An Alternative Easter Message

I doubt Jesus would be flattered by the Easter messages of David Cameron or Ed Miliband. But then Jesus is not so much God made flesh, or a great man in his own terms, but made in the image of whoever speaks of him. I am no exception here.

Cameron made a wishy washy appeal to all while saying we needed the established Church of England to help support rights of other faiths, and Jesus was for the “Big society” that Cameron now and again attempts a Lazarus rise from the dead on. Jesus the Zealot wanted God’s Kingdom on earth in the here and now – the sword very much in one hand with charity in the other as God’s Law became Man’s Law. Equal marriage doubtful as would tolerance of non Judaism religion. Jesus was no secularist or religious freedom advocate if we go by Reza Aslan’s “Zealot“.

Ed Miliband talked of service to communities, especially in times of austere government policy. Instead of political masters it was time for servant leaders. The resurrection of Tony Blair, winner of three elections,  in that sentiment was rather welcome. With the new appointment of political messiah David Axelrod, Labour might even win the next election. Though even he could not bring Mario in Italy back from the dead by polling day.

My point is that Jesus was not a pluralist – he advocated one narrow path and the establishment of God’s Kingdom on earth. Islam would not have got off the ground under it. The Church of England supported the state by seeking out heretics and traitors – often being one was the same as the other. Any claim that it supports other faiths now is more to the secularising of the institution in modern times.

The establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the horrors of the holocaust have more to do with the secular nation we live in today than Christianity. King Henry VIII “domestic relations”, let alone foreign ones, are the reason for an established church and the anachronism remains. It was only in 1858 that a Jew could become an MP in Britain – Disraeli’s father converting to Anglicanism was his only chance earlier.

So Miliband has a point identifying himself as potentially the first Jewish Atheist Prime Minister. That again a reflection of a more tolerant attitude to immigration in the past. Britain became a melting pot of ideas and cultures. Pluralism allows that self identity, just as secularism defends it.

An established church does not secure or underpin religious freedom; it rather risks the privileging of a state faith. Twenty six un-elected bishops in the House of Lords. The Head of State must be Defender of the Faith. A role Prince Charles has questioned wanting to be “defender of faith.”

I might add Prince Charles has raised the issue of apostasy in Islam as he has the persecution of religious people, including Christians. No monarchist heart have I, but Charles is an educated enlightened man of his times (ignoring quack homeopathy; no one is perfect). The Church of England reflects the times we live in rather than being a trend setter regarding plurality of faith. That is to be welcomed without being confused as the de facto cause.

Secularism is about safeguarding citizens from coercion in matters of religion by the state being neutral. The morality that makes people generously give of their time to others is separate from public policy formulation and delivery. We are all equal citizens whatever our belief or none.

This Easter my message is that we are not a Christian Nation anymore than we are a White Nation. We are a nation of many people, united that making sense of ourselves is for our own conscience. That we shall have the freedom to worship God as we understand them, or to be against the very notion there is one. One where Anjem Choudray and Richard Dawkins may make their pronouncements under free speech whatever you may think of them.

I am fortunate to have been born here. May all be free to be who they are and express it, without fear or favour by the state or other people. Violence and intimidation has no place. Free debate is to be valued and when it comes to charity, also be charitable to your critics. For forged in fire of open debate we may yet refine our arguments.

That in living and thinking, we might all look to serve humanity as best we can in a pluralistic society.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Critiquing Islam

 

Brandeis University offered an honorary doctorate to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, then withdrew it after protest because on further scrutiny “We cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.” Absolute shambles whatever your view of Ayaan. The giving then not giving undermines the notion of being “a world-class research institution with the intimacy and personal attention of a small liberal arts college” if they could not work this out for themselves.

Dialogue between ex Muslims and Muslims is important. In a pluralistic society that values religious freedom it is possible to exist and interact with each other. The death threats that Ayaan Hirsi Ali experiences are unacceptable. Bomb threats were made against her, not Hitchens, Dawkins or Harris, when I attended a conference they were all speaking at. As volunteers we were asked if we should cancel, I said no. If Ayaan Hirsi Ali was prepared to speak then we should be prepared to listen.

