Opinion: Why we can all be Charlie

I’ve often been moved to offer a rebuttal to comments made in the public sphere. Indeed, I’m known for taking a sharp intake of breath and squeezing my eyes shut in an anxious state when Michael Gove went to make a comment on education, before taking my big letter writing pen to an article asking what planet he inhabits.

Sexism, Civil Liberties, LGBT+Phobia, Racism, Environment – all topics I’ve replied to against opponents of my view. This is the first time I’ve been moved enough to write to rebut a member of my own party, one I get on well with personally.

George Potter used those words that send groans down the fingers of tweeters into their posts. When an argument starts with “I agree that….” and then utters “but” or “however” afterwards, it understandably causes people to be confused at least and angry at worst, that the preceding text becomes almost meaningless by following it with a conditional statement.

Je suis Charlie. I have no issue with expressing that. As other people have commented, it doesn’t mean I want to draw (I’m awful at it anyway), it doesn’t mean I want to be a journalist and it certainly doesn’t mean I want to make something which some could see as xenophobic or bigoted.

That’s not what it means. It means I stand against oppression. It means I stand up for freedom of speech and expression. It means that as horrendous as something sounds, I refused to allow it to be silenced before it’s uttered. If we disagree with something someone says, then it’s the same freedom of expression that allows us to call them out. Charlie is a concept and shouldn’t be taken so literally. A recent vigil in Birmingham I attended was very warming, solidarity in sadness. Lots of people held up ‘Je suis Charlie’ posters – it didn’t mean they all wanted to be satirical artists, it meant we stood for freedom and refused to be silenced.

Even Katie Hopkins is free to make her consistently foul-mouthed, stupid, incendiary, nonsensical utterances.  She shouldn’t be silenced from saying what she believes because if I can speak, then so can she. That leads me on to the confusion over “right to offend.”

We have rights to free speech and expression; rights are codified in law and thus protected for all. We don’t, as far as I’m aware, have such a “right” to go out and offend people. I often find “but I’ve got the right to offend!” is usually used as an excuse to deliberately offend someone and feel like they can get away with it. I agree with Nick Clegg’s version (you know he’s on to something when Jeremy Browne agrees with him), which is to say that we don’t have a right not to be offended; although of course if such speech is used to deliberately cause harm to someone it rightly should be investigated. Having the right to be offended is one thing. Having people who go out wanting to offend people is not the same thing!

So I challenge you to have the conversation with yourself that I had a long time ago. Start a sentence with “I believe in free speech, except when….” and see if you finish the sentence without feeling uneasy or at least confused. I hope it makes you feel very uneasy.

Free speech is for everyone on every subject. I’m a Liberal Democrat and that’s what I believe 100%. Go on Guido – print that too, you’re free to do so.

* Lee has long campaigned on mental health in and out of the Lib Dems, he is the PPC for Birmingham Ladywood and speaks for the Party on Health, in the West Midlands.

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118 Comments

  • Graham Evans 11th Jan '15 - 9:40am

    If free speech is for everyone on every subject, why are certain celebrities subject to abuse when, for instance, thy use the n-word, or refer to a certain once popular doll associated with a brand of jam? Or for instance the right of Ched Evans to return to his football career? The abusers may not use physical violence, but they certainly engage in psychological violence against those with views with which they disagree. If free speech is for everyone on every subject, we should be defending the rights of those whose views we find obnoxious rather than trying to silence them. The idea of free speech on each and every subject is just naive in the real world.

  • If LDV had its own cartoonist, she might take this statement and produce an excellent cartoon —
    “….I agree with Nick Clegg’s version (you know he’s on to something when Jeremy Browne agrees with him)..”

    The cartoon might show Browne in ermin robes taking his place in the unreformed House of Lords on the recommendation of Earl Clegg in his resignation honours list. The two of them are laughing their heads off.

    Lord Browne of Outrider is speaking to Earl Clegg asking “Can we drop the act now ? Everyone knows that we are like peas in an Orange pod.”

  • George Potter 11th Jan '15 - 9:58am

    I believe in free speech except when it incites racial and religious hatred or when it’s used to harass people.

    There, easy. I don’t have time to demolish the rest of this straw man article but I don’t think I ever argued that there should be a legal right not to be offended. Lee, I advise you to consider the difference between “this should be illegal” and “I think people shouldn’t do this even though it’s legal”.

