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  • Why the Archbishop got it wrong


    by Sid (Faisal)
    18th February, 2008 at 11:29 am    

    Whether Rowan Williams is a good man or a bad man; an intellectual or an academic; a highly sensitive soul or a machinating demagogue or whether or not he deserved the tabloid-led backlash is irrelevent to the position that he took when he delivered his speech, Civil and Religious Law in England: a Religious Perspective.

    What the archbishop did was draw a line in the sand between religious practice and universal secular law and declared that the latter had arrogantly taken upon itself the role of prime mover in shaping civil society while at the same time dismissing the contribution made by religious ideas and practice.

    Rowan Williams’ support for Sharia law comes not because he particularly likes Muslims as such but because he would like Sharia to be partially exempted from secular law. This is not as contentious as it sounds since the Church itself is exempt from secular laws that protect homosexuals and women. Hence the church is free to choose whether or not to employ gays, and is legally protected in doing so.

    Why then the massive furore? Well, let’s go back to the line the archbishop drew in the sand. On one side of it Williams has placed secular liberalism and on the other side he places Religion. His intention is that is all faith-based communities, led by the Church of England, should throw off the pretence of compatibility with secular liberalism once and for all. This is contentious and it will not go down without a battle. I suspect the archbishop would very much like Sharia law to be the crucible in which this battle should be fought.

    This is shocking to most Christian liberals because they have been led to believe that Christianity and liberal ideas such as secularism are wholly compatible. It should also be shocking to Muslims, because the last thing they should want is to become the footsoldiers at the bidding of a resurgent Christian elite who are painfully aware of their ever decreasing influence.

    It also goes without saying that this should be rejected by Muslims who do not agree with the archbishop’s reactionary views and are opposed to Sharia law sidling up to civil law unless and until it can be formally codified and reformed. As a Muslim I will raise my hand to say that I will never support Sharia to become paramount to secular civil law in any way or form. On this I am in complete agreement with Ali Eteraz. Read his article on why Sharia arbitration courts should be opposed in the UK. Notice that most of the articles full of enraged, spittle-flecked derision in the tabloids and in blogs following his speech were directed not at Rowan Williams but at, you guessed it, “the Muslims”.

    Sharia should exist informally and dictate religious practice and spiritual ethics. But that’s a light year or two away from having parallel courts that dispense religious code that override civil law. My reasons for resisting Sharia courts are listed below:

    1) This would create preferential levels of legal coverage giving Muslims the perception of exclusivity. I don’t have to tell you that this would be a recipe for more social schism between Muslims and every one else, thereby making Muslims even more of the “other” than they already are. Not to mention create a dangerous social cleavage between Sharia-Muslims and non-Sharia Muslims, causing even more civil strife.

    2) Sharia would formalise a system whereby Muslims pay deference to indisputable laws of hereditary and punishment which are imbalanced and unfair towards women and daughters and which even most Muslim countries are unwilling to implement, and rightly so.

    3) It would be counterintuitive for the large majority of Muslims who benefit from broad, well considered and pluralist British law. The British legal system should be held up as an example to Muslim-majority countries who are struggling to build full democratic polities in which non-Muslims minorities are often disenfranchised.


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    1. katy french

      katy french…

      French politics are characterised by two politically opposed groupings: one left-wing, centred around the French Socialist Party, and the…




    1. Katy Newton — on 18th February, 2008 at 12:24 pm  

      Great piece. It is disgraceful that the Archbishop of Canterbury has used Islam as a straw man to advance Religion’s agenda and he thoroughly deserves the kicking he’s getting.

    2. Saqib — on 18th February, 2008 at 12:26 pm  

      Sid, did we really need another thread on this topic, as much of the component arguments did actually come through in previous ones?

      I fear poor Leon will migrate elsewhere.

    3. Sid — on 18th February, 2008 at 12:34 pm  

      Saqib, I hope this one to addresses the dangers that the archbishop’s speech has for Muslims. It could also be subtitled ‘Beware archbishops bearing gifts’.

    4. sonia — on 18th February, 2008 at 12:36 pm  

      Good one Sid. Very well written and clearly laid out.

      Yes Saqib I do think we needed ‘another one’ on this issue - once we have got away from the ‘hysteria’ absolutely we should be exploring what the Archbishop has brought to the fore - and these are very serious issues. I’m glad we can talk about it without focusing -as Sid says, on the man himself, etc. - let’s look at the underlying issues.

    5. sonia — on 18th February, 2008 at 12:38 pm  

      Good point Katy

    6. Sid — on 18th February, 2008 at 12:40 pm  

      ithenkyow Katy, Sonia.

    7. Don — on 18th February, 2008 at 1:04 pm  

      Excellent analysis, Sid.

      The Archbishop’s speech, once unpacked, sets out a very clear agenda to push back secularism’s inroads into the authority of organised religious institutions.
      The reference to sharia was, in my view, a cynical ploy to use islam as a stalking horse.

    8. Katy Newton — on 18th February, 2008 at 1:13 pm  

      It’s difficult to appeal against the judgment of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent being. Whenever you put any god at the head of your legal system, you instantly render your system immutable.

      I wouldn’t choose to live in any country that put someone’s imaginary friend at the head of the legal system, personally. As Eteraz says, if that’s what you want there are plenty of places you can get it. I wonder if anyone’s mentioned that to the Archbishop?

    9. Sunny — on 18th February, 2008 at 2:13 pm  

      It should also be shocking to Muslims, because the last thing they should want is to become the footsoldiers of the bidding of a resurgent Christian elite who are painfully aware of their ever decreasing influence.

      Admittedly, this is a point I didn’t consider and think about. But you make a persuasive case Mr Sid. Hmmm…

    10. Charlie Brown — on 18th February, 2008 at 3:13 pm  

      This is shocking to most Christian liberals because they have been led to believe that Christianity and liberal ideas such as secularism are wholly compatible.

      They aren’t. But they can be, if religious institutions decide to adopt a more progressive agenda. There is little in Christianity that prevents gay marriage or even female priesthood, yet most Christian churches will have none of it.

      They will have to, at some point. They will need to synchronise with mainstream values in regards to equality and civil rights, or become increasingly irrelevant.