Which is difficult to hear if you think she demands military action against 1.5 billion Muslims to crush them. A variant of this is doing the rounds on the Internet, taken from an interview in 2007. The person that interviewed Ayaan agreed with Friendly Atheist blogger Hemant Mehta’s view:

It takes a very uncharitable interpretation of Hirsi Ali’s words to think her goal of “defeating Islam” means we should commit violence against peaceful law-abiding Muslims or descends into hate speech. Her goal is full-scale reform of Islam, not genocide against all Muslims.

When the quote is reproduced it might be useful to have the context, especially as first paragraph (which I emphasise) of her answer is on a different page, so does not appear in a screen shot of the quote from Reason:

[Bottom page 2:]

Reason: Should we acknowledge that organized religion has sometimes sparked precisely the kinds of emancipation movements that could lift Islam into modern times? Slavery in the United States ended in part because of opposition by prominent church members and the communities they galvanized. The Polish Catholic Church helped defeat the Jaruzelski puppet regime. Do you think Islam could bring about similar social and political changes?

Hirsi Ali: Only if Islam is defeated. Because right now, the political side of Islam, the power-hungry expansionist side of Islam, has become superior to the Sufis and the Ismailis and the peace-seeking Muslims.

Reason: Don’t you mean defeating radical Islam?

[Page 3:]

Hirsi Ali: No. Islam, period. Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace.

Reason: We have to crush the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims under our boot? In concrete terms, what does that mean, “defeat Islam”?

Hirsi Ali: I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars. Islam can be defeated in many ways. For starters, you stop the spread of the ideology itself; at present, there are native Westerners converting to Islam, and they’re the most fanatical sometimes. There is infiltration of Islam in the schools and universities of the West. You stop that. You stop the symbol burning and the effigy burning, and you look them in the eye and flex your muscles and you say, “This is a warning. We won’t accept this anymore.” There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.

Reason: Militarily?

Hirsi Ali: In all forms, and if you don’t do that, then you have to live with the consequence of being crushed.

So no, she does not want all Muslims murdered by Black-Ops, or bombed into submission, nor did she say crush 1.5 billion Muslims. She does employ an atheist carpet bombing critique covering all Muslims. That moderate Muslims are a problem too as Islam lends itself to violent extremism, and by it’s nature looking to dominate society. Islamism rather than something within Islam becomes one and the same thing. This view of all Muslims is justified by this critique because an atheist reading of the Koran is the true canonical definition, as if a literalist interpretation by them is the truth. Any Muslim that promotes pluralism, or questions a literalist or atheist interpretation, is declared to not be a true Muslim. Or one that has been secularised first to be more civilised than the text promotes. In effect fundamentalists are the true belivers. Needless to say, I find such a view horrid, misleading and willfully inaccurate of how most Muslims I meet articulate what Islam means.

For more of a critique on such black and white thinking do read Qasim Rashid’s opinion piece: A Muslim’s invitation to the new atheists: Dawkins, Ali and Harris.

Whether gender segregation at British Universities, the Al-Madinah school in Derby, and the British Government admitting it has not done enough to help tackle Islamic extremism these issues are not that of a bigot to raise. Theses issues concern us all whether Muslim or not. The solution is working together, not targeting Muslims with special measures that amount to discrimination.

The language of the interview above being critiqued does not take into account that Ayaan has evolved in her thinking, and especially expression, from that 2007 interview to now. For example watch this 25 minute debate between her and Tariq Ramadan:

To my mind, she brings out an interesting discussion with Ramadan, and he does well to respond. The sticking point in rhetoric though is that carpet bomb approach to Muslims. It offends by suggesting to people: well you are not a real Muslim are you, because if you were you would be a bigot, racist and misogynist would you not? Ramadan points out that is unhelpful let alone wrong when talking about Muslims in Europe and America.

A much longer panel discussion with Ayaan (about an hour and a half before a local studio discussion of debate) took place in December 2013 featuring Maajid Nawaz and Feisal Abdul Rauf:

Here is more detail about the jurisprudence being up for revision and discussion. Rather than an eternal set in stone idea from God. Maajid comments that reading such scholarly work from about seven centuries ago helped him to renounce his extremism.

