Behind the Veil of Respectability

A thought came into my head earlier. It took me back to my student days, studying the German ‘constitution’ (quotes explained below) in Potsdam in 1992, when the burning issue at the time was how to elaborate on the asylum clause in the document.

A few days ago, the German Bundesverfassungsgericht, or Federal Constitutional Court blocked a ban on the NPD—the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands or National Democratic Party of Germany, which is a far-right party, and has existed since the early 1960s.

It has sailed close to being banned in the past (I can recall that it faced such a threat during my student days, and it came close to a ban again in the early 2000s), but just managed to keep on the right side of constitutional law. There is no doubt though, that it is a party which attracts the more extreme elements of the German far right. It has never managed to cross the 5% hurdle required to gain representation in the German Bundestag, or Federal Assembly, but has managed to gain seats in state parliaments.

The German Grundgesetz, or Basic Law, is the German ‘constitution’. It was not officially called a constitution when it was draughted, post World War 2, because that term was reserved for the then hoped-for constitution of a future reunified Germany.

Since this goal of reunification was achieved (and far more quickly than anyone expected), the term Grundgesetz is still used to refer to the document which sets the legal framework of the Federal Republic of Germany, evidently because reunification was effectively (with few exceptions) a takeover of the German Democratic Republic by the Federal Republic of Germany and the merger of the newly-created six states of the former GDR into the Federal Republic rather than a mutual union of two nation states; a state of affairs which caused (and continues to cause) much consternation for years on the part of those Ossis, or GDR citizens, who believed that not every aspect of the GDR was bad, and that an opportunity to incorporate positive aspects of GDR society into the newly-unified Germany were squandered.

The first nineteen articles of the Basic Law relate to core human rights and cannot be revoked. They are the ‘eternal clauses’ and were written, post World War 2, very much with recent German history in mind. They can be expanded upon or clarified, but they are, to all intents and purposes, permanent and irrevocable.

Article 4, Paragraph 1 states:

“Die Freiheit des Glaubens, des Gewissens und die Freiheit des religiösen und weltanschaulichen Bekenntnisses sind unverletzlich.”

“Freedom of faith and of conscience, and freedom to profess a religious or philosophical creed, shall be inviolable.”

So, at the start of the Basic Law, freedom of religion is set out as a core right.

In Article 21 of the Basic Law, Germany has a controversial article which some believe borders on the curtailment of freedom of conscience, but was designed to prevent the rise of a successor to that funny mustachioed Austrian bloke.

Article 21, Paragraph 2 states:

“Parteien, die nach ihren Zielen oder nach dem Verhalten ihrer Anhänger darauf ausgehen, die freiheitliche demokratische Grundordnung zu beeinträchtigen oder zu beseitigen oder den Bestand der Bundesrepublik Deutschland zu gefährden, sind verfassungswidrig. Über die Frage der Verfassungswidrigkeit entscheidet das Bundesverfassungsgericht.”

“Parties that, by reason of their aims or the behaviour of their adherents, seek to undermine or abolish the free democratic basic order or to endanger the existence of the Federal Republic of Germany shall be unconstitutional. The Federal Constitutional Court shall rule on the question of unconstitutionality.”

The article was used a couple of times in the 1950s as the legal framework for the German Constitutional Court to ban the extreme right SRP, the Sozialistische Reichspartei (the Socialist Reich/Empire Party) and the extreme left KPD, the Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (the Communist Party of Germany).

Some are appalled that political parties can be banned, but I have some sympathy with the notion that a constitution should not allow for the existence of parties or organisations which seek to undermine its fundamental principles.

But this is where things get interesting…

Whilst political parties can be banned for being anti-constitutional, there is no such provision in the Basic Law which would cover religions, so presumably adherents to a religion which didn’t believe in the fundamental principles espoused by the German Basic Law would be free to preach the downfall of the German Republic and the repeal of its laws in a way that would see secular promoters of such ideals prosecuted. Not only that, but followers of an anti-constitutional religious doctrine would be protected by their inviolable right to freedom of religion or philosophical creed, as set out under Article 4, which, if you recall, is a right which cannot be revoked.

This presents a couple of interesting potential scenarios.

On the one hand, there is clearly nothing to stop religious adherents preaching the downfall of the German state in line with their own holy books and scriptures, in a way which a political party could not do in its own core principles without finding itself banned.

On the other hand, it does make me wonder why any determined extremist party doesn’t simply hide under the veil of a religion.

There are adherents to certain religions who have equally backward and anti-constitutional beliefs to extreme political parties. In fact, many religious adherents often go even beyond revoking the German Basic Law, rejecting the notion of any man-made law and demanding the imposition of religious law.

So, without wishing to give any ideas to extremist parties, what would happen if a new Führer arose and dressed his political ambitions up as religious beliefs? The Nazis were halfway there as it was, founded on the back of the Thule Society, and with a mixed bag of occultism, astrology, and Nordic mythology playing a big part in the highest ranks of the Nazi party.

In other words, what if an extremist party were simply to assume the trappings of a religion?

Sure, such a party wouldn’t be recognised as an official religion, which seems to rely on numbers of adherents and offers tax breaks and special status under German law, but could well potentially enjoy the officially-recognised status of a ‘sect’.