    11. kELvi — on 18th February, 2008 at 3:19 pm  

      Secularism is a creation of the Protestant Reformation. The idea that religion is a private matter between man and his maker, is a proposition of the Protestant Reformation that runs counter to the Catholic or traditionalist Christian injunction that the way to salvation lies through the church. The City of God represents all that is divine, while the City of Man is profane. To move from the one to the other it is the Church and its ordained priests who show the way. Even interpreting the One Book must not be left to Man for it could be corrupted and misunderstood. It is the priests we must turn to for guidance, or so said the pre-Protestant Church. The Protestant reformation rebelled against this norm. It is not for us here to decide (even assuming we are capable of doing so and possess the means) who is wrong or false in this dispute. But it is enough to accept that the roots of secularism lie in the reformation. So even the laws that are to be made to rule the City of Man, may be made by men, but only as long as they conform to what is laid in the One Book. For a secular order to be established it is essential to separate what is religious from what isn’t. And this is possible only in an order that is established on the principles that flow from the Protestant Reformation.

      So in establishing a modern society instead of turning to secularism each and every time, may we instead go by our common law and more compassionate principles. Modern western society is but an arm of the Protestant Church. This has been a very successful enterprise, and possibly, without its proponents’ knowledge, led many away from the City of Man, and actually fostered interest in the other traditions and books. It is too early to say what we shall have next. This is an enormously complex subject. For more readings please check out the work of the scholars at Vergelijkende Cultuurwetenschap (Research Center for Comparative Science of Cultures) at Ghent University.

    12. Boyo — on 18th February, 2008 at 4:32 pm  

      As I said in comment 21 of the previous discussion: “I agree this was more about shoring up the pernicious influence of religion (faith school segregation for eg) in the UK than cheerleading for sharia, although I wonder if the CofE vis Islam is trying to adopt the same tactics as the SWP with respect to Islamism… and one can only predict the same result.”

    13. Boyo — on 18th February, 2008 at 4:41 pm  

      “Secularism is a creation of the Protestant Reformation.” Not quite, it’s the product of a historical process that began with (and is underpinned by) the Roman empire.

      Rome’s most enduring legacy was the division between the state of man and that of God(s). It was how they ruled (and could tolerate) an empire of many gods, and the division of man’s law and god’s dominion is the principal ideological difference between the West (as in Western Roman Empire) and the Islamic perspective, wherein man and God’s law are one.

      Sure, the West has a Christian heritage, but its Roman political organisation is also part and parcel. Indeed, they complement each other: “Give unto Caeser what is his, give unto me what is mine…”.

    14. halima — on 18th February, 2008 at 5:29 pm  

      This is maybe the more important point to emerge and might be the more fundamental issue Rowan Williams (who without doubt is one of the brightest sparks in the country) wanted discussed… whether it’s possible to maintain any longer that religon belongs to the ‘private’ domain and state belongs to the ‘public’ domain. This has always been the bedrock of modern Western Christian philosophy - and this is where other relgions, particularly those from the ‘East’ where public and private spheres are collapsed - and religion is a way of life.

      Interestingly, the French model is perhaps one model of where you can you go with the distinction between the secular and the profane - whether this model is right or wrong depends on how passionate you feel about your religious identity. Perhaps this is one reason why I might never settle in a country that priviledges secularism against religion, not because I am religious per se but I would prefer the choice to be religious should I decide to go that way. You could also say this about a country where there is a high level of religiosity but doesn’t allow much room for secularism - and again that would be less than ideal. What’s the balance? Perhaps that’s the debate Rowan Williams was trying to provoke.

      Smart tactic as Sid says…

    15. kELvi — on 18th February, 2008 at 6:11 pm  

      Not quite, it’s the product of a historical process that began with (and is underpinned by) the Roman empire.

      Boyo, ignoring for a moment the appropriation of Latin and Greek terms by Christiaity, where religio, God, worship, prayer, and even secular have come to mean something quite different, secularism as it is practised today is entirely a creation of the Protestant Reformation. It has nothing to do with the “Roman Empire” either the pre-Empire republic or the post-Julian times. Rome’s supposed “legacy” of the division between “man and god” is meaningless in the context of the Roman and the Greek pagan traditions. God in these traditions means something so different from the Christian God that any comparison is simply absurd. As I have written earlier check out the work of the Vergelijkende Cultuurwetenschap. It is required reading for everyone in this very muddle of the idea of secularism.

    16. Boyo — on 18th February, 2008 at 6:23 pm  

      Halima, I think it’s an interesting point for discussion but I personally think the ABC should butt out: the Western division between man’s law and God’s religion(s) has worked well enough - like Winston Churchill said of democracy it’s full of faults but it’s the best system we have.

      I don’t believe there is a high level of religiosity in this country, indeed we are one of the least religious and the ABC should respect that - frankly given church attendance (5 per cent) I think he’s got a cheek - why should I shell out to have my kids barred from one of his schools?

      I think it’s time we went the whole hog and disestablished all religion from the state and embraced a proper secular constitution that the majority of people in this country could feel represents them. Secularism doesn’t prevent the practice of religion, it simply protects against its imposition.

    17. Boyo — on 18th February, 2008 at 6:27 pm  

      Well Kelvi, I think I’ll leave you to bang that drum alone.

    18. halima — on 18th February, 2008 at 6:41 pm  

      Leaving aside the role of Rowan Williams…

      Secularism does prevent the practice of religion in the public sphere - in some countries, just as religious states prevent the practice of secular ideals in public spheres in other countries - it can happen both ways, one way isn’t better than the other.

      Agreed this country isn’t religious as some other countries can be… However, we are a constitutional monarchy, and monarchies generally are remnants of a religious power sharing arrangement of the past…

      I can agree with you on the point that we either make all religions equal in face of the state/law, or abolish all. That would require us to imagine a different Britain than the one we have at the moment.

    19. Spurius — on 18th February, 2008 at 6:43 pm  

      I think that was an excellent analysis and spot on regarding the Archbishop.

      But why the mandatory swipe?

      “Notice that most of the articles full of enraged, spittle-flecked derision in the tabloids and in blogs following his speech were directed not at Rowan Williams but at, you guessed it, “the Muslims”.”

      I don’t think that is fair comment. A lot of people see Sharia (as it manifests itself in various parts of the world) in very poor light. You also have some criticisms of it.

