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Culture and the Death of God. Terry Eagleton. An Atheist and Secular Critique.

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Review Article. Culture and the Death of God. Terry Eagleton. Yale University Press. 2014.

Xll

And who or what shall fill his place?

Wither will wanderers turn distracted eyes

For some fixed star to simulate their pace

Towards the goal of their enterprise?…

Xlll

Some in the background then I saw

Sweet women, men, youths, all incredulous

Who chimed, ‘This is a counterfeit of straw

This requiem mockery! Still he lives to us!

XlV

I could not buoy their faith: and yet

Many I had known: with all I sympathised;

And though struck speechless I did not forget

That what was mourned for, I, too, long had prized.

God’s Funeral. Thomas Hardy. (1)

Terry Eagleton introduces Culture and the Death of God by announcing, “This book is less about God than about the crisis occasioned by his apparent disappearance.” He continues, “I start by showing how God survived the rationalism of the eighteenth century, and conclude with his dramatic reappearance in our own supposedly faithless age.” (Page iix) Determined, it appears, to wrong foot one of his most cutting critics, Gregor McLennan, that his ‘theological turn’ simply sets one “static slogan, (God is back) against another (God is dead)” Eagleton turns to cultural and intellectual history (2). That is, a would-be dynamic account, “The history of the modern age is among other things the search for a viceroy for God, reason, nature, Geist, culture, art, the sublime, the nation, the state, science, humanity, Being, Society, the Other, desire, the life force and personal relations: all of these have acted form time to time as forms of displaced divinity.”(Page 44)

Culture and the Death of God is not, then an account of the wider social and individual fortunes of atheism or secularism. The “lived experience” explored by Charles Taylor, the web of changing attitudes in the “move from a society where belief in God is unchallenged and indeed unproblematic, to one in which it is understood as one option among others…” is dismissed (like – initially – Taylor himself) to a footnote. (3) Yet Eagleton is not shy of referring to the loss of “fundamental value” “moral rationales” (some of the deepest parts of feeling) – once offered by religion – in “underlying political power”.

Eagleton’s latest work is not a “sociological” history of faith and secularism at all. It is the story of the, long in coming, installation of “authentic atheism”, resting on the faithless ‘marketplace’ where the Economy is “rank atheist.” Eagleton tries to associate the ‘New Atheism’ with the ‘War on Terror’. The “alarmed liberal intelligentsia” clutching at “Reason, truth, science, progress and objectivity…” in the shape of Sam Harris, might suggest a very literal End of Faith to halt religious violence. That is by a pre-emptive nuclear strike against terrorism. (Page 202)

The Enlightenment.

Culture and the Death of God offers a rapid overview of the Enlightenment. It is informed by a number of secondary works, such as Peter Gay’s classic account of the battles for “freedom”, and its synthesis of the Christian and Pagan heritage, and by Jonathan I. Israel’s more recent studies. The latter distinguished a ‘Radical Enlightenment,” of figures like Spinoza, Bayle. Diderot, based on “toleration, personal freedom, democracy, equality racial and sexual, freedom of expression, sexual emancipation and the universal right to knowledge and a ‘Moderate’ version – Locke, Newton, Hume, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Turgot and Kant, to throw in a few names. Israel commented, “the difference between reason alone and reason combined with faith and tradition..”

Israel traced modern ideas of “personal liberty, comprehensive toleration, equality, sexual and racial and a secular morality of equity” back to this radical strain (5). Eagleton is more interested in its stand on religion. Many, the majority, classed as Auflkärer (the German word he frequently employs) were deists, who had no beef with God, only with Revealed and, institutional religion. “It was religion in this institutional sense that most of the philosphes took as their target.”(Page 7) Indeed, even the most radical sceptics and atheists were frightened of a godless, and ‘thus’ potentially immoral, populace. “The Enlightenment’s assault on religion, then, at root a political rather than theological affair.”(Page 12)

In fact Enlightenment thinkers were not really capable of killing off God even if they had wanted to. The claims of Reason – even, one assumes, Hume’s extreme scepticism ‘Pyrrhonism’ – were curbed, and their overweening ambitions, bootless. “When human reasoning becomes autonomous, it approaches divine status; but a rationalised world is also one in which its presence gradually dwindles, so that he grows remote from rationality and becomes accessible only through faith and feeling. In this sense the other face of rationalism is fideism.”(Page 34)

The French Revolution’s brief radical Dechristianisation, never struck a popular chord. The idea that “patriotism should be the new faith, the Declaration of the Rights of Man its Apostles” did not last long. The Culte de l’Être suprême that followed struck no roots, although the Constitutional Church had some support.  Eagleton does appear close to one of Robespierre thoughts that, “Atheism is aristocratic. The conception of a great being who watches over oppressed innocence and punishes successful crime, is democratic through and through.” Nevertheless, he observes, the  ‘bloodless Supreme Being” could not, nevertheless take the place of the real, and bloodied, thing. (6)

Culture and the Death of God then takes us through a whole series of thinkers – remote from popular culture. The German Idealists tried to repair any split between reason and nature, the romantics went further and reinvented God as nature of culture, incarnate in Nationalism, and by the 20th century (modernist) Culture itself (post-Matthew Arnold) had risen to the empty throne, as the new vice-regent of God. As (falsely) in Eagleton’s eyes, as a source of social cohesion, the “corporate sense of culture” of ultimate value, and transcendence, all have stumbled along, ‘surrogates’ for the divine.

