No, Stephen Crabb, Secularism is not to blame for ISIS

In a recent speech to the Conservative Christian Fellowship, the Secretary of State for Wales, Stephen Crabb, asserted that ‘hard-edged’ secularism in the UK was partly to blame for ‘aiding and abetting’ extremism. His reasoning is that this secularism ‘delegitimises’ religious faith through ‘suspicion, fear and ridicule’, pushing this faith to the fringes of society. According to Crabb, it therefore follows that, ‘if you push faith to the margins, then to the margins and into the shadows faith will be outworked’.

Crabb is a committed and conservative Christian, being one of the Tory MPs who voted against gay marriage two years ago. It is therefore not surprising that he would seek to pin religious fundamentalism on anything but religion. Yet it is still worth looking at his arguments, if only to show how flawed and groundless they really are.

To start with, Crabb makes the assertion that Islam, is ‘ridiculed’ and ‘delegitimised’. But where is the evidence for this? I would suggest that Islam, as a system of a beliefs, is far more insulated from criticism than Christianity, with scrutiny being written off as ‘Islamophobic’. Obviously, it is true that Muslims themselves face racism and suspicion which Christians do not have to face, but this is an entirely different issue to ‘hard-edged secularism’. Loud-mouthed racists and far-right groups such as the EDL and Britain First are hardly the inheritors of Spinoza and Hume, and in fact frequently proclaim that Britain is a ‘Christian country’, and that we should defend Christianity against Islam.

Such racism is grotesque, moronic and completely unacceptable, but it bears no relation to the criticism of Islam as a set of beliefs. Indeed, criticism of Islam as a religion is rarely tolerated. We do not need to cast our minds back far to remember how many made apologies for the murderers of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, declaring that the cartoons were ‘offensive’, ‘Islamophobic’ and should not have been published, yet the cartoons mocking the Papacy and Christianity came under no such attack. Christianity is ruthlessly parodied, mocked and criticised by comedians, television and film and by wide swathes of authors and intellectuals. It is absolutely correct that it should be, but can you imagine Islam being treated in the same way? Of course you can’t.

Similarly, excuses are made for radical and conservative Islam that would never be made for Christianity. When the Iranian ex-Muslim and secularist, Maryam Namazie, attempted to give a talk at Goldsmiths University, members of its Islamic Society attempted to use tactics of intimidation to shut the talk down. Far from condemning this naked intimidation of a woman, Goldsmiths Feminist Society ‘stood in solidarity‘ with those attempting to shut down the talk. Warwick University banned Maryam from speaking altogether until pressure forced them to back down. Sharia courts which ‘lock married women into captivity‘, face little-to-no criticism from the left or the feminist movement. In contrast, LGBT+ rights group Stonewall frequently hand out the ‘bigot of the year’ award to prominent Christians in the Church and in politics, and criticism of Christianity by secular speakers is never censored by universities.

Based on this, I would suggest that Islam is rarely subjected to ‘hard-edged secularism’ and ridicule, whereas Christianity is. However, we do not see a rise in Christian extremism or young Christians leaving the UK to fight for a new Christendom. This alone is almost enough to show that secularisation has no bearing on radicalisation.

We do not know enough about the causes of radicalisation yet, but it seems fairly clear that they usually stem from material conditions of social exclusion coupled with the allure of ideology. The racism from individuals and groups I mentioned earlier, coupled with disgusting, dog-whistle sensationalism from the right-wing press, such as the Sun‘s awful ‘1 in 5 British Muslims support ISIS’ claim’, are almost wholly responsible for the climate of fear and racism that many Muslims have to experience, not secularists who seek to challenge dogma and the hold it has over institutions. If Christians faced the same level of contempt and scaremongering from our society, I would suggest we would indeed see the rise of radical Christian groups.