      In talking about sharia you are talking about Muslims.
      Sharia is a Muslim thing. I’m sorry, but that is the way it is.

      The Sun was definitely aimed at the Archbishop. I have never ever purchased that paper but on this occasion out of curiosity I bought it to get the details of the “Archbishop should resign campaign”. There was a cut out. (In the event I didn’t bother)

    20. Don — on 18th February, 2008 at 7:03 pm  

      halima,

      ‘ we either make all religions equal in face of the state/law, or abolish all.’

      I don’t think anyone has breathed a suggestion about ‘abolishing’ all religions, rather denying any religion privileges beyond those enjoyed by citizens qua citizens.

      (I assume you meant ‘can’t agree’)

    21. halima — on 18th February, 2008 at 7:15 pm  

      Don

      I meant abolish priviledges for all religions (not abolish all religions)…

      Or make all religions equal in face of the law.

      I think this makes sense, no, as two statements? It’s late…

      You are right, no one is breathing this suggestion at the moment , but i recall this is what orgs like Women Against Fundamentalism used to call for once.. Don’t know if they still do ..

    22. Avi Cohen — on 18th February, 2008 at 8:04 pm  

      Katy - It isn’t the ABC who is getting a kicking so much as the Muslims again. Lots of falsehoods and half baked analysis of Muslims is being made.

      But it is an essential debate that does need to take place - namely the place of religion in secular countries. How can Europe talk of integrating brown-skinned mainly Muslim people when it is deliberatly setting laws to protect its own Christian faith but saying everyone else is fair game?

      At the end of the day there is no such seperation of Church and State anywhere.

      Essentially the ugly face of European racism is rearing its ugly head some 50 years after the last bout which is about the time the Europe manages to hold out before some poor ethnic minority is in for a kicking.

      When people like Phil Woolas with their approach to ethnic integration can be named as a minister well then the world is truely mad.

      When Trevor Phillips is in charge of Commission for Equalities and Human Rights but is a man who applies the concept of free speech selectively and who is as detached from the immigrant community as most right wingers then things can only get worse.

      The central issue is that Europe wants a quiet immigrant workforce of cheap lo,abour that simply blends in to what it considers its norms.

    23. Matt W — on 18th February, 2008 at 8:21 pm  

      >What the archbishop did was draw a line in the sand between universal secular law and religious practice and declared that the latter had arrogantly taken upon itself the role of prime mover in shaping civil society while at the same time dismissing the contribution made by religious ideas and practice.

      I don’t understand that: why would religious practice dismiss the contribution made by religious ideas and practice?

      Could mean several things, depending on what the typo is - could you clarify please.

      Thanks

    24. Don — on 18th February, 2008 at 8:21 pm  

      ‘How can Europe talk of integrating brown-skinned mainly Muslim people when it is deliberatly setting laws to protect its own Christian faith but saying everyone else is fair game?’

      Is that genuinely your analysis of this? That we are seeing a spate of laws to specifically privilege christianity over other religions?

      The reality is that, in the UK at least, those christian-specific privileges are on the way out, no longer tenable and it’s been a long time coming.

      If you have specific legislation you have in mind, feel free to mention it.

      The question is, do we give special treatment to all religions or none?

    25. Sid — on 18th February, 2008 at 8:48 pm  

      Whoops! Yes that’s a typo you spotted there Matt W and I’ve corrected accordingly, thanks.

    26. kELvi — on 18th February, 2008 at 8:58 pm  

      You can separate Church and State only in the context of Christianity. How could you apply the principle in the case of Islam and Muslims in a modern state when there is no such thing as the Church within Islam? OK Boyo here’s one for you, how do you give unto Cesear’s and unto the State when you don’t know what is Ceaser’s and what is the State’s?

      The is considerable debate over secularism and its consequences within the Christian domain itself. You have the traditionalist non-Catholics who bemoan the advance of “secularism” a doctrine that was meant to free them of confines of the Church of Rome, now bing turned against the Protestant Church itself. Take family law, and you have Catholics nodding their heads sagely decrying where indiscriminate interpretation has brought the family to with today’s no-fault divorce. One of the factors that led to the marginalisation of the Catholic Church in England and the rest of the Isles - even in Catholic Ireland, is the relentless march of the Church of Rome, trying to elbow out centuries old common law. Now take the idea of “free will” that underpins our current idea of culpability. Roman law is not very clear about it. Where does “free will” come from? You got it right, Christianity. man is created in God’s image and endowed with reason to discriminate and defer action, and is alive due to the life breathed into his soul. Entirely Christian. A cery powerful formulation that has served us well over centuries. But there are other formulations of the idea of being human. Some better, some worse.

    27. douglas clark — on 18th February, 2008 at 9:10 pm  

      Sid,

      As you might have expected, I too, think your analysis is right on the button. perhaps the most influential thing to have come out of PP for quite a while. This deserves to be read more widely. It is lucid and sensible.

      CiF maybe? Certainly, Liberal Conspiracy.

    28. Sid — on 18th February, 2008 at 10:28 pm  

      ooh thanks douglas.

    29. Sid — on 18th February, 2008 at 10:38 pm  

      Essentially the ugly face of European racism is rearing its ugly head some 50 years after the last bout which is about the time the Europe manages to hold out before some poor ethnic minority is in for a kicking.

      That’s frankly rubbish Avi. Muslims are free to worship in any manner, ‘madhab’ (school of jurisprudence), sect or interpretation they want to in Europe, particularly in the UK. Do you think the same breadth of freedom applies to Ahmadiyya muslims operaring in Pakistan or Saudi? Do you know of any Pakistani or Bangladeshi politicians in the governments of any Gulf State, in spite of their presence in those countries since the 50s? If so, I would love to know about them.

      Why is Muslim on Muslim prejudice so unremarkable to people with your value system? And how you can highlight the injustices of muslims in Europe but regard it as invisible in the Gulf where it is *rampant* says a lot about your sense of proportions.

    30. douglas clark — on 18th February, 2008 at 10:41 pm  

      You are welcome. It strikes me as an outstanding contribution to sense.

      I’d have thought that me and Don and Sonia, should not be the only ones exposed to it. It genuinely requires a larger audience than it will get here.

