The Betrayal Of Believers To Theocracy

Too often I hear that the vast majority of atheists have no issues with religion. Clearly they have enough of an issue not to be religious themselves. Worryingly, the use of anti-theism to denote hatred of religious people by atheists themselves, is up there with using islamophobia rather than anti-muslim hate.

It is as if theism was just another idea in the market place, just another product. One that desperately needs a health warning. It poisons everything. Including secular liberal principles.

Not least when an unholy alliance is being offered with theocrats by some atheists. I am dismayed by British Humanist Association (BHA) stance: 

In a debate with me a few years ago, the then Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips (now a BHA trustee) called Sharia courts “people’s right to religion”. Andrew Copson, its Chief Executive, has stated on Facebook on 8 December 2014 that he had visited a Beth Din and the Islamic Sharia Council with three of his fellow commissioners on the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life and was “left without a single secularist reason to say that they should not be allowed to operate as they do”. [Maryam Namazie]

It is fine for a woman to go to arbitration for a faith where men say prayers thanking God they were not born a woman or where a woman has less standing in civil matters than a man. The tradition of patriarchy and demeaning women given sanction as religious freedom.

Thus do we betray feminism and the equality of citizens by bending over backwards to say we are not anti-religion by putting theocracy before these values. Religion having a role in civil law is a base camp for extremists to exploit. The radicals do not need the legislature when they can rule on family life in the community.

So we help to oppress the very people we claim have a choice. That is how people wash their hands of it.

In the Law Society debacle where the Society had endorsed discriminatory practices by issuing Sharia-compliant guidance on wills, the current BHA Head of Public Affairs, Pavan Dhaliwal, wrote: “The issue has been totally blown out of proportion… It’s just advice so that solicitors can provide a service to (Sunni) Muslim clients who want a will that fits with their beliefs. It does not claim to do any more than that.” 

Many women’s rights groups, including Southall Black Sisters, Centre for Secular Space, Nari Diganta, Iranian Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation and One Law for All disagreed and campaigned against the guidance, which was eventually withdrawn. The Law Society made a very public apology for endorsing discrimination. [Ibid]

It misses how religion impacts on society – how as Hitchens mentions religion poisons everything. In a race to say it is not religion, but people who are at fault, we forget religion is a creation of the human mind. As such it is subject to fault, to being a product of its time and the machinations of a believer or cleric. Where even good people can do terrible things because they think the unimaginable.

Religious freedom is about protecting people in their opinion on religion and in their practise. That cannot come from diminishing the equality of citizens before the law. That is the argument against religious councils ruling on civil matters. Why legal advice that promoted discrimination based on extreme interpretation of religious doctrine was inexcusable.

In the name of avoiding appearing anti-religious, I cannot betray the secularist principles that uphold the equality of citizens. We must not help religious hardliners in their community obtain power. The supposed tyranny of equality nazis is about ending discrimination in society and the use of the law to do so. For some reason, many want to abandon it where it does not directly affect them as non believers. Handing some keys over in the hope that it will prevent radicalization penetrating deeper. Neglecting that theocracy in the modern age only needs the run of civil matters, rather than the legislature, to influence the everyday life of citizens. The attitude of some atheists seems to be: the fringes are the front line let us appear to on the moral high ground.

When you see that wall of separation between church and state laid siege too, then once more unto the breach dear friends. Let us seal it with our arguments, for too many have done so with their bodies in the world. Under theocratic law and fundamentalist hands they died. Under one law for all we stand.

In this, to rally when many a leader has already called the retreat as they flee to the supposed high ground to keep themselves safe, do watch the video above which is a few minutes long. It is a highlight of Christopher Hitchens debate with Tony Blair. It is the reason why theism needs countering. Why secularism is important.

Watch, stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, and by argument shall we not let the wall fall. For we shall make it bigger.

Freedom needs to be defended. Both against fundamentalists and those cultural relativists that will willingly betray the human rights of others as long as they are ok.

I am against theism because I value humanity too much to see its freedoms and lives sacrificed to false gods. Universal human rights are for everyone – which is why theocracy must be opposed.

Update 25 March 2015

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association has written a full reply to Maryam Namazie’s article, from which I quote three paragraphs above.

It is republished with Andrew’s permission:

The BHA, on grounds of equality and human rights, opposes any legal recognition of norms which contradict these principles. We do not consider sharia to be ‘law’ and we do not consider the bodies advising on it to be ‘courts’. The secular civil and criminal law binds everyone and there should be no exemptions from it for any alternative jurisdictions within the UK. We have promoted this view to successive governments and to a wide variety of other public bodies over the years and today.

I have responded to some of the points in the blog you quote below. (The quotes from the blog are the bits in italics.)

