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.


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