  • Thanks for feedback.

    To clarify – certainly agree that abuse is intolerable. As my point states, I find it exasperating why so many seem to go out and choose to offend on purpose, quite rightly hold them to account (legally, if applicable). It is, however, the right way round, I feel – otherwise we’d need an Orwellian list of things that can’t be said in the first place.

  • George – there is no straw man present, The point is it’s a debate, you say what you feel, I say what I feel. I don’t see the need to start heating up and boiling over. Passion of course is fine, and welcome, but no need to start on the aggressive stance, if you need an example – saying you can “demolish” an article isn’t helpful or leading to a good debate.

    My point to you was that saying “Je suis Charlie” doesn’t mean I or anyone else agrees 100% with what was printed – you did state that (in other words) in your post, hence, open for debate.

  • @ George Potter

    Why are bracketing incitement to racial and religious hatred together? One is something that a person has zero choice over, the other is nothing more than a chosen belief that can be easily changed at will (except for Muslims) . Religious belief should more correctly be coupled with political beliefs. Anything you can say about UKIP or National Socialism or the Monster Raving Looney Party should be equally acceptable when criticising religious beliefs. Religious beliefs should not be entitled to any special treatment.

  • There is a vast difference between an idea and a material fact. I do not have the impression that the author understands this. It make no sense, for example, to challenge anyone for their biological sex, this is why it does make sense to protect people from being attacked, discriminated against, as a result of their biological constitution. The whole point of ideas is that they stand or fall on their merits. An idea that cannot be challenged is without merit.

    The author’s claim “We don’t, as far as I’m aware, have such a “right” to go out and offend people” is wrong and in any case something of a red herring. If anyone proclaims that a challenge to their ideas is offensive, this does not affect the rights of anyone else to deliberately contest these ideas. UKIPers might very well claim that it is offensive to them that their ideas are characterised as racist; such claims do not in any way diminish my right to argue that their ideas are racist, in fact, if anything it makes it more important to challenge such a claim. Of course there may be tactical reasons for modifying my approach, but this does not affect the principle.

    Charlie Hebdo is concerned with the principle of whether there are ideas, in this case religious ideas, that have privileged status. Charlie Hebdo’s challenge to those who use menace to claim privileged status is a challenge on behalf of all who would express ideas freely: this is why nous sommes Charlie.

  • Keith Browning 11th Jan '15 - 11:14am

    ‘I believe in free speech except …..’

    There lies the whole root of the problem….. the people who decide the ‘exceptions’ are the ones that hold power.

    Speech is free or it isn’t and actually the ‘westernised countries’ are no better role models than those that are frequently derided – even LDV ‘moderates’ (censors) contributions.

  • Let ‘not get bogged down in a generalised discussion of grievance culture. Lots of people are offended by lots of things and that is part of free speech. What this is about is politicised religious fanatics killing ethnic groups they do not like, spreading their cause to and attempting to impose blasphemy laws on the secular societies. The same kinds of politicised Islamic fanatics execute journalist and perceived blasphemers, as well as girls trying to get an education pretty much across the globe. Since 9/!1 there has been a simultaneous war on terror and an attempt to pretend that it has nothing to do with religion. It hasn’t worked and has and in fact has given fanatics the cover of special dispensation. We have to treat Muslims like any other religious group and not like they are dangerous people.

  • Not long ago LIb Dems were advocating that Julien Blanc should not enter the country because of what he said about some of the weakest members of our society – women. The line being drawn was particularly vivid. Lib Dems believe in free speech, but not when it has the potential to do harm.

    Now the topic is religious and ethnic minorities, a different line is being taken. Lib Dems are fighting tooth and nail to protect free speech, even when it is directed against the most marginalised in society.

  • Helen Tedcastle 11th Jan '15 - 11:49am

    I agree with George Potter’s comment on this one. George is, as I understand it, not arguing against free speech or expression but against deliberate incitement to hatred and harassment on the grounds of race and religious views.
    This is not the same as giving offence and being offended at a rather juvenile cartoon. In a free press, this is part of the deal.

    But deliberate incitement to hatred has the effect of diminishing us all in a free society.

    There are already some limits to free expression present in the law now by the way.