How would the German Constitutional Court address such a problem? What is it that gives otherwise abhorrent ideologies the veneer of respectability if they invoke the supernatural?

Answers on a prayer card to the Bundesverfassungsgericht, c/o Frau Kanzlerin Angela Merkel.


Politically Correct Denialism

You can hate an ideology without hating all those who are born under its umbrella.

This appears hard for people to grasp, but then they are the same people who seemingly struggle to differentiate between religion and race; see no causal connection between Islam and an organisation which calls itself Islamic State, which is run by someone who has a PhD in Islamic theology from the Islamic University of Baghdad; and which carries out atrocities accompanied by cries of ‘God is great’ rather than ‘I strongly object to western foreign policy’, and whose thugs require that their hostages recite a koranic prayer to establish who is and isn’t Muslim when they decide whether or not to kill them.

Yes, we know. It has nothing to do with Islam. I am clapping my hands very, very, slowly. Keep on reciting that mantra to yourself; you’re part of the problem.

Look, I wholeheartedly agree that most Muslims in western societies aren’t the problem. Islam is the problem. Not only that, but most victims of Islam are Muslims themselves, both in direct terms as victims of warfare and (to an equally abhorrent level to those of us who value human rights above religious or cultural beliefs, or about hurting the feelings of the religious) those who live under the daily oppression of religion, whether under the discriminatory nature of religious law or due to societal pressures within religious communities.

Those of us who reject all religious doctrines recognise that there would be no Islamic terrorism without Islam, because there would be no means of using those particular teachings of a 7th century warlord, his view of how his god operates, and his acolytes to manipulate the easily-led into believing that they are doing evil things for an ultimately godly purpose.

Those of us who argue vociferously against Islam are doing so because it is clearly at the root of sectarian conflict within the Muslim world and a wider conflict with the outside world, and is the means with which people can be convinced to kill themselves in the real belief in an afterlife.

The people who kill themselves are exhibiting the ultimate act of faith. How many people do you know who have such a strong belief in their religion that they will happily die for it? Are we supposed to believe that people will willingly surrender their lives, proclaiming ‘God is great!’ because they’re displeased with western foreign policy and not because they have absolute faith in an afterlife? Who buys that narrative? Well, apparently thousands of people – even senior politicians.

I dislike rap music intensely, but I’m not prepared to blow myself up proclaiming ‘God is great’ as a sign of my unhappiness at being subjected to it.

We are told that faith is a virtue. Surely, then, killing yourself is the ultimate expression of faith.

This ‘ultimate expression of faith’ is why many of those of us who reject faith – i.e. belief in something without evidence and on the basis of geographical and temporal accident – will do all we can to fight it.

Some mystify martyrdom, making it out to be something more than the mere actions of a prick who is far better off out of the gene pool and is doing evolution a massive favour. In an inspired comment, I recall the words of a soldier in an earlier conflict against the ‘armies of God’ , who calmly demystified and undermined the whole woo around martyrdom by using the term as a straightforward euphemism for killing these idiots.

“Martyrs? Sure, we’ll help a few of them become martyrs.”

The term may be meaningful to those who respect the whole concept of dying for dogma, but to those of us who reject this, it’s a meaningless term and far from worthy of respect is worthy of nothing more than ridicule, or, if we’re feeling generous, patronising pity.

The only worthy martyrs in my book are those who sacrifice their lives to save the lives of others – the heroes who throw themselves on grenades to save a greater number of their comrades in arms.

So, to those who engage in this collective self-deception… Call my disdain for religion any ‘phobia’ you like to gain your social-posturing brownie points and back-slapping from your platitude-peddling buddies, but get used to growing numbers of us making a vocal stance against all faiths, and against one in particular at the current time.

We’re under no illusions that we can prevent people from believing all manner of several-hundred-year-old nonsense, but we can point out its absurdities and educate the young against it, fighting against the very respect for it which society still, STILL, in the 21st century, tries to inculcate in it through our schools.

We hope that as humanity evolves, it will finally exit this dark period of history and move to a time when people don’t define themselves and fight each other over who has the best invisible friend, or whether that friend is edible or not (one for the Christians there – just for a bit of balance).

Mistake our disdain for religion as racism if you like and on that basis, I’ll call your dislike of my favourite music racism too.

Trust me though, you’ll never have our respect while you sustain and side with pre-Enlightenment superstition and neither will those of us with any backbone be curbed from our ultimate desire to rid the world of superstition once and for all; to cast aside an aspect of our history which truly divides people and has caused millions of deaths.

Earlier last week, Labour MP Keith Vaz said he would support the reintroduction of blasphemy laws, a mere seven years after we finally rid our country of these ridiculous laws. Does it not even occur to otherwise seemingly intelligent people that an omnipotent being really doesn’t need to be defended from having its feelings hurt?

Your religion is important to you? Fine. Keep it to yourself and ideally let your children decide for themselves. Don’t expect any civilised country in the 21st century to even consider blasphemy laws. What’s next? Witch trials? I mean, I know they’re still popular in Saudi Arabia, but bloody hell!

