Secularism VS Islam – Terry Sanderson VS Abdullah al Andalusi


I recently watched this debate between Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, and Abdullah al Andalusi of the Muslim Debate Initiative:

Around the 9:20 mark, Abdullah al Andalusi argues that same-sex marriage, is in fact anti-secular, in that it imposes humanist values on society. I will use this brief article, to point out the flaw in his logic:

“Recently there was a discussion about gay marriages and they said that it should be allowed. That gay marriages should be allowed, and so on. But that’s actually not the state being neutral to the issue of how humans should organise themselves. The state is now saying that marriage now means something, that we’re going to give it a different value or a different meaning to it a and now we’re going to implement this as law. This issue of same gender marriage is an example of the state getting involved in the issues of society. And now that they try to teach in school… to children [he says this in a tone that suggests disgust]… that gay marriage is an acceptable life path, that is also getting involved in the values.”

– Contrary to al Andalusi’s assertion, legalising same sex marriage, and teaching kids that no single sexuality is privileged, is absolutely the state remaining neutral on matters of religious belief, by not permitting religious belief to interfere with civil and individual rights. This is not to claim that the state remains neutral on how a society should organise itself, simply that my liberty should not be at the mercy of your religious beliefs. It is the opposite of religious privilege. It is quite simple; secularism provides equal protection for all, establishing a line of equality, whereby no one individual belief permitted the privilege of controlling the life of another.

In the case of same sex marriage, it seems to me that there are two distinct options:

Firstly, the state concedes to the demands of a religious sect, permits a right – in this case marriage – to one specific group, and erects barriers to that same liberty for others. It is therefore a right the privileged few enjoy for themselves, whilst denying it for others. This is the opposite of secular, and completely unjustifiable, simply because the followers of a single religion have permitted themselves the privileged right to decide upon who gets the the same rights as they themselves enjoy. To injure the liberty of others, you must provide a reason that isn’t simply based on your belief. For example, I give up my liberty to steal from you, because I don’t want you to steal from me, and so we enshrine this mutual pact into law. To restrain the right to marry, for two loving and consenting adults who are not in anyway harming your liberty, whilst you yourself enjoy the right you seek to restrict for others, would be the equivalent of me presuming the privilege of banning you from your right to disagree with me, whilst I myself enjoy the liberty to disagree with you. This is how supremacist systems work; it is how racial supremacist systems operated, and it is how religious supremacist systems operate. It is by definition, oppression.

The second option is the opposite; if I enjoy a specific right – in this case, as a heterosexual man (and so, already privileged through much of history, for no justifiable reason) – I have no inherent right to prevent your equal enjoyment of the same right. To do so, would be to presume I am deserving of a privilege that a homosexual person isn’t. To presume this, requires ideology, or in this case, religion. For the state to stay neutral, it must not grant me the privilege that I seek to enjoy a liberty whilst denying it others according to my religious beliefs. This is equally true for you, and does not impose itself upon your liberty. You – as a religious individual opposed to same sex marriage – still have the exact same rights you’ve always had, and are not forced to live according to anyone else’s dictates. Afford others the same. The state breaking down the barrier to sexuality equality, is not the same as the state oppressing a single right of yours. You lose nothing that you could justify keeping, when the state opens the cage door and frees those that your religion has locked inside for far too long. To put it simply, one of these options is to chain the right to life, to your individual belief. The other, is to free people from the chains of your individual belief. The latter, is how the state remains neutral, not the former.

On the issue of education; no one is claiming that the state is not ‘getting involved in the values’ of society. The value is simple; no single religious belief is permitted a privileged state position, including the privilege to institutionalise through state education, the dehumanising of human beings (including children in that room) that they dislike, simply because according to ancient myth (and not reality), God destroyed Sodom. You are fully entitled to that belief, you just aren’t entitled to make life hell for the group you personally dislike. To highlight this concept another way; in a classrom, Child A is not allowed to strike Child B, despite Child A believing he has an inherent right to strike Child B but that Child B has no right to strike him back. Child A believes the teacher should permit him the right to strike Child B, but that he himself should be protected from Child B invading his own liberty not to be struck. The restriction of Child A’s demands for privilege, does not qualify as the teacher not being neutral. It is the opposite.

I’m sure we’d both agree that the state shouldn’t be educating children to believe that being Muslim according to one’s free conscience is not an acceptable lifestyle path, if someone in the country has a God that tells them Muslims are evil. This would be the state privileging other beliefs, and oppressing Muslims. Or that having blue eyes is not an acceptable lifestyle path, because someone in the country has a God that tells them people with blue eyes are evil. This would be the state privileging all other eye colours, and oppressing those with blue eyes. Similarly, ensuring that children are not taught that heterosexuality is inherently ‘right’, whilst homosexuality inherently ‘wrong’, is the very essence of a secular education. In the same way that the state doesn’t teach that being white is inherently ‘right’, and any other ethnicity inherently ‘wrong’. To do so would be to provide state privilege based solely on the personal belief of those seeking the privilege.

The state remains neutral, by its line of equality, ensuring no child is inherently deserving of discrimination simply on account of sexuality, ethnicity, gender, or belief, where it doesn’t interfere with the liberty of others, and so allowing the individual talents of that child to be free from religious oppression. It is the protection of all, from all. This is secularism.

This is where it seems – like many Theists – Abdullah al Andalusi does not understand secularism.

