05 February 2011


Baroness Warsi Controversy

The speech by Baroness Warsi at Leicester University provoked several letters from members of the Society and comments in the Letters area of the Mercury.

The first comment published was from Harry Perry "Some Muslims are extremists" on 26 January. His main point was made at the beginning of the letter:

You report (Mercury, January 21) Baroness Warsi saying that making a distinction between "moderate" and "extremist" Muslims fosters prejudice against Muslims as a whole.

This is surely nonsense. We make these same distinctions in respect of all political and religious groups. For example, her own government has just barred the American Christian pastor Terry Jones from Britain because he holds "extremist" views!
Click here for the full letter.

The only comment this raised was "Excellent letter".

The next letter "Confrontation will not create a better society" from Allan Hayes  on 28 January began:
I came away from last week's speech by Baroness Warsi deeply disturbed: I am even more disturbed after reading her speech to the College of Bishops (http://bit.ly/ fA9lTT). Islamophobia, bigotry and ignorance are certainly to be combated by us all, on that there can be no disagreement, and we all recognise the good work done by religious charities – it is her views on the wider issue of religion and society and her lack of recognition of the good work done by others that concern me.
We have a dynamic and effective politician who is giving the impression to the religious, particularly Muslims, that religion is under attack from the non-religious; and to the non-religious that government is pushing religion on them. This is not helping anyone.
 Click here for full letter.

This letter attracted a few snide remarks such as:
" She could have mentioned how we came together against the English Defence League."

Over half the EDL arrests where Leicester people, hard to believe the whole of Leicester is against the EDL. How many of our Muslim friends live in Braunstone for example?
 However, the letter that really got readers going came from Lyn Hurst on 29 January with the title "Islam: A lifestyle choice"
Here is a secular view of what Tory peer Baroness Warsi said on your front page (Leicester, January 21).
It was simply a demand that Islam is above criticism. She claims "prejudice against Muslims in Britain is at an all time high", but offered no evidence to support this claim, unless you count the e-mail she received as an example of prejudice against Muslims.
But the e-mail was nothing more than a concise sentence typical of hard political debate, that used a play on halal, which is indeed a Muslim custom/superstition hated by many, especially animal rights folk, that seemed a fair way to have a dig at her to me.
This is the e-mail: "Instead of bleating like some halal lamb being led to the slaughter, how about ending the knee bending to Islam at every opportunity."
This is mild indeed compared to the messages sent from Islamists to their critics.
She goes on to confuse race with religion. She tries to draw a similarity between racism to the Jews and criticism of Islam, but she is wrong; criticism of Islam is equal to criticism of Zionism – criticism of an ideology. Does Warsi think Zionism above criticism?
Opposition to Islamic aims, as to how we should all lead our lives are not racist, but ideological, as they are with any political creed we may oppose.
When asked whether she still faces regular discrimination, she said: "On the basis of my race? Less so. On the basis of my religion? More so". So Baroness don't be a Muslim, give it up! It's not compulsory. Here in Leicester it's a free choice, unlike being Jewish or Asian. If Warsi is attacked for being Asian, that is racist and she must be defended from that, but when she is criticized for freely following a lifestyle ideology many of us disagree with, she must expect hard arguments against that choice.
Especially as someone who has excepted an unelected, privileged, and well paid role in the Government on the Tory side!
She states that anti-Islamic sentiment is bigotry, so she can call those of us who are critical of Islam bigots, but we must, in her words, "be urged to be more careful about what they say about religion".
Why? She must extend the same freedom of speech to those of us who disagree with her, as she received on the front page of the Mercury.

This provoked 17 comments including a rant from a suhail ahmad.

Harry Perry and I attempted to deal with his points.

Harry's post contained:

1. Lyn Hurst ceased being President of Leicester Secular Society four years ago. The current President is Ms Emma Chung.
2. The questioning of halal and kosher meat is only a religious one in so far as religious people have obtained exemptions from animal welfare law to practice it. Secularists oppose religious exemptions to laws that should apply to all. Thus it is not anti-religious bigotry that leads secularists to question it but the exemptions.

I attempted to deal with his posts point by point.