The approach that religion and all it’s followers are the issue period, will not work if we cannot take seriously people of faith being secularists and human rights activists. Muslims are at the forefront of tackling Islamism, not atheist best selling authors that cannot read Arabic, let alone have not read a translation of the Koran. They are not the ones on the front line literally laying down their lives.

In turn, vilifying the critics of Islam as islamophobes and haters does not help engage with constructive criticism and legitimate points they raise. Ex Muslims and Muslims have much to discuss as Maajid mentions in the above video. It is going to be painful, perhaps offensive. But it needs to happen if a free society is going to celebrate pluralism and challenge extremisim. Free speech means hearing something and deciding how to deal with what we hear. Making the degree a free speech issue is ludicrous; as the two videos show she is being heard and the university invited her to speak when available in a debate. Thing is, being offended is not a licence to defame back in a discussion.

Brandeis University have not helped that discussion by their actions. Ayaan’s work on FGM and women’s rights is worthy of honor (as I am sure many other people’s are), and an atheist view on religion being the problem is no reason to deny an honor because it is applied to Islam. The icing on the cake is twisting Ayaan’s words as wanting the slaughter of Muslims and seeing all Muslims as blood thirsty savages waiting for the right moment to strike – that to defeat Islam ideologically is code for genocide. Watch the videos above – this is not true.

If the honor had been for promoting secularism then I would concede there is something to be concerned about. Her recommendations on immigration, citizenship, come across as close to  being anti-Muslim rather than promoting freedom of religion. We cannot defend human rights by undermining the very liberties everyone deserves, even to those we may wish to ideologically oppose. Any rhetoric that sounds like war or the battle for civilization is counter productive. I can understand a nonsectarian Jewish sponsored University having second thoughts, though it looks more like they lost their backbone with the protest rather than just found out about statements already available via Google.

The dialogue which is clearly happening with Ayaan is not going to be easy. It will not be welcomed by some. Ayaan has a credible death threat on her head. Disagree with her, agree with her, use the democratic process for that. As protesters of the honorary degree did rather well.

Ayaan has a platform, and watching the videos above the discussion will reach more people because of the engagement by Muslims with her. It is a discussion worth having. Long may it continue, as we learn to understand each other rather than give in to tribalism hate mentality. Because the persecution ex Muslims face is real enough, as is anti-Muslim sentiment.

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Christian Right Try To Intimidate Vicky Beeching On Equal Marriage

 

Vicky Beeching is a theologian, writer, broadcaster and hosts “Faith in Feminism” which I have reblogged and commented on several times while blogging.

I only just recently found out in a post by her that she is also a singer. Not the best of ways of finding out though. Her support of equal marriage has upset the US Christian Right:

I say all of that to give context to why I have been so afraid to stand up for equal marriage; I knew not only my conservative friends and relatives in the UK would be unhappy, but also the large base of people in the States who have followed my work for the past decade. Many of them are dear friends and colleagues.

So speaking up about this has not been without great thought and personal cost. My bills are paid in part by royalties from my songwriting career. As a result of raising my voice to support equal marriage, I’ve received lots of messages from conservative American churches saying they will “boycott my songs”. If they don’t get sung in the mega-churches of North America, my royalties basically stop.

So the cost of me speaking up about equal marriage is, essentially, my salary. Hopefully that emphasises that I am not just ‘appealing to culture’ or ‘trying to be popular’ as many conservative Christians are concluding.

This is not just about trying to punish Vicky for being “the wrong kind of Christian.” It is an attempt to warn others that, if you do not toe the line as we see it, we will organize a boycott to financially ruin you. So keep it to yourself.

A small gesture on my part is to suggest buying a song from iTunes. One I like is “Precious” the seventh track from her album here.

Precious are the moments
When I know that You are very near
Precious are these moments
As You meet me here
As You meet me here

CHORUS:

Here with You
Here with You
Your loving arms are holding me
Safe with You
Safe with You
There’s nowhere else I’d rather be

Treasured are the moments
When I know that You are very near
Treasured are these moments
As You meet me here
As You meet me here

One of those songs that universally applies to love. Even the one that others hope dare not speak it’s name.

