Secularism has gone too far

On Thursday 12th November 2015 I posted “Has Secularism gone too far?” I drew attention to France’s aggressively secularist constitution that has resulted in a climate in which the country’s Secularist civil servants seriously struggle to cope with Islamic issues.

The title of that post was in the form of a question. This post is an answer. It’s not the definitive answer but an answer.

My earlier post was prompted by the French government’s inability to cope with Iran’s President Rouhani’s halal dietary requests for a formal lunch with President Hollande. The lunch did not take place and subsequent events brought about the cancellation of President Rouhani’s tour of Europe.

Late on Friday night, 13th November, about eight “radicalised” mena and women unleashed their revenge on several sporting and entertainment venues in Paris. As I write the death toll stands at 130 with many more people seriously injured. The perpetrators, mostly French or Belgian, seemingly did not use sophisticated communications and their identities were soon established and most of those who did not blow themselves up in the act were traced and subsequently lost their lives gun battles with the police. In one it is claimed that the police fired off 5000 rounds. Over-reaction? Who knows?

In the meantime this Guardian report surfaced in the social media:

MI5 report challenges views on terrorism in Britain

I have to admit to not realising that this article in The Guardian was a few years old – but 2008 is not long ago and politicians making policy today will surely be aware of it.

This sentence sticks out:

MI5 says there is evidence that a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.

I really do get a strong impression that in France, and probably several other European countries structured on so-called “Christian values”, few Secular community leaders and elders (that’s teachers, politicians, journalists and more) know so little about Islam that they simply have no idea how to discuss anything to do with Islam in any way whatsoever. In Switzerland leaders duck their responsibility to learn and lead by arranging Islamophobic referendums. I ask you, if one’s leaders have no idea how to develop an understanding of Islam what chance do their countrymen?

In the UK the British government has a de-radicalisation programme called “Prevent” that by all accounts does not seek to build bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims but has  instilled the fear of God into teachers by requiring them to identify and report potential radicalisation. Reports from Muslims who feel or see the impact of this strategy almost universally point to its having a counterproductive consequences.

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi suggested that Islamophobia is now socially acceptable in Britain back in 2011. She introduced the “dinner table test”. I am not aware that  politicians, journalists, broadcasters, entertainers and other non-Muslim community leaders, opinion formers and role models have responded to her comments – other than simply ignore them. On the contrary those leaders working in the various media as journalists and entertainers protest that they are being required to “self-censor” when the subject is raised.

The MI5 report highlights that young Muslims who are radicalised exist on the periphery of Islam. They may be Muslims in name only as are many white Britons who, at least at the back of the twentieth century, described themselves as Christian but do not pray, attend church or engage in any regular religious activity (expect possibly a Christmas Eve carol service after the pub). They do not lead a Muslim lifestyle or follow the “permitted way” that is halal. They live outside the protective umbrella of a well established religious identity that seems to prevent radicalisation. I would sya that they do not understand the spiritual aspects of Islam because they are not fully engaged with their religion. They go on to externalise “jihad” when it’s meant to symbolise an internal or spiritual struggle aimed at self-betterment – and fighting the forces of evil within oneself.

By externalising jihad and promoting the concept of a physical war radicalised Muslims present a simple narrative which is attracted to disenchanted non-Muslims who “convert” – but what are they converting from?

It would seem that one source of converts could be people living on the periphery of another established religion and outside the protection of its umbrella. Presumably others who convert come from secular and entirely non-religious backgrounds.

To me this is significant. How often do we hear British politicians exhorting Muslim community leaders to tackle radicalisation within their communities but MI5 says:

Very few have been brought up in strongly religious households, and there is a higher than average proportion of converts. 

If radicalised Muslims are not religiously engaged within their communities how can religious leaders reach out to them? One has to assume that much of the spiritual food is coming from Secular sources – either the established formal media or the much less formal Internet enabled social media, chit-chat, rumour or other unreliable sources.

