The National Secular Society & Reverend Whittaker’s Apocalypse.

March 26, 2015

It’s funny how people interpret things in different ways. Especially when it involves religion, and even more so when it comes to the challenging of religious privileges. A quick trip over to the National Secular Society’s website, presents us with this line:

“The National Secular Society works towards a society in which all citizens, regardless of religious belief, or lack of religious belief, can live together fairly and cohesively. We campaign for a secular democracy with a separation of religion and state, where everyone’s Human Rights are respected equally.”

– Now – as a secular humanist – I interpret the above as a declaration of the principle that all are to be considered equal, regardless of belief. A post-Enlightenment World has no fairer way to organise a system, than one that privileges none, and protects all equally. Thomas Jefferson once noted that the our civil rights & civil society have no more dependence on our religious beliefs, as our opinions in geometry. The NSS reaffirms that understanding. But that’s not how Reverend John Whittaker interprets the work of the NSS. Reverend Whittaker – having a tantrum writing for The Hinckley Times – is convinced that a state that offers no special privileges to his particular religion, and does not allow religion to creep back into the institutions of state, can only be imagined as a terrible apocalyptic state in which no one gives to charity, and the sex trafficking industry is left unopposed. It’s an odd link to make, but let’s humour him. In response to the National Secular Society’s campaign to prevent council meetings opening with prayers – because council meetings aren’t churches – Whittaker said:

“And just in case anyone wants to make a point that religion has no place in public life, lets recall some of the facts of how faith interacts with and contributes to the common good in this country.”

– Are you ready for the “facts of how faith interacts….“. Facts, according to Whittaker:

“If religion were to hide in a corner as per the secularist’s fantasy world, 1.4 million Christian volunteers would drop out of community based work (that’s over and above the work to support the life of church communities and look after the largest number of listed buildings in the country). Foodbanks would cease, Street Pastors, with their sober, caring presence in so many of our city and town centres late at night would evaporate away. Mums and toddlers groups, homeless projects, work with ex-offenders, women in the sex industry, asylum seekers, vulnerable children, addicts and those who self-harm would all see a dropping away of sustained, tangible support. Air brush Christianity out of public engagement and around 114 million volunteer hours would need to be found to maintain the community work done by churches worth about £2.4 billion a year in addition to the use of buildings and direct financial contributions.”

– That’s right! If the state does not grant special privileges to Whittaker’s religion in turning secular council meetings into a Church service, charities will collapse, foodbanks will collapse, people would starve, work with vulnerable children and addicts would cease to exist, the homeless would be left to starve in the street, and the country would lose billions of pounds. It’s an odd charge, because those same council meetings also do not begin with Islamic prayers, or Hindu prayers, or any other prayers or dedications to a particular God, and yet, believers in those faiths still manage to give to charity and help the most vulnerable. Council meetings work fine without prayers from every other faith, it is simply bizarre to expect the World to stop turning if Christians are brought down to the same level as the rest of us in state affairs.

Secondly, it is probably worth noting that secularists do not want “religion to hide in the corner“, in the same way that we don’t wish liberalism, or communism, or capitalism, or conservatism, to hide in a corner. All ideas are to be treated equally, with no constitutional state recognition of any single one above any others. This implies that no single idea, is to be hidden away in a corner. To do so, would of course be oppressive. The operation of state is to be open to all, on an equal level. Leveling the playing field, and privileging no religion is not the same as oppressing those who believe.

Thirdly, as far as I’m aware, the National Secular Society is not attempting to prevent Christians undertaking charity work in any way. The suggestion that opposing state privileges for religion, as being synonymous with preventing charitable work, is a massively false, fear-based, and manipulative strategy on the part of the Reverend. A council meeting is the representative discussion of work required within the community. That’s a community that represents all who live in it, regardless of ethnicity, sexuality, gender, or belief. We do not offer special privileges to a single ethnicity, nor should we offer special privileges to a single religious belief.

And finally, the title of Whittaker’s piece – like the rest of it – is horribly misleading: “Not The Final Word: To pray or not to pray?” It’s like claiming oppression because a library wont allow you to play the drums. The right to pray and to believe according to one’s own conscience is not under threat by ensuring that a council meeting is not religious in nature. If Councillors wish to pray, they have every right to go to Church prior to a council meeting, and pray. They can pray until they can’t physically pray any more. They can join hands and pray together. There is no “to pray or not to pray” dichotomy here. They have every right to pray. They do not have a right to enshrine their particular brand of God, into the institution of state. A council meeting itself is an institution of state, not an institution of religion.