    @ Olly T

    So people of faith should not be free from those who intentionally incite hatred of them, because that would give religious believers ‘special treatment.’ So a free for all on religious believers because of their beliefs and founders but limits to incitement to hatred on the grounds of race – just so we’re clear that is what you are saying…

  • @OllyT – you seem to be implying that Muslims may not leave their faith. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. One of the tenets of Islam is that ‘there can be no compulsion in religion’. This means that you can’t be forced or required to be a Muslim if you do not want to be. Perhaps you could ask your Muslim friends to clarify this for you?

  • @Helen Tedcastle
    “So people of faith should not be free from those who intentionally incite hatred of them, because that would give religious believers ‘special treatment.'”

    Religious believers undoubtedly receive special treatment already. Many holy texts contain incitement to hate and indeed murder people who are not of that particular faith. We continue to allow these holy texts to be published. If an atheist published a book calling for the murder of people of certain faiths, this would not be allowed and the writer would face court.

  • Jayne Mansfield 11th Jan '15 - 12:05pm

    Jason,
    It isn’t directed against the most marginalised in society. If by the most marginalised in society you mean Muslims, may I point out that many Muslims are not marginalised. They are very much part of mainstream society and some, those that I know, are doing doing very well thank you…. and they can speak very eloquently on their own behalf.

    I find it really tiresome when people complain that we shouldn’t treat people as an homogeneous mass based on their religious affiliation, and then do exactly that. It is divisive.

  • @Jason
    Unfortunately, the problem with all religions is that they are deeply ambiguous. Hence, despite the tenet of which you speak, you get things like this happening :-

    http://townhall.com/tipsheet/danieldoherty/2015/01/10/saudi-blogger-flogged-n1940978

    So it isn’t people like OllyT you should be trying to convince. It’s the people who make the laws in places like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

  • Helen Tedcastle 11th Jan '15 - 12:18pm

    Stuart

    You are honestly suggesting that because sacred texts are printed and published, this is a sign that religious faith/believers are getting special treatment? I think you’ll find that plenty of non-religious texts are not only published but full of violence but as atheists don’t have a special text that I know of, the comparison doesn’t really work.

    I think if I selectively quoted from Shakespeare I could build up a picture that Shakespeare is ‘full of violence.’ Should Shakespeare continue to get special treatment in English Literature? Perhaps we should discard it as ‘out of date.’

  • @ Helen Tadcastle

    The problem lies in the fact that any criticism of islam is interpreted by many of its followers as “incitement”. The logical conclusion of your position is that any criticism of islam which someone believes might lead an individual to “hate” islam should be banned.

    @Jason
    Are you seriously suggesting that apostasy is not a problem for a muslim? Have a look at the Wikipedia entry on apostasy “The vast majority of scholars have held that apostasy in Islam is a crime punishable with the death penalty, typically after a waiting period to allow the apostate time to repent and return to Islam.”

  • @Helen Tedcastle
    It’s clear from your posts that you are extremely intelligent and perceptive, so I find it curious that your post of 12:18pm so comprehensively avoids answering the point I made.

    There is a difference between a book being “full of violence” and a book deliberately trying to incite violence.

    Some of the major holy texts contain direct and unambiguous instructions to hate or even kill disbelievers and followers of other faiths. These texts are freely published.

    An atheist would not be allowed to publish anything that was direct incitement to kill believers – and rightly so.

    It’s a clear double standard and hence special treatment for religions.

    I really can’t put this any clearer than that.

  • Helen Tedcastle 11th Jan '15 - 1:17pm

    Stuart

    I think I did clearly answer your point and without getting bogged down into detailed exegesis/interpretation of sacred texts, suffice to say, the viewpoint you express is selective at best.

    There are one billion muslims. A tiny number of evil thugs are wreaking havoc – they do not speak or act for the vast, vast majority. The ideology they follow is at the extreme end of extreme. We cannot have a situation when the evil acts of a mad few are meant to account for an entire, world-wide population of muslims of varied backgrounds traditions and cultures, who do not interpret the Qur’an as a means to cause violence or follow self-styled scholars who incite violence against their neighbour.

    A Muslim was killed by the terrorists in cold blood as well as the cartoonists. Jews have been targeted and killed in another attack.

    All decent people are outraged by the attacks – Muslim, Jew, Christian, atheist, agnostic etc…

  • @Helen

    Once again your reply doesn’t attempt to address my point – or confirm or deny the obvious truth behind it – in any way whatsoever. Which speaks volumes.