I would to like conclude with a quick history lesson for Mr Crabb. At no point in human existence has the rise of secularism been met with a rise in religious violence. On the contrary, it is only secularism which has reigned in the awful tendency of religions to murder, torture and repress all those who oppose them. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648 saw an end to the bloody Wars of Religion which saw 1/3 of the population of Central Europe lie dead, and was a secular treaty, granting the right of nations and their citizens to follow whichever religion they chose. The period of free, secular inquiry which followed cemented reason and human rights above dogma and despotism for the first time in European history. Since then, we have never seen European states go to war over who has the correct interpretation of the Bible, or launch crusades to recapture supposedly sites, or kill scientists and philosophers who questioned religious supremacy. It is not through protecting our views from criticism that we make progress towards human freedom and rights, but through submitting them to reason, enquiry and debate. So sorry, Stephen Crabb, but the UK does not need less secularism, it needs more.

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“Gay cure” conferences: when free speech does not apply

Anyone who follows this blog or knows me will be aware that I am normally a virulent defender of the principle of free speech and expression, regardless of my views on the speaker. This is rarely out of love for the person in question, but rather out of fear of the consequences for us if we abandon this principle. As I wrote earlier, last year was a dreadful year for free speech, and we need to work to change this.

With this being said, it may surprise you that this post is about forbidding a bunch of very unsavoury people to speak in the UK. I am referring to the ‘Holy Sexuality Conference’ hosted by the Seventh Day Adventist Church. In short, they plan to bring a shower of bastards over from the US to tell gay people how their shameful and sinful tendencies can be cured and they can be back on the righteous path and God won’t send them to hell for doing what he created them to do. Now, it should be apparent to any right-thinking and sane person that it is grotesque to condemn a person for their sexuality, and even more grotesque to suggest it is so wrong it needs to be ‘cured’.  But how do we square forbidding them to speak with the right to free speech?

Very simple. John Stuart Mill added one crucial caveat to the idea of freedom of expression: the harm principle. Briefly, speech should always be free, unless it contains a direct incitement to do harm or violence to someone. This is why those of who defend the principle allow an Islamic hate preacher to denounce the west as demonic or a far-right candidate to protest against immigration but do not allow them to go on to suggest terror attacks or racist attacks as a solution. In the case of ‘gay cures’, I am completely satisfied that the effects of such ‘therapy’ can amount to significant harm on individuals to justify their outlawing. The psychological harm of trying to force an individual to deny their sexuality and change it will often be immense, leading to anxiety, depression, self-loathing and, in the worst cases, suicide.

It is one thing for religious groups to condemn homosexuality, but it is another for them to actively seek to attempt to force a person to ‘convert’ to heterosexuality. It is dangerous, wrong and also complete nonsense. So for what good it will do, sign this and help make a stand against such grotesque ideas.

My choice of the best and worst articles of 2014

And so 2014 is nearly over. It’s been a year where we’ve seen the seemingly unstoppable rise of UKIP, Ebola, ISIS, another crisis in Gaza, the World Cup and the Ice Bucket Challenge. What could possibly stand out in the midst of such a bustling year?

Well, here’s my pick. Whilst I’m sure I have read some brilliant pieces which have become lost in the haze, Nick Cohen’s September article, ‘The phantom menace of militant atheism‘ really stood out for me:

‘Ever since Iraq, I have also known that the intelligence services’ “threats” can be imaginary. But I know this, too, and so does everyone else: if a bomb explodes, no one will think that a “militant atheist” has attacked his or her country. No one will mutter: “I wonder if someone has taken this god delusion argument too far.” Or: “Atheists should have known that violent words lead to violent deeds.”‘

Fantastic stuff. Nick really nails the absurdity of trying to equate fundamentalist religion and fundamentalist secularism, and it’s well worth a read.

Now onto the worst. Aside from the major events of the year, there have been plenty of ‘twitterstorms’ for us to enjoy. There was Michael Fabricant’s remarks on punching Yasmin Alibhai Brown, which I wrote about here, Emily Thornberry tweeting a picture of some England flags and of course, ‘shirtstorm’. But how could my award for worst article go to anyone but the inimitable Dan Hodges? There really is a wealth to choose from; however, seeing as most of them are a variation on the theme of ‘I don’t like Ed Miliband’, and because this one was just so extraordinary, I had to pick: ‘It’s time to ditch the principal of beyond reasonable doubt.

