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Eric Pickles Fights ‘Militant Atheists’. A Militant Secularist Reply.

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Militant atheists should ‘get over it’ and accept Britain is a ‘Christian nation’, according to communities secretary Eric Pickles.

Having previously introduced laws that ensure parish councils can avoid legal challenges for holding prayers in public meetings, Pickles this weekend urged non-believers to avoid imposing their ‘politically correct intolerance’ on others.

Speaking at the Conservative Spring Forum, the communities secretary said he had ‘stopped an attempt by militant atheists to ban councils having prayers at the start of meetings if they wish’.

‘Heaven forbid,’ he added. ‘We’re a Christian nation. We have an established church. Get over it. And don’t impose your politically correct intolerance on others.’

In his speech, Pickles said the Government had also ‘backed British values’ and ‘stopped Whitehall appeasing extremism of any sort. Be it the EDL, be it extreme Islamists or be thuggish far-left, they’re all as bad as each other’. From here

This follows the much more strident claim by  Baroness Warsi in February that,

For me, one of the most worrying aspects about this militant secularisation is that at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant. It demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes – denying people the right to a religious identity because they were frightened of the concept of multiple identities.”

There have been many commentaries on this bluster.

One of the best, by Matt Broomfield (Left Foot Forward), focuses on the secular alternative to Pickles’s  ‘Christian nation’.

What is secularism?

Following Broomfield we note  that,

Secularism is not  Atheism.

Secularism is the policy of opening up society  to all beliefs by making no one faith or non-faith a central part of the public sphere.  This means no public subsidies for religious groups, and certainly no “established” Church. It means that education is free from religious doctrine. It means that official religious values, symbols and practices in these areas – such as schools – should be excluded.

It is not  Extremist.

Broomfield states, “In his speech, Pickles aligned secularism with the extremist doctrines of the English Defence League and militant Islam, saying “they’re all as bad as each other”. In reality, secularism is not a religious or political ideology at all, so much as it is the absence of any one dominant ideology.

It is not Intolerant. 

Broomfield notes that secularism  has nothing to do with the Marine Le Pen’s claim that Front National schools will only lay on pork for children to eat. This is as bad as forcing people to eat Halal food (something  rigorously  forbidden from diet  example, to all Sikhs). Le Pen is not a secularist – she has backed Catholic led-demonstrations against gay marriage and teaching gender equality in schools. Such has been the importance of this clash that Libération has a whole special section on its site devoted to it: here. Those citing the FN should look there before pontificating about its opportunistic ‘secularism’.

Militant Secularism.

But more is needed.

In Britain the education system, particularly through ‘free schools’ and academies’ has been wide open to the influence of faith groups. These have imposed their narrow agenda with public funding.

Some on the ‘left’ would no doubt prefer Pickles to promote faith more broadly.

The multiculturalism that has been used to promote religious causes, from reinforcing traditional authority, to the state where active communalism, with public subsidy is promoted by municipalities  like Tower Hamlets.  It bolsters reactionary political influence of religious groups – the opposite the aim of secularists who wish to make the public domain open and free from bigotry.

Only a militant, that is vigilant, secularism, can fight back against this.

It requires not just the ‘absence’ of an official doctrine  but a conscious effort to undermine religious dogma.

That  is,  not an official replacement doctrine but a call for mass pressure and activity to create free spaces for people’s ideas, culture and values.

Contrasts with the Front National.

But before one lie gets repeated again and again, nobody has ever proposed the following (as Broomfield claims), “the National Front’s plans to force Muslim schoolchildren to eat pork.”

A weaker version of this claim, closer to the truth,  is made by the Bob Pitt,

Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen said on Friday it would prevent schools from offering special lunches to Muslim pupils in the 11 towns it won in local elections, saying such arrangements were contrary to France’s secular values.

The Front National proposes to put  pork on the menu in all school canteens.

In practice this has not meant denying an alternative.

« Il y a toujours eu deux menus dans les cantines : l’un avec porc, l’autre sans porc pour ceux qui ne désirent pas enconsommer. Naturellement, cette possibilité sera préservée dans les cantines de Fréjus, l’essentiel étant que la liberté de chacun soit préservée »

There has always been two menus in the canteens: one with pork, the other without pork, for those who don’t want to eat it. These possibilities will be maintained in the canteens of Fréjus” (Front National town).