In a debate with me a few years ago, the then Head of Public Affairs Naomi Phillips (now a BHA trustee) called Sharia courts “people’s right to religion”.

What Naomi said was that, in situations where parties were free from coercion and no laws were being broken, access to religion-based dispute resolution was a right for religious people in a liberal society that respects freedom of association. She also said that there should never be any implication that this sort of arbitration was law. Speaking shortly afterwards she said, ‘‘Many religious “laws” are inherently gender unequal, and as such are antithetical to the principles of democracy and the rule of law which we uphold in a liberal democracy. We welcome any clarification that religious laws, judges and tribunals should have no de facto or legal recognition in English law and have no standing in our domestic courts, as this new Bill may seek to do. Just as important is that government and others should undertake serious and wide-ranging work to ensure that women and men from every part of society, right from school age, understand their civil rights as citizens.’ You can see this statement at https://humanism.org.uk/2011/06/09/news-822/

Andrew Copson, its Chief Executive, has stated on Facebook on 8 December 2014 that he had visited a Beth Din and the Islamic Sharia Council with three of his fellow commissioners on the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life and was “left without a single secularist reason to say that they should not be allowed to operate as they do”.

This is a misleading and selective quote as it gives the impression that I support sharia “courts” and that the BHA does. Both impressions would be untrue but in fact, this is a quote from a post on my personal Facebook wall made in a private capacity. As such, I consider it to be firmly in the realm of my private life. However, since it has been selectively quoted in this way and made public, I am willing to reproduce it in full for you, although with strong reservations about this conflation between my private life and my employment:

Visited the London Beth Din of the Chief Rabbi of the United (Orthodox) Synagogues and the Islamic Shari’a Council today as part of a fact-finding trip with three of my fellow commissioners on the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life.

Having heard how they operate, examined their cases, and spoken to the men and women who run them, I’m left without a single secularist reason to say that they should not be allowed to operate as they do. In civil matters, the Beth Din make arbitrations just as any other private organisation may do under law if the parties consent. The Shari’a Council was founded in 1982 to give religious divorces to women who were unable to get them and now makes judgments on religious matters alone which are quite outside of the law. They both seem to me to operate entirely within the private sphere and – where their activities intersect with anything that falls under English law – they do not act unlawfully.

I’m still left with a lot of humanist reasons why I wish people didn’t want to use them though. It’s a shame that religious people – like those I spoke to today – feel that they should comply with scriptural injunctions which treat men and women unequally and impose what I think of as unreasonable, unfair, and irrelevant restrictions on behaviour. And that they do this even though they agree that these principles are unfair – as some today did – amazes me!

If you want to do something about that, though, it has to be through culture rather than the law, right? Or *are* there ways in which public agencies should intervene to influence people not to use these voluntary services?

And here’s another question. One of the women who runs the Shari’a Council said how worried she was about growing literalism and conservatism (an imam I was speaking to last week said the same) of some Muslims and panels set up to make judgments under shari’a in the UK. What is a good response by wider society to that? Would encouraging the liberal shari’a councils, which interpret scriptural injunctions in light of moral contexts and social reality, risk legitimising them? And might it have the opposite effect anyway? Would giving approval to them risk undermining the liberal councils in the eyes of disaffected and defensive Muslims who would feel that those councils were (because sanctioned) less authentic than the more conservative and literal-minded councils to which they might then flock?

Lots to think about on this Commission!

I’m sure you will agree this is not an endorsement of sharia based decision making.

 

In the Law Society debacle where the Society had endorsed discriminatory practices by issuing Sharia-compliant guidance on wills, the current BHA Head of Public Affairs, Pavan Dhaliwal, wrote: “The issue has been totally blown out of proportion… It’s just advice so that solicitors can provide a service to (Sunni) Muslim clients who want a will that fits with their beliefs. It does not claim to do any more than that.”

Many women’s rights groups, including Southall Black Sisters, Centre for Secular Space, Nari Diganta, Iranian Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation and One Law for All disagreed and campaigned against the guidance, which was eventually withdrawn. The Law Society made a very public apology for endorsing discrimination.

This quote is taken from an email sent by Pavan to a private email group run by ‘End Violence Against Women’ in which she was arguing that the issue of the practice note had been blown out of proportion in the media and elsewhere. I think she was right – there was widespread public misapprehension that the law had somehow been changed, which was untrue.