Rest assured, I would willingly subject myself to the full force of the law in the event of the reintroduction of such a law. I would love to see an advanced, supposedly liberal society in the 21st century forever condemn itself in the eyes of future generations by prosecuting someone for insulting religion, merely to pacify the most willingly and pathetically outraged factions of society.

If you are willing to debate the issues, and you’re one of the very few who can do so without name-calling or building more straw men than the Crow Man, let’s talk.

The Crow Man. Builder of straw men.

The Crow Man. Builder of straw men.

On an optimistic note, I am reading more and more about people in extremely religious societies, especially those under Islamic laws, turning away from religion. I have nothing but the utmost respect for those people, because, as much as many people in my culture appear to see all religions and cultures as the same, I am only too aware that speaking out against religion in many countries around the world can see you sentenced to death, and even where the state itself isn’t quite ready or prepared to carry out the sentence, it is more than willing to stand aside and let angry mobs carry out ‘God’s justice’.

I note that the #ExMuslimBecause hashtag has been trending in recent days. Not only are some decent Muslims brave enough to state ‘not in my name’ (yes, even objecting to the actions of ISIS can have you branded a ‘coconut’ by some enlightened citizens), but some who have been born into Islam are going one massive step further and abandoning religion altogether. Make no mistake, this is a very big development. Renouncing Christianity will have no effect on most people born into it (although there are still some less, erm, enlightened parts of the world where such a move could see you ostracised), but renouncing Islam – i.e. apostasy, does carry the death sentence according to the Hadith, and I’ve yet to see any believer deny this. So, those taking that step deserve massive support and respect from those of us who have already abandoned faith or never had it in the first place.

It’s perhaps somewhat ironic that ISIS, in attempting to foist the purest version of literalist Islam on those lands it occupies, may in fact be having a polarising effect and driving many of its co-religionists away.

To those who continue to act as apologists for religion, and especially those who claim to hold otherwise liberal values, if you’re happy to side with those on the wrong side of history, go for it. If you’re happy for your descendants to laugh at your support or respect for those clinging on to odd, Bronze or Dark Age beliefs, and for holding back human progress, fine. If you’re happy to facilitate oppression of those who are seeking to drag Islam through its own reformation by acting as an apologist for the most conservative and reactionary members of Islamic society, simply to validate your anti-western narrative, that’s your decision.

Just spare us the holier-than-thou social posturing and platitudes.


False Narratives and False Hopes

Perhaps we’ll make up our minds one day. Our government intervenes militarily where the UN fears to tread/UN fails to carry out its obligations/UN fails to function due to the OIC voting block countries and their anti-western allies (delete as applicable) and the supposed righteous get out on the streets with the Stop The War mob, demanding that we mind our own business.

We mind our own business and ordinary people are forced to flee their country in desperation while a movement of fanatical murdering religious ideologues grows in military power, confidence, and is able to slaughter and enslave thousands of innocents (including children) and destroy priceless antiquities with impunity – none of it bothering our consciences at all until a poor, drowned child is washed up on the shores of Turkey.So, now we’ve seen the consequences of failure to tackle force with greater force, and the results of parliament’s insistence on non-intervention, thanks to public pressure of an angry, vocal minority, which will it be, humanity?

Turn a blind eye, protest western military intervention, and let the unspeakable happen so long as it isn’t ‘in our face’?

Or perhaps we should stop validating the anti-western “it’s all about oil and money” bullshit narratives which serve merely as a recruitment sergeant to ever more easily-led and uneducated minds, eager to demonstrate their supposed canny, perceptive intelligence through propagating conspiracy theories, falsehoods and victimhood narratives.

I saw the following image shared by a grievance-monger on a social media post. Herein lies the problem with the Internet. This image will be shared and accepted without question or evidence as fact by thousands of people. Many of these will be fed a diet of this stuff and accept it as the truth. In the process, they are building up a false narrative. For some, it will be one of these pieces of propaganda which finally drives the easily-led young mind to abandon their priviliged life in the West and head off to fight alongside the Islamists.

This image says it, so it must be true.

This image says it, so it must be true.

And it’s not just these kind of dangerous, opinion-shaping propaganda pieces which are shared. Whether it’s the ‘five of the same weekdays occurring in a single month and making a Money Bags’ month, the date Marty McFly went back to the future, NASA spending millions developing a pen to work in space (whilst the Soviets used a pencil), or an argument between a US warship and a Spanish lighthouse, people are all too keen to propogate myths without the most basic fact-checking. Snopes is always a good start for the standard urban myths. More political myths require some more personal investigation and checking of primary sources, away from the opinion pieces of the Guardian or the Mail.

Put baseless narratives both into the hands of disaffected youths, struggling with their ‘identity’ and into the hands of those in poorly educated societies, and you have a gunpowder keg of ‘grievance’. In turn, certain people see this anger and accept is as justified. “They’re angry, so we must be being beastly to them.” is a far easier path to go down than “Hang on… From where exactly are they getting their information? Do they have a free press or does the regime in charge or those in influence such as religious leaders promote falsehoods?” or thinking things through for yourself from first principles.

The flip-side to the Internet of course is that it is relatively easy to check claims. For the record, the USA is not currently engaged in 75 current worldwide conflicts… Nothing like it. I challenged the poster to list just ten of these. He won’t manage anything like ten, and if he does, he’s making them up.