Today Le Monde summarises the real conditions which the Front National operates within.

It debunks some myths. Essentially that there is a major issue about Halal food in French school, and that Marine Le Pen’s Party is laying down an important marker on the subject.

The question of pork is a sign of secularism in danger

But the issue is not new, the vast majority of canteens offers alternative dishes and have done  for decades, and no religious organisation has recently made a special request on this subject.

Le Pen’s  party will not accept halal in canteens

But there is none in the places where the party is in charge.

Impose the presence of  pork on school  menus

This is already the case for all menus that we could see in towns run by the FN.

- But maintaining a substitute menu

But this, too, is already the case in most  FN run towns

- If the municipality cannot offer an alternative to pork dishes, would it keep the pork?

This is already the case in the past for menus in FN controlled towns.

- Finally, will the president of FN  ensure that “there are always two menus”

This is mostly true for municipalities  run by the  FN, it is not in general the practice

So, not only is Halal Food not a major topic of controversy, but that all it boils down to in practice is that the Front National claims that it will “offer” a pork menu.

The only really major fault of their position (distasteful rhetoric aside)  is that they do not guarantee to offer an alternative Halal – or vegetarian? –  dish.

But in practice they do: as can be seen below.

Ville FN Restauration Porc dans les menus Substitution proposée?
Cogolin privé oui
Beaucaire privé oui
Le Luc privé ?
Mantes-la-Ville ville oui
Villers-Coterêts ville oui
Camaret privé ?
Béziers ville oui
Fréjus ville oui
Beaucaire privé oui
Hayange ville ?
Le Pontet ville ?
Marseille 7 ville oui

Written by Andrew Coates

April 8, 2014 at 11:38 am

Lutfur Rahman, Tower Hamlets and Securalism.

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Directly Funds Religious Groups. 

This is not the place to discuss the full picture  of the Panorama report into Tower Hamlets Council and Lufter Rahman.

Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for local government, is not the best person to criticise anybody, even the person who ties his shoelaces.

Counterfire has however  muddied the waters by repeating Rahman’s charges that the programme is ‘racist’ and ‘Islamophobic’.

Since they claim to speak for the left, they need a reply.

They claim,

Take away the constant reminders that Lutfur and many of supporters are Bengali(!!), and what were we left with? Firstly, the fact that he didn’t follow the advice of council bureaucrats as to who should get funding, and secondly that he didn’t submit himself to sufficient questioning by Tower Hamlets’ Labour-dominated council. As for the former, it is a hardly a political scandal that funding decisions should, ultimately, be taken by elected representatives rather than unaccountable bureaucrats. If a mayor is to be branded corrupt for not doing what his officials tell him, why bother having elections at all?

This avoids the issue of the nature of directly elected mayors with the kind of powers to override and ignore objections from critics that was illustrated in the documentary.

It is a curious position to take, considering the battles the left has had with other directly elected mayors, in Bristol, to cite but one example.

It would have more to the point to argue that Eric Pickles, the Minister responsible  for this system in the first place is biased by focusing on only one borough and one Mayor.

Counterfire then goes on to make sweeping claims.

The British establishment seem rather conflicted on what they want Muslims to do. On the one hand they aggressively lecture British Muslims on their responsibility to engage with democracy and domestic political institutions. On the other hand, they seem awfully frightened by the prospect that voting by Muslims could actually influence the outcome of elections, and that brown people might get to spend public money.

We shall ignore Counterfire’s own ‘lectures’ to British Muslims on Imperialism, and its strange silence on the backing some British Muslims  give  to the Syrian jihadists.

The main problem is that the article’s rhetoric ignores a central issue : Tower Hamlets policy of funding, directly, faith organisations.

As can be seen from the Tower Hamlets Council Statement after the Panorama programme.

These are the relevant items.

