hides deeper motives and no amount of secularism can remedy conflict over resources. The surface is not always the reality.

  3. Clive said,

    SteveH observes that secularism isn’t the same as socialism (or even social democracy). Well spotted.

  4. SteveH said,

    No I observed the fact that this blog ditches dialectical materialist analysis at the drop of a hat to score cheap points. Try to keep up Clive!

  5. charliethechulo said,

    SteveH clearly doesn’t understand the dialectic…

    …But the dialectic understands him.

  6. SteveH said,


    you are babbling again in that witless way of yours.

  7. charliethechulo said,

    you are babbling again in that witless way of yours.

    And your point is, Mr H?

    (Never forget: THE DIALECTIC *understands* you, Mr H)

  8. SteveH said,

    I am sure this means something to you ChuChu and you believe you are being very clever. I can assure you that is not the case, I can even say this without knowing what you are babbling on about. Call it experience!

  9. charliethechulo said,

    Never forget, H: THE DIALECTIC *understands* you…and is *interested* in you.

    Do you *really* not understand?


    And now I ask the reader: where are the dialectical frills and mazes and conceptual arabesques; where the mixed and misconceived ideas according to which everything is all one and the same thing in the end; where the dialectical miracles for his faithful followers; where the mysterious dialectical rubbish and the maze in accordance with the Hegelian Logos doctrine, without which Marx, according to Herr Dühring, is unable to put his exposition into shape? Marx merely shows from history, and here states in a summarised form, that just as formerly petty industry by its very development necessarily created the conditions of its own annihilation, i.e., of the expropriation of the small proprietors, so now the capitalist mode of production has likewise itself created the material conditions from which it must perish. The process is a historical one, and if it is at the same time a dialectical process, this is not Marx’s fault, however annoying it may be to Herr Dühring.

    It is only at this point, after Marx has completed his proof on the basis of historical and economic facts, that he proceeds:

    “The capitalist mode of production and appropriation, hence the capitalist private property, is the first negation of individual private property founded on the labour of the proprietor. Capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a process of nature, its own negation. It is the negation of the negation” — and so on.

    Thus, by characterising the process as the negation of the negation, Marx does not intend to prove that the process was historically necessary. On the contrary: only after he has proved from history that in fact the process has partially already occurred, and partially must occur in the future, he in addition characterises it as a process which develops in accordance with a definite dialectical law. That is all. It is therefore once again a pure distortion of the facts by Herr Dühring when he declares that the negation of the negation has to serve here as the midwife to deliver the future from the womb of the past, or that Marx wants anyone to be convinced of the necessity of the common ownership of land and capital (which is itself a Dühringian contradiction in corporeal form) on the basis of credence in the negation of the negation.

  10. Innocent Abroad said,

    Well, on this thread it’s only taken six comments before we are reduced to personal abuse.

    Why should anyone bother to make a reasoned point when this goes on here all the time?

  11. Jim Denham said,

    Innocent: we have no control over commenters, beyond banning them. We do that periodically, to Mr H, but like the bad penny he always turns up again. Possibly because of a lack of social life.

    Anyway: don’t let that put you off if you have a sensible comment to make.

  12. SteveH said,


    so you can copy and paste, I still fail to grasp your point? What does this have to do with the fact that this site drops the Marxist method at the drop of a hat to score cheap points?

  13. SteveH said,

    Oh and innocent abroad you clearly can’t count as the abuse started at comment number 3 and then restarted at comment 5. This was done in order to undermine my perfectly reasonable argument in comment 2. And it was the old tactic of undermining by ridicule, and ridicule is abuse you know.

    As for social life, I have not been on this site for nearly a week due to my social life actually. I do not spend my life on the net like you lot clearly do!

  14. Jim Denham said,

    SteveH: It’s *what* I cut and paste that matters: try reading it. You will learn stuff.

    While we’re at it, you should also try having another go at the Communist Manifesto, especially Part III (“Reactionary Socialism”), which on the evidence you haven’t quite got the hang of yet.

    I’ll be glad to help you in your studies. When your vibrant social life allows, of course.

  15. Innocent Abroad said,

    [10] Thanks, Jim. I’m still puzzling over why some blogs – this one and Sunny Hundal’s come to mind immediately – seem to attract abusive comments whilst others – which I won’t name for the obvious reason – do not. FWIW I think Rosie’s said most of what I wanted to say.

    Except for this: if it was alright for Augustine to convert pagan Britain to his religion 1500 years ago or so, why shouldn’t Muslims living here to-day also dream of much the same?

  16. Clive said,

    SteveH – I don’t really think what I said was abusive. Sarcastic, sure. But my point stands. I think your argument is reductive, and you could say it about pretty much anything. (Try, say: what’s the point in talking about democratic rights, when people face terrible social problems which need answers? What’s the point in talking about art…?)

  17. SteveH said,

    “I’ll be glad to help you in your studies. When your vibrant social life allows, of course.”