Returning to the refugee problem… The Kurds have no scruples in dealing with Islamists in the only way you can fight their ilk and they have demonstrated clearly that ISIS, like any bullies, are quick to turn tale and run when countered by forces who have something to live for – especially female soldiers*, rather than the lSIS death-culters themselves, who, in their own words “love death more than life.”

So, how do we deal with the current refugee crisis? As with many things, the ideal means would be to cut off the problem at source, rather than the sticking plaster approach of moving populations wholesale to a new continent.

I would suggest that a history book may help those who are struggling for answers to conclude what has worked and not worked in the past when dealing with similar forces of evil.

Here’s a hint though… How successful do you think negitations with the infamous moustachioed Austrian whose name I shall not mention would have gone? Here’s another hint… We know, because we tried negotiating, but it’s hard to make agreements with megalomaniacs and those who seek your destruction. If your history isn’t too hot, research the Munich Agreement and Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and how successful they were ultimately.

If only more people were aware of history, perhaps we wouldn’t condemn ourselves to make the same mistakes time and time again.

The penny will eventually drop that the civilised world will have to defeat Islamism through military force. Alternatively, If we don’t intervene, it may just be possible that, as historian Tom Holland says, the Islamist bubble could burst by itself after a few decades of blood-soaked weariness in a similar way to the how the Thirty Years War finally ended, with populations more than decimated in the process.

The tragedy is that either way, I fear it will take a few more washed-up children and countless thousands of more innocent lives lost in even worse circumstances away from the press photographers and social media sharing images of a single child before the penny does drop.

*ISIS fighters are so faithful to their religion and utterly convinced of their faith that they are more than happy to die for it, because they believe that dying in battle for Islam assures them a place in heaven. Unless, of course, they’re killed by a woman, which means they go straight to hell – one of the many reasons they are scared shitless of fighting Kurdish and Yazidi women.

No, All Religions Are Not The Same

This is another blog entry written in the context of an article. This time, it’s in response to the comments of grinning, socialist comedian Mark Steel in the Independent. The original article is at and my own thoughts are framed around several of his comments.

“Charlie Hebdo: Norway’s Christians didn’t have to apologise for Anders Breivik, and it’s the same for Muslims now”

I haven’t heard anyone demand an apology from Muslims over the Charlie Hebdo killings. Muslims certainly don’t need to apologise at all, in the same way Britain need not necessarily apologise for the actions of the British empire, although it is noticeable that it has in many cases. More on Breivik shortly.

No, Muslims don’t need to apologise; they need to weed out the large numbers of extremists in their midst, because no-one else can intrude internally on their religion and do the job of dragging Islam through its own Reformation better than Muslims themselves.

“Are you allowed to be critical of Muhammad at all?”

It would appear not. Why not try it and let’s see what happens?

“And are all images banned?”

The Quran says nothing on this issue. The hadith say yes. The British press appears to agree with the latter stance.

“..In countries like America you can’t imagine a lunatic ever going berserk with a gun in a public place.”

How many lunatics have gone berserk with a gun in America explicitly in the name of Christianity compared with Muslims who have done so explicitly in the name of Islam? The point being made by critics is that there is a problem specifically and demonstrably within Islam above all other religions right now: not in the Dark Ages… not during the Spanish Inquisition… not during the sectarian religious wars in Europe, but today, and worldwide.

“It’s true that every Muslim leader in Britain has denounced them several times.”

Who are these ‘Muslim leaders’? What is a Muslim leader? How are they appointed, and who appoints them? Every Muslim leader? Are you sure? Shall I embarrass you by pointing you to a couple of ‘Muslim leaders’ who have not only not denounced the attacks, but have condoned them?

Watch the mass street demonstrations of Muslims the next time Israel gets involved in Gaza and let’s just compare with the lack of conspicuous mass street demonstrations explicitly by Muslims over the Charlie Hebdo killings. I’m sure that there were many Muslims in the peaceful crowds which assembled, because there are indeed very many good Muslims who reject the extremists’ agenda, and indeed Muslims worldwide are the biggest victims of this agenda. But according to many reputable opinion polls, there are a significant number of Muslims in the UK alone who agree with the actions of the murderers, a larger number who will not condemn them, and a larger number still (joined by many non-Muslim multi-culti apologists) who claim that Charlie Hebdo had it coming for not respecting the religious demands of a minority.

Anders Breivik is one of the very few names apologists always have to trot out – quite telling in itself really – and he didn’t act for religious reasons. Nominally Christian, Breivik wrote “I’m not going to pretend I’m a very religious person, as that would be a lie” in his ‘manifesto’. Breivik called himself a cultural Christian. I, an atheist, am also a cultural Christian.

Now compare the number of atrocities carried out explicitly, openly, and proudly in the name of Christianity with those carried out in the name of Islam. World events speak for themselves and you look ridiculous when you assert otherwise, merely because reality doesn’t meet with your own world view of how things should be in your Utopia.

Raoul Moat? Again, were his actions carried out for religious motives?