It becomes clear that when religions lose their traditional privileges and power over the lives of others, they tend to lash out in the most absurd ways. Reverend Whittaker has done just that with his bizarre apocalyptic portrait of a secular state he just doesn’t understand.

‘Islam without extremes’ – by Mustafa Akyol. A Critique.

October 12, 2014


Perhaps you may think it an exaggeration, but I am quite convinced that the World will be shaped over the next several decades predominantly by how it responds to the threat from Islamist extremists. More than simply a war between those groups like Hizb or ISIS and the rest of the World, more than a war for the freedom of human beings from the oppressive structures imposed by supremacists, this is a civil war within Islam for its future. Whether Islam comes out of that war as a religion for the individual; an inner, spiritual system of guidance, or whether it is to be defined as a political structure that extends beyond the individual and chains others to dictates, can only be decided by Muslims. Attempts within the Islamic community to provide counter-narratives to extreme illiberal Islamist dogmas are vital. We do see this through the important work of think tanks like ‘Quilliam‘, or groups like ‘British Muslims for Secular Democracy‘. Writers can also have a lasting affect on how the war for Islam is shaped. I recently finished reading ‘Islam without extremes’ by Mustafa Akyol. I thought I’d share my thoughts on the book here.

I have several criticisms and I’ll try to keep it as short as possible. It is worth noting from the beginning that ‘Islam without extremes: A Muslim case for liberty‘ is an excellent attempt to dispel the myth that prevails in both Islamist quarters, and the Western far right, that groups like Hizb are in fact synonymous with Islam. They are not. Islam is a wide spectrum of belief that encompasses violent extremism, and secular liberalism. Akyol’s book presents a far more liberal, and secular strand of Islamic history that tends to get drowned out by Wahhabi interpretations in recent years. The book’s discussion of the back and forth fight for Islam over the centuries between traditionists and rationalists is compelling and fascinating reading. That being said, the book seems to present Islam less as a faith that promotes liberty, and more as a faith that is illiberal, and anti-secular, but a little bit less so than extremists suggest. And so as a ‘case for liberty’, it isn’t successful, and I’ll to give my reasons for that conclusion:

For example, after a brief discussion of pre-Islamic Arab society, in which women were not permitted the right to own property nor inheritance, Akyol says:

“… the Qur’an also decreed that females should receive a share of inheritance. It was only half of what their male siblings would get, but in a society in which men were considered to be responsible for the care of the whole household, this was a generous amount.”

– This seems to me to be a way to have it both ways. The very basis of Islamic belief, is that the Qur’an is the final message from God. It is the book of rules for all time. There will be no other message. It comes from a being that transcends time. He is able to give a new message, in more enlightened times if he wished, that ensures equal inheritance regardless of gender. But that isn’t the fundamental idea of Islam; that the Qur’an is the final message. ‘Rights’ are defined for eternity. And yet, more often than not, Muslims invoke the ‘context of the time’ excuse for illiberal Quranic rules. Akyol does that here. Whether the share of inheritance is nothing, or whether it is half that which men are to gain, it is illiberal. An improvement is irrelevant if it is to end at that improvement, and not be permitted further improvement toward equal treatment. In this case, the Quranic rule on inheritance is an institutional patriarchal structure, and worse than that, it is to be instituted for all time. Any further improvement would be an admission that the Islamic God was constrained by the time period, or that He was simply wrong. The ‘context’ excuse seems to me to be an attempt to placate in the mind of the believer, the suspicion that the Qur’an may not be all that liberal after all. A recognition that the individual believer has morally outgrown his/her God.

On page 67, Akyol says:

“The dhimma system was just one of the many implications of a basic idea that the Qur’an introduced: Humans have rights ordained by God, and no other human can violate those rights. This idea would allow Muslims to create a civilisation based on the rule of law”.

– I find these sentences to be self defeating. My rights have already been violated by other human beings, the moment those human beings decide for themselves that my life is to be chained to their faith and that the ‘rule of law’ is to be based on that one faith. Law is subsequently based less on evidence, if it contradicts the dogmatic beliefs of the privileged religion (more often than not, the privileged religion tends to be very patriarchal and very heterosexual, and so – surprisingly – heterosexual men seem to benefit the most from upholding that system). Institutional privilege for one faith is not a good example of the ‘case for liberty’. Quite the opposite. It insists that anchoring moral standards to one place and one time, is an excellent base for law, and that all must abide by it, whether Muslim or not, whilst those who aren’t Muslim must pay a tax to uphold this system.