      OK, I’m about to write to that Aaron Heath chap to ask him to pick it up.

    31. douglas clark — on 18th February, 2008 at 10:54 pm  

      Apparently Aaron doesn’t like me! So the message failed. Weird! Perhaps Sunny could take up the case.

    32. Sunny — on 19th February, 2008 at 12:31 am  

      I’ll run it on LC tomorrow morning.

      Douglas - his email is aaronh@liberalcon…

    33. Avi Cohen — on 19th February, 2008 at 12:45 am  

      Sid - “That’s frankly rubbish Avi. Muslims are free to worship in any manner, ‘madhab’ (school of jurisprudence), sect or interpretation they want to in Europe, particularly in the UK.”

      Is it rubbish when you live under such an illusion that there is freedom of worship. So if this freedom of worship exists as you claim why is it that there is such legislation against female headwwera when apparently there is such widespread freedom of worship.

      If there is freedom of worship then why did your secular politicians boast so openly this was legislation against Muslims. Such arrogance that they forgot the other faiths it migth affect.

      Where is the freedom there????

      We are discussing Europe but it always amazes me that when issues are highlighted in secular Europe then people always turn to the Middle East. It is a bit like Blair saying that his invasion of Iraq made life better than under Saddam! Some yardstick you are comparing against eh?

      The whole debate is one sided and the claim that religous laws that protect Christianity are disappearing are short of the mark.

      Why if they are disappearing is the debate being led by increasingly right wing Christians who say they are defending Judeo-Christian values and many ordinary people agree witht his sentiment. They don’t say they are defending secular values but JUDEO-CHRISTIAN VALUES.

      So in the public eye it is about defending Christian values because that is what they say. Even the BNP say this is a Christian country.

      You say British Law should be held up as an example. But this is a law that enshrines the righst of the Church, proclaims Christianity as The Faith etc. These things are still here and this is your example.

      Show me any country where there is purely secular law - there isn’t one. Not even China where offcially there isn’t religion.

      Secular Law is fine but where is it. It doesn’t exist much like British Culture. No-one can define it because so many countries protect religous laws.

    34. Sunny — on 19th February, 2008 at 12:50 am  

      Avi:

      that there is such legislation against female headwwera
      what legislation exactly?

      why did your secular politicians boast so openly this was legislation against Muslims

      what legislation?

    35. Avi Cohen — on 19th February, 2008 at 1:01 am  

      Legislation in France, Germany etc. against Muslim female headwear.

      The statement made was:
      “That’s frankly rubbish Avi. Muslims are free to worship in any manner, ‘madhab’ (school of jurisprudence), sect or interpretation they want to in Europe, particularly in the UK.”

      It isn’t true that in Europe Muslims are free to worship in anymanner as we see nuerous laws being enacted against them from laws against headwear to building of mosques and minarets.

      So they are not as the statement claimed free to worship in any manner.

    36. douglas clark — on 19th February, 2008 at 1:13 am  

      Avi,

      I’d have thought, correct me if I’m wrong, that you have complete freedom to worship whomsoever you want in the UK. Point me in the direction of some piece of legislation that says otherwise. Not cargo cults, please. Nor Bishops in the Lords, which is frankly nonsensical.

      If the BNP says that this is a Christian country then you should take that with a pinch of salt. Much as you might do with any other solution or statement that they come up with!

      Obviously, I happen to agree with Sids’ general point here, and there may be an arguement against it. You have not made it.

      The arguement pro a secular society, which allows toleration of all religious beliefs, and none at all, seems to me to be a worthy objective.

    37. Avi Cohen — on 19th February, 2008 at 1:14 am  

      Also I repeat again why if secular law is so strong in the UK did Blair feel unable to convert to Catholocism whilst PM?

      Why in the USA are military courts being used outside of civil law when trying people at Guantanamo Bay? If the law is there to protect everyone why can it be cicumvented?

      Can a Catholic become Soverign of the UK?

      This country is a mixture of largely secular and some religous law. It isn’t entirely secular or entirely religous.

      Much of the identity of the country is based around religion. Values are based arounf religion. Culture is partly based around religion. Despite what you say here that is what most people believe.

    38. douglas clark — on 19th February, 2008 at 1:15 am  

      Oh,

      And thank you to whoever restored the ‘Preview’ thingy.

    39. Avi Cohen — on 19th February, 2008 at 1:19 am  

      Douglas - The point made was in reference to Europe with the claim there is complete religous freedom in Europe. Lets at least be honest there isn’t. If you want to say UK then fine yes it is better than Europe.

      But I take exception to the ludicrous claim that Europe - Mainland Europe - which is inherantly racist has complete religous freedom. It doesn’t and it doesn’t have freedom of speech either.

      In Europe various bits of legislation are aimed specifically at Muslims - that is simply racist and that has to be admitted.

      Europe has a nasty streak of racism which rears its ugly head every half century or so. We are seeign that again now.

      If you wish to speak up for the values that you hold dear - then at the same time the nasty legislation being enacted by some Europeans countries must be condemned.

    40. douglas clark — on 19th February, 2008 at 1:33 am  

      Avi,

      You are right, and you are wrong.

      We have an unmodernised state, in the sense that there is still a ‘relationship’ between Church and State.

      Personally, I’d like to see that consigned to the dustbin of history. It maps very, very poorly onto the reality of the demographic. Why is it not dealt with? Probably because it would cause a huge stooshie. You could probably compose the ‘Daily Mail’ editorial yourself.

      I have no idea whatsoever why Blair thought his ‘secret’ Catholicism would be more of an issue than his ‘secret’ neo-con tendencies. I suspect the former would have hardly caused a ripple, whereas the latter….

      I agree completely about Gitmo, but I do not see it as a religious issue, rather I see it as a collapse of sanity. But, there you go, extraordinary rendition and the rest of that cobblers was invented by practicing Christians with whom I have no agreement whatsoever.

      So, coming from a completely different background from Sid, I agree with what he has to say.

      Bloody hell!

    41. douglas clark — on 19th February, 2008 at 1:46 am  

      Apologies Avi,

      I think we have cross posted. Just to take up one point from your post @ 39, if I was aware of any European state being coercive about religion, then, yes, I would be annoyed. Assuming it was a worthwhile issue, which I do not think the burqha rules in France actually is. Is there something more substantive I’m missing? If so, please let me know.