It is hard to take seriously Eagleton’s claim that “None of (these) divine deputies are “graven images of the godhead.” They are “phenomena in their own right, not simply a locum tenas or camouflaged version of something else.” But nearly every page of Culture and the Death of God traces religion in “textual styles of thought, which then unwittingly help to keep divinity alive in a more clandestine way.”(Page 45) So if many ideas do not simply stand in for God, if we look beneath the disguise – from the appearance to the ‘essence’ – we will find some divine contraband.

To cite just two cases. Nietzsche’s views on the ‘death of Man’, to pair with the ‘death of God’ are the condition for the birth of New Humanity. For Eagleton this is “orthodox Christian doctrine” – regardless of his notorious loathing on Christianity. (Page 159) Eagleton also asserts that Marx was “deeply informed by Judeo-Christian thought. It is not here, then, that an authentic atheism is to be found.”(Page 161) And “humanity for Marx is not a self-determining absolute, and so cannot scramble on to the empty throne of its Creator. If Marx is more religious than Nietzsche in some ways, he is less so in others.” (Ibid). In this – shabby – way at least one of the two most notorious atheists in history comes close to a posthumous conversion.

A Theology?

A commonplace – irritating – of some of the faithful is that people cannot really disbelieve in god. To try to do so is to end up with ersatz religion. Culture and the Death of God is not short in finding proof that we cannot do without ‘something’ to fill what Ferdinand Mount has called “an enormous empty space in people’s lives” created by the “the eclipse of a single God-centred explanation.” (7) Perhaps one of the most scathing criticisms of these “substitutes” is of George Elliot’s devotion to Duty. A.N. Wilson has cited F.W.H. Myers’ that most beautiful and humane of Ethical novelists, “I seemed to be gazing, like Titus at Jerusalem, on vacant seats and empty halls – on a sanctuary with no presence to hallow it, and heaven left lonely of a God.” (8)

In these, and countless ways, Eagleton tries to demonstrate that  ‘God’ never really died in Western culture – his shadow loomed too large.

Before looking at what Eagleton considers authentic atheism – which does not mourn these sanctuaries – what exactly is his God centred explanation? In a sense only one part of the Godhead plays a role: Christ. Christian faith, he wrote in Reason, Faith and Revolution (2009) is not primarily about whether “there exists a Supreme Being” but “the kind of commitment made manifest by a human being at the end of his tether foundering in darkness, pain, and bewilderment, who nevertheless remains faithful to the promise of a transformative love.” (9)

This is what is presented to us, “The crucifixion proclaims that the truth of human history is a tortured political criminal. It is a message profoundly unacceptable to those sunk in dewy-eyed delusion (idealists, progressives, liberals, reformers, Yea-Sayers, modernisers, socialist humanists though one which as perfectly understood by a Jew like Walter Benjamin. Only if you can gaze on this frightful image without being turned to stone, accepting it was absolutely the last word is there a slim chance that it might not be. This chance is known to the Christian faith as resurrection. To acknowledge this thing of darkness as one’s own discerning in this monstrous image a reflection of oneself and one’s historical condition, is the revolutionary act which the Gospels know as metanoia, of conversion.”(10) Repentance, acceptance of this Revealed Truth, is a commitment to the future, not a submission to the past.

This, then, is the root of a “tragic sense” of religion, “Those who hold suffering and hope most finely in balance – the true tragic protagonists, so to speak – are those who rise up because they have little enough to lose, yet for that reason have the power to transform their condition.” One might call this Faith, a leap into the world itself, through divine grace. (11)

In Culture and the Death of God we learn of the social message contained within. The New Testament “shows no enthusiasm for social consensus. Since it holds that such values are imminently to pass away, it is not greatly taken with standards of civic excellence or codes of good conduct. What it adds to common-or-garden morality is not some supernatural support, but the grossly inconvenient news that out forms of life must undergo radical dissolution if they are to be reborn as just and compassionate communities. The sign of that dissolution is solidarity with the poor and powerless. It is here that a new configuration of faith, culture and politics might be born.” (Page 208)

These images of suffering, of the crucifixion, the Passion of the Christ, or the Mel Gibson portrait of the Stations of the Cross, faced with the imminence of the passing of the world, are unlikely to appeal to many a Doubting Thomas. Creating something from what we do not see, on the basis of one writer’s Christology, beyond the range of possible experience (and with little sign of the gentle warmth and kindness of the Redeemer), and putting this at the heart of faith itself, is the purest and most virulent irrationalism. How this will end in “compassionate communities “is a mystery too deep to grasp. One suspects that not many theologians, who have their own rooted human rationality, would follow Eagleton, for all of those twentieth century writers who have made the “scandal” of the crucifixion at the centre of their thought.

Capitalism, Secularism and Fundamentalism.

“Whenever the Almighty seems safely dispatched, he is always liable to stage a reappearance in one disguise or another.”(Page 119)

The economy, for Eagleton, we have noted, is “atheist”. Culture and the Death of God explains, “The faithlessness of advanced capitalism is built into its routine practices. It is not primarily a question of the piety of scepticism of its citizens. The marketplace would continue to behave atheistically even if every one of its actors was a born-again Evangelical.”(Page 196) The coming of Postmodernism – a self no longer coherent enough to need to project itself as God onto the world, has bolstered its faithless character. There is “no Big Other, no grand totality or transcendental signifier.”(Page 190)  It is only now that the whole of Western society is undergoing the real harrowing of atheism.