  • Jayne Mansfield 11th Jan '15 - 1:33pm

    @ Graham Evans,
    The celebrity who used the ‘n’ word is still in his job, the doll associated with a brand of jam, is still on sale in shops, and some people are still publicly asserting the right of Ched Evans to return to his job as a footballer.

    What level of psychological violence has been exerted? I believe that the law deals with death threats and threats of violence.

  • @ Stuart

    Fully agree with you, Helen doesn’t really deal with your point at all, or mine for that matter!

  • Kieth Browning.
    Tell me about it. The staff of Charlie Hebdo were not killed by Angry Katie Hopkins fans. They were killed by Zealots who self identify as Muslims have links to something called the Islamic State, Shout God is Great as the executed cartoonists and then went on to murder Jewish shoppers for the crime of being Jewish, but if you say that this is specifically to do with interpretations of Islam you will be in moderation on LDV for about a month.
    IMO we need to assert the freedom of speech in the West and that includes the right to offend as well as the right to feel offended. It does not mean the right to shut down debate and certainly should not involve attempts to prosecute people for saying injudicious things on face book as some sort of nebulous war on “Hate Speech”. But we also need to stop pointlessly drone bombing bits of Middle East and calling it “the War On Terror” as if it does anything more than randomly kill the innocent and the guilty alike and destroys peoples lives by killing their family members and putting them out of their homes.,. It creates also creates a set of circumstances that actively increases support for extremist groups. What annoys me is that we censor the ideological part of tackling religious extremism, the bits that change minds and the nature of belief, but seem to applaud the homicidally pointless bits that entrench it. Violence breeds violence, words change beliefs. We have gay marriages and liberal advancement because we tackled the views of religious opponents not because we bombed them.

  • There is a vast difference between an idea and a material fact. I do not have the impression that the author understands this. It make no sense, for example, to challenge anyone for their biological sex, this is why it does make sense to protect people from being attacked, discriminated against, as a result of their biological constitution. The whole point of ideas is that they stand or fall on their merits. An idea that cannot be challenged is without merit.

  • There is a vast difference between an idea and a material fact. I do not have the impression that the author understands this. It make no sense, for example, to challenge anyone for their biological gender, this is why it does make sense to protect people from being attacked, discriminated against, as a result of their biological constitution. The whole point of ideas is that they stand or fall on their merits. An idea that cannot be challenged is without merit.

    The author’s claim “We don’t, as far as I’m aware, have such a “right” to go out and offend people” is wrong and in any case something of a red herring. If anyone proclaims that a challenge to their ideas is offensive, this does not affect the rights of anyone else to deliberately contest these ideas. UKIPers might very well claim that it is offensive to them that their ideas are characterised as racist; such claims do not in any way diminish my right to argue that their ideas are racist, in fact, if anything it makes it more important to challenge such a claim. Of course there may be tactical reasons for modifying my approach, but this does not affect the principle.

    Charlie Hebdo is concerned with the principle of whether there are ideas, in this case religious ideas, that have privileged status. Charlie Hebdo’s challenge to those who use menace to claim privileged status is a challenge on behalf of all who would express ideas freely: this is why nous sommes tous Charlie.

  • I agree with Stuart, I tire of religious people having rights to hatred that non-religious people don’t. George talks about free speech inciting religious hatred (I assume he was referring to Hebdo), but the killers clearly weren’t avid fans. The hatred that incited them came from their religion, they can’t accept that we all have to live together and we’re not going to believe the same things.

    A clearer version of secular society might help, we shouldn’t be de facto Christians, we ARE de facto agnostics, that’s a logical certainty outside of social/family conditioning. Religious schools are dangerous they’re brainwashing kids with beliefs, education should deal in facts. Religions can’t prove God, or it’s own founding myths, to me they spread mistruths in order to control and oppress adherents, especially women. Throughout history religious zealots have said God is telling them what to do and they’re acting upon it, I’m sure these guys would of said the same.

    Nobody has put forward a coherent argument for why we should treat religious beliefs any differently to any others, or why they should be allowed to promote religious hatred through their holy books, but Hebdo shouldn’t of. It makes no sense and organisations like Scientology have taken advantage of viewpoints like Helens and demonstrated the flaws – you can make anything up and call it a religion, and in 100 years your organisation will be tax exempt and free to say things that no other organisation could get away with. Liberals shouldn’t tolerate it or justify it with suggestions it’s down to interpretation – interpret this : “kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah is worse than killing…”. Now look at those cartoons again, which do you find the most offensive?