Dare I suggest that converts to radical Islam from other religious backgrounds will have been living outside the protective umbrellas that full engagement with their religions would be expected to provide.

This surely is important. Radicalised Muslim Muslims are not necessarily fully engaged with Islam so will not be hearing their community leaders. Equally radicalised converting Muslims from other faith or non-faith backgrounds won’t be hearing their own faith or Secular community leaders either. It follows that faith leaders from other religions have failed to protect those living at the margins of their own faith communities AND so have Secular community leaders.

Many Secular community leaders will often start with a self-imposed handicap. Their own ignorance of religion will often mean that they have no ammunition to counter the simplistic jihadi narrative that those who are not fully engaged in their communities find attractive.

I introduced this post with a reference to what I describe as aggressive Secularism in France. You can see it in this country. There are those who want to take religion out of state education. They want to create an environment in which people of faith are isolated if not even excluded if they profess a faith. This is bad news.

“Muslims must root out ‘cancer’ of radicalisation” – Is that really so?

The quote in my title is attributed to Sadiq Khan, a high profile Muslim who is standing for candidacy at the 2016 mayoral elections for London but have “we” been too quick to latch onto these words. The speech, made to journalists and commentators came to my attention after one well respected columnist wrote a column for The Telegraph that was published online. Mr Khan may now be a hostage to fortune. Information from UK security services suggests that Muslims cannot possibly deal with the “cancer” on their own. On the contrary secularists may have to start searching their souls and ask if they are also letting young people down.

The columnist was like a cat on hot bricks and jumping for joy. Here was a Muslim was telling Muslims to root out the radicals in their midst. Had a non-Muslim been as straight and forthright s/he would be branded racist or Islamophobic. The commentator then proceeded to have pop at halal meat. The columnist seemingly felt liberated.

I challenged the columnist on Twitter and was told that I was missing the point. Really?

Apparently among Mr Khan’s concerns was the two-way lack of integration between Muslims and non-Muslims –Too many British Muslims grow up without really knowing anyone from a different background; without understanding or empathising with the lives and beliefs of others. And too many British people have never befriended a Muslim.

The columnist was empowered to write: “As any scholar of Islam will tell you, the ideology behind ISIL and al-Qaeda is as rooted in the Koran as are daily prayers and eating halal meat. Like Christianity, it just depends which verses you care to read and how literal an interpretation you choose to give them.”

At first this statement appears to be innocuous but why refer to “eating halal meat”?

This is an indication that the columnist has little or no empathy with Islam. Perhaps the reference to Christianity achieves some balance but there was no need to include to have a pop at a dietary code that when understood make sense. That so many secularists choose not to engage on the halal issue says much.

Importantly this one columnist omitted this: “And too many British people have never befriended a Muslim.’ To their credit most if not all others reporting this speech did not omit it.

Sadiq Khan is surely calling on both Muslims and non-Muslims to make an effort to understand each other better than they do. The columnist clearly has no intention of doing so – as shown by the gratuitous reference to halal meat, which the media almost anonymously will take and every opportunity to attack.

What neither Sadiq Khan nor the columnist could have known was that The Guardian had had sight of an MI5 review that shows that radical Muslims inhabit the fringes of Islam. Many are converts. They do not pray regularly. They lack the protection that an established religious identity provides.

I see a failure of the secular value system. At least state schools are meant to provide a multicultural climate or environment. People leaving schools these days should have been empowered to be tolerant. Perhaps they are so where is it breaking down. Why, according to official statistics do as many as 25% of young people “mistrust” Muslims? Where is the disconnect between the tolerance they should learn at school and how the perceive the world as they set out on their adult journey? Who is turning them?

For those who are not keen on Islamic faith schools and believe that they must be the source of radicalisation the MI5 evidence suggests anything but. Where is it all breaking down?