Yet, “No sooner has a thoroughly atheistic culture arrived on the scene, one which was no longer anxiously in pursuit of that place-holder for God, than the deity himself was suddenly back on the agenda with a vengeance.”(Page 197) A vast list of causes, from the West’s international interventions, globalised capitalism, to social anxiety, anomie and powerlessness, has created a new surge in religion. “Western capitalism, in short, has managed to help spawn not only secularism, but also fundamentalism”. The latter, in its multiple forms, has appeared “as a refuge an a strength for those who feel crushed by its own predatory politics.”(Page 198) “The Almighty, it appears, was not safely nailed down in its coffin after all, He had simply changed address, migrating to the US Bible Belt, the Evangelical churches of Latin America and the slums of the Arab world. And his fan club is steadily increasing.”(Page 199) As a result we have a new ‘grand narrative, “the so-called war on terror.”

Is ‘secularism’ the “spawn” of capitalism? In Inventing the Individual. The Origins of Western Liberalism (2014) Larry Siedentop has argued that its liberal roots, the ‘privatisation’ of individual judgement, lie in Christianity and the importance it places on the individual, not the group, the family, the tribe or the nation. From the grace of faith, to freedom of choice to believe or not, the journey Charles Taylor describes, was not smooth. Secular states – that is not dominated by religious authorities with freedom of belief for all – are the result of a long European ‘civil war’, to establish these freedoms. The left, in the broadest sense of the term, has shouldered much of this struggle. Many believers, particularly from religious minorities, have joined. The fight was not borne forward by those uniquely dedicated to Truth of the Event of the Crucifixion but by those with more modest horizons, the love of their fellows, those dedicated to tolerance and liberty.

That there are those opposed to this ideal, ‘fundamentalists’ is all too clear. The problems they cause, above all from political Islam, are with us now. Eagleton wrote in On Evil “Had the West acted differently in its treatment of certain Muslim nations, it might have escaped at least some of the aggression that is now seeing visited upon it.”(12) But is less than obvious that extremist Islamism would have been killed in the egg, if ‘justice’ to their calls – that is, their demands for a theocracy – a Caliphate – had ever been met. The killers in Pakistan are those whose “radical innovation consist of bringing chaos into being, thus putting creation into reverse. By blowing a black hole in what God has fashioned, he tries to catapult himself into equal terms with him.” (13) What possible ‘justice’ could slake their murderous “death drive”?

Culture and the Death of God is stitched together from a patchwork of intellectual texts. It folds up when it’s placed over the real, the mundane real not the Lacanian Real. It is Eurocentric. The ‘war on terror’ is a thin enough doctrine, but it covers something much deeper. As Fred Halliday pointed out (in 2002), there is an “enormous, long and very violent clash within the Muslim world between those who want to reform and secularise and those who power is threatened or who want to take power in the name of fundamentalism.” (14) Comments about the decentred self of Western capitalism and a “new form of Western cultural supremacism” are, frankly, trivial in comparison with the depth of these clashes. (Page 202)

A Marxist stand, a democratic socialist position, would be to side with the secular intelligentsia, defending religious pluralism, and the working class against the pious Islamist bourgeoisie and the genociders of the Caliphate and Al-Qaeda. But I leave that, vast, issue, hanging.

Eagleton never bothers to distinguish between agnosticism – hard (it is impossible to know that god exists or not), or soft (there is no reason to believe or not to believe in god) – and atheism – god does not exist. Many people who hold to these views simply do not feel the need for religion, have no “religious experience” and have no more divine gaps in their lives than they have a Third Eye. Believers are right to smart at ‘New Atheist’ charges that they are “are thick and/or uneducated “(Ferdinand Mount). There is a great deal of kindness carried out by religious people and we should glory in these acts. To be told that our ideas are either ‘really’ religious and/or Western examples of Western ‘supremicism’ is equally condescending. And we observe that Eagleton’s particular New Left Church stands, on the evidence, with few followers and empty of newly converted sceptics

References.

(1) Cited in God’s Funeral. A.N. Wilson. John Murray. 1999. This is a much more humane and intelligible account of the loss of faith, and the ‘bereavement ’ felt by Victorians at this, than Eagleton’s lofty pamphlet.

(2) Mr Love and Justice. Gregor McLennan. New Left Review Second Series. 64. 2010.

(3) Page 3. A Secular Age. Charles Taylor. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 2007.

(4). The Enlightenment: An Interpretation. Vol. 1. The Rise of Modern Paganism. Vol. 2. The Science of Freedom. Peter Gay. W.W.Norton. 1977 (1966). Page 4 Enlightenment Contested. Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670 – 1752. Jonathan I. Israel. Oxford University Press. 2006

(5) Page 869. Jonathan I. Israel op cit.

(6) Page 266. Fatal Purity. Robespierre and the French Revolution. Ruth Scurr.Chatto and Windus. 2006. See also Religion and Revolution in France. 1780 – 1804. Nigel Aston. Macmillan. 2000. For Aston Robespierre and the Jacobins’ Supreme Being did have supporters but for the majority, worshiping this deity was “like taking an ice-maiden for bedfellow…”(Page 274)

(7) Page 215. Full Circle. How the Classical World Came Back to us. Ferdinand Mount. Simon & Shuster. 2010.