    42. Avi Cohen — on 19th February, 2008 at 1:59 am  

      Douglas - As I said despite the claims there isn’t religous freedom in some parts of mainland Europe.

      As to the ideals you state - worthy though they are- there is no country with seperation of Church and State.

      As I said I think the rules work quite well over here.

      However we shouldn’t look at the horror of the emergence of the right in Europe and proclaim that there is religous freedom in Europe. Europe is going throug an intolerant phase yet again. Headscarves are just one issue but the entire treatment of minorities is disgusting and it shouldn’t be hidden under the carpet.

      For religous minorities in Europe - freedom of religion is a principle but not a practise. Just because the states claim they have freedom of expression and freedom of religion doesn’t mean it is there and as such we need to stand up and say so.

    43. Sunny — on 19th February, 2008 at 3:28 am  

      Also I repeat again why if secular law is so strong in the UK did Blair feel unable to convert to Catholocism whilst PM?

      This is his personal belief, rather than any legislation. After all, the United States had a Catholic president decades ago.

      You have to come up with examples of actual legislation. Gitmo, is a huge problem, but its not an example of how Muslims are unable to practice their religion in this country. Hell, even the Muslim Council of Britain openly admits Britain is among the freeest country in the world to practice their faith.

      On the French case - I’m not a fan… but then that’s their tradition. In the way that Saudi Arabia bans alcohol.. which is a religious tradition for people like myself.

    44. Avi Cohen — on 19th February, 2008 at 8:18 am  

      Mr. Hundal - I refer you again to the original statement that in Europe there is complete freedom of religion.

      The statement cannot be valid if there are laws - any laws designed to restrict religous freedom. Its that simple.

      You are looking through rose coloured glasses and keep flip-flopping between the UK, USA and Europe as it suits you.

      There is legislation in France, Austria, Belgium, Holland and Germany which restricts religous freedom of Muslims.

      Thus to say there is religous freedom in Europe is a contradiction of their laws.

      Also if someone - as much as I hate Blair - feels he cannot convert to another religion and remain in office then yes there is an element of opinion that there isn’t religous tolerance in some aspect in the UK.

      Also why do you keep jumping to another country when one is discussing the UK. Pakistan and Bangladesh have both had female Muslim Prime Ministers but it doesn’t mean it’ll happen here does it? So what possible use is it saying that America has had a Catholic President when discussing the UK? If the UK isn’t ready for one it isn’t ready for one.

      The original statement made was:
      “That’s frankly rubbish Avi. Muslims are free to worship in any manner, ‘madhab’ (school of jurisprudence), sect or interpretation they want to in Europe, particularly in the UK.”

      Can a Muslim woman in France worship in any manner - Nope as she cannot wear a headscarf in some places. Can a Muslim build a mosque in Austria - nope. Can a Muslim build a minaret in Switzerland - nope. So that is restrictions not freedom.

      Do you think that Europe - not the UK as I said this doesn’t apply to the UK - has complete freedom of religion when people who are not Christian are unable to wear ALL religous grab, build places of worship etc. Given the fact that in many countries it is practically impossible to get planning permission for anything other than a Church. Is there complete religous freedom?

      The answer has to be no. So therefore we as responsible adults should criticise this - non?

      As I keep highlighting mainland Europe has a nasty racist streak that rears its ugly head every so often.

    45. Sid — on 19th February, 2008 at 10:24 am  

      Avi, before we get diverted into another endless round of Islam vs World blather, let’s get one thing clear: do you agree in the separation of religious institutions from state, in principle?

    46. Ravi Naik — on 19th February, 2008 at 10:28 am  

      “Can a Muslim woman in France worship in any manner - Nope as she cannot wear a headscarf in some places. Can a Muslim build a mosque in Austria - nope. Can a Muslim build a minaret in Switzerland - nope. So that is restrictions not freedom.”

      If you want to get offended at least get your facts right. French law only forbids headscarfs in public schools. Also, a minaret is not required for worship, and Austria does have mosques. It is not uncommon for European cities to limit the type of construction in order to preserve its landscape and architecture. Does it sound discriminatory that you cannot build any type of building architecture where you want it? - you bet! But if you are going to live in a foreign country, you should expect that. How does an European type of cathedral sound in the middle of Saudi Arabia?

      But in no way are muslims prevented to worship in Europe.

    47. Raul — on 19th February, 2008 at 11:44 am  

      @ Avi Cohen. Better every 50 years than everyday. Western secular societies are not perfect, I don’t think anybody makes that claim but they are better on any parameter you want to use short of trivializing the the idea of modernity, equality, freedom and liberalism.

      Allowing people of differing ideas, faiths etc to live together peacefully as human beings and explore their potential as that rather than members of some sub group, recognizing and protecting the individual rather than the group. If this is not acceptable then its natural that you will find it imperfect, if imposing your, an individual’s ideas of morality, religion etc on others is acceptable to you then western societies cannot offer that.

      Morality, religion is not the purpose of life especially an individuals or groups perception of it, but the great thing is as an individual you can make it so but I am sorry others can make up their own minds on such issues leaving it a private matter of conscience.

      Liberalism protects your freedom to do everything but impose your ideas on others. That’s the difference between liberal and conservative societies. You have full freedom but so do others. It doesn’t impose its ideas on you, you can choose to be illiberal but you can’t impose it on anyone else in stark contract to islamic sharia or other religion based societies.

      That’s what we have run away from, over the last 400 years and evolved systems and ideas that promote equality, freedom, individualism and equality. All the fights against region imposing itself with some outdated ideas have been fought and won, fights for equality have been fought and won, fights against bigotry have been fought and won. And hopefully we will stay that way and enough of our generation will have the sense to keep on this fight.

    48. Boyo — on 19th February, 2008 at 11:53 am  

      Also, and I’m no imam, but what have headscalves got to do with Islam? It only says to cover breasts in the Koran - headscalves are simply a patriachal cultural practice to remind women whose boss, are they not? So its perfectly consistent with equal opportunities to ban them from state institutions and has nothing to do with religious practice.

      Snigger.

    49. Avi Cohen — on 19th February, 2008 at 12:09 pm  

      “But in no way are muslims prevented to worship in Europe.”

