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In defence of secularism

David Landau

"So 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 education.

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 Muslim
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 fate".


January 2005

Ben Drake's article

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