“Nigel Farage has concluded the murders in Paris prove there’s a “fifth column” seeking to destroy us from within”

Well, considering that there are videos of such British people regularly and openly declaring their desire to do precisely this (a quick search on YouTube will help out there), to deny it seems slightly, erm, strange. It also seems strange that it took the murders in Paris for Farage to conclude this.

“Out in rural Kent, where Nigel Farage is standing to be MP, it’s just Allah Allah Allah all day long.”

Hilarious, but I’m guessing and hoping that people in rural Kent are aware and care just a little about what goes on in the rest of their country and the effect wider issues have on their locality.

“Every religion’s holy book is a chaotic mixture [of peace and violence].”

Not so; Jainism is explicitly non-violent. But let’s give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you were referring specifically to the desert dogmas. The god of the Old Testament is indeed a psycho and the New Testament is still full of questionable morals and contradictions in the context of our societal terms.

“The same could be true of all faiths, its followers ranging from the heroic to the despicable, all of them justifying their actions by finding the relevant quote in their holy text.”

Indeed. The key difference you overlook, however, is that Christianity and Judaism are today firmly rooted in societies which have rejected religion as the dominant force in state politics. Just think about that for one minute, because it’s a fundamentally important oversight in the logic of you and all your fellow members of the “all religions are the same” brigade. Now take a look at Islamic states around the world. How many are liberal democracies and how many are theocracies?

Christ himself (if, for the sake of discussion, we accept the Christian narrative) preached separation of church from state – “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”. Christianity was spread by Rome and not by Christ. Islam was spread by the sword by its founder (unlike for Christ, we have historic evidence for this) and Islam’s founder is considered to be the model of perfection.

There is no core concept of separation of religious and state affairs in Islamic states. Very many Muslims who find themselves in courts assert that they don’t answer to man-made laws, but only to God’s laws, as set out in the Quran. This is of fundamental importance to those whom people dub ‘extremists’. To play the multiculturalist’s own game, they may be extremists by our standards, but by their standards they are simply being the best kind of Muslims and following the example of their founder in following the word of God.

Modern Christians choose to wilfully ignore the less savoury parts of the Bible, because they don’t fit the morals of a modern liberal democracy. In other words, secular values move the debate on and encroach on religious influence in western societies. This can be observed in our own lifetimes, where the C of E’s opposition to the ordination of female priests has rescinded and the Church is having to soul-search over its attitudes towards homosexuality.

Far from being the ‘Tory party in pews’ of the mid 20th century, the C of E now regularly takes the moral high-ground over issues such as food banks, bankers’ bonuses, and other issues of social equality. Further back, our attitude to slavery changed a couple of hundred years ago; further back still, we stopped burning heretics, blasphemers, and witches… Some Islamic countries to this day have no such scruples.

Religions are not all the same. To make that claim betrays a fundamental misunderstanding and ignorance of the role of religion in different societies: a submission to wishful thinking rather than hard facts.

Quite simply, Christianity in the West has had to adapt to society rather than the other way around. It has increasingly had to move away from its former role as the conservative force and bastion of high morals it was in the Victorian era and has had to become a mouthpiece for social justice in order to cling on to some semblance of relevance in modern society.

Christianity and Judaism have lost state control either de facto (UK, most of Europe, and Israel) or de jure (USA, France) in all modern liberal democracies. Islam transcends religious and state issues in almost all Islamic states. The Islamic states which are secular are secular because they were forced to be so under the control of larger empires (chiefly the British, French, Dutch, Austro-Hungarian and Soviet empires) and have remained so following the collapse of these empires. The one major exception of course is the most successful Muslim empire of all time – the Ottoman empire, centred around Turkey, which modernised in the early 1800s, and following its demise post WW1, became explicitly and fiercely secular under the leadership of Atatürk. Sadly, Atatürk’s efforts (going as far as banning Muslim headscarves) seem under threat by the current Turkish regime.

Poor education; widespread belief in conspiracy theories; madrassas; anti-western propaganda; disaffected youths; a sense of victimhood; antagonism towards host nations’ core values; demands made on wider society to accommodate religious practices; incompatible cultural practices in treatment of women, homosexuals, children, apostates, and non-believers… These are all factors especially prevalent in Muslim circles. No other minority group or religion presents itself as so mismatched to its host culture and seems to revel in being that way. Sikhs even protest alongside the EDL!

“So the most logical response to any supposedly religious act is to respond to the act and not the religion.”

Thereby ignoring wholly the driving factor behind the act explicitly stated by the perpetrator. You’re so self-unaware and determined not to offend, that you don’t even realise how ridiculous that comment is. Not only that, but given that the perpetrator is brave and of sufficient faith to forfeit his own life, you might at least afford him the courtesy of taking him at his own word!

Look, nobody is blaming Muslims en masse for these daily atrocities, but the core problem is nevertheless with Islam, and the sooner people like you admit it, rather than take every opportunity to resort to predictable partisan criticism of capitalist societies which have betrayed your socialist ideals, the sooner we can support the brave reforming voices within Islam to drag it wholly into the 21st century and improve life for all peace-loving, ordinary Muslims.

We, in nominally Christian societies, with our own dark histories, should know this only too well.