(8) Pages 151 to 152. A.N. Wilson. Op cit.

(9) Page 37. Reason, Faith and Revolution. Reflections on the God Debate. Terry Eagleton. Yale University Press. 2009.

(10) Pages xxvii – xxviii. Terry Eagleton Presents Jesus Christ. The Gospels. Verso 2007.

(11) Page 272. The Trouble with Strangers. Terry Eagleton. Wiley-Blackwell. 2009.

(12) Pages 157 – 8 On Evil. Terry Eagleton. Yale University Press. 2010.

(13) Page 97 Holy Terror. Terry Eagleton. Oxford 2005.

(14). Page 46. Two Hours that Shook the World. Fred Halliday, Saqi Books. 2002

See also: Eagleton, Terry (19 October 2006). “Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching. London Review of Books.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 19, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Tower Hamlets Council and ‘Communalist’ Mayor Rahman, Guilty of Major ‘Failings’.

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Tower Hamlets council guilty of systematic failings. 

The Guardian has just revealed.

Inquiry finds grants were handed out by Lutfur Rahman’s council to ‘ineligible’ organisations and criticises authority for ‘obfuscation and denial’

 A report has found systematic failings in the conduct and governance of Tower Hamlets council, and claims its approach to an inquiry into financial dealings was one of “obfuscation and denial”.

The 193-page report, ordered by the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, says the east London council, run by directly elected independent mayor Lutfur Rahman, awarded more than £400,000 in grants to “ineligible organisations” in one case after an intervention by a council member.

It was criticised for failing in its duty to acquire best value for local taxpayers.

PWC reports that the council’s response to the identification of issues raised in the report “suggests a tendency towards denial or obfuscation rather than an inclination to investigate concerns raised”.

“Despite its public assertions of support for the inspection, at various stages [the council] raised a number of obstacles to our progress which have significantly delayed the provision of information or documentation and which in large part led to our request for an extension of the timetable for the inspection.

“The authority tended to pronounce allegations to be baseless and/or politically motivated without having conducted what we would consider to be an adequate investigation into the issues raised.”

The Evening Standard summarises this:

Among key findings:

  • Poplar Town Hall, a Grade II listed building, was sold for £875,000 to a political supporter of Mr Lutfah even though the bid arrived late, and after rival bids had been opened, which created a “risk of bid manipulation”. A higher offer was rejected, contrary to independent advice, and the winner was later allowed to change his contract.
  • Grants were handed out to organisations that were “ruled ineligible”, with some £407,700 given to groups that failed to meet the council’s own minimum criteria. Council officers were over-ruled in many cases.
  • The appeared to show “a tendency towards denial or obfuscation rather than an inclination to investigate concerns raised”.  It did not properly investigate issues raised in a BBC Panorama programme that alleged Mr Rahman intervened to increase grants paid to some local Bangladeshi organisations.
  • Public money was spent “inappropriately” on political advertising for the Mayor.

The Telegraph is more explicit,

Tower Hamlets, the east London council, sold off public buildings to associates of the Mayor and handed out grants to ineligible bodies, a damning Government report has found.

The winning bidder to buy Poplar Town Hall offered a lower price than other bidders and “had an association” with the controversial Mayor Lutfur Rahman, according to an audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

The Mayor personally intervened in the awarding of council contracts, which lacked signed paperwork or audit trails, the report found.

Hundreds of thousands of pounds in public money were awarded to local bodies that were not eligible for the money after the intervention of elected councillors, the report found.

The audit was commissioned by Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, following allegations of cronyism, fraud and waste at Mr Rahman’s council.

Mr Rahman, who has courted the support of the borough’s Bangladeshi community, was re-elected in May. That victory is being challenged in the High Court by people who alleged the vote was riddled with fraud.

Addressing the Commons, Mr Pickles said Mr Rahman had handed money out “like a medieval monarch”. He said the report had been submitted to the police for examination of potential criminal wrongdoing.

The “rotten borough” is “at best dysfunctional, at worst riddled with cronyism and corruption,” he said.

“Executive power is unchecked and executive power has been misused.

He announced that three commissioners, answering directly to central Government, would take responsibility for all financial decisions. They would see the appointment of new permanent council officers.

Mr Pickles said there were “widespread allegations of extremism, homophobia and anti-Semitism being allowed to fester without proper challenge.”

“The abuse of taxpayers’ money and culture of cronyism reflects a partisan community politics that seeks to trade favours and spread division on the rates,” he said.

This comment is revealing,

Meg Hillier, the Labour MP for Hackney, called for Mr Rahman to resign. Mr Pickles replied: “He would not be missed.”

The Local Government Chronicle states,

The report, written by accountancy firm PwC and published today, found the council had “failed to comply with its best value duty” in relation to the way grants were awarded and property sold.

It said the authority’s governance arrangements “do not appear to be capable of preventing or responding appropriately to failures of the best value duty of the kind we have identified”.

It said: “This calls into question the adequacy of these governance arrangements.”

Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman said the report revealed “regrettable” flaws in process but had not found evidence to substantiate “wild claims about fraud” (see full statement in update below).

The report said the council had had no chief executive since July 2012, adding: “One of the authority’s corporate directors has since that time (with a short hiatus) fulfilled the role of head of paid service, as required by statute, however the head of paid service has not had the full powers of a chief executive delegated to him under clause 3.5.5 of the authority’s constitution.