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“Luton on Sunday” Encourages Islamic Sectarianism

This was the advertisement that the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community placed in the Luton on Sunday regional newspaper – which you can read in full here.

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The advert does go on to quote Prime Minister David Cameron on Ahmadiyya Muslims. Worth mentioning his message marking their celebration and praising their contribution in the UK:

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Regrettably the sectarianism that would rather divide people than embrace the humanity of all reared it’s head in this letter to the newspaper.

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The persecution Ahmadiyya Muslims face (see this reblog of a personal account here) is very real. Yet the paper met with “representatives of the Muslim community” after this letter and apologised for the offence of running an advert for “Ahmadiyya [Muslims]“. The paper neglected to call them Muslims – so as to cause no further offence no doubt.

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So a regional paper plays to prejudice against the free expression of a minority. To ignore the contribution to the community Ahmadiyya Muslims have made because of other Islamic community leaders views on heresy. So nice of the paper to hold a meeting to make a British fatwa for us all that Ahmadiyya Muslims are offensive. The Britain I live in cherishes free expression, religious freedom and pluralism. No local rag is going to ignore these values.

The Luton On Sunday has decided on damage limitation without counting the real cost. Please show them there is real value not only in these principles, but the actions of Ahmadiyya Muslims in the UK.

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Eric Pickles’ British Christian Nation Is A Delusion

What it means to be British is being called into question with the Scottish Independence referendum coming up in six months. The momentum is with the Yes campaign as now 47 percent would vote yes to quitting the union. With no Conservative and Unionist Party (the full name of the Tories) MPs in Scotland, the idea that the Conservative Party understands Britain, in all its complexity, is beyond belief.

When it comes to belief this is one clear blue water that Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is keen to talk up, having claimed in the past Labour had diminished Christianity. At the Conservative Spring Forum he has said:

that atheists should not be able to push an agenda of “politically correct intolerance”, adding: “I’ve stopped an attempt by militant atheists to ban councils having prayers at the start of meetings if they wish.”

Pickles added: “Heaven forbid. We’re a Christian nation. We have an Established Church. Get over it. And don’t impose your politically correct intolerance on others.” [Huffington Post]

Lack of interest

We are such a Christian nation that barely 800,000 people on average attended Church of England Sunday services; half those that attended in 1968 [Church of England]. With an English population of over 50 million, that is hardly popular acclaim for the established church. Rather a Guardian/ICM poll:

reveals that non-believers outnumber believers in Britain by almost two to one. It paints a picture of a sceptical nation with massive doubts about the effect religion has on society: 82% of those questioned say they see religion as a cause of division and tension between people. Only 16% disagree. The findings are at odds with attempts by some religious leaders to define the country as one made up of many faith communities.

Most people have no personal faith, the poll shows, with only 33% of those questioned describing themselves as “a religious person”. A clear majority, 63%, say that they are not religious – including more than half of those who describe themselves as Christian.

That was in 2006. Looking at a more recent survey in 2013:

Results of the 30th British Social Attitudes Survey (BSA) have been released today, with 48% of respondents claiming that they do not belong to a religion. The report shows that in 1983, around two in three people (68%) considered themselves to belong to one religion or another; in 2012, only around half (52%) do so. The increase in the non religious is almost entirely mirrored by a decline in the proportion of people who describe themselves as belonging to the Church of England, down from 40% in 1983 to just 20% now. Results show that religious identity in Britain has been in stark decline over the past three decades. [BHA]

It is not just inaccurate to describe Britain as a Christian Nation but increasingly becoming inaccurate to describe Britain as a religious nation, whether we go by visiting a place of worship or attitude to faith. It is a cherished delusion. Pickles’ view of the established church and bishops in the upper parliament will continue to be questioned. Whether they want the church free from Acts of Parliament dictating the faith, elected representatives making the laws of the land, or that prayer is a matter for a person and not one a government body enacts. There are Christians, secularists, other faiths and yes atheists calling for change.

We are a nation of citizens with a vast array of beliefs.