Politically Incorrect Cultural Awareness

The world comprises and comprised historically many cultures and religions. Cultures are often, but not always, influenced by religious practices or local traditions. A culture comprises societal norms, behaviours, manners, traditions, the arts, and cuisine. When cultural practices come face to face, misunderstandings may arise and cause potential conflict.

In the best interests of people, and to prevent enmity, it is beholden on a person from a different culture moving to a new culture to adapt to their host’s culture. Such attempts to integrate with the host culture are likely to result in a more speedy welcome and minimise any problems. An unwillingness to integrate, dismissal of a host culture, or non-compliance with its norms is likely to be met with resentment, mutual dislike, segregation, and intolerance. In most cultures historically, such deliberate segregation and unwillingness to integrate met with outright hostility and violence.

It goes without saying that this effort to integrate into one’s host culture should be made in all instances, and just as much in the case of westerners moving to other cultures. The choice is simple. If we don’t feel as though we are capable of integrating into a host culture, we should not go there. We do not have the right to expect a host culture to adapt to our demands, let alone for its people to attend awareness courses so that they can learn to accept our peculiarities.

While religion and culture are not the same thing, the religious influence on a culture is not to be underestimated. There are, and have been historically, a wide range of belief systems around the world. No one religion has any objective proof for its beliefs. They are based in faith, which, by definition, is believing something without any supporting evidence. Some faiths have spread through military conquest. That is certainly the case with Christianity and Islam.

Faiths often have many denominations within themselves, including conservative/orthodox denominations, which have a literal understanding of their scriptures and seek to comply to the letter of these or translations of them. Faiths also often have reforming denominations, which see these scriptures in an allegorical or historic context and are happy to separate religion from the affairs of state, using the former as guiding principles.

These scriptures in themselves are usually contradictory, so that each denomination can find sections of its scripture to justify its beliefs and can influence, in conjunction with its originating cultural practices, its behavioural practices.

It is quite common for converts or those new to a faith to be attracted to the conservative/orthodox/literal aspect of that faith. This is often because they are seeking meaning to their life and an uncompromising set of rules is something that helps them through well-defined, easy-to-follow rules. Indigenous converts may be attracted to these uncompromising rules in the face of a seemingly decadent society in which they feel they have failed. This is also because they read the scriptures without the benefit of centuries’ worth of study and soul-searching on the part of adherents to that faith, many of whom spent their whole lives wrestling with their religious texts, seeking to establish which parts were relevant to their contemporary situation and culture.

Certain cultural practices, such as those around the arts and cuisine, are fully compatible with modern, secular, post-Enlightenment democracy, and the western world’s move away from a society dominated by conservative Christian dogma to one of reforming, humanist beliefs, which have had an influence on the prevailing church’s role in most western liberal democracies. In this way, people have become more tolerant of others and western society has rejected practices which were formerly justified by conservative Christian dogma, such as slavery, sexism, maltreatment of children, and more recently, homophobia.

As a religion dominated by reformers and in the context of nations which in practice divide matters of state from those of religion, either explicitly, like France and the USA, or implicitly, like the UK, Christianity has been able, even in the face of opposition of large numbers of its adherents, to adapt and ‘catch up’ with public opinion. In recent years, we have seen this in the case of the ordination of women priests. True, the church may still struggle with the idea of same sex marriage, but even if some of its members oppose it, they don’t engage in violent street protests in opposition – they understand the segregation of matters of state from matters of belief.

Many proponents of ‘multiculturalism’ fail to grasp this, and in condemning other people’s lack of cultural awareness, ironically exhibit their own cultural and historical ignorance by naively assuming that people around the world share their same values. Such people appear to be blissfully unaware of their own histories and the political struggles over religion within their own culture, long-since settled by this de facto separation of church from state. They also seem oblivious to the clear, unequivocal pronouncement of those they support to wipe out western democracy and impose strict, religious laws.

Other cultural practices run counter to the prevailing host culture, and, in the case of the UK, range from minor differences in manners (e.g. saying please and thank you) to activities which are frowned upon or may be counter to local laws (e.g. spitting, littering, urinating and defecating in the street) to those which are illegal under our laws but perfectly legitimate under the laws of other cultures (e.g. underage sex, forced marriage, genital mutilation).

Historically, Britain’s empire stretched around the world and came into contact with a wide variety of cultural practices. At the time, guided by more traditionally conservative Christian values, the British empire sought to exploit its colonies in ways which would now be considered inhumane, through ruthless exploitation of local resources and people, cruelty, slavery (with the wilful collusion of locals in many cases, such as in the case of the African slave trade) and even mass slaughter. It justified its actions at the time by claiming that it was bringing Christianity and its cultural values to the conquered countries and thought to improve these countries through its cultural and religious imperialism, in the same way ancient Rome spread its culture and practices throughout its conquered territories under the Pax Romana.

Indeed, it can be argued that in both the case of ancient Rome and the British empire, there were some benefits brought to the local people in terms of technological and political advances, but judging the actions of our forefathers by today’s morals means that we can reflect on the wickedness of the worst excesses of empire and many of us feel rightfully ashamed of these events.

When we consider the behaviour of our forefathers in the contexts of their time, we are engaging in temporal relativism – i.e. conceding that our forefathers had different values, which may seem inhumane today, but in the context of their time, may have been perfectly normal. It would not occur to us to send a small child up a chimney or down a mine now, but was perfectly normal practice in Victorian society.

