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.

 

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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.