    If I was a social recluse with bad personal hygiene I would not take up that offer thanks! But for your information my personal life is more than vibrant, I only come here to get a rest.

    Clive – my point still stands, the argumentation I specifically highlighted was imho poor because it was designed to be a cheap shot, and in doing so was seriously flawed. I really do not understand your point about it being reductive, I believe the paragraph I highlighted was fundamentally unsound.

    My first comment had not a single whiff of abuse, it was an honest assessment, the repsonse from the posse was the usual smart arsed insults rather than any engagement. I don’t mind that, I can take it and give it but when you then turn around and accuse me of being the one to reduce this to insults I can only say the posse always stick together, Pathetic really, no wonder every debate on this site turns into a slanging match.

  18. Jim Denham said,

    SteveH: “I only come here to get a rest”

    Steve, why not give the rest of us a rest. And stop coming here?

    Your vibrant social life awaits.

  19. Faster Pussycat Miaow Miaow Miaow! said,

    Blah blah blah …. posse …. blah …. posse …. blah blah …. stick together …. blah blah blah.

    Posse? Wherefore is this posse of which you drone incessantly about? It doesn’t exist.

    It is merely that some people are able to identify blue-green algae when they see it.

  20. Andrew Coates said,

    I for one am flatered that us militant secularists are doing so well, and not least for the term which, modesty forbids me from mentioning in too much detail, someone in Tendance Coatesy had a hand in phrasing a few years back in the journal What Next?

    Hutton’s arguments in the Observer were pitifully ignorant.

    For one thing the pillar of French secularism is one wing of the Freemasons (the radical one).

    They are of course left (a handful are evenTrotksyists). But many hold to the old Deist stand (like Voltaire) about the ‘Great Architect’.

    And, believe it or not, they are even more militant about secularism than TC.

    As for Nigeria, Jim”s comments are spot on.

    If we want a historical materialist account of the country and region we could reflect on the long history of the Moslem slave states in the Islamic north. That would give one part of the explanation for their religious fervour and resentment at Christians and ‘pagans’.

    These Sharia based states continued, with the endorsement of the British Empire, well into the 20th century.

  21. Jimmy said,

    Rosie. You should not assume Britain was devoutly Christian. People had to keep quiet about their opinions or else. The old minister or dirty beast coming to your door is long gone and thank fuck for that. Sponging bastards they were and keeping the lower classes in their place.

  22. SteveH said,

    I just want to address Jim’s social life comment because I think an assumption lies at the heart of it. And I guess it is an assumption that comes from joining a cult.

    I did not come into socialism because I am some ugly fucker with zero social skills trying to find somewhere to fit in but because I am working class and my parents were active trade unionists. My upbringing wasn’t spent in some communist cult among unwashed work shy revolutionaries debating the true meaning of the communist manifesto and plotting the next revolution while the actual working class just get on with their social ife unaware the cult even exists.

    So the reason I come to this shit infested sight is by an accident of birth but, hey, thems the breaks!

  23. Jim Denham said,

    Accidents of birth should not, of course, confer any degree of worth as far as democrats are concerned. Thought, education (including self-education) and political choices are what matter for socialists.

    • Innocent Abroad said,

      Would you say that about race, gender and sexual orientation, too, Jim?

  24. Faster Pussycat Miaow Miaow Miaow! said,

    My upbringing wasn’t spent in some communist cult among unwashed work shy revolutionaries debating the true meaning of the communist manifesto and plotting the next revolution while the actual working class just get on with their social ife unaware the cult even exists.

    unwashed … work shy … actual working class …


  25. SteveH said,

    I didn’t bring up accident of birth to give it some greater value just to put to bed your assumptions, no doubt conceived from too much time spent in cults with cunts.

    Having said that the Communist manifesto has something to say on accident of birth when it says the capitalist creates his own gravedigger, the proletariat! But then again, the communist manifesto is a rather polemical piece and should not be quoted like holy scripture!

  26. Jim Denham said,

    “Would you say that about race, gender and sexual orientation, too, Jim?”


  27. Faster Pussycat Miaow Miaow Miaow! said,

    SteveH wins Tory Bingo hands down. He missed out ‘professional protesters’ and ‘common sense’, so unfortunately no bonus points there for him.

  28. Pause for Thought… for the Day « Max Dunbar said,

    […] Its definitions are problematic. The report defines respondents as being either a ‘religious exclusivist’ a ‘religious pluralist’ or a ‘non religious secular’. The ‘seculars’ are further defined as people who ‘did not identify as religious’, ‘did not consider themselves religious’ and believe that ‘None of the great religions have any truths to offer’. This runs counter to secularism as it’s been understood throughout history – you don’t have to be an atheist to be secular, you just need to accept a basic separation of truth and state. Secularism welcomes everyone who isn’t trying to destroy it. This isn’t the first incidence of high liberal confusion over first principles. […]

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