I do not have the answers but disaffection seems to be an issue. If disaffection means that young people are not engaged or do not engage well with society it is surely a concern for the whole of society and not merely Muslim community leaders alone. The MI5 evidence links radicalisation to conversions to Islam but from what? I imagine the comfort and social support provided by all established religions provides the protection that the MI5 refers to. What reason would most young Christians, Hindus and Sikhs to convert to a Muslim fringe that offers no protection – none whatsoever. Converts from other religions are likely to be on the fringes of their religion and not fully connected to or protected by their respective religion. For all practical purposes they are living a secular life that is not providing security and protection.

Seemingly the problem may be down as much to Secularism’s failure to provide protection and support as that of Islam and Muslims.

Ritual slaughter = Sacrifice = The Way of preparing meat to eat (part 1)

From the Wikipedia entry on ritual slaughter

In antiquity, ritual slaughter and animal sacrifice was one and the same. Thus, as argued by Detienne et al(1). for the Greeks, consumption of meat not slaughtered ritually was unthinkable, so that beyond being a tribute to the gods, Greek animal sacrifice marked a cultural boundary, separating “Hellenes” from “barbarians“. Greek animal sacrifice was Christianized into slaughter ceremonies involving Greek Orthodox Christian ritual, known as kourbania.

From the Wikepedia entry “kourbania”

Kourbania (Greek) via Turkish Kurban; from the Arabic qurban “sacrificial victim”; compare Hebrew korban) refers to a practice of Christianized animal sacrifices in some parts of Greece. It usually involves the slaughter of lambs as “kourbania” offerings to certain saints.

The practice involves the blood sacrifice of a domestic animal to either a saint, taken as the tutelary of the village in question, or dedicated to the Holy Trinity or The Virgin. The animal is slaughtered outside the village church, during or after the Divine Liturgy, or on the eve of the feast day.

I am writing this for the twittersphere and one tweeter who espouses a Judeo-Christian traditions and eschews Islamic ritual with no apologies. She makes no secret of her alienation to dhabiha or zabiha. I am sorry if it’s too brief.

When you look into the history of sacrificial ritual you discover that there is no such thing as “ritual slaughter” – rather it is an unhelpful term along with the word “sacrifice”.  That is how they killed their animals to eat.

Martin Henig, in his “Religion in Roman Britain” (Routledge; New Ed edition (5 July 1995)), describes how the people of Britain would have had feelings of guilt when killing. He refers to animals, in his words, needing to be willing. Perhaps animals should not resist or baulk but be relaxed, at ease and stress-free. This presumably made sense because a tense and stressed animal firstly would not have been easy to cut cleanly and secondly presumably produced tough meat.

We can surmise that with the concept of the “sanctity of life” people would not have killed what few animals they had just to waste the meat. It is also reasonable to presume that a typical nuclear family could not polish off a goat or lamb or small male calf  in one sitting. (Females were kept for milk and they would not have wasted resources on raising males like we do – it’s inefficient.) They could not store meat easily in hot climates hence the concept of community festivals whereby at least extended families or whole villages or tribes came together to celebrate a significant family event, the return of the prodigal son, or a saint or some other community event, such as harvest festival or passover.

Seemingly all the meat that could be eaten would have been eaten. The inedible parts of the carcass that could not be used or eaten was offered to God (or the gods) by burning – in effect sterilising them. Not doing so would have presented public health risks – rat infestations and diseases from infection. Given that they could not possibly have known about germs and micribiology they would have worked out good and bad practice. Bad practice would have equated to sins and God (or their god) would have punished them.

Seemingly also they gathered on what today we call consecrated (clean) ground – specifically in The Temple (latterly synagogues). That’s what Christian Churches and Mosques are modelled on. Apparently, according to Greek sources the meat could not be taken away – that makes sense as even today extreme care is needed if you are going to store cooked meat. Eating in the temple meant that cooking and eating was supervised, as it were, and the whole was conducted by trained operatives, priests, for the want of a better word.