Some recognise that we can’t ever atone for the evils of our former empire, but on balance, we understand that the days of empire are passed, and that former colonies have become successful independent countries and have retained the positive aspects of empire (parliamentary democracy, railways, roads, telecoms, and education systems).

Britain has benefited historically from immigration and particularly as we have seen the aspirations of the indigenous population rise and an unwillingness on the part of sections of the indigenous population to undertake jobs which they consider beneath them. We have had waves of immigration from former colonies and in nearly all cases, these have met a need for skills and have offered the immigrant relatively well paid-work in a stable society. For many immigrants, coming to the UK was a literal lifeline.

Others remain ashamed of our past, to the extent that their view of western policy today is still coloured by it. For some, it is not enough to recognise transgressions of their forefathers, but these transgressions still mean that they must roundly condemn western culture in general, and in particular the actions of western governments. For such people, this is the default stance to be taken, and all efforts to promote other cultural views must be made, even when such cultures exhibit behaviours which are entirely contradictory to our cultural norms. Many suggest that cultural Marxism has been a powerful force in ordinary politics since the 1960s and has sought a deliberate undermining of western culture and a move towards world government.

That may be stretching a point too far, but it is more or less the norm for even well-educated people, often suffering with their own hand-wringing class guilt complexes, to hold opinions which have been advanced by extremist elements of immigrant cultures. The recent furore over the veil demonstrates this particularly well. The people who promote/defend the veil are conservative elements of the Muslim population and those on the political left, who do so to demonstrate their cultural sensitivity. At the same time, those who oppose it are liberals (in the true sense) and moderate Muslims. Moderate Muslims are left exacerbated by the conservative elements of their community.

Someone who wishes to gain cultural insight into how Muslim opinion has been hijacked by conservative elements could do worse than listen to the likes of Maajid Nawaz, a former extremist, now Liberal Democrat candidate, who has argued in favour of banning the veil in public places (i.e. places where a motorcycle helmet or balaclava would be inappropriate). He understands how anti-western narratives feed extremism, especially when such narratives originate in the West. He has to explain to audiences in Pakistan that the West is not embroiled in a crusade against Islam, because that is what they have been led to believe. That is what he had been led to believe, as a young, disaffected Muslim youth in Luton. That is what the extremist and conservative preachers tell the easily-influenced youths, and that is why, when apologists in our society see images of rampaging hordes of ill-informed protesters shouting ‘death to the West’, the self-loathers believe their grievances to be real rather than imagined, and their own prejudices about their own culture are reinforced.

Secular states are in the minority in the Islamic world. The people of many non-secular Islamic countries do not understand the separation of church and state in the West, of the freedom of press and its independence from government, or of the freedom of speech and the right to be critical and make fun of religion without legal consequences. They don’t understand it, because they don’t have those same luxuries, and so when hardline Islamist nutters travel to Pakistan and stir up hatred over things such as cartoons published in a Danish newspaper, their fellow nutters whip up hatred in anti-western sermons and riots against Danish embassies (along with any other western embassies) ensue. The rioters can’t even begin to understand the disconnect between an embassy and a newspaper – they have been brainwashed into believing that the West is bent on a crusade against Islam.

To those promoting multiculturalism, such as the use of Sharia law in matters of family and domestic disputes, I would ask the following question…
“What does Sharia law give you that the laws of our land don’t?”

If their answer is

“To resolve family disputes in the context of our community and according to our laws.”

Our answer should be

“But we are your community and we share the same law.”

To summarise, culture does not merely encompass arts and cuisine, but is far more extensive. Multiculturalism seeks to promote the coexistence of these cultures, irrespective of the flaws of each, rather than to facilitate integration of immigrants into our society.

Nobody is obliged to like another culture or its practices, but, where these cultural practices do not impinge upon or contradict our cultural and societal norms, they should be tolerated.

Don’t Ban the Burka – Shun It

I’ve just read an open letter which calls for a ban on wearing the Burka. It’s written not by a member of the EDL, or a white supremacist, as you may well be thinking (it is, after all, how we’ve been conditioned to think), but by Dr T Hargey, Director of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford.

I’m not overly convinced about banning the veil (either the Burka or the Niqab), but it is time its apologists started to understand that it should be treated by civil society in the same way we would view a Nazi uniform or a KKK outfit, and, frankly, that is precisely how I see it.

It’s an abhorrent infringement on women’s rights, is not required by Islam anyway, and even if it were, Islam tells its followers to follow the customs and practices of their host nations. More importantly, Turkey, a secular but Muslim country, has banned wearing of headscarves of any kind in public buildings for decades, only just relaxing this recently, following the election to power of a more overtly Muslim party.

If wearing the veil were a fundamental requirement of Islam, rather than a requirement of fundamentalist Islam, it would be worn by all Muslim women around the world; it isn’t, because it isn’t.