“These powers have remained with the mayor. This means that, for most purposes, the head of paid service, other statutory officers (being the section 151 officer and the monitoring officer), as well as other corporate directors are all directly accountable to the mayor.”

The accountancy firm was sent in by communities secretary Eric Pickles just before last May’s mayoral and council elections after he received a dossier of allegations about abuses including governance failure, poor financial management and fraud.

Regarding the transfer of council property to third parties, the report said: “In relation to three of the four property transactions we looked at in detail, namely Poplar Town Hall, Sutton Street Depot and Mellish Street, we conclude that in those instances, the authority failed to comply with its best value duty.”

In relation to the Poplar Town Hall sale, PwC said Tower Hamlets had “accepted a late bid from the winning bidder after other bids had been opened, creating a risk of bid manipulation”.

The report said: “The winning bidder was, as a matter of fact, connected to a person with other business interests that had an association with the mayor [Lutfur Rahman].”

The report said although the difference in price was “small”, the council “did not in fact select the highest bidder, in spite of the external adviser’s recommendation to do so”.

The report added: “The winning bidder also asked for and was granted changes to the contract it had signed, which further undermined the purpose and credibility of the contract race process.”

Regarding the way grants had been awarded, PwC’s report said: “In relation to the matter of grant making, we conclude that the authority is failing to comply with its best value duty.”

It said grants had been awarded to organisations “which were ruled ineligible or which did not meet the required evaluation score”.

The report added: “Applicants [who had not met the minimum criteria for an award after evaluation] were recommended to receive, in total, awards of £407,700.”

PwC also looked at whether spending on media advisers to the mayor were “genuinely for the benefit of the authority” or “of a party political nature pertaining to the mayor” and concluded “that there is a failure to comply with the best value duty”.

The same was said of the Ofcom finding that five television channels had broadcast an advert from the council that was deemed to breach the Communications Act. PwC’s report said “the clear implication is that authority monies were spent inappropriately on what amounted to political advertising for the benefit of the mayor”.

PwC said both it and Tower Hamlets’ internal audit team had “found instances of procurement policies and procedures have not been adhered to”.

The report noted problems associated with evidence gathering when it said: “Despite its public assertions of support for the inspection, the authority has at various stages raised a number of obstacles to our progress which have significantly delayed the provision of information or documentation and which in large part led to our request for an extension of the timetable for the inspection.

As a  result the Guardian now reports,

The communities secretary, Eric Pickles, has taken over the administration of Tower Hamlets council in east London for two years after an inquiry commissioned by his department found wholesale mismanagement, questionable grant-giving and a failure to secure best value for local taxpayers.

Pickles plans to dispatch three commissioners to administrate grant-giving, property transactions and the administration of future elections in the borough.

The commissioners, who will be answerable to Pickles, will be in place until March 2017 and are tasked with drawing up an action plan to improve governance in the council, including the permanent appointment of three senior council officers including a chief executive.

The BBC adds,

The report also found that a proposal to award money to lunch clubs for Jewish, Sikh and Hindu communities resulted in £99,212 being awarded to Bangladeshi or Somali groups, none of which had applied for the money.

and

The report found that in response to the BBC Panorama programmeThe Mayor and Our Money, the authority spent £101,479 getting advice from law firm Taylor Wessing and PR consultants Champollion.

Comments

We have covered this story (and there have been many previous  posts on Tendance Coatesy), principally because of charges of ‘communalism’ against Rahman, and his declared policy of directly funding religious organisations out of public money.

It is very probable that such groups are amongst those cited by the damming report.

Having Pickles run the borough through his commissioners is no solution.

Pickles is a one-man anti-democratic foul abusive swine.

But before protesting at this those on the left should avoid saying that Rahman’s administration and satellites innocent because they say so.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 4, 2014 at 5:25 pm

Faith Schools Undercover: When Will we Get a Secularist Challenge to Faith Education?

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Humanists Show the Way Forward.

Faith Schools Undercover: No Clapping in Class  (Monday 14th July at 8pm on Channel 4) revealed:

  • Exclusively that even before the so-called anonymous ‘Trojan Horse’ letter came to light the Prime Minister’s office had been warned of what was going on
  • Claims by current and former members of staff at Park View – one of the schools implemented in the ‘Trojan Horse’ allegations – that male pupils were given worksheets saying women couldn’t say no to sex with their husbands and also girls at the school were sent home from a sports event because only a male coach was present
  • The ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jewish schools in the London Borough of Hackney ‘operating illegally and without the most basic health, safety and child welfare checks’. Channel 4 Dispatches has shocking evidence that Hackney Council, the Department for Education and Ofsted have all known about the schools for years

The programme began with concerns at  Oldknow Academy Birmingham. A parent had complained at Christmas not being celebrated and got short shrift. He wrote to the PM.

The most important item was on Park View school,

A former teacher said, on camera, but anonymously that,

“about 60 male pupils were given a worksheet saying women couldn’t say no to sex with their husbands.

She says: “The work sheet categorically said that you know the wife has to obey the man. Well I think it makes the boys feel that they have got that power over girls. The east Birmingham area has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the country.”

This was flately, and not very convincingly, denied, by the school.

Local MP Khalid Mahmood  says: “I am not talking about here extremism in schools although ultimately it could lead to it, and that’s my fear, is that when you are grooming young people into that sort of a mind-set then its very easy once they leave school is to go that extra additional step.”