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8 Responses to Secularism VS Islam – Terry Sanderson VS Abdullah al Andalusi

  1. londryfairy says:

    I would prefer there weren’t marriage laws. Allowing individual spiritual communities to manage marriages within as spiritual commitments. Moving “marriage law” to “contract law” and allowing individuals to participate freely. Currently the state favors married individuals financially, and that is not a neutral state esp. because the marriage laws are inequitable, but also because single individuals are denied privileges granted to married couples.

  2. I agree with you.

  3. john zande says:

    Very nicely rounded out.

  4. georgina says:

    Terry Sanderson was weak. Abdullah al Andalusi lied almost every time he opened his mouth (muslims were members of the nazi party). Islam lets people live according to their own laws (but only as dhimmis – blasphemy anyone?) etc. Could not watch it all as is just lies.

  5. GaellenCo says:

    Londryfairy – I partially agree. The tradition of marriage in history has been for the protection of children and therefore something has to spell out the parent’s (particularly the father’s) responsibility.
    However, this Moslem view is disingenuous. Also, it is not altogether true that single individuals are necessarily denied privileges. Its swings and roundabouts. As married pensioners the couple do not receive the full pension they paid for, some of it is taken away. As we both worked up to 50 before we married, I feel that this discriminates against a married couple.
    I agree also with georgina because Moslem plurality of marriage partners only applies to men. On this same issue we know that although a non-Moslem would be prosecuted for bigamy, Moslem men are allowed to circumvent the law.
    Abdullah al Andalusi referred to “secular wars”. Quite so. At the moment in the Moslem faith and as Terry Sanderson said – the basis of the blood masacres of the reign of Henry VIII. No secular state present to arbitrate.

  6. GaellenCo says:

    Sorry I was trying to edit the above but escaped the trap. Can anyone explain how you edit comments please?

  7. Steve says:

    I watched some of this debate and it was moderately interesting, but all very polite and restrained (at least the bit I saw). I suppose when confronted with an obviously educated, intelligent and sophisticated man such as Mr Abdullah al Andalusi it is necessary and politic to be equally restrained and urbane, but we must not forget that Islamism is not just a personal belief about one’s own interpretation of a religion. It is a Clerical Fascist political ideology which seeks to impose by various means (political action, lobbying, organised protests – and for some Islamists: violence, intimidation and coercion) the teaching and prescriptions of the Koran and the Hadiths and their interpretation by various Muslim ‘scholars’ on the whole of human society. Islamists seek to make their personal beliefs the compulsory code of behaviour for all.

    The very name of the person put forward to debate this issue is illuminating. My Arabic is not that good but Abdullah sounds to me as if it roughly translates as “slave of god” (those with better Arabic may correct me if I’m wrong) and this more or less encapsulates the mainstream view of most Imams and every Islamist I have ever heard about the relationship between their god and humanity – we are all mere slaves with no right to question, argue or disagree with those who apply ‘God’s laws’. Islamists hold that we humans are not entitled to freedom of belief (let alone action) and those born to Muslim parents (or Muslim fathers to be precise) are not entitled to chose to believe anything other than what their father or the Imam or Ayatollah dictates – I believe this is actually mainstream Islamic orthodoxy but I don’t believe most Muslims seek to actively and rigorously apply it in practice.

    I have met many Muslims in my political and professional life and in using services and businesses but only a tiny number in my private life (because by and large Muslim communities in the UK are not integrated). The majority of them were polite, friendly and accommodating (although virtually all their Community Organisations, except the Women’s Associations, were corrupt to some extent – but that’s only indirectly connected to their religion) and my own Muslim neighbours are delightful and totally unobjectionable as far as I know. The problem is not with individual Muslims but in the organised religion itself and those who control the Mosques, appoint themselves to lead the communities and seek to impose their will on others.

    As always, the main brunt of this oppression (in the UK) currently falls on those within the majority Muslim ethnic minority communities (especially women) but Islamists aspire to spread their malign influence over the rest of us as well. The craven and gutless representatives of our mainstream political parties collaborate with them – in part through moral and political cowardice and in part because these self appointed community leaders can sometimes deliver what are in effect block votes in key areas (I personally have no doubt that the blanket availability of postal votes has had the effect of removing the right to vote from many Asian women in the UK – their votes are cast for them).

    I have always worked for a secular, multicultural and multiracial society because this is manifestly fair, just and essential for good community relations. However, multiculturalism does not mean that all cultural practices are equally deserving of respect and equally acceptable or permissible, in fact some (Sharia Law for example) are absolutely incompatible with a fair and equitable society where laws apply equally to everyone irrespective of race or religious creed (or, in the case of minors, the race or creed of their parents).

    Clever and articulate advocates such as Mr Abdullah al Andalusi should be listened to and engaged with and although I generally support the ‘No Platform for Racists and Fascists’ policy I do not advocate banning all Islamists from the media or refusing to debate with them. However, we must never forget what they are and what their eventual objective is. Not all Islamists use or support violence and coercion to promote their ideology (just as not all racists and white supremacists go round attacking black and Asian people on the streets or fire bombing Mosques and Community Centres) but they do all work towards the same end which is to impose their beliefs on us all.

  8. […] secular, liberal democracy on several occasions pertaining to the specifics – the veil, or sexuality, free expression, or the building of mosques – I thought I’d use this article to […]

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