Sunday, July 27, 2008

Restrict Religious Groups?

I don't think so. Take a look at this:

Four out of 10 Muslim students in Britain support the introduction of sharia into UK law for Muslims, according to a YouGov poll. Almost a third of them said that killing in the name of religion was justified; 40% said they felt it was unacceptable for Muslim men and women to associate freely; and nearly a quarter do not think that men and women are equal in the eyes of Allah.

A quarter of Muslim students said they had little or no respect for homosexuals. As for whether British Muslim servicemen should be allowed to opt out of hostilities with Muslim countries, 57% said they should and a further 25% said they were not sure.

More than half of the Muslim students were in favour of an Islamic political party to support their views in parliament. A third don’t think or don’t know whether Islam is compatible with the western notion of democracy, and a third said they were in favour of a worldwide Islamic caliphate based on sharia.

Alarmed? From the words, you're clearly supposed to be. An Islamic political party? What a terrible thing. Next thing you know we'll have a Calvinist as Prime Minister...and a quarter of Muslim students with little or no respect for gay people? Why not try canvassing Christian students and see if you get an even bigger number! And speaking of Christians, Muslim servicemen should 'opt out' of hostilities with Muslim countries? Gosh you'll get civil registrars and policemen trying to opt out of their secular duties next.

What follows inescapably from this is that religious people and their views should not be officially recognised in groups. Religion should not be allowed a public space or public representation. This is hard for those of us who used to love the muddled Anglican compromise; it means the disestablishment of our national church – if it doesn’t self-destruct first.

The challenge of other, fiercer and more divisive convictions has forced the issue; multiculturalism has been subversive. There must be no more religious schools – personally I would leave those that exist alone. There must be no public recognition of religious associations as representatives of anything or anybody: not on campuses, not in student unions, not in government consultations or in parliament.

Absolute hogwash, and I say that as an atheist. Whilst I agree that Church and state should indeed be separated, this argument is tantamount to advocating that all MPs should be atheists, which is ridiculous. But for religion to have no public space at all would be insane. In a recent talk I watched by Bishop Gene Robinson, he and Sir Ian McKellen jointly argued that we can only progress together in society - that means atheist lobbyists working alongside gay bishops, that mean civil rights and religious rites side by side, but not one excluding the other. Only by making the civil and religious spheres distinct can we see the deficiencies in both and how each can aid the other.

Sure it's past time for the sake of fairness in society (for Muslims and non-Muslims alike) that disestablishment should take place, but to then say that religion should as a result wither on the vine would be ignorant. And to exclude religion from places of learning is downright inane. I agree that it should not be the means of learning (you're right, I think faith schools should be stopped - by which I mean Anglican and Catholic ones too), but not to allow its free expression by those best able to articulate it would be the most dangerous act of extremism of all.

Yet how can young Muslims fit into a liberal western democracy if they believe things that are intolerant, illegal and, in plain English, unBritish?

There's that fear thing again - the writer blaming Muslims for attitudes widely held by Christians. Want Islamophobia? That's how it's transmitted. Try attacking the levels of domestic violence and rape perpetrated by chuchgoing Christians. Try attacking the Christian Institute for trying to change the law to allow religious opt-outs such as Lillian Ladele's disgraceful example in Islington. And for that matter if we really don't like dictators maybe we should try to oust all of them rather than just the Islamic ones.