      And how can they worship if they can’t get permission to build places of worship? Your facts are inaccurate. In Denmark it is practically impossible to get a place of Muslim burial - so that is denial of worship.

      There are restrictions in place and you are choosing to gloss them over. Equally the Saudi’s don’t go round pretending they have religous freedom they admit that they restrict worship.

      So who is dishonest the Saudi’s who admit it or the Europeans who say they do but put so many obstacles in the way that they don’t? Which is dishonest.

      The fact is that yes agreed in the UK there is a freedom of worship. The statement said that this applied to Europe and I disagree.

      I think you are all runnign off in other directions. If there are any restrictiosn then don’t claim they have freedom of worship cause then they wouldn’t have restrictions.

    50. Avi Cohen — on 19th February, 2008 at 12:17 pm  

      Also worth noting is that the very things you deem acceptable as restrctions well the right wing politicians involved in pushing those laws are openly saying that they are designed to restrict Muslims. If they are to restrict Muslims then your claim to freedom of religion is pretty lame isn’t it?

      Check the web and see what the Austrian and Swiss politicians say.

    51. Sid — on 19th February, 2008 at 12:27 pm  

      So Saudi can disallow freedom of worship for various religions other than Islam. The Gulf states can disallow the building of Hindu and Sikh temples for public worship.

      And all this is acceptable to you because they say that there is no religious freedom in their countries from the outset. And this is acceptable to you? Well of course it would be, wouldn’t it.

      Whereas Europe is in the midst of an anti-muslim catacalysm because “there are no minarets in Denmark”. Perhaps I should inform you that minars are not a feature of traditional Maghrebi mosque architecture either. Moroccans must be anti-muslim too! :D

    52. sonia — on 19th February, 2008 at 12:30 pm  

      29. Sid - well said Seeing ‘Muslims’ vs Europeans is pretty racist itself, in any case, all this ‘separatism’ - what kind of tribalism is that? tribes vs tribes - tribes within tribes - there is nothing forward thinking about that.

      the other significant issue - is of course - the aspect of whether we theorise about freedom on the level of the individual, or freedom on the level of some tribe or other. (latter being not much good if you ask me, because you still then have the layer of the individual to think about anyway!) of course what is revealing is that many people who theorise at the level of tribe seem to think individuals are negligible ( or robots)

    53. sonia — on 19th February, 2008 at 12:30 pm  

      well said. ( i missed a fullstop!)

    54. douglas clark — on 19th February, 2008 at 12:30 pm  

      And the Danish burial story seems to have changed quite a bit in the last few years too:

      http://islamineurope.blogspot.com/2006/09/denmark-first-muslim-cemetery.html

    55. sonia — on 19th February, 2008 at 12:34 pm  

      avi seems to be one of these people sunny refers to as ‘liberal racists’ - oh but you must let those different people have their rights! ( because they is not us right?)

    56. sonia — on 19th February, 2008 at 12:35 pm  

      Obsession with outward show = that’s what this all seems to be about. Minarets - what next?

    57. Sid — on 19th February, 2008 at 12:37 pm  

      It’s exotercism gone mad!

    58. sonia — on 19th February, 2008 at 12:39 pm  

      Avi’s comments are highly racist towards ‘muslims’ and doing a good job of keeping “them” as the “Other”. As if “they” are one united group anyway! ( that’s really the funniest thing. Avi, have you ever met any one who is actually “Muslim”? Do you think “they” might be something else ‘too’? or are “they” just “Muslim” to you? Its like being an ‘Indian Muslim’ at this rate. Sheesh

    59. sonia — on 19th February, 2008 at 12:40 pm  

      heh heh i suggest we buy Avi a ticket to go to Saudi, Sid, or Pakistan, on a fact finding mission - what do you think?

    60. Sid — on 19th February, 2008 at 12:43 pm  

      I think it would be too much to handle for the poor little bubble boy. Its nice living in an Islamic bubble in good old blighty.

    61. Avi Cohen — on 19th February, 2008 at 1:01 pm  

      Oh god you are being so stupid. The statement was that there is complete religous freedom in Europe. I highlighted this isn’t so. But you lot just don’t want to accept that and keep jumping back to Saudi or the Gulf States.

      Show me when I said that was ok? Duh!

      All I said was they are open about their laws and they don’t pretend unlike Europe.

      How difficult is that for you lot to get?

      When right wing politicians boast about bringing in laws against Muslims obviously Sonia and Sid find that perfectly acceptable.

      I suggest you don’t support false statements then I wouldn’t need to reply.

      Agreed there is religous freedom in Europe to a degree but it isn’t complete religous freedom as there are restrictions. Get the concept?!

    62. Avi Cohen — on 19th February, 2008 at 1:07 pm  

      Sonia - If you bothered to get your head out of the clouds you’d see that the them and us is an attitude that the politicians you so love have put out and not me.

      If you watched Question Time your politicians that you so love were saying this and the Bishop of Hulme raised this saying they should say Us and not them as they are part of the country.

      You conservative thinking and frankly biased views of Muslims are seen as authoritative here and they simply are not. You are like Ms. Hirshi-Ali caliming to know about Islam but with only limited persoinal experience.

      You even admit you are not Muslim but keep bashing on about issues. Why live a pretence come out and say to everyone what you are because in Europe you are protected and free.

    63. Sofia — on 19th February, 2008 at 1:21 pm  

      “Sharia would formalise a system whereby Muslims pay deference to indisputable laws of hereditary and punishment which are imbalanced and unfair towards women and daughters and which even most Muslim countries are unwilling to implement, and rightly so.”

