Warsi wrong again
Minister all at sea in attacking 'militant secularisation'
In her speech at the Vatican, and her Daily Telegraph article on Tuesday, Sayeeda Warsi has once again criticised 'militant secularisation' as 'intolerant' and 'illiberal' and called for Christianity and 'Christian values' to be reaffirmed in Europe and in the European Constitution.
The irony seems to have escaped the Baroness that calling for ‘God’ to be included in the EU Constitution – a document which covers all the citizens of a continent – would itself be deeply intolerant in ignoring the rights of those growing numbers who do not believe in a God.
She also misunderstands secularism which, far from being ‘militant’, is moderate and inclusive of everyone. It argues for a neutral state in a pluralist society, where we all have the right to religious faith or none. Religious and non-religious people are free to argue their respective corners on the political landscape and the state acts as a neutral referee.
The USA is a secular state, yet religion thrives. So is Turkey, yet there are mosques everywhere and regular calls to prayer. France and India are also examples of successful secular states. The commitment to secularism is thus a political stance that is compatible with a wide range of personal views and beliefs. It is entirely possible for religious believers to be secularist and secularists to be religious believers.
Great Britain, however, is a quasi-religious state, with an established Church, the monarch as the titular head of the Church of England, bishops in the House of Lords as of right and the legal requirement for collective worship in schools, the last of which is expressly forbidden in secular states such as France, the USA and Canada.
What really seems to annoy Sayeeda Warsi is the current campaign to make Great Britain a more level playing field in the battle for ideas. She is among the ranks of religious people crying foul because religious privileges are being reduced in the interests of freedom, equality and multiculturalism.
According to a recent social attitudes survey, the majority of people in the UK are non-religious, and even among Christians, as shown in this week’s Ipsos Mori poll, the overwhelming majority believe that there shouldn’t be an official state religion and certainly that it shouldn’t influence public policy. So, again, it’s a case where politicians at Westminster are clearly out of touch with the people, whether secular or religious.
Perhaps Baroness Warsi should come to live in Northern Ireland and, as a Muslim, experience the divisive nature of fundamentalist religious beliefs here. We have largely segregated schools, segregated politics and segregated cultures. Abortion is still illegal, RE in schools is almost exclusively Christian, and some members of our executive want six-day creationism taught in science lessons.
It also has to be said that a whole string of ultra-reactionary and often bigoted views predominate among some sections of the population – on beating children, cruelty to animals, punishing criminals, censorship of the arts, gay rights, race, attitudes to foreigners, and so on. Research by the University of Ulster even suggests that Northern Ireland is the hate capital of the western world, with the highest proportion of bigots. This situation is not totally unrelated to the domination of fundamentalist versions of Christianity among the two main traditions in the province.
In the UK there is a more liberal and tolerant outlook in the society precisely because the influence of religion has declined. In that Ipsos Mori poll, 62% of Christians were in favour of women’s right to have an abortion if that is what they choose and 61% of Christians agreed that homosexuals should have the same legal rights in all aspects of their lives as heterosexuals.
How long must we wait before the majority of Northern Ireland’s Christians display a similar level of tolerance and liberalism?
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