The priests were trained to kill humanely. In Islamic tradition it is forbidden to eat meat from an animal that have been treated badly at any time in its life. Bludgeoning or clubbing to death was clearly not a humane option. They would have no idea how successful or how quick that would have been – and that appears to have been the case in modern slaughterhouses until the last decade of the twentieth century where modern clubbing techniques are in use. Check out Animal Aid investigation.

Modern “high welfare” slaughterhouse conditions are not necessarily good. Here is a 2009 example of a Soil Association approved “high welfare” slaughterhouse that was later unapproved. In fairness modern slaughterhouse conditions are improving but most significant changes have been in this century but welfare at slaughter is probably not uppermost in many peoples’ minds when they pick meat from a supermarket shelf.

To understand the role of the priest in ancient time it’s helpful to learn what is required to train a Jewish shochet. My father, a farmer’s son, trained as a butcher before the Second World War when farmers killed their own animals to take to the local town markets. They would have learned to kill, at least small animals, without stunning and would have needed to know that if any meat was unfit for human consumption.

Sadly I did not realise the significance of a picture that I saw in a book in the British Library and did not keep the reference but it described the initiation of Mithraic priests and one of the skill they required was what we would call “meat inspection” today. I have seen other references to what must be the same need in other cultic and religious practices.

Christians and Secularists are very quick to mock halal and I have written here because I recently discovered that followers Greek Orthodox Christianity traditions may not only be familiar with slaughter practices we associate with Jews and Christians but they have also retained the word “kourbania”, which is an obvious cognate of the Arabic and Islamic word “qurban”.

Other Christian practices ally with Jewish and Muslim practice.

Again from Wikipedia -Religious restrictions on the consumption of pork

Among many Christian sects, the restrictions were interpreted to be lifted by Peter’s vision of a sheet with animals. However, Seventh-day Adventists consider pork taboo, along with other foods forbidden by Jewish law. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church(2) does not permit pork consumption, while the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is divided on the subject(3)

It seems that those who criticise ritual slaughter need to think outside the box. Western Christians apparently may have absorbed pagan or heathen practices.

(1) M. Detienne, J.-P. Vernant (eds.), The Cuisine of Sacrifice among the Greeks, trans. Wissing, University of Chicago Press (1989)

(2) Charles Kong Soo Ethiopian Holy Week clashes with Christians’ 21 April 2011 Trinidad and Tobago Guardian Retrieved 11 March 2012

(3) “Egypt Copts Divided Over Pork”. OnIslam.net. 25 August 2007. Retrieved 8 March 2014.

 

 

British Values: How two simple words have upheld Islamophobia via legislation

The DTM News

The term ‘British Values’ is as much a phrase of nationalistic pride for some as it is a head-scratcher for others. They’re two words that mean so much, but so little at the same time. For the patriots, they’re the cornerstones of what this country stands for. For the rest of us, British values are a vaguely defined set of rules that are thrown around a lot, but aren’t expanded on. It’s these same opinion-dividing values that have been the focus of a new legal duty upon schools; the duty to prevent terrorism.

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Has Secularism gone too far?

The online headlines read

RT.com –

Historic Hollande-Rouhani dinner scrapped die to insistence on wine and non-halal meat;

The Telegraph –

Francois Hollande – Hassan Rouhani lunch binned over “wine row”;

The Washington Post –

France won’t dine with Iran unless win is served.

France has a Secular constitution separating state and church/religion. This is laudable but is there a risk that if the state simply does not talk about religion and does not teach it, at least in an academic manner, that people will lose touch with the rational elements of “religious” practice? People of faith become isolated and ignored by their state.

Have we sort of not been here before? Anti-Semitism before the Second World War was presumably normalised and few knew how to engage with Jews on a spiritual or moral basis because they simply had no grasp of what Judaism was. In any event Jews killed Jesus. Best not to engage except peripherally. Jews were isolated specifically in Germany and we know the consequences.