Many deluded multi-culti apologists insist on continuing to actively or passively support practices such as forcing women to conceal themselves and FGM; some are even so keen to wear their cultural diversity credentials with pride that they are stupid enough to sign a petition in support of the latter! The irony here is that such people are actually the racists, because the clear implication is that “those poor little brown people are a little backward, so we mustn’t hold them to the same standards we expect of ourselves.” That’s not cultural diversity – it’s racism. Human rights transcend boundaries, cultures, and religions, and any practices which get in the way of such basic human rights should be decried for what they are.

If you endorse wearing of the veil, you have to be pretty damned sure of, understand, and agree with the following:

  1. Only women wear the veil (with the exception of fleeing criminals and probably a minority of Muslim cross-dressers). Ask yourself why. What does this imply?
  2. The woman wants to wear it and is under no compulsion to wear it. This is far from easy to ascertain. Former Labour MP of the constituency of my childhood, Anne Cryer, has publicly spoken of her vast case experience of particularly Pakistani women visiting her in secret with tales of domestic oppression and abuse – and the authorities’ unwillingness to intervene.

Assuming these conditions are met, you still have to ask the question as to why a woman chooses to do something that many Muslims fought against decades and probably centuries ago; a garment which immigrant mothers and grandmothers cast off with glee, and against which many still fight to this day in other, less liberal societies.

True, there are a number of indigenous British women who convert to Islam and adopt the veil to show their adherence to the faith. Far be it from me to see this as an ostentatious display of their rejection of the values their ancestors fought for, and the product of a life which has probably been spent ‘trying to find themselves’ (because being born in a relatively privileged society in a privileged period in history just isn’t enough) – but that is exactly how I do see it, I’m afraid.

Others don the veil as a blatant political ‘two fingers’ up to the establishment; a rejection of western, capitalist values. People used to wear Che Guevara t-shirts; now some of them wear the veil instead.

Either way, there is no reason for an indigenous, British woman who converts to Islam to adopt a Wahhabi item of clothing from a foreign culture. You don’t have to wear an unrelated tribal costume to show how Muslimy and exotic you are. It’s akin to me adopting native American beliefs and walking around in a feather head dress. I only do that on special evenings.

The one thing a ban would of course ensure is that we would be certain that no women could be compelled to wear one. That is a core part of the justification for its ban in France and Belgium.

I am pleased to see, however, that an increasing number of reforming/secular Muslims are speaking out about this issue and against the veil. This is a great development, and is to be welcomed and encouraged, not only because it is nearly impossible for any indigenous person to criticise foreign cultural practices without being instantly and unthinkingly labelled racist by those who have been raised and conditioned seemingly without critical faculties of their own, but also because it takes a great deal of bravery on the part of Muslims to speak out against or attempt to reform any illiberal cultural practices which have become inextricably and occasionally cynically linked to their religion – even when there is no link.

Most Christians and Jews wilfully ignore or contextualise unsavoury parts of their holy books. Both religions have undergone reformation and now most mainstream Christians and Jews explain away the violence, sexism, and pretty much all kinds of other unpleasantness in the Bible by putting such accounts into an historic context – they were dogmas of the desert, and modern believers pick and choose the bits they like to adapt to a modern context. Sure, the God Hates Fags brigade, as loathsome as they are, do exist, but they are very much in the minority, due to the Reformation, and there are few (ok, no) incidents of terrorist atrocities carried out in the name of the Westboro Baptist Church.

Unfortunately, people who come to religion later or those who convert seem to tend to be more strident, and often more extreme, in their actions. They’ve made a conscious decision, rather than having been raised in the faith, and so they are all the more willing to wear their faith proudly and publicly, and this would explain the tendency for indigenous European female converts to wear the veil – at a time when their ‘sisters’ in Saudi Arabia are trying to discard it or fight for the right to drive a car (See also Alaa Wardi’s excellent video).

As an aside, and a concession, but one which merely reinforces my point, it would only be fair for me to make the same observation on converts becoming more strident about myself, since, having abandoned my Christian faith sometime shortly after 9/11, I became more vocally anti-theistic. So, as Pontius Pilate might have heard several times, whilst going about his daily business, mea culpa!

Most of our laws are in place for preventative reasons. The reason we have speed limits imposed is to prevent as far as possible any potential speed-related accidents. Perhaps, then, there is justification for a full ban of the veil, to prevent as far as possible any potential oppression of its wearers.

I’d still prefer though that rather than an outright ban, we shunned it for what it is – an ancient, desert tribal symbol of a backward cultural practice in which women are forced to cover themselves because their men aren’t capable of resisting their sexual urges, and made its wearing as unwelcome in our streets as an SS uniform would be.

Smack My Bish Up

Richard Dawkins is quite consolatory re the C of E vote yesterday…

“I grieve for the C of E. They have a certain decency & try so hard. The vile RCs will smirk, and they don’t even CONTEMPLATE women bishops.”

Interestingly, the clergy were pretty clearly in favour of women bishops and the lay synod voted against.

I suppose that’s what happens when people read the bible for what it is. There is plenty of misogyny throughout. It’s another case of either taking the bible literally (and arguably being more true to the faith) or doing what the bulk of the priesthood would like their flock to do, which is to pick and choose the nice bits or the parts which fit with the values of a society which has been built on secular Enlightenment values and not religious values.

Fortunately, as an atheist, I don’t have to struggle with this, but like Dawkins, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel some sympathy for the latter group.