He also dismissed suggestions the controversy smacks of Islamophobia.

“Over 200 people complaining to the local authority about what’s gone on and you can’t really claim that it’s a witch-hunt,” said Mahmood, whose own actions have shown him sensitive to the difficulties raised by racist attacks on Birmingham Muslims.

There was a report on Olive Primary School in Blackburn.

During this there was evidence that  music in school was discouraged, that clapping was not encouraged, and that other “un-Islamic,” practices were frowned on.

Olive Primary  is run by the Tauheedul Education Trust, with two other secondaries in Blackburn.

The Lancashire Telegraph draws attention to one feature of the Trust’s activities,

The programme revealed trust schools hosted lectures by three extremist preachers, including Mufti Ismail Menk banned from six UK universities for preaching same-sex acts were ‘filthy’.

It showed him saying of gay people: “With all due respect to the animals, they are worse than animals.”

In Hackney illegal Jewish religious schools (for the ultra-orthodox) exist,

Channel 4 Dispatches discovered that more than 1,000 boys aged 13 to 16 have disappeared from registered schools in the London borough of Hackney.

Instead they are being sent by their parents to be educated in yeshivas – fee-paying schools where the curriculum is solely religious.

We have identified more than ten unregistered, illegal, schools.

And what’s really shocking is that Hackney Council, the Department for Education and Ofsted have all known about these schools for years.

We’ve seen internal government briefing documents that reveal as early as 2008 the Department for Education was aware of the issue. One document states the Department knows a number of schools are ‘operating illegally and without the most basic health, safety and child welfare checks’.

In 2012 the Department acknowledged those running the schools were breaking the law, but said they preferred to work cooperatively with the community.

There were shots of a school, including a room where Hasidic instruction and disputation was taking place. Students went in an out till late in the day.

The conclusion of this section was very unsettling.

Dispatches contacted the schools featured but have received no response.

Hackney Council, Ofsted and the Department for Education told Dispatches their concerns date back many years and they are aware of all the schools on our list.

They say they’ve been working to get them registered.

The Department for Education, who Ofsted and Hackney say have the power to take action against the schools, told Dispatches that ‘where applications for registration are still not forthcoming we will press for a prosecution as it is a criminal offence to operate an unregistered illegal schools.’

The programme seemed to suggest that the Council, out of concern for religious and cultural feeling, was unwilling to act.

Andrew Gilligam reports,

Government documents obtained by Channel 4’s Dispatches and the Jewish Chronicle newspaper say that many of the schools are “operating illegally and without the most basic health, safety and child welfare checks”.

Many boys in the Orthodox Jewish community in Stamford Hill, London, “will stop secular studies at the age of 13 or 14 and start attending ‘yeshivas’ where the curriculum is solely religious,” the documents say.

Between 800 and 1000 boys aged between 13 and 16 are “missing” from the school system in the borough of Hackney alone, the papers add.

Undercover filming by Dispatches in and around the schools shows the boys packed more than 50 to a classroom in dirty, run-down buildings, some converted houses. More than a hundred boys were filmed going in to an illegal school in Lynmouth Road, Stamford Hill, arriving from 7.30 in the morning and leaving late at night. The establishment is believed to be one of twelve illegal schools in the neighbourhood.

In 2011, about one third of the 20,000 state funded schools in England were faith schools, approximately 7,000 in total, of which 68% were Church of England schools and 30% were Roman Catholic . There were 42 Jewish, 12 Muslim, 3 Sikh and 1 Hindu  faith schools.

The British Humanist Association says,

“Around a third of all state-funded schools are schools ‘with a religious character’ – the legal term for ‘faith’ schools. This number has grown in recent years as successive governments have increased the influence of religious groups in the state-funded education system.”

That is, with the introduction of Academies and Free Schools, this percentage is believed to have risen.

Faith Schools Undercover noted their role in encouraging  ethnic and cultural segregation.

The idea that parents have the right to run, publicly funded, education that promotes their religion, is fundamentally wrong.

Some liberals seem unable to respond to the issues raised.

There are those who claim to be on the left who find excuses for these arrangements.

They claim that criticisms of, notably, the Birmingham schools, are an ‘Islamophobic’ conspiracy.

This completely fails to look at the problems religiously-run schools create – as indicated by the Channel Four Dispatches documentary.

It indicated that concerns had a solid basis.

The National Secular Society sets out a much better position that those wishing to sweep the subject of Faith education under the carpet.,

Rather than facilitating the segregation of pupils along religious lines, we would like to see steps taken to ensure children of all faiths and none are educated together in a respectful but religiously neutral environment.

As long as faith schools are publicly funded, we campaign for an end to exemptions from equality legislation that allow them to select pupils on the basis of the religion, or religious activities, of the child’s parents.

We are concerned that the Government’s desire for greater proportion of academies and free schools, which are independent and self-governing, will see more and more control of state funded education handed to religious organisations.

Dispatches showed more than enough reasons to back this stand.

The author of many of the pro-religious education policies, Michael Gove, is now Chief Whip.

He has been replaced by even more faith-influenced minister, Nicky Morgan, a Tory MP who voted against same-sex marriage, as  education secretary. She “continues as minister for women and equalities”.

Whataboutery and Seamus Milne on Conservative Islamic Influence in Education.

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Seamus Milne Hints at Plot to Forge Trojan Horse Document.

