In defence of secularism
reason in revolt now thunders
And at last ends the age of cant
So away with all your superstitions..."
From the Internationale
I must reply to comrade Ben Drake and hope that he regrets not having voted for
my motion having read this. He says "in Europe, the main danger isn't the rise
of an oppressive theocracy." Well no, not theocratic states as such. But the
matter does not end there does it. It depends who you are. If you are a woman
in Ireland fighting for abortion rights? If you are a Jewish woman in Stamford
Hill whose husband has refused to give you a 'get' but you have had a civil
divorce so all your children and their children for nine generations will be
considered 'mamzerin' (bastards) by the orthodox community? Or if
you are a dissident Sikh who is trying to get her play performed in Birmingham?
Or if you are a dissident Muslim who attended the last conference of the
National Assembly Against Racism to hear a speaker applauded for saying that all
our problems started with Salman Rushdie? And Tony Blair supports a school in
Gateshead teaching Creationism in Biology.
And lets leave Europe for a moment. Look at the United States where
conservative and religious 'Moral Values' - their morals not ours - is said to
have a key role in the election of Bush - that is the backbone of the
administration of the most powerful state in the world.
Comrade Ben continues "Quite the reverse. Look at the developments like the
headscarf ban...and you see the real threat.....almost fanatical brand of, well,
secularism." No Ben, its racism using secularism as a flag of convenience. Just
as Islamaphobia is principally a form of racism which attacks a people
through their beliefs and anti-Semitism is racism. I know that the headscarf
ban was supported by the majority of 'liberal opinion' but remember that it was
the fascist Front National who were the most virulent campaigners for this move
and regard it as their victory. Are the Front National secularist? I don't
think so. Don't I recall them supporting keeping the Mass in Latin? Don't they
celebrate St. Joan on May Day whilst we support the (secular) workers' May Day?
Comrade Ben does not see that actually the fight for secularism is also a
positive fight and not a fight against religion as such. Let me illustrate this
with respect to Palestine. The PLO argued over a long period for a "democratic
and secular state". Was this because they were a bunch of intolerant atheists
who wanted to ban people wearing headscarves and crosses? Of course not. It was
because this was a framework in which Muslim, Christian and other Palestinians
could unite and also the only conceivable framework in which Palestinians and
Israeli Jews could live together in one state. Secularism, handled
properly, is a unifying conception.
Hence the nonsense of George Galloway writing about his support for the
Palestinians in a statement to demonstrate that he supports Muslim causes. Only
Hamas, on the one hand, and Zionism, on the other, thinks that Palestine is a
'Muslim cause'. The PLO's representative in Britain is a Christian!
I am alarmed by Ben's claim that withdrawal of funding of state subsidies to
faith schools would lead to "shutting down about half of the state sector." If
his figures are correct it rather demonstrates that religion has even stronger
tentacles in the present and future of Britain than I had previously imagined.
This certainly has to be fought. We must struggle for the secularisation of
Finally, it should be no secret why I felt moved to present such a motion to
Respect conference. It was not just that I felt that this is an important
question in the world, which clearly it is. It was because Respect had
opportunistically adapted to religious agendas, particularly with regard to the
community. To take just one example, reserving a place on the Respect list for
the London Assembly for someone to be decided by a meeting of South London
Mosques? I hope it is clear that this would have been equally problematic if it
had been a Church, synagogue or whatever.
To adapt the Women's Movement slogan from the 70s "Not the Church, Synagogue,
Mosque, Temple, Not the State, the oppressed must organise to determine their