  • Helen Tedcastle 11th Jan '15 - 2:31pm

    Martin
    ‘ Charlie Hebdo is concerned with the principle of whether there are ideas, in this case religious ideas, that have privileged status.’

    In what sense do muslim beliefs carry ‘privileged status’ in France? It is a secular state which strictly divides the church and state. Most muslims in France live in banlieu, poor suburbs, without high status or authority. If you mean ordinary muslims are offended by cartoons of their dearly-loved Prophet but would not dream of killing the satirists of a small circulation magazine, that is not claiming special status. It is expressing their view and the impact what they regard as mockery, has on them. That is also allowed in a free society.

    As I and others have stated repeatedly on LDV, muslim leaders and other muslims in public life have unequivocally condemned the actions of the terrorists, who do not represent them.

  • Stephen Campbell 11th Jan '15 - 2:42pm

    @Helen Tedcastle:

    The point @Stuart is making is simple. The holy books of Christianity and Islam (I’m not too knowledgeable of the Jewish holy texts, but I gather they’re much the same) are both full of some of the most vile content. Sexism, racism, a genocidal god, apologies for rape, and instructions for said religions followers to kill non-believers. As an atheist, I find many things in these books highly offensive, dangerous and insulting. Why should I respect, or hold my tongue, when it comes to people who follow books which say I should be killed? I don’t seek to ban it, but you and I know that, as an atheist, if I published a book saying “all religious people should be killed”, as the Bible and Koran say I should be, I would be locked up for “incitement” pretty quickly. Yet these “holy books” which actually do incite all kinds of nastiness, somehow get a pass on their hate speech.

    This is why I object to curtailment of freedom of speech on religious grounds. People choose their religion. The point has been made above that it is like someone choosing their political stance. Nobody chooses their race or their sexuality, for example. Mocking someone for what they are, when they had no choice in the matter, is wrong. Mocking religion is, in my eyes, the same as mocking someone’s political beliefs. Besides, it’s not atheists like me saying that religious people should be killed. It is the “holy books” of the world’s major religions which say *I* should be killed.

    I really cannot believe that you don’t see the difference.

  • “Helen Tedcastle 11th Jan ’15 – 11:49am
    I agree with George Potter’s comment on this one. George is, as I understand it, not arguing against free speech or expression but against deliberate incitement to hatred and harassment on the grounds of race and religious views.
    This is not the same as giving offence and being offended at a rather juvenile cartoon. In a free press, this is part of the deal.

    But deliberate incitement to hatred has the effect of diminishing us all in a free society.

    There are already some limits to free expression present in the law now by the way.”

    The problem is that Helen, very few people disagree with this, but this point is a complete red herring because whether Charlie was doing, he was not inciting racial or religious hatred or harassment. That is a higher burden than many appreciate.

    On aside, this is true even if we ignore the equally misleading red herring that is the fact that religions (all religions that are bigger than just cults and sects) do have special privileges and power in society. The debate on the strength and place of religion in societies is an important one, but not one that strengthens or weakens either side’s rights to freedom of expression. The idea that one small publishing company in France is more powerful than all the different religions of Islam put together is just silly; however, as I have pointed out previously, the balance of power between these different acting agents does justify the murder of anyone, nor does it weaken their right to freedom of expression within the law, or strengthen their protection from ‘offence’. If this were a Muslim company writing things offensive to white Christians, then the Muslims would and should still have the same rights to publish it: no less and certainly no more.

  • Also, comparing religious texts with Shakespeare is the worst kind of non-comparative as Shakespeare did not hold his texts out to be ultimate truth. They were clearly and unequivocally works of fiction, not texts telling people how they should lead their lives.

  • Helen Tedcastle: Islamic extremists do not have to represent anyone, as the brother of the assassinated policier said “Ce n’est pas deux terroristes, deux fous, qui vont représenter tous les musulmans. Nous n’avons rien à voir avec ça.”. Nonetheless, since ‘Satanic Verses’ became a focus for Islamic extremism, the menace of terror has been used effectively to restrict questioning of religion when it has concerned Islam, and too often voices in the West have shifted blame to those who have exercised their freedom to question, criticise or ridicule.