Nonetheless, you can believe that something has been blown out of proportion but still not think it is good, and the BHA was against the practice note and not in favour of it as is wrongly claimed here. We met with the Chief Executive of the Law Society and other Law Society staff to voice our opposition to it. (As far as I know, none of the other groups listed here did so.) And we welcomed its withdrawal when it came (at which point we received the same letter from the Law Society that all other groups that had voiced their opposition received. You can see the story at https://humanism.org.uk/2014/11/24/bha-statement-withdrawal-law-society-practice-note-sharia-wills/)

Those who defend Sharia courts or Sharia-compliant wills as people’s “right to religion” don’t see or don’t want to see that Sharia law is one of the pillars of Islamist rule as is terrorism. It is in fact a form of terrorism against the population at large. This point of view will rightly condemn the hacking to death of Avijit Roy or Raif Badawi’s flogging but will tell those wearing Jesus and Mo cartoons or loudly proclaiming their apostasy that they are “out to offend”, implying that it is the way we criticise or mock Islam that brings on the threats. They also often conflate a criticism with Islam with an attack on Muslims, thereby implying that our the manner of our criticism feeds into racism and “Islamophobia”.

In relation to Jesus and Mo cartoons, we have never done anything other than actively championed the right of our student affiliates to free expression and worked hard to support them both with legal support and media assistance (e.g. https://humanism.org.uk/2013/10/04/lsesu-atheist-secularist-humanist-society-incident-freshers-fair/ and https://humanism.org.uk/2012/10/05/news-1124/ and many more) . We haven’t said any of the other things here either – in fact, we’ve frequently said the opposite.

Alom Shaha, a trustee of the BHA, said in a debate on Islam at the 2014 World Humanist Congress: “You can express whatever views you like but as people have pointed out the expression of your views has consequences, and if one of the consequences of your views, the expression of your views, is that there is hatred and intolerance of other human beings, I’m just simply suggesting that you consider how you express your views. I think the term Islamophobia is indeed problematic; perhaps I should have used the term anti-Muslim bigotry…”

At this event (at which we also invited Maryam to speak), Alom was of course not speaking on behalf of the BHA but as a prominent ex-Muslim and writer and thinker on these issues. Nonetheless, I can’t see anything wrong with what he is saying; he seems to me to be making a reasonable point.

Whilst groups like the BHA rightly condemn the Sharia court sentence of stoning to death for Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani in Iran, they cannot find “a single secularist reason to say that they should not be allowed to operate as they do” when it comes to Britain.

As stated above, this is not the position of the BHA.

I do not know why these claims have been made on this blog but I hope the responses above address your concerns.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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3 Comments

Filed under atheism, British Politics, British Society, Hitchens, secular

3 responses to “The Betrayal Of Believers To Theocracy

  1. I am against religions and gods exactly because I am for enlightened thinking and freedom of mind and body. Where physical chains cannot be clasped religion clamps on its own brand of chains, enslaving the mind, knowing the body will follow it into the abyss of contorted thought and mindless action. Never was a more perfect prison made than in the ‘logic’ of religion. It creates an army of slave labor to oppose enlightened thought and freedom of spirit, oppressing the human mind so that it fears to be out of the cage.

    Enslaving the minds of any, even the youngest among us, is a crime greater than any other, even murder. In death we are free of the torture, in life we must fight it. Such enslavement is the greatest enemy of the human mind for it robs us of the only valuable thing we have: freedom of thought and experience. It demands that adherents fear to experience life on open terms. It demands that experience be none save what the religion grudgingly gives approval of. In this most vile of demands it robs the human of all that it is to be human.

    To achieve our goals and enjoy the victory of our efforts is indeed the very essense of completeness for the human mind. From the time we learn how our fingers work till we take our last breath, experience and accomplishment is all that we have. Religion robs us of this for as long as it can and it does so with purposeful malice to prevent the believer ever understanding that the last thing they need is religion.

    Religious thought be damned. If some wayward god wishes that I behave in some prescribed way let that god tell me in person where all and sundry can witness the decree. Whispers that no other can hear are but figments of imagination no more special than the whispers heard by the psychotic mind. Indeed, the two are one and the same but the former is given more credence in deference to the imagined pedigree proclaimed for it and the latter is simply the honest meanderings of a ill equipped mind.

    We are stardust and to dust we will return. The great before and the eternal after matter not to the mind and it is precisely the middle part which religions are designed to deprive us of, greedily apportioning power and freedom to only those who know best how to weild it. Religion is the chains of a slaver. This is true no matter how much a human might crave them.

  2. ollytozer

    Absolutely agree. We are being let down by liberals (I consider myself one) because they are more concerned with hurting people’s feelings than with furthering liberal values. We should be encouraging people to call out injustices where they see it, but at the moment the opposite is happening.

  3. Pingback: Accomodate Or Oppose The Islamic Right? Choose Wisely | Homo economicus' Weblog

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