In an attempt to promote Muhammad as a friend of Jews and Christians, Akyol tells us – on page 60-61 – that the Prophet spared the frescoes of Jesus and Mary when he stormed the Ka’ba, and that the Qur’an granted the right of Christians and Jews to live and practice their faith… under the rule of Islam. You will perhaps note several problems with trying to argue the case for liberty within a faith whose leader destroys the Gods of other faiths, saving only those that are depicted in the Qur’an, and then has the nerve to “grant the right” for others to live according to their own conscience… under the rule of Islam. This is not liberty. A man fighting for any concept of liberty would not have destroyed the Gods of others, nor have believed himself divinely ordained to decide upon the rights and the lives of others. I may dislike the Christian & Islamic God, I don’t then destroy Churches and Mosques. We rightly prosecute those who do.

Muhammad – by Akyol’s own admission – has now destroyed the Gods of other Pagan systems of belief. If I were to claim to have received a revelation from God, and proceeded to destroy shrines to other faiths proclaiming “truth has come! Falsehood has vanished!” – which, along with many other Quranic verses and traditions of the Prophet significantly negates the ‘no compulsion’ line – whilst telling Muslims that my new God has granted them certain rights, I would expect to be told that I do not get the privilege of handing out rights according to my own personal beliefs alone whilst destroying the right of others to believe according to their own conscience. The lives of others, are not mine to control or define. The same is true here. Muhammad was not promoting liberal values, he was assuming for himself a significant position of privilege to control the lives of others. Akyol then seems to accept that Muhammad instituted a sort of semi-theocracy with new liberties thrown in. He quotes Karen Armstrong who said:

“Muhammad could not produce a full-blown individualism to satisfy our present Western liberal ideas, but he had made a start.”

– The word ‘start’ should be replaced with the word ‘end’, because again, the Qur’an is the final message. She is right that Muhammad could not produce a full blown liberal, secular, democratic society protecting the civil liberties of all, at that moment and place in time. We as atheists must accept that he was just a man – impressive at times, flawed and disastrous at others – but believers who attempt to promote Islam as a faith that enshrines liberty – as Akyol attempted to do – have the uneasy burden of accepting that their God transcends time, and so the rules He sets out, and the man whom he chooses to empower with that message, must be the perfect form of liberty, and must not be rules that others over the centuries will try to mimic, causing misery across the globe. This is the problem of foresight – a subject I wrote on here – shared by the God of all the Abrahamic traditions. Indeed, those rules – if they are to extend beyond the individual in any way – must protect and empower men and women, muslims and atheists, homosexuals and heterosexuals, of all ethnicities, without prominence or privilege to any sect of any faith, otherwise it is simply a book of oppression and no amount of redefinition can fix that. And whilst Mustafa Akyol’s book certainly provides a narrative that takes the more extreme elements of recent years away from the faith, it fails to produce a narrative that its title – ‘A Muslim case for liberty‘ – suggests, and fails to tear Islam away from political ideology by entertaining the notion that it is perfectly reasonable for Muslims to define the rights of non-Muslims.

The conclusion I came to after reading Akyol’s book – and getting past the predictable religious tendency to blame everyone else except religious dogma for its deficiencies – was that Islam is by its nature illiberal, it is just a little less illiberal than the extremists believe, and was a little more liberating than previous Theocracies centuries ago. A leap forward once upon a time perhaps, but thoroughly archaic today.

The Island of Secular, Liberal, Democracy.

July 15, 2014


Involving myself in several debates this week with members of Hizb and their supporters threw up one consistent theme; secular liberal democracy oppresses Muslims, and so by advocating a return of Khilafah, they are in fact fighting oppression (nothing says ‘fighting oppression’ quite like ISIS beheading ordinary people). The obvious question then becomes; how does a system that advocates – according to Hizb’s constitution as drafted by al-Nabhani – the execution of the ex-Muslims (essentially, genocide), and the oppression of the LGBT community, whilst forcing non-Muslims to pay to uphold it and disallowing women from holding high office, get to be considered anything but oppressive?