In this piece Dan decided to extend his primary modus operandi of writing broadly on a subject he knows very little about to the law, and ended up with this piece effectively arguing for one of our most dearly-held principles of justice to be replaced in favour of a draconian, ‘police and state know best’ approach. Not quite what I’d expect from a small statist …

I must also give an honourable mention to Cathy Newman’s article in The Telegraph last week entitled: ‘Sexism at the heart of Labour? Surely not.’ In this article she boldly proclaims that Lucy Powell, vice-chair of Miliband’s election campaign, was bound to ‘get it in the neck some time for being successful, young – and above all female’ and then proceeds to write an entire article without offering a shred of evidence for gender being a motive in people sniping at her. Even better than that, she completely ignores that Danny Alexander also got it in the neck, seemingly no other female in the Shadow Cabinet is a victim of this alleged sexism and that the main reasons for Powell being disliked are a) it actually was a bad document she drafted and b) she’s a key ally of the, hardly popular, Miliband and for this reason was promoted.

However, our bold Cathy was undeterred. Her ability to ‘smell the sexism a mile off’ apparently extends to where there’s no reason to believe it exists aside from, in her words, ‘Many of [Powell’s] colleagues are men, so it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that much of the vitriol hurled in Powell’s direction has a whiff of sexism about it.’ Interesting. I’ll leave you with Cathy’s own words as my judgement on this matter, ‘Sexism at the heart of the Labour party? Surely not.’

The hatred of liberals towards Richard Dawkins is ridiculous

Today, in light of the Peshawar massacre, Richard Dawkins offered his take on the events. He tweeted:

This led to The Independent scornfully covering this  as:

Ho ho! Oh that silly Richard Dawkins, offering this “explanation” which is – oh, hang on, exactly correct. For when have he had an event of such a vile nature that has not been caused by a blinkered and strongly held belief such as fundamentalist religion or nationalism? Erm … I’ll get back to you.

But this is just it. Facts don’t matter when it comes to Dawkins. If you consider yourself a liberal then you have to mock him and act is if he is some comic caricature just as you laugh at Farage or Nick Griffin. I get that we’re meant to dislike him because his views may offend religious types and we’re meant to view people who hack off young girls’ labia as ‘culturally different’, but you know what? I couldn’t care less.

Yes Dawkins does go overboard sometimes, and he is often too belligerent, but what does it matter in the face of such horror? ‘Liberals’ may love to pretend we exist in some lovely, politically-correct world where Islam has no role to play in Islamism and if we just let people be and condemn anyone who suggests otherwise as a racist or, heaven forbid, a ‘militant atheist’ then everything will be okay, but we don’t and it won’t. Such is the great naivety of modern liberalism.

The fact is as I write this we are seeing the US trend of protesting outside abortion clinics spreading to the UK. Are they secularists with a real interest in foetal rights? No. In Ireland you can still die by being refused an abortion. Concern for the doctors who have to carry out the procedure? No. In much of Central Africa homosexuality has become punishable by death. A sudden rise in gay men commiting heinous crimes? No. I don’t even need to start on the horrors in the middle-east. The faux liberals who love to pretend there are only a tiny minority of ever-receding fundamentalists who have minimal influence on state policy are so, so wrong. Islamism has grown in the Middle East and North Africa since the 1950s and, as mentioned above, it’s not as if the Christian world doesn’t have its fair share of fundamentalism.

The reasons for this are of course multi-fold and not just reducible to religious fervour, and of course it is still the case that the majority of religious followers are good, decent people. But those ‘liberals’ who falsely equivocate the ridiculous, made up phenomenon of ‘Militant atheism’ with fundamentalism have their part to play in this sorry tale. I’ll leave you with this. Before condemning atheists and humanists as militant, racist or nasty, take a look at the history of even just the past twenty years of our world and ask yourself, ‘If it weren’t for religion, would so many people have died?’ Answer that, and then ask yourself who you should really be lambasting.