SA"However, you have not referred to christianity as 'superstitious customs'. Oh no, instead you reserve this derogatory title only for Islam and its' adherents".

Lyn was only addressing the issue of Islam. I'm pretty certain that if you checked out his record he has in the past described all religions based on the supernatural as "superstitious custom". I am certainly happy to bracket them all together.

SA "To deny halal meat to muslims is a persecution of their basic human rights".

First of all there are different versions of halal meat. Some of them meet the regulations. Secondly why is the denial of halal meat a persecution of human rights? If you don't want to eat the meat available you can be a vegetarian or vegan - many so choose.

SA "What authority do you have to impose your heretical belief systems upon another individual?"

So secularism is heresy? Where did Lyn seek to impose any belief system on Muslims or anybody else? As far as I can see he is suggesting that all should be subject to law and that we should have freedom of speech to criticise the ideas and beliefs of others (subject to the restrictions of law which prevents incitement to violence and hatred of other citizens).

SA "You have also foolishly claimed that Islam is just a lifestyle choice. By your idiotic argument, the same could be said of christianity, judaism and any other religion and of it's adherents."

First of all I'm sure Lyn would class all religions (along with Humanism etc.) as lifestyle choices.

I have been told by many Muslims that in their version of the religion "There is no compulsion in religion" is what they believe. In which case Islam, along with other religions is a lifestyle choice.

SA "For the record, Islam is not a lifestyle choice (unlike choosing to be a atheist/secularist like you, a vegetarian, teetotal, an alcoholic or even a drug addict)".

If it is not a lifestyle choice, what is it? Or are you saying the your version of Islam prescribes death for apostates so there is no real choice?

SA "However, muslims have never claimed race discrimination. We have always stipulated religious disrmination (which actually became an article of British law since 2007 or 2008 because this was an area of basic human rights completely ignored by the race discrimination act).

Religious discrimination is defined as preventing an individual from practising any aspect of their faith".

Religious discrimination is certainly not so defined. Otherwise I could claim to follow the Aztec religion and go in for Human Sacrifice.

Wikipedia has a reasonable description: "Religious discrimination is valuing or treating a person or group differently because of what they do or do not believe" .

SA "What Mr. Hurst and other people like him are trying to achieve, is the incremental prohibition of facilities that are available to muslims in order to practice their faith. First they will want to outlaw halal meat. Then they will want to outlaw headscarves. Next, they will want to outlaw places of worship (ie - masjids)."

Mr. Hurst is a member of Leicester Secular Society (see www.lsec.org.uk ). This is what members sign up to:

Practical Humanity.
Our efforts should be devoted to elimination of human misery, injustice, poverty and ignorance in the world as it is here and now.
We oppose teachings that divert people away from realities, into inactive fatalism, supernatural worship, or superstitious ritual.

Free Speech.
People should be allowed to express and publish their views, however controversial, without fear of persecution, prosecution or physical harm, so long as they allow others the same freedom.
We advocate separation of church and state, withdrawal of special privileges of religious organisations, and secularisation of church schools.

Rational Argument.
Anyone should be prepared to submit their views to vigorous argument, questioning their assumptions and testing their conclusions.
We refuse to believe or act on anything without evidence, just because some authority says so.

Working Together.
Moral values like kindness, loyalty and honesty derive from the need of people to live together in a peaceful and constructive manner.
We oppose bigotry and coercion based on factors such as beliefs, racial and ethnic origins, disability, sex, age, sexuality or lifestyle.

What we oppose is religious privilege, which is what SA appears to be asking for.

SA"The vast majority of muslims are peaceful, law abiding citizens and we only ask that we be allowed to live our lives in peace and without the fear of being attacked. The vast majority of muslims, including myself, would never impose my belief or lifestyle upon a person of a different faith, although we do welcome with open arms inter-religious dialogue, as it helps to strenghten community ties between people of different ethnic and religious heritage. "

At last something sensible with which I can agree.You can substitute atheist, christian, agnostic, jew, hindu, secularist etc for muslim and it would still hold true for nearly all such people.

Perhaps there is hope for us all after all.




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