The response was predictably deflective, the points raised were not addressed (save for the ill-informed “being gay is unnatural” argument often used to defend the hideous oppression of the gay community by religious supremacists), instead opting on far more occasions than I ever considered possible, to just keep insisting that secular, liberal, democracy is in fact an oppressive religion itself. Whilst I’ve argued the case for 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 explain my fundamental reasoning behind why I believe secular, liberal, democracy is the opposite of oppression.

Let us imagine there are ten of us on a desert island. We propose to come up with a governing system. Two of the new inhabitants are Muslim. Two Atheist. Two Christian. Two Hindu. Two FutileReligion (my new faith for the purpose of this article). The ten on the island consists heterosexual people, homosexual people, bisexual people, men and women, lighter toned skin and darker toned skin, red haired, blonde haired, blue eyed, green eyed people.

When coming up with our system, we all agree that the green eyed people – on account of having green eyes – have no inherent right to state privilege, nor the blue eye’d people, nor the blonde haired people, nor those with light toned skin. If we were to suggest that green eyed people are entitled the distinct privilege of law making, we imply that no one else is capable. We imply the superiority of one eye colour, to the inferiority of all others. We do so, without any reasonable justification. We therefore not only chain the rights of others whilst privileging green eyed people, we also chain green eyed people who could have their lives improved by the ideas in the minds of the non-green eyed people for improving island living. It is an absurdity. We acknowledge the equality of all when it comes to eye colour. And so we must then ask; if we accept that one particular eye colour isn’t naturally privileged, nor do we accept that the island is naturally a white supremacist island, why would we presume one particular faith must be granted state privilege and supremacy? And if we do believe one particular faith should be permitted an inherent right to state privilege, whose religion shall it be?

Well, the FutileBelievers believe the state should be theirs, and so all Christians and Muslims should be executed immediately for their sinful religion, because FutileGod insists that they are in fact unnatural. We presume that if we call it “God’s law“, it somehow permits it a privileged position to control and punish according to its rules, even those who don’t consider it to be “God’s law“. According to the two Muslims, the state should be Islamic with everyone else paying jizya to uphold the system and that the three gay people on the island should be immediately executed, and the four women disqualified from high office. The four women and the three gay people aren’t given a say in this, because the Muslims automatically presume a right to control those lives, simply on the basis of their personal religious belief. Again, an absurdity. The Christians believe the system should be completely controlled by Christians, with no Muslim being allowed high office, they also seek to burn any condoms they find and your private sex life will essentially be handed over to the two Christians. Muslims don’t get a say over whether they are allowed power in this Christian state, they simply have to deal with being institutionally inferior to their Christian rulers, who have taken it upon themselves to declare supremacy. So, who in this scenario gets to enshrine their particular religion into the framework of state?

Contrary to Hizb and other religious supremacists bizarre notions of oppression, you may note that secular, liberal, democracy enshrines the right to believe whatever it is you choose to believe. It protects that right fully for the individual. No single sect can take that away from you, in a secular, liberal, democracy. It is not anti-religious, it is anti-religious supremacy and privilege. To achieve a state that enshrines religious privilege, and supremacy, requires force and it requires the institutional subduing of others. It is the definition of oppression.

Let us be clear; by privilege I mean the institutionalising of one belief – and so, the power of state handed to two people on the island at all times – into the framework of state; perhaps insisting that gender and sexuality of all inhabitants must be subject to the rules of one faith. I do not mean banning those people from invoking their beliefs when it comes to island debate. Simply, the institutionalising of one belief; The perpetual chaining of everyone to the dictates of the faith of those two. Who gets to make that decision? How might we expect the other 8 react, if the two FutileBelievers were to say “… right, we’re in charge, we now run this place. First thing’s first, all Qur’ans and Bibles are to be burnt“. I imagine they’d react in the same way Catholics reacted when Protestants permitted themselves state privilege and oppression ensued. Or how Shia react when Sunni permit themselves state privilege and oppression ensues. It is a recipe for perpetual oppression and inevitable conflict, because it relies on the oppressed staying quiet and resigning themselves to an inferior status, and history teaches us that if you chain people to the privileged few, those in chains will fight to break them.