Is Secularism is on the verge of becoming the new religion? Has it already achieved that status in France?

Surely Secularism has to be informed tolerant and able to engage with religion, however tangentially, sufficiently so that it can understand some of the underlying principles underpinning religions. To be fair that’s not going to be easy because often people of faith also cannot explain their religion’s underlying values comfortably. There is unease and friction whenever and wherever Secularism and religion come into contact.

I have to admit to struggling to understand Christianity even though I label myself a Christian – as a flag of convenience as much as anything. Christianity does not exist as a homogenous concept and if you unpick it in a historical context you begin to realise that Western, Roman or Pauline Christianity may be very different from the philosophy promoted by Jesus.

I do not want to go into detail here except to say the first Christian movement was merely one of a number of Jewish sects – not even Judaism existed as a single settled homogenous faith system in Christ’s time, any more than Christianity exists as a homogenous religion today. It is, however, important to remember that, as Jews and if they ate meat, Christ and his followers would have been very comfortable with Jewish kosher practices. In addition they spoke Aramaic which is linguistically very similar to Arabic so they may well have been familiar with terms that we associate with Islam, which was not codified until the seventh century.

I believe there is a difference between the sect and the philosophy that Jesus espoused and that promoted by Paul. The Western Christianity that we know absorbed “pagan” ideas as it was assimilated into the Roman Empire. This is sufficient for Western Christianity not to have empathy with its co-religions – Judaism and Islam. This is highlighted by Christians comfortably eating pig meat and generally not associating itself with kosher and halal food hygiene codes.

We also need to recognise that the way in which much Western civil society is structured can be attributed to foundations laid by the Christian Church – especially health and education. I guess that until the Enlightenment what is now an independent university system may have been very much associated to with the Church. In the Middle East academia and Islam went hand in hand.

Now if that influence has largely come from Western Christianity it is easy to see how Secular Western society has little little empathy with either Judaism or Islam.

To keep this brief, you can see from Jewish and Islamic codes that among things personal and public health concerns were paramount and still are but this is not taught in a Secular world, which is largely informed by Western Christian thinking. “We” find comfort is presuming that Bronze Age and later Biblical peoples cannot possibly have understood modern concepts of food hygiene. For sure they could not have known about germs but they would certainly have clocked that there was a good and bad way of cooking food. They would surely also have worked out that there was a good and bad way of killing animals to eat. Get these practices wrong and you get food poisoning from the former and tough and uneatable meat if animals were not killed in a humane stress-free manner.

These observations informed first, Jewish and later Islamic codes. They were cultural rather than religious. Some Christians have retained these cultural practices. Kosher and halal dietary rules are

Now if this is not taught and specifically excluded from state debate when the President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, knocks on your door in attempt to rebuild bridges between his isolated state and the West, and in this case France, how can you entertain him? How does this look to the people of Iran when their leader relaxes his attitude to the West, makes a conscious effort to re-engage, and is rebuffed by the very people who demand that Iran should re-engage.

The roots of anti-Semitism can in part be attributed to Christianity’s blaming Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus and in part Christianity’s losing touch with kosher/halal dietary codes. You can see these traits in Secularism.

It strikes me that Secularism has to be flexible. If Secularism is truly objective it will be able to grasp the rational behind kosher and halal codes but it cannot. Secularists are quick to point to “sky pixies” and “imaginary friends” when these codes have as much relevance today as they did two millenia ago.

Many blame dogmatic religion for many of the world’s ills (they may not be wrong) but is Secularism at risk of becoming equally dogmatic and isolationist or insular?

For sure it seems that in France a form a aggressive Secularism has prevented state officials from knowing how to accommodate a leader who is trying to make amends with the West.

France appears not to be a good place right now. Its brand of Secularism has led it there.