Faith buildings

Panorama suggested the Faith Building Scheme in Tower Hamlets was somehow divisive, whereas faith and social cohesion go hand in hand in Tower Hamlets. The borough has a strong tradition in this regard: for example, the Salvation Army was formed in Tower Hamlets and many faith-based organisations deliver community services accessible to all. Preserving these buildings to support the area’s heritage and its rich faith communities is seen as vital to the fabric of Tower Hamlets

Grants to mosques

Many of these organisations, Churches, Mosques and Synagogues deliver valuable community services. Some will also have buildings of historical and community interest. It is about heritage, but this includes supporting the fabric of what makes our community strong. The inspiration for the scheme came from the fate of Nelson Street Synagogue, to help them maintain their building – in their case it was about heritage, but for others they were doing good community work and needed a means of improving their buildings.

Cohesion?

Really?

The Docklands and East London Advertiser  21st February 2014.

A pitched battle broke out last night between Bangladeshi groups in a Whitechapel park, with women and children caught in the middle.

Hundreds had gathered in the park at midnight to place flowers at the Shaheed Minar (Martyr Monument) for the annual Bangladeshi Martyrs Day ceremony.

But flowers gave way to fists as the night turned violent after a war of words between rival groups over controversial war crimes trials in Bangladesh.

Tensions have been bubbling in the East End over the International Crimes Tribunal in Bangladesh, which is trying men accused of war crimes during the country’s 1971 liberation war.

Death threats have been received by activists in London and some have been attacked in the street.

These clashes were the direct result of a battle being fought between Bangladeshi secularists and Islamists.

What is the fundamental objection to financing religious groups?

It is not a matter of  ‘heritage’ that is being sponsored by the Tower Hamlets Council (a criterion, incidentally, that means the secular French government helps out with the preservation of religious buildings).

It could be that this takes sides in controversies, such as oppose two wings of Bangladeshi society.

But more importantly it is to give active finance for religious groups some of which have a political agenda and many of which have far from inclusive positions of women’s rights, LGBT issues, and a host of other topics. 

Does this happen elsewhere?

Certainly.

This is a problem: multiculturalism being used to shore up faith communities and traditional leaderships.

One could say that this is the opposite of the anti-racist secularism a diverse borough like Tower Hamlets needs.

Instead all we get is bluster from the Rahman camp: Mayor’s response to BBC Panorama.

Written by Andrew Coates

April 2, 2014 at 11:42 am

Left Unity Conference: the Good and the Not-so-Good.

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As Dave Osler has said, Left Unity is a party created not by deals between left groups but primarily by the hard work of activists alone.

Its Manchester Conference is to be congratulated on opening up a space for real debate on the left.

Many of the policy positions of the group, on Europe (it rejects the ‘No’ stand), and on economic policy (firmly anti-neo-liberal), are real steps forward.

“Left Unity opposes all programmes and demands for a British withdrawal from the European Union. By the same measure we oppose the EU of commissioners, corruption and capital. However, as the political, bureaucratic and economic elite has created the reality of a confederal EU, the working class should take it, not the narrow limits of the nation-state, as its decisive point of departure.”

We are for joining with others across Europe to campaign for a different form of European Union, a ‘socialist reconstruction’, as called for by the 4th Congress of the European Left Party.

Left Unity, we learn, would not take a position on the  Nationalist left campaign for a ‘Yes’  vote in the Scottish Referendum.

There are a host of other good policies on green issues such as fracking, Housing, and defending welfare.

In these areas some serious work has borne fruit.

There are wider topics, about the role such a party may take, and its relation to the broader labour movement and the left, that many will not agree on. Above all “coming soon to a Ballot Paper near you”.

These will be discussed here (as no doubt many others will do)  but not today.

But for the moment we have to signal that some material passed by the Conference is less than appealing to every internationalist and socialist. (see here).

The text of the Anti-Racist Commission begins well. It talks of the need to defend migrants, and to fight all forms of racism.

But this is extremely confused, when it is not plain wrong.

Racism against Muslims has deep roots in British history, extending into the colonial era.  Its most recent manifestations can be traced to the period after the ‘Rushdie affair’ when Muslims were increasingly identified as a ‘security’ problem, and a menace to national ‘values’.  Following the riots in northern cities, the government extended this attack to British Asians in general, alleging that they were ‘self-segregating’.