We have a situation in which ten people are currently free and equal. Eye colour does not get to control other eye colours, hair colour does not affect our right to participate in society and to an individual life. We extend that principle to belief. The freedoms are equal to all. There are no barriers erected to our liberty. None of those people were born attached to the religious beliefs of any of the others. Therefore, the burden is on those seeking to chain others to their religious beliefs, to convince others to hand over their liberty to that particular belief. As of yet – not just on our island, but on the entire planet – no one has succeeded in convincing others to become subservient to the beliefs of one individual, through anything other than threat and force.

So, how do we develop this impasse into a framework of state? Well, we could all insist that our particular religion is deserving of institutionalised state privilege, that others must be chained to our supernatural beliefs, thus putting us in constant conflict with everyone else on the island who similarly believe themselves privileged, and everyone else subordinate. This is unlikely to end in anything other than violence, when those threatened with the rules of the faith of the other start to break the chains. Or, we could enshrine into the framework, our acceptance that we should all be free to practice our own religion where it does not encroach on the same freedom for others, and where our freedom on the island is not chained to the beliefs of anyone else. We devise a system that is constituted firstly to protect each other, from each other. That is the primary basis of a free and equal society. The freedom of Person A – regardless of sexuality, or gender, ethnicity, or faith – does not end where the religion of Person B begins.

Once individual liberty, to pursue our own goals, is protected through a constitutional framework, we can then all jointly involve ourselves in the political process. The structure of the democratic institutions – be them Parliamentary, or Presidential, direct or representative, comes next. We compromise on decisions that effect us all, we split power, we get it wrong at times, but we learn and we move forward, and our participation in the political process is in no way dependent on our belief, gender, sexuality, hair colour, eye colour, ethnicity, if we’re missing a toe on one foot, or any other biological trait. All of those are irrelevant to our ideas and our participation within society, and so the initial protection of us all is the only possible way to allow everyone our full potential without fear of repression. The burden is on those who seek to remove our liberties, to explain why we should be forced to give them up.

The 10 person society is run on the basis of compromise and free and open debate and discussion. We can inquire, scrutinise, and progress without our ideas and creativity and contribution withheld simply because we have a particular eye colour, gender, or sexuality. If you disagree with a policy, you are free to protest, to run for office on your platform, to scrutinise, to mock, to critique. This is as true for you, as it is for me. This is secular, liberal democracy. It isn’t a religion, and it privileges no single individual or belief above any other. It is the neutral protection of all, from all, and the freedom for all to participate in the process of state. The governing of state in no way inflicts restrictions upon your right to live according to your religion, where your religion does not damage the liberty of anyone else.

To believe secular, liberal democracy is oppressing you, is simply another way to say you believe your faith should be granted state privilege to harm the liberty of others. This isn’t oppressing you, this is denying your determination to oppress others. And on that charge, I absolutely agree, and that is exactly why liberal, secular democratic institutions are the only way to guarantee civil protections for all.

Secularism and Religion clash at UCL.

March 12, 2013


March 8th saw the World celebrate International Women’s day. The empowerment of women worldwide, battling both religious and political, as well as patently institutional misogyny and oppression for centuries, honoured with a day of remembrance for those who fought, and a day of thoughtfulness for the reasons why the battles for empowerment were fought and continue to be fought. It’s a battle that has been waged for centuries and is still a key issue. Over the course of the 21st Century, women in Parliament has been a major issue. John Stuart Mill’s wonderful essays on women’s rights paved the way for women in Parliament. There are currently 143 female MPs in the Commons. That means, of the 650 MPs, 507 of them are men. There is still a way to go, but our society is moving in the right direction, and has been for decades, albeit, too slowly. We must support the forward direction of equality, we must not succumb, or accommodate pointless gender inequality in public life.

During a debate between Hamza Tortzis and Lawrence Krauss at University College London, the people putting on the event – Islamic Education and Research Academy – enforced a policy of gender segregation for the seating in the theatre, based on Islamic ‘values’. A male section, a female section, and a mixed section. Krauss got up and refused to debate until the segregation policy was dropped. Male students sitting in the female only section in protest, were forcibly removed. One of the students said:

“It was clear that the segregation was still in effect as when I sat in the same aisle as female attendees I was immediately instructed by security to exit the theatre. I was taken to a small room with IERA security staff and an organiser named Mohammad who told me that the policy was actually given to IERA by UCL. Shocked, I said that I would like to return to my seat but was told that security would now remove me from the premises for refusing to comply with the gender segregation.”