Back to Scotland 

Speaking of Scotland, an interfaith meeting convened by the Church of Scotland has released a joint statement:

“At a meeting, chaired by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Right Reverend Lorna Hood, representatives of Scotland’s diverse faith traditions were united in the view that the contribution of faith to Scottish society should be properly recognised whatever the future holds.

“All the churches and faith communities present agreed Scotland’s diversity of religious belief is an important reflection of Scotland’s wider society.”

You see Mr Pickles, the Scots understand a pluralistic, religiously diverse country better than you do. The Irony is we might just be about to lose them because you do not understand what did make Britain a nation.

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Autism Awareness Month

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Please follow link to my Huffington Post Lifestyle article on my brother and being a family caregiver and share as part of raising awareness about autism. Thanks.

The film “Rain Man” was a bane during my childhood. On one side it raised awareness of autism during a time when no one had a second thought to ask you to leave a restaurant if they felt the behaviour was not well mannered – by this we mean keeping still. The huge minus was the assumption that my brother being autistic had a gift of some kind beyond us mere mortals. Everyone is an individual with autism being a spectrum.

I had to explain that there was a huge range of abilities for people with autism, and my brother mentally was on the severe end of that scale though able bodied. He could not speak, much less add up numbers. He could remember faces but not names let alone read a telephone directory. He would never be able to make a phone call or take a message. He would not be able to cross a road safely – ever. He had learning difficulties and this was for life – his safety, well being and happiness would always be dependent on others.

Rest of article here.

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I Am a Terrorist According To Saudi Arabia

I dream of the overthrow of theocracy. By people peacefully rejecting clerical fundamentalism. With a transition to democracy where atheists and wahhabists, let alone men and women, are equal citizens before secular law. Where thought is not a crime as opinion is voiced openly and freely. As I am doing above in front of the camera outside The White House.

This would make me not just a criminal but a terrorist for encouraging atheist thought in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. That theocratic monarchical thought crime state that allies with liberal secular democracies. Democracies that call for the very things I just opened with. Strange bed fellows are made by circumstance, and the bastard child that came out of this arrangement was militant jihadism. Which has, thanks to generous patronage in Saudi Arabia, gone global as a movement. 

The interior ministry regulations include other sweeping provisions that authorities can use to criminalize virtually any expression or association critical of the government and its understanding of Islam. These “terrorism” provisions include the following:

 

  • Article 1: “Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.” [Source]

In this strategic arrangement the oil flows to the developed world, and the blood is meant to only run down the streets of the developing world. The Saudis are offering the US a proxy war in Syria backing a third force which will attack Assad’s forces and the Jihad groups like ISIS. Part of this clamp down on terrorism by Saudi Arabia includes atheists. The British started the ball rolling supporting the House of Saud and the USA continues the relationship. We need to rethink how this relationship is working.

This is a classic Saudi move; give the west a bone while beating down with a stick domestically, to preserve the House of Saud in unstable times. An outstretched hand of friendship while the other pummels dissent and thought into submission before fanatical tyranny. The kingdom where tweeting this article might lead to a visit from the security services. 

The stance of the west is weakened by our over reliance on Saudi Arabia as an ally. The price is the continued subjugation of people to a theocratic police state. We tell ourselves this is the price of sleeping well in our beds. The cost of filling up our tanks so we have the freedom to live happy and prosperous. 

My support for the Dawkins’ OUT Campaign, encouraging atheists to be open in rejecting religion, makes me subject to the same terrorism laws as Al Qaeda. To quote Jarvis Cocker ” We won’t use guns, we won’t use bombs. We’ll use the one thing we’ve got more of; that’s our minds.” To secularists that are threatened and fear for their freedom and loved ones, I cannot imagine what you are going through.

I am determined to make use of the liberties I have to call for freedom and criticize government policy that makes your plight worse. Religious freedom is for all whether Shia, Sufi, Sunni, Wahhbist, Ahmadi, non Islamic faith or atheists. None of them should be treated by the state as terrorists. 

Secularism is a terror to theocratic despotism because it dares to call for equal liberty of all no matter what they think. 

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