The fallacy of relative privation, or appeal to worse problems, is an informal fallacy which attempts to suggest that the opponent’s argument should be ignored because there are more important problems in the world, despite the fact that these issues are often completely unrelated to the subject under discussion.

The word whataboutery has been used to describe this line of argument when used in protesting at inconsistent behaviour. e.g. “The British even have a term for it: whataboutery. If you are prepared to go to war to protect Libyan civilians from their government, then what about the persecuted in Bahrain?” Wikipedia.

Seamus Milne is a master of Wataboutery.

Today in the Guardian he begins an article – Michael Gove’s toxic assault on schools is based on naked discrimination – with another tactic, of ‘contextualisation’ by putting an event in terms of the worst possible context.

“The harassment of minorities on the basis of forged documents has a grim history.”

So  the official onslaught on mainly Muslim state schools in Birmingham, triggered by what has all the hallmarks of a fabricated letter outlining a supposed Islamist plot to take them over, should be cause for deep alarm.”

Left in the dark about this “history” (although we might float the words, Protocols, Elders and Zion,  around) we launch into some rhetoric before landing here,

But this extremism turns out to be a different beast from the one first trailed in lurid accusations a few months back. It is nothing to do with terrorism, or even the elastic boo-word of Islamism. The target is religious conservatism – or even just plain religiousness.

It is with interest that Milne takes so lightly criticism of Islamism (overwhelmingly from the left in countries where Islamists have murdered democrats, leftists and feminists) that he calls it a ‘boo-word’.

Milne then largely denies that there is much of a problem about the influence of conservative Islamism in schools, notes the patriotism of  Birmingham Muslims, denies that most of the reported incidents of enforcing religious norms took place, and, unable to disprove some of them admits that,

That’s not to say, of course, that there’s nothing behind the allegations, which have clearly been fed by former and current staff – or that there aren’t legitimate grievances. These are not faith schools and some have clearly pushed the schools’ religious boundaries.

He then ends with a classic whataboutery,

“There’s a powerful case for secular education. But it doesn’t exist in Britain’s schools, which are awash with religion. And unless the same rules apply to all, the result is naked discrimination.  But has Gove sent inspectors to root out anti-abortionism and homophobia in Catholic or evangelical-sponsored schools, or cultural isolation in mainly white schools where racism is rife?”

No he has not.

He has not disestablished the Church of England.

Or promoted equality and secularism.

He is a dyed-in-the-wool reactionary privatiser.

But does Milne advocate promoting the “”same rules for all”?

We await this call with interest.

This is followed by another whatabout….

But the campaign to bring to heel Birmingham’s schools and humiliate the Muslim community in the process is a wider threat in a country where war-fuelled Islamophobia is already rampant. Dog-whistling to Ukip bigotry might seem a cute electoral trick.

The problem then is not the content of the report on the schools: it’s the context in which it’s made. By this sleight of hand Milne has avoided addressing the issues

  • Is there anything wrong with the principle of religious influence in education?
  • Should the influence of conservative Islam be curtailed?
  • Should there be universal secular education?

Whatabout Iraq!

Indeed.

Written by Andrew Coates

June 12, 2014 at 3:27 pm

Le Monde on Birmingham Schools Scandal.

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Secularism Means Freedom,  Equality and Solidarity!

The infiltration of public schools in Birmingham by Islamists causes a political scandal.

Le Monde 11.6.2014. (Extracts)

Birmingham is in shock. Across the media the second city of the Kingdom is everywhere. The infiltration by Muslim extremists of six public schools in the Midlands city  has stirred up a debate not only on the evolution of British multicultural society but it has also divided the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition led by  Prime Minister David Cameron.

On Tuesday Mr Cameron announced that “The promotion of fundamental British values ​​in schools in England will have the support of all”  This followed the publication yesterday of an  explosive Ostead inspection  report on  the Islamic practices  imposed by Muslim extremists in six schools in Birmingham.

Headteachers and non-Muslims or moderate Muslim teachers were harassed. Boys and girls were separated. Calls to prayer were constantly broadcast by loudspeakers. Private detectives were hired to investigate students in order to uncover  their sexual relations and report them back to parents. The Emails of recalcitrant teachers were scrutinised. Several pilgrimages to Mecca were financed with public funds. Hard-line school governors intended to stop the teaching of music and arts . They banned a picture of Jesus in a Nativity play at Christmas.

 

*********

Four of the six public schools in the spotlight are totally autonomous “academies” , completely free from local authority control, which are in principle charged with the supervision of public institutions. This reform was launched by the Blair government reform and put an end to municipal control of education and the school curriculum. It has been  by  continued by Mr Gove. The Birmingham case highlights the risk of abuses of a  system allowing freedom for schools to manage their own functions.

 

See also:

Halte à l’islamisation des écoles !

Cri de colère de l’écrivaine palestinienne Ahlam Akram contre les écoles tenues par des intégristes à Birmingham et ailleurs.

Written by Andrew Coates

June 12, 2014 at 10:38 am

Secularism Against Religious influence in Schools, from Birmingham to Islamabad.

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Park View School in Birmingham

Government’s response worst possible one.

“Le jour où les socialistes pourraient fonder des écoles, je considère que le devoir de l’instituteur serait, si je puis ainsi dire, de ne pas prononcer devant les enfants le mot même de socialisme.”

The day that socialists come to found schools, I consider that the duty of the teacher would be, if I may say, to never pronounce even the word socialism in front of the children .