Mohammad Ansar, of “Muslims found America, and interbred with the Natives, before the Europeans got there… there are ancient Mosques in Texas to prove it!!” fame, told twitter, that to deny the right of Muslims to segregate according to gender, was an attack on the rights of Muslim women. Here:


– Yes. The right of Muslims to walk into a secular lecture theatre, in UCL, a beacon of secular thought, and demand special treatment by refusing access for others to certain areas based on their particular brand of ‘faith’, regardless of whether or not a person is Muslim (apparently, non-muslims must succumb to the ‘rights’ of Muslims to tell them to sit where they’re told, or leave), areas that aren’t their’s to decide who gets to sit within in the first place. I’m not sure why we must put Islamic values ahead of any others. Why not ask the room if there’s anyone who wishes to segregate based on shoe size? Or race? Or eye colour? Why must Islam be given the distinct pleasure of enforcing who may sit where in a public space? Why weren’t non-believers given the apparent ‘right’ to choose how the room should be segregated?

Contrary to what Ansar seems to be suggesting, UCL did not tell Muslim women that they MUST sit next to men. There was no “dictating” to Muslims at all. It was Muslims attempting to dictate to everyone else, and then complaining when people weren’t going to stand for that nonsense. UCL simply have a free seating policy. Sit where ever you wish. They do not base seating, or any other policy, on religious demands. There is no infringement of any right going on here. if UCL were forcibly telling Muslim women that they must sit next to a man, that they have no choice, then yes, rights would be abused. That wasn’t the case. Ansar is manipulating the situation, to appeal to the victim mentality espoused by the faithful when they don’t get to force their principles upon the rest of us.

The outward display of faith; the public enforcement of inner faith, is dangerous, anti-secular by definition, and must be rejected in a free and secular society.
A Muslim man or woman should be allowed to choose where they wish to sit, in a public theatre. They cannot enforce it on others,

Other arguments for accepting gender segregation came thick and fast from those defending systems of apartheid:

– The issue is quite simple. Firstly, who gave Muslims the special right to decide how seating should be arranged, in a secular university, in a public space? The rules of the institution, and the rules of secular, liberal democracy dictate that you cannot take over the setting, and create a little Theocratic haven for your faithful.

Enforcing religiously motivated apartheid, does not fit in with the society in which it is attempting – unsuccessfully – to place itself. Regardless of the completely backward and immoral sentiment of segregation based on gender; the policy of gender segregation is not permitted in our society, it is something we have grown out of. Deal with it. The argument was that Muslim women may feel uncomfortable sitting next to a man. As if that’s an acceptable argument. We would be rightly shocked if a white man declares he wishes an enforced policy where by he doesn’t have to sit next to a black man, because he feels uncomfortable around him, and that if a black man does sit next to him, he be removed. We should say, either deal with it, or leave. If a woman feels uncomfortable merely sitting next to a man, then shouldn’t we be addressing that issue sensibly rather than giving in to it as a fact of life? Isn’t giving into that feeling of ‘uncomfortable’ as a fact of life that should be appeased rather than educated against, anti-gender equality in itself?

You have no right to impose your religious ‘beliefs’ on others, nor do others have any necessity to accommodate your religious ‘beliefs’. They are personal to you, and you alone. And secondly, by accommodating outdated and irrational ‘fears’ or dogma without questioning it, or protesting it, we perpetuate it. If you feel you might be too uncomfortable sitting next to a male in a public setting; where it’s likely that there will be males, freely sitting where ever they wish, because, you know, this isn’t Saudi Arabia, then you’re going to struggle leaving the house at all. Should buses be segregated in case a Muslim woman feels uncomfortable? Should we have Muslim and non-Muslim shop entrances? Should we consult Mo Ansar and other apparent ‘moderates’ whenever the government makes policy, to ensure it is agreeable to the doctrines of Islam? We are told it is just a ‘small group of extremists’ who demand such special treatment. It isn’t. It is the faith. Like Catholicism, Islam is not a private system of spirituality. It demands public intervention and special treatment. Ansar agrees:

When your “public” faith demands special treatment within a society that is built on not allowing any special treatment to religion, and it imposes itself on a public space, and forces those who do not belief in your horrid little myths to comply by your standards, with the threat of removal…. you simply act to knock down an important factor within a liberal secular democracy; that of gender equality. Must you comply by those standards? Yes. This is a secular nation. In public, your faith has no right to impose itself.