In the context of the ‘war on terror’, these discourses about British Asians were focused on Muslims in particular, and a neo-Powellite argument took hold that ‘multiculturalism’ had failed.  Politicians and media outlets claimed that by allowing diverse ‘cultures’ to ‘do their own thing’, Britain had tolerated islands of extremism in its midst. This counterinsurgency narrative validated a series of high profile attacks on the rights of Muslims, such as the Forest Gate raids in 2006 or the long-term imprisonment without charge and subsequent deportation of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan – only the most severe examples of the day-to-day state repression and racism experienced by the Muslim community.

The language of this ‘new racism’ blames racially oppressed groups themselves for failing to ‘integrate’ or ‘confront extremism’.  In so doing, it both validates racist repression and simultaneously instils fear and discourages resistance to racism.

The fact that it is culture and creed, rather than colour and breed, which is the ideological focus of these measures allows politicians to pretend that they are not racist.  Yet, there is a long history of ‘cultural racism’, which has become especially dominant in the aftermath of Britain’s colonial era.  Even the most biologistic forms of racism have always been supplemented by essentialising cultural stereotypes. The representation of Muslims as a monolithic bloc embodying the most hateful characteristics belongs to this tradition.

As an account of the Rushdie affair its stupidity and reductionism, not to mention the failure to defend Rushdie’s right to free speech, is reactionary in the extreme.

The rest is a completely jumbled up account of this aspect of race-cultural-relations in the UK.

There is not a word for a  strategy that is opposed Islamism.

Islamism may as well not exist.

No words are written on the Sikh, Hindi, or other religious communities (you can guess the obvious absence, it begins with ‘J‘).

Or indeed to defend secularism and advance secularist policies of equality  as the only basis on which a coherent anti-racist position can be built.

Then, while well-intentioned, this is their unreadable conclusion,

For all the negatives in the British situation, there are grounds for optimism.  Popular views on immigration and race are actually far more complex and ambivalent than opinion polls would suggest.  The ambiguities of popular opinion are, moreover, not a concluded fact but raw material which can be worked with by those seeking to draw out the best instinctive responses of ordinary people.  Anti-racism actually forms part of the common sense of millions of working class people who, thanks to decades of large-scale immigration, experience a ‘lived multiculture’ that is remote from the stereotypes of ‘failed multiculturalism’.  A left political articulation that operates on such lived experience, linking a popular anti-racist politics to a wider critique of class injustice, can begin to shift the balance, and offer a counterpoint to the racist Right which the mainstream parties cannot.

Now Tendance Coatesy wholly endorses this aspect of their policy,

Left Unity must challenge racist ideas in the labour movement, and even sections of the socialist movement.  Some openly support or implicitly endorse the idea of “British Jobs for British Workers” – the supposed need for greater and “tougher” immigration controls to defend worker’s rights. Left Unity must contest this wherever it appears.

But the previous material  on religions and multiculturalism?

It is no surprise that we learn that Richard Seymour was behind this confused document – and indeed moved it at the Conference.

He’s obviously been flipping through those 1980s Stuart Hall articles or old Paul Gilory stuff.

And observed nothing since – notably the latter’s critique of multiculturalism,

Like this,

“The fundamental challenge of our time, asserts Paul Gilroy, is to imagine an ethical and just world that truly fulfils the promise of humanism and enacts the idea of universal human rights.”

Update Seymour Addresses the Popular Masses: Pic of him reading out in support of above Motion.

Embedded image permalink

Birmingham Islamists Take a Gramscian Turn.

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School sign composite image

Birmingham Islamists  battling for Hegemony over Civil Society.

Salafists  have,  like other religious groups, for-profit businesses, people with a self-appointed mission to run schools and bigots (not a term excluding the former categories )taken advantage of  the government’s education policies.

“The academy status, as promoted by schools minister Michael Gove, allows them to be run out of the control of the local authority, with funding provided direct from central Government.”

So no surprise that, “Leaked letter suggests Salafi parents be enlisted to help as they adhere to a more orthodox form of Islam.”