Jean Jaurès Pour la Laïque January. 1910 Chambre des Députés.

The problem with the Ofsted report into a cluster of schools in Birmingham and the role Islamist extremists is not “extremism”.

It is the influence of religion in education, and the free reign this has been given in Academies and Free Schools.

Here is what we know, at present (Monday morning), from the central findings.

The Birmingham academy trust at the centre of the so-called Trojan Horse allegations has been accused of running schools which have “taken the Islamic focus too far”.

A leaked draft report on Park View Educational Trust from the Education Funding Agency says some parts of the school curriculum are “restricted to a conservative Islamic perspective”.

It found that girls and boys had been segregated in some classes.

The trust has strongly disputed allegations of extremism.

This highly-critical report found a classroom culture in which Park View School which was not welcoming to non-Muslim pupils – even though the school is not a Muslim faith school.

It described a “madrassa curriculum” in PHSE (personal, social, health and economic) lessons and “posters written in Quranic Arabic in most of the classrooms visited”.

Staff told the inspectors that loudspeakers in the school were used to broadcast the call to prayer.

The report says there were posters in classrooms encouraging children to begin lessons with a Muslim prayer.

And there were claims of an inappropriate external speaker being brought in to talk to pupils. BBC

Some on the left will side with the schools.

They have lost their moral compass.

The subject of Jihadism has muddied the waters. But this is not about a  link between these schools and ‘extremism’. It is about the power of religious authority in education.

The worst possible response has just come from the government.

“Protecting our children is one of the first duties of government and that is why the issue of alleged Islamist extremism in Birmingham schools demands a robust response,” the prime minister said.

Cameron will chair a meeting of cabinet ministers on Monday morning to discuss the Trojan horse findings, in the wake of the public row between Michael Gove and Theresa May on the subject. Ofsted will publish the reports and then Gove will address parliament on the issue.

The Guardian has also learned that the Department for Education is investigating options to radically restructure Birmingham’s state schools in what would amount to a sweeping, city-wide shake-up of England’s largest local authority. It could lead to all the city’s schools being forced to become academies.

These measures will simply transfer religious authority to new administration.

What is at stake.

A deeper principle remains unresolved: open-minded education.

These schools, as with all faith schools that limit pluralism, close people’s minds.

The evidence is there: the schools at the centre of the report  have clearly framed their teaching in religious terms. They have created an environment constrained within faith terms. They have actively promoted one religion.

A “madrassa curriculum” is the opposite of freedom, it is narrow-minded introduction to a single point of view.

This will certainly not be solved by making schools academies, which permitted this in the first place.

What should be our reaction?

We can see one already emerging.

It is to defend these religiously influenced academies.

This is to revive the debate between secularists, like  Jaurès  and his opponents,defenders of religious (Catholic) education way back before the Great War.

Some British liberals and some on the left would have sided with the far-right  Maurice Barrès who spoke against Jean Jaurès during the 1910 debate.

Barrès argued that religion was an integral part of French culture and the basis of humanism. He defended it against “rootless” secularism.

He evoked, as some British liberals and leftists do, the contribution of faith to morality and its cultural importance.

Jaurès replied that Barrès seemed to take everything, even the French cathedrals, as  support for his personal standpoint.

We will no doubt hear the same arguments from those backing the Birmingham schools.

What is the answer?

How is the state to be involved in education?

Not by making them academies, which, to repeat, created the opportunity for religious forces in the first place.

Comrade Jaurès had the response.

Secularism means freedom from imposing any doctrine in education, even his socialism.

It is to encourage the use of people’s own reason.

“Proudhon l’a dit avec force : l’enfant a le droit d’être éclairé par tous les rayons qui viennent de tous les côtés de l’horizon, et la fonction de l’Etat, c’est d’empêcher .l’interception d’une partie de ces rayons.”

Proudhon said emphatically: the child has the right to be enlightened by every beam of light coming from every quarter. The role of the State is to prevent any one of these rays being filtered out.

 

Subway Enforces Halal Food and Discriminates against Sikhs.

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Subway Stirs up Religious Controversy. 

 

Subway is now making 185 outlets sell only Halal food.

Sandwich chain Subway has defended changing the contents of some products in line with demands by Muslims for meat to comply with sharia law.

Sandwiches at 185 Subway outlets in Britain and Ireland no longer come with ham or bacon as the pig is regarded as unclean in Islam.

The pork has been replaced by turkey in a move the company hopes will avoid offending Muslim customers. Turkey is halal, or clean, to Muslims.

Subway outlets adopting the new policy will display a window sticker reading: “All meats are halah.”

IBT

There are, however, those who will not eat ritually slaughtered food.

This will hit one group directly: Sikhs.

Some Sikhs are vegetarian but those who are not have to follow the rule of not consuming Halal meat.

” Sikhs are strictly prohibited from eating meat killed in a ritualistic manner (such as halal or kosher, known as Kutha meat, or any meat where langar is served.  In some small Sikh Sects, i.e. Akhand Kirtani Jatha eating any meat is believed to be forbidden, but this is not a universally held belief.  The meat eaten by Sikhs is known as Jhatka meat.”

Wikipedia.

Subway, like many ‘multi-culturalists ‘, appears to be unaware of the complexities of different religious stands on food.

It should not have entered this divisive area in the first place. 

 

 

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

May 1, 2014 at 11:57 am