      Sid…again shariah “law” is being bandied about without looking at the differences…not looking at madhab, ijtihad, or even consensus or what is right for the people at a particular time..all of these are allowed within Islam which then leads on to why these are not being practised..this is the real question, as we all agree that sharia…(which is NOT A SET OF CODIFIED LAWS), can and should be adapted in many many cases….comments like imbalanced only apply to certain ulema who have chosen a hard line instead of those who may not be. Again, why the hell are we having this conversation when the muslim communities in England can’t get past “letting” women enter a mosque, or where imams get away with abusing children because parents trust their “religiousity” or when both men and women are being forced into marriages that are sanctioned by so called religious ppl. This is not just an issue for women it is an issue for all muslims. Till we begin discussing these things in public and ALL VOICES are heard, will our communities move forward. Till then we’re only living .01% of what shariah is about…

    64. Raul — on 19th February, 2008 at 1:38 pm  

      I don’t think people like Avi Cohen give a toss about freedom of religion or any other thing he criticizes western societies about, he seems to seek out exceptions and is in a great hurry to amplify their relevance to pass them off as rule just so that he can take cheap potshots at western societies to ‘bring them down’ but he is reluctant to articulate what he sees as a better alternative. That would require constructive engagement and a willingness to admit western secular society has its flaws but is really the best you can get in the current climate, utopian fantasy excluded.

      The truth is there is none unless you change the terms of modern civilization as we understand it and make bigotry and a curious and frankly juvenile ‘women & sex centric morality’ the epicentre of life.

      This is clearly more of victimhood tribal mindset. Groups looking for reasons to feel victimized and if this is a global hunt believe me you will find thousands of reasons. How about thinking as an individual for a change. If you are sincerely concerned about freedom of religion or any sort of freedom sharia or any islamic society won’t cut it so what does one make of your sharia professing here. Disingenuous and entirely insincere.

      Pickled politics used to be fun to read, but of late there is whole bunch of regressive nutcases articulating their odious ideas. Frankly off putting, there is no need to debate ideas that were outdated in the middle age.

    65. Sofia — on 19th February, 2008 at 1:41 pm  

      well Raul, you criticise Avi and then do it yourself by basically cutting out a whole bunch of ppl who live part of their lives according to teachings espoused by shariah. You don’t know what shariah is, apart from reading what you do in the Sun..and then go on about it like you’re some shariah scholar…plz..instead of critising the person and their views, why not focus on the subject.

    66. Avi Cohen — on 19th February, 2008 at 1:47 pm  

      Raul - First I responded to the false assertion which claimed that there is complete religous freedom in Europe. Secondly there are more religous people in the world than secular so the question is how to reconcile the two.

      That is the debate which you can’t see or don’t want to take place

    67. Sid — on 19th February, 2008 at 1:52 pm  

      Secondly there are more religous people in the world than secular so the question is how to reconcile the two.

      Secular, liberal, pluralist democracies.

    68. Sofia — on 19th February, 2008 at 1:55 pm  

      what if the democracies want religious and not secular law?

    69. Sid — on 19th February, 2008 at 1:58 pm  

      You could do that if you can guarantee that the country contains people of only that particular religion. Is there any such country?

    70. Sofia — on 19th February, 2008 at 2:04 pm  

      erm..well if it’s a democracy surely it’s what the majority want?

    71. sonia — on 19th February, 2008 at 2:13 pm  

      if we’re now talking about what the majority want, that’s a good start. did Zia in pakistan ask what people wanted in 1978 when he began the commitment to the Nizam-e-Islam, or islamicization - of laws. oh wait, he was a dictator. was it douglas who suggested that he reckons most people in this country are agnostic? the americans now, they’re more ‘god-fearing’..

    72. Sofia — on 19th February, 2008 at 2:18 pm  

      well pakistan wasn’t a democracy under zia.
      America on the other hand, is a democracy

    73. Abu Huriah — on 19th February, 2008 at 2:35 pm  

      sofia

      out a whole bunch of ppl who live part of their lives according to teachings espoused by shariah

      Well, considering that all 6 billion people on the planet are tied into the capitalist economic system, and Shariah explicitly rejects capitalism, nobody lives their lives according to Shairah.

      Many thanks.

    74. Ravi Naik — on 19th February, 2008 at 2:45 pm  

      “First I responded to the false assertion which claimed that there is complete religous freedom in Europe.”

      If you want to be a purist, then let’s just say that in Europe and any country that you can think of, there are no complete freedoms, because there are laws and rules - and thus, by definition, it will restrict somebody’s freedom.

      Now, if you want to discuss the real world, the essence of freedom of religion is being able to gather in community and perform rituals and ceremonies without being persecuted by the state. Do places of worship need to be in a particular size or architecture? The fact that there is a sizable community of Muslims that are still emigrating to Nordic countries, makes me think that it is not a bad place as you paint.

      I lived in Denmark for a while, and I have to say is far more liberal and tolerant than England will ever hope to be.

    75. Sofia — on 19th February, 2008 at 2:47 pm  

      ooh look…it’s abuuuuuuu…you’re so funny and i won’t even bother replying to that…

    76. Don — on 19th February, 2008 at 2:48 pm  

      Sofia,

      ‘erm..well if it’s a democracy surely it’s what the majority want?’

      No, that’s majoritarianism. Democracy, as most people use the term, includes protection of the rights of minorities. It takes more than an election to create a democracy.

    77. Sofia — on 19th February, 2008 at 2:48 pm  

      “live part of their lives”…that’s for abuu who can’t read properly…

    78. Sofia — on 19th February, 2008 at 2:51 pm  

      well that is the point I was eventually trying to get to…a democracy choosing to live by religious laws could also protect the right of the minorities…

    79. Boyo — on 19th February, 2008 at 3:00 pm  

      “a democracy choosing to live by religious laws could also protect the right of the minorities…”

      I would love to hear an example. The most enlightened states based upon religious laws were the Islamic during the time of the Caliphate, but of course there “Kafir” were still essentially second class citizens.

      There are no real “religious laws” other than the 10 Commandments and Islam. And Islamic law is quite precise, is it not?

    80. Ravi Naik — on 19th February, 2008 at 3:00 pm  

      “well that is the point I was eventually trying to get to…a democracy choosing to live by religious laws could also protect the right of the minorities…”

      Very unlikely. In practical terms, the state can protect all religious minorities if it is neutral to any type of religion. And you don’t really want to mix state with religion for gazillion reasons that have been explored so many times here, even if 100% of the people adhere to one religion.

    81. Abu Huriah — on 19th February, 2008 at 3:10 pm  

      “live part of their lives”…that’s for abuu who can’t read properly…

      You do not believe in full Shariah, only bits and pieces?

      So you are a pick and choose Muslim.

      Thank you so much for clarifying.