  • Jayne Mansfield 11th Jan '15 - 3:50pm

    @ Martin,
    I wish that I could have written what you wrote in your post in such a succinct manner.

    I am becoming increasingly alarmed at the way racism and criticism of religious ideas are often conflated and are treated as being of equal seriousness. Ideas can change as the result of discussion, argument, or indeed satirisation of one’s beliefs and values, whereas any distinguishable biological differences between different populations cannot.

    I don’t believe that there are distinct biological ‘races’, there are more genetic differences between people of the same ‘race ‘, than there are between people of difference ‘races’. ‘Race’ I would argue, is a social construct. I understand the power of racism and racialist ideology to harm and I believe that the aim of the racist is to do more than offend.

    Those who use the word ‘racist’ inappropriately, and I believe that some liberals can be guilty of this, are so misguided, because it undermines the power of the word.

  • Helen Tedcastle 11th Jan '15 - 4:23pm

    Liberal Al

    I have said repeatedly on here that Charlie Hebdo had the right to publish offensive cartoons and had the right not to be massacred by terrorists. We have had noises off in the British media that those who do not accept a full reprinting in the British press should leave the country. We have had Murdoch himself stating that he thinks all muslims are responsible for the terrorists’ crimes. We have had attacks all over France in recent days on mosques as a reprisal for an act of terrorism.

    Hence my point. Yes to freedom of expression and yes, in a free society people are going to get offended and there is the right to offend. No to harassment and deliberate and intentional incitement to religious hatred of minorities.

    What is controversial about that in a liberal society?

    On Shakespeare:
    Stuart’s comment about religious texts seems to take issue with their authority as truth. He seems to assume that such texts are taken as literal truth by every one in every place. They are not. They are subject to scrutiny and interpretation. This is also the case in Islam as it has been in Christianity and Judaism.

    Shakespeare is comparable in the following ways – it has authority in the body of English Literature. It can be selectively quoted from in order to put forward a case. It is not good practice to take the metaphors and idioms as literal but as pointing towards a wider or deeper truth about the world. That is the comparison. Therefore, a book from the Old Testament which for example, documents a violent incident in Jewish history, is not an automatic call to go out and commit violence in 2015 – unless one is a terrorist of course and a fundamentalist who belongs to a closed, secretive group which has nothing to do with mainstream religious thought.

    But then again, the Nazis used Mein Kampf as their literature of choice.

  • Helen Tedcastle 11th Jan '15 - 4:39pm

    Stephen Campbell

    ‘Besides, it’s not atheists like me saying that religious people should be killed. It is the “holy books” of the world’s major religions which say *I* should be killed.’

    The sacred texts of the major religions are not calling for you to be killed. In the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), the violent incidents documented are in the historical books ie: they document conflicts between the jewish people and others (many the Philistines) in their locality. Therefore, when a modern person studies a passage from say the book of Samuel, it is always useful to read a commentary (which fills in the background).

    There are books of the Bible which also document women in a very positive light eg: the Books of Esther, Ruth but we have to remember that historical texts of four thousand years ago are going to reflect the cultural norms of that time. This has to be taken into account and is – except by extreme fundamentalists. Other books of the Bible are spiritual meditations or poems/songs eg: Psalms.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Jan '15 - 4:47pm

    Jason

    @OllyT – you seem to be implying that Muslims may not leave their faith. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. One of the tenets of Islam is that ‘there can be no compulsion in religion’. This means that you can’t be forced or required to be a Muslim if you do not want to be. Perhaps you could ask your Muslim friends to clarify this for you?

    Jason, what you have written here is directly contradicted by many cases, such as the case of
    Meriam Ibrahim, see this link.

    It may be that what is the law about this in Sudan and Saudi Arabia and several other countries is against what should be the correct interpretation of Islam, but the fact that there are so many people, who think of themselves as devout Muslims, who support such laws in the name of their religion indicates that your nothing could be further from the truth than your “nothing could be further from the truth” comment.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Jan '15 - 4:59pm

    Helen Tedcastle

    There are one billion muslims. A tiny number of evil thugs are wreaking havoc – they do not speak or act for the vast, vast majority.