It doesn’t matter if you provide a “mixed” section. The idea of a “mixed” section itself, is abhorrent. There should be no need for it. The fact that you have segregated areas perpetuates the notion that men and women are fundamentally to be treated differently, even within a public arena, for the most absurd reasons. This is a notion that has been fought against, and at great loss to those fighting for it over the centuries. It is a Western tradition we should be proud of, and suspicious of any sect that wishes to dismantle it. Gender equality has been a central theme in the fight for equal rights within our system. And so to have a dictatorial, misogynistic cult demand special treatment, shouting “you’re attacking our rights!” (usually this translates to; you’re attacking our perceived right to impose our public display of faith on the rest of you) at not getting their way, is a slap in the face of everything a decent, free and equal society strives to fight for. It is a step backward. A regressive move.

A second issue, is that it really does not do Islam any favours in its attempts to integrate into a Western, liberal society. We are already tremendously suspicious of the treatment of women in Islamic nations, that any sort of replication of those policies in a liberalised Britain, greatly increase those suspicions and I think we absolutely have a right to feel completely offended by such attacks on the fabric of a secular and liberal democracy that finds gender discrimination to be totally unacceptable.

Another grave problem is that there is no room for argument. The fight for female equality has been one based on reason. We progress when we engage in reason and when those points of reason are stronger, and more self evident than previous. With Islamic segregation based on gender; it is absolute. The is no willingness to accept they may be wrong. And so we must always give in to gender segregation, regardless of how irrational it is. This is totalitarianism and it has no place.

Up until 1979s, the Mormon Church preached and taught that being black meant that you were Satan’s representatives on Earth. This stems back to the 2nd President of the Mormon Church, Brigham Young saying of mixed race marriages:

“Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain” (Black people were considered the descendants of Cain), “the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so”

– If we are to be consistent in our requirement to suspend secularism in favour of religious bigotry, we must argue that if the Mormon Church had not changed their position (they did so, only to accommodate mixed-race converts in South America), it would be acceptable, in a debate between a Mormon and an Atheist, to split the room between black seating, white seating and mixed seating. The problem is obvious. We further perpetuate the racial divide, if only psychologically, by ensuring that in a public space, in a nation that does not base its politics or its institutions on race, there is a clear divide based on race. If we were to put on, in a public space, an event that whites could only sit with whites, and black with black, along with a mixed area, because a few white supremacists do not feel comfortable with the possibility that they may have to sit next to a black person, we would tell them to grow up, modernise their horrendously regressive views, and either accept it, or stay at home. It is absolutely no different with gender.

Everyone, in public life, in a public arena has a right to sit where ever they wish. The imposing of unchallengeable dogmas on public spaces, is the absolute antithesis of a free and open society.

A public forum, in a secular institution, should not give special attention to any system of belief. As an Atheist, I am under no obligation to bend to the rules of Islam, in a public place. I am not under any obligation to be told where I can and cannot sit. It is wrong. In the same way that as an Atheist, I have no right to go into a private place of worship, and start reciting The Origin of Species.

Ansar continued:
– “Inalienable human right”. A bit of a play on Jefferson there. And yet, sadly, about 1500 years behind even the 18th century. I am not sure if Ansar is commenting on privately segregating yourself, or it being enforced through public policy, as was the case at UCL. How is it anyone’s human right, to enforce human segregation based on gender, in a public space, in a nation that is not built on gender equality? And what is immodest about sitting next to a man during a debate? It is your right, to sit where ever you wish, based on your private decision. Not on enforced Theocratic values. And it’s always something to behold, that the ‘modesty’ really only ever seems to apply to the treatment of women. And how modest it is, for a person of faith to hijack secular institutions and enforce policies based on their faith alone. How very modest.

And why is it just the idea of faith that is allowed to segregate? Why not other ideas? In a debate between Socialists and Capitalists, why not split the room in two between them? In a debate in which one of the participants is ginger, the other auburn, split the room according to that? Why is it only one ‘idea’ we must all capitulate to? If, during a debate between Nationalism and Liberalism, the Nationalists wish to split the room along what they weakly consider to be “homogeneous British” lines, we would rightfully call it unacceptable, racist, xenophobic, and fascist. But they base it on their ‘faith’ in their ideology. So what is the difference?