    82. sonia — on 19th February, 2008 at 3:15 pm  

      key point made by don in no. 76

    83. Raul — on 19th February, 2008 at 3:25 pm  

      Since I don’t reside in the UK I don’t read the Sun but that’s a cheap shot. The further I can stay away from religion the happier I am but that’s a personal thing.

      From my limited knowledge of sharia I don’t remember claiming otherwise, its discriminates against women, non believers, is puritanical and makes a big deal of adultery, sex and morality and sanctions barbaric practices like public hangings and stonings. Not surprisingly this is something most religions based on societies thousands of years ago will have in some element. The caveman may have been our ancestor but we don’t have to live like him. We have 5000 years on knowledge to make better decisions than he could ever conceive. Don’t insult him and your intelligence. Every generation has a responsibility to progress and move ahead. That’s the human spirit. We have moved on but some of us clearly hanker for the good old days.

      Anyway like I said in my first post nobody claims western secular society is perfect, there is always room for improvement and progress and its happening all the time, but it a start to ensure personal liberty and equality for individuals irrespective of which sub groups you may belong to which a religious state cannot even begin to comprehend, its existence based on other concepts.

      I may not know much about sharia but I know my history to understand the savagery a religion or self appointed moral majority can bring to any society. Current sharia states are evidence of this. If we all believe in freedom, equality, liberalism I don’t see the need for this argument. Only a secular state can guarantee this

      Muslim majority states with few exceptions impose sharia on all citizens and we can see the results of that so majority rules is not always a good thing. Moreover thinking of it as minority, majority or groups cannot give you an equal socity, address the individual and you have something teneble. That’s why you need a constitution to uphold basic inalienable rights. Current western societies haven’t evolved overnight.

    84. sonia — on 19th February, 2008 at 3:39 pm  

      ..

      ensure personal liberty and equality for individuals irrespective of which sub groups you may belong to which a religious state cannot even begin to comprehend

      yep.. and the key thing here i’d say is that the religious state seeks to privilege the “group” i.e. which consists of believers of that particular religion, so straight away, if you’re not part of that group, you’re second best.

    85. Sunny — on 19th February, 2008 at 3:40 pm  

      Avi, would you be happier with a statement saying Europe has more religious freedom, for people of all faiths, than anywhere else in the world?

      Of course no society is perfect. We have racism and fear ‘the other’ everywhere. But do you agree with the above?

    86. sonia — on 19th February, 2008 at 3:40 pm  

      organised religion is really just an expression of human tribalism anyway..at the end of the day..just taking it to the ‘ultimate’

    87. Sid — on 19th February, 2008 at 3:43 pm  

      There’s only group that an Islamic ulama (analogous to the Church) pay deference to, traditionally: and that is royalty. And they in turn are usually regarded as spiritual elites by default and are exempt from all laws including religious laws. Do muslims who have tasted democracy really want to live under those terms? I can’t fathom why.

    88. sonia — on 19th February, 2008 at 3:53 pm  

      Neither can I, seems bizarre. I asked this of all the young students who seemed to be into the khilafah idea back in the HuT days and they didnt know either. but then they didnt really seem to know what it was they were taking for granted..(or what on earth they might have been bringing on their head!)

    89. Avi Cohen — on 19th February, 2008 at 4:00 pm  

      Sunny - Perfect statement.

      I think the UK has done well in terms of the number of religions that operate well, and the inter-faith work that takes place.

      All those bashing what has been achieved should look at Europe.

    90. Don — on 19th February, 2008 at 4:10 pm  

      Sofia,

      I don’t think we disagree in essence, but I do think it important to emphasise that protecting the rights of minorities is not something a religious democracy ‘could also’ do.

      It’s not a bolt-on, it’s a pre-requisite.

      A secular democracy must, by definition, ensure that no one religious belief is either exalted or down-trodden. The extent to which it fails to do that is the extent to which it has failed to become a truly secular democracy.

      In the UK that is a process which is not yet complete, although the worst excesses are long past and most of what remains are doomed anomalies. Obviously, the Archbishop would like to see this process reversed. As Sid said, it’s a line in the sand.

      In a secular society if a minority religion is unfairly treated, that is a serious flaw which must be urgently addressed.

      In a religious society if a minority religion is treated fairly, that is a favour which can be arbitrarily withdrawn.

    91. Sid — on 19th February, 2008 at 4:25 pm  

      yep absolutely, democracy is no guarantee of a free and fair society. There has to be other autonomous institutions as well such as a free judiciary coupled with a legislative executive, a free press as well. And most important of all, a secular constitution framing all the legal niceties.

      Voter franchise is not enough, but it’s a fucking good start.

    92. Sid — on 19th February, 2008 at 4:38 pm  

      This article by Madam Toynbee made me moist in various parts of my anatomy. Yeah, that good.

    93. Sofia — on 20th February, 2008 at 10:11 am  

      “And Islamic law is quite precise, is it not?” Boyo, not in all cases…and again..i’m not saying this exists cuz frankly the way shariah is practised in many circumstances, is a disgrace.
      Raul i can’t even be arsed with your sweeping statements so won’t bother responding..ditto Abu…

      Don, I totally agree with the protection of minorities. Again i’m not saying this exists at the moment or that it will be easy to implement, given the vast array of different opinions…there are actually quite a few areas where ulema disagree, therefore the “law” can appear to be quite arbitrary. Not an ideal at all, which is where many problems arise. I refuse to use saudi arabia as some sort of perfect model cuz frankly it isn’t. I’m not sure who mentioned the whole women not driving etc, but it is important for us to try and support women and men out there who are trying to bring about change within their own difficult circumstances. It is easy to compare cultures and communities but in reality this is not always fair as each culture develops at its own pace.

    94. Sofia — on 20th February, 2008 at 10:14 am  

      and again i’m glad sid did raise the limitations of our current democracy. I think what i have a problem with is the lack of debate around democracy and religious laws.

    95. douglas clark — on 20th February, 2008 at 11:21 pm  

      Sofia,

      I thought Sid raised some really interesting points here. I was somewhat disappointed that it never appeared on Liberal Conspiracy, but I guess Sid had the last word on that.

      I think what i have a problem with is the lack of debate around democracy and religious laws.

      Is this not the very place for these discussions?

      I think it is, ’cause it is usually quite a friendly place.

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