From their strategy document on how to mobilise support,

‘The only way to do this is to tell each parent that the school is corrupting their children with sex education, teaching about homosexuals, making their children pray Christian prayers and mixed swimming and sport.

‘If you can get them to be very vocal in the playground as they drop off or pick up their children that will stir up other parents.

‘The parents MUST be given direction and told not to discuss this with anyone, you only need a maximum of four parents to disrupt the whole school, to send in complaints to question their child’s education and to contact their MP and local authority.’

The story so far….(Birmingham Mail)

An alleged plot by Islamic fundamentalists to take over Birmingham schools by ousting headteachers and staff through dirty tricks campaigns is being investigated by education chiefs.

The city council and the Birmingham Mail have received documents which purport to show Jihadists are targeting schools and orchestrating false allegations against staff, including non-Muslims, in an operation dubbed Trojan Horse.

Meanwhile, West Midlands Police have reopened a fraud investigation at one school named in the supposed leaked letter – and Ofsted is currently conducting a snap inspection at another.

The documents claim to be leaked written correspondence from one Birmingham fundamentalist to another in Bradford and details plans to roll out Trojan Horse to Bradford as well as Manchester.

The letter states some Birmingham headteachers have already been forced out and predicts others will follow.

**Police probe ‘fake letters’ at school as two heads named in document quit**

Meanwhile, police have confirmed to the Birmingham Mail that a fraud investigation has been reopened at Adderley Primary School after the documents came to light. It is understood the investigation centres on allegations of ‘faked’ resignation letters.

Both schools were named in the documents, along with Saltley School.

The documents claim former Saltley headmaster Balwant Bains would ‘soon be sacked’. In fact, the much respected principal resigned last November after a damning Ofsted report criticised his “dysfunctional” relationship with governors.

An alleged plot to oust headteacher Tina Ireland at Regents Park Community School by ‘planting the seed’ of SATs cheating allegations is also detailed in the documents.

The long-serving and respected teacher and her deputy, Michelle McCusker, resigned in October after education chiefs scrapped the primary school’s SATs results following cheating allegations.

The Guardian adds,

The alleged plot was condemned by Inayat Bunglawala, chair of Muslims4UK, a group which aims to promote active Muslim engagement in British society. He said: “The contents of this document are very disturbing. On the face of it this would appear to be part of a radical agenda by a tiny yet highly committed group of activists to impose their very conservative and bleak vision of Islamic teachings in our schools by fomenting division and distrust against the existing school leadership. It constitutes highly objectionable and unethical behaviour.”

More reports: Independent, Daily Mail, BBC.

Mejiri, in Tunisian Prison for Images of the ‘Prophet’ pardoned but remains in Prison.

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Not Yet Free.

President Moncef Marzouki has signed a pardon for Jabeur Mejri, who was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for posting cartoons of the prophet Mohammed online, according to his office.

Mejri’s supporters, however, have criticized the lack of details in the announcement and say he is still imprisoned.

Presidency spokesperson Chaker Bouajila confirmed to Tunisia Live that a pardon has been signed. He referred all further questions to a legal advisor, who could not be reached for comment.

Adnene Mansar, another spokesperson for the presidency, announced the decision in an interview on radio station Shems FM Wednesday.

“A few days ago, President Moncef Marzouki signed an pardon decision on Jabeur Mejri’s case, ” Adnene Mansar told Shems FM

“In October, Jabeur Mejri wrote a handwritten apology letter saying: I declare that I apologize to the Tunisian people and other Islamic people for what I released of my writings and drawings offending the Prophet Mohammed and Islam,” Mansar added.

He added that there was another case against Mejri involving “financial misconduct,” but the details of this are unclear.

Henda Chennaoui of Mejri’s support committee is not satisfied with the announcement.

“We demand more transparency on the release of prisoner of conscience Jabeur Mejri. We condemn the Presidency’s tricky statements announcing the pardon without speaking about liberation. Jabeur is still in prison,” she posted on her Facebook page.

Previously, the presidency said Mejri could be released in a deal involving asylum in Sweden. It is unclear if this option has been taken.