Mo Ansar is not as moderate as he likes to think. His vision of a society is one that permits Islam a special dispensation from secular notions, is incredibly dangerous. He does not understand, that not getting his way; not getting his principles installed within a religious-free environment, is not an attack on his rights. This should be opposed by every right thinking person.

But it isn’t just Islam.
Students and parents at Sullivan High School in Sullivan, Indiana have decided they wish to have a prom in which gay couples are not allowed. One of the special education teachers Diana Medley, said:

“We don’t agree with it (homosexuality), and it’s offensive to us.”

– This bigotry and a belief in apartheid based on faith alone, should be offensive to us all. It should be fought at every opportunity. They then tend to tell us that by stopping this sort of apartheid-in-practice, we are trampling on their rights as Christians. It is of course, nonsense. The slow and methodical imposing of Theocratic principles, on everyone other than themselves, is totalitarian, and represents the epitome of the denial of rights, and imperialism. What for the rights of gay men and women not to be bullied, or viewed as different, and somehow unequal, stigmatised and told they are unnatural? What about those rights? The only reason gay people have been so badly mistreated, and continue to be, is religion. Sexuality, as pointed out in a previous entry, has many genetic elements. So, exchange the word “homosexuality” for “black” or “people with brown hair” or “women” (not a problem for Islam) and you will notice just how bigoted it becomes. For a school to say “We don’t want anyone with blue eyes coming to the Prom, they offend us” would have no place in a decent society because it perpetuates such a vicious notion, that they are different and should be viewed as such, simply for whom they choose to love. We must be be afraid to say that we find systems of social structures based on race, gender or sexuality (genetic) apartheid to be wholly wrong. Cloaking your bigotry behind outdated myths that have no basis in reality, and are refuted by genetics, does not make you any less wrong, nor your beliefs any less wrong.

The problem is the difference between private spirituality, and an outward public enforcement of religious belief. The latter, being completely unacceptable. The religious have uncompromising, unquestionable faith that transcends the ages and is rooted firmly in ancient myths and ideals which they believe to be unchallengeable. Islam is an ideology as well as a faith, as Ansar makes clear; it is public, private, and defines their lives entirely. There is no room for questioning. We apparently must accept that Islam deserves a special place in a secular society. Hamza Tortzis refers to this as his “objective” anchor for morality. Mehdi Hasan thinks any slight criticism to be “Islamophobic” yet he himself has no worry referring to non-believers as unintelligent cattle, who live like animals. It is his right to think and to say such insulting things, and I accept that. And I have always accepted, It is your right to be as bigoted as you wish, in your own personal space. You may debate in open, your bigotry, you may argue your point. You have the freedom of expression to allow that. The moment you start to force it upon others in the public arena; taking over public spaces in secular societies and institutions and imposing your fundamentalist anti-humanist principles like telling people where they can’t sit based on your myths, then you become a Theocratic danger. You do not have an inherent right to do that. And if you think we therefore trample on your rights for that, fine, i’m happy to accept that.
Gender segregation cannot and should not be tolerated, and applying the phrase “But it’s my religion” is not an acceptable excuse for perpetuating an inequality that has been, and is being fought against.

The World Health Organisation defines Gender as:

“the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.”

– We know that Islam is far more distinct with gender roles, in far more ways than the Western World, based entirely on their horrific notions of ‘modesty’. We know that women are not equal to men, in Islamic societies. But that is not the ‘given society’ that they inhabit, in the UK. The ‘given society’ in this case, is secular, with no preference in a public space given to a religion, nor to gender inequality based on archaic religious texts. We inhabit a society based, among other qualities, on equality of gender (though it still has its flaws in that department). That equality is built into the framework that all cultures must adhere to, and not try to break down. We are not an Islamic society. Public space in a secular setting is not given over to Islamic demands, nor special treatment of that sort, nor should it be. If you think this attacks your rights to privately practice your faith, and that you do not like an institution within that ‘given society’ telling you that you do not have any inherent right to disregard that system at the behest of your particular faith; then you really do not belong in a secular society. You are attempting to pervert it, for Theocratic principles. We only defeat outdated and irrational views on race, or gender, or sexuality, by not giving into them and openly debating them. The fight for gender equality has a long and tremendous history. Religious regression and bigotry is just another obstacle that it must over come.

When a show of public faith so firmly contradicts the basis of secular, liberal society; then it must not be tolerated nor accepted.