- See more at: http://www.tunisia-live.net/2014/02/19/presidency-announces-pardon-for-jabeur-mejri-but-supporters-say-hes-still-in-jail/#sthash.ai2XIpLq.dpuf

President Moncef Marzouki has signed a pardon for Jabeur Mejri, who was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for posting cartoons of the prophet Mohammed online, according to his office.

Mejri’s supporters, however, have criticized the lack of details in the announcement and say he is still imprisoned.

Presidency spokesperson Chaker Bouajila confirmed to Tunisia Live that a pardon has been signed. He referred all further questions to a legal advisor, who could not be reached for comment.

Adnene Mansar, another spokesperson for the presidency, announced the decision in an interview on radio station Shems FM Wednesday.

“A few days ago, President Moncef Marzouki signed an pardon decision on Jabeur Mejri’s case, ” Adnene Mansar told Shems FM

“In October, Jabeur Mejri wrote a handwritten apology letter saying: I declare that I apologize to the Tunisian people and other Islamic people for what I released of my writings and drawings offending the Prophet Mohammed and Islam,” Mansar added.

He added that there was another case against Mejri involving “financial misconduct,” but the details of this are unclear.

Henda Chennaoui of Mejri’s support committee is not satisfied with the announcement.

“We demand more transparency on the release of prisoner of conscience Jabeur Mejri. We condemn the Presidency’s tricky statements announcing the pardon without speaking about liberation. Jabeur is still in prison,” she posted on her Facebook page.

Previously, the presidency said Mejri could be released in a deal involving asylum in Sweden. It is unclear if this option has been taken.

- See more at: http://www.tunisia-live.net/2014/02/19/presidency-announces-pardon-for-jabeur-mejri-but-supporters-say-hes-still-in-jail/#sthash.ai2XIpLq.dpuf

Background.

Ghazi Beji  and Jabeur Mejri are Tunisian citizens sentenced on 28 March 2012 to 7.5 years’ imprisonment for “transgressing morality, defamation and disrupting public order” after posting naked caricatures of Mohammad to Facebook.Mejri faced trial in court, while his friend Beji was convicted in absentia, having fled to Europe to escape prosecution. Mejri’s appeal of his sentence was denied on 25 June 2012. Mejri’s lawyer objected to his client being denied medical evaluation, describing him as “mentally unstable” and unemployed for the past six year.  Wikipedia.

Today Libération reports that Jabeur Mejri has  received a Presidential pardon.

But he remains in Prison on a (critics allege, fabricated) charge of having operated a fraud as an emploeye of the Tunisian railway services.  While unemployed when arrested for “blasphemeny” he had in the past worked in the ticket office of Mahadia.

Ghazi Beji has been granted political asylum in France.

This story is also on Tunisia Live.

“President Moncef Marzouki has signed a pardon for Jabeur Mejri, who was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for posting cartoons of the prophet Mohammed online, according to his office.

Mejri’s supporters, however, have criticized the lack of details in the announcement and say he is still imprisoned.

Presidency spokesperson Chaker Bouajila confirmed to Tunisia Live that a pardon has been signed. He referred all further questions to a legal advisor, who could not be reached for comment.

.Adnene Mansar, another spokesperson for the presidency, announced the decision in an interview on radio station Shems FM Wednesday.

“A few days ago, President Moncef Marzouki signed an pardon decision on Jabeur Mejri’s case, ” Adnene Mansar told Shems FM

“In October, Jabeur Mejri wrote a handwritten apology letter saying: I declare that I apologize to the Tunisian people and other Islamic people for what I released of my writings and drawings offending the Prophet Mohammed and Islam,” Mansar added.

He added that there was another case against Mejri involving “financial misconduct,” but the details of this are unclear.

Henda Chennaoui of Mejri’s support committee is not satisfied with the announcement.

“We demand more transparency on the release of prisoner of conscience Jabeur Mejri. We condemn the Presidency’s tricky statements announcing the pardon without speaking about liberation. Jabeur is still in prison,” she posted on her Facebook page.

Previously, the presidency said Mejri could be released in a deal involving asylum in Sweden. It is unclear if this option has been taken.”

Written by Andrew Coates

February 20, 2014 at 1:28 pm