    Those “evil thugs” were doing what the law in Pakistan and several other countries should be done. I see no difference between the death penalty being inflicted on people for “blasphemy” in Pakistan, where that means something much milder than what was published in Charlie Hebdo, and what these killers did. If these killers are evil thugs, then so are all those people who support that legislation and make sure it is used in Pakistan. Sorry, this means we are talking about a hugely greater number of people than you claim.

    Unless you and others can say why execution for “blasphemy” in Pakistan (which might mean a casual remark or accidentally damaging some piece of scriptural writing)is acceptable and not nearly so bad a thing as killing people who really did publish deliberately offensive cartoons, then you must withdraw your comments which say this is nothing to do with the vast majority of Muslims.

  • Sorry for all the repeated posts. They occurred as a result of LDV’s vetting procedures. It turns out that instead of writing ‘biological gender’ I wrote biological s**! (as in No s** we’re British) Just by changing the rogue naughty word, my comment went through.

  • @ Matthew Huntbach

    Research has also regularly shown that significant percentages of Muslims in Britain (as elsewhere) express support for things like punishing (if not necessarily murdering) people who “insult” the prophet etc. This has been the case for years – cast your mind back to thousands out on the streets burning the “Satanic Verses” and calling for Rushdie’s murder years before Iraq or 9/11. Belief that the problem is just down to a handful of extremists is just a comfortable illusion.

    Yesterday the Guardian published a pretty reasonable and moderate article by Tariq Ramadan on the Paris attacks. In the comments someone quoted what Ramadan has said on another occasion:-

    “Tariq Ramadan’s words to a Muslim audience in Germany, on May 21, 2008, quoted by Dr. Sami Alrabaa:
    Ramadan said, My brothers and sisters, we must exploit the so-called democracy and freedom of speech here in the West to reach our goals. Our Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and the Koran teach us that we must use every conceivable means and opportunity to defeat the enemies of Allah. Tell the infidels in public, we respect your laws and your constitutions, which we Muslims believe that these are as worthless as the paper they are written on. The only law we must respect and apply is the Sharias”

    I assume it is true as no-one at the Guardian has refuted it. I would defy anyone to have a real long think about the implications of what TR has said and tell me you are certain we don’t have a problem. We are not talking about a nutter here we are talking about a man who is a professor at Oxford University and is trotted out as a voice for moderate Muslims.

  • stuart moran 11th Jan '15 - 5:45pm

    This in an interesting debate and it is making me think of the link between the political and religious worlds

    I am sure there is some academic work on this and I may be shooting well wide of the mark but I would just like to make an observation

    There are some people who have been left on the margins by the effects of globalization. Low skill, low educational achievement , unemployment leading to an estrangement from society. These people are vulnerable to exploitation. Not all but some

    If you are white British then your route to channel this disaffection will be through the extremist groups on the right. There is no ‘religious’ dimension as they are not as likely to have a link to their local church in anyway (in probability that church would act against what I describe) and will tend to drift towards political groups. We all know who they are and which ones are ready to exploit this to create people who are prepared to use intimidation

    If you are from a British muslim background though, where the link to the religion is strong then there is a religious dimension that can exploit this disaffection. I am sure in 90% of cases the local religious group will again counter this, but it seems to me that there are a significant minority of ‘religious’ figures in Islam who exploit this and also then encourage the disaffected to hone their skills in war zones and training camps

    For me we cannot ignore the fact that some young people are exploited by people using religion as the way of getting control and also giving them a way to channel their aggression against those of different religions

    I think exploitation such as this is more prevalent with muslims at the moment for some reason. Whether those who are coordinating it are religious themselves or really just using it as the trap – just as with white youths it is the extreme right racism arguments that are used – is difficult to say

    I do not think this is just limited to the muslim faith – but in Europe it is the most prevalent. In the US it is probably some of the extreme Christian sects but their reach is far more limited and probably here the link between extreme right politics and religion is difficult to distinguish

    I hope no-one is offended by this – it is not my intention. I know lots of people from different faiths or none and I find no difference really in the humanity or caring in them. I don’t think I would move in the circles to have contact with the people I am talking about here though and it is something we have to try and understand. pretending that a religion, or religions, are not being used by unscrupulous people to propagate violence I think is naïve

    The answer is not to create more division and persecution, it is to support the benefits the different communities bring to our country, to avoid that the young of any community feel disconnected, or those in politics to fight against the extremism and for those in religions to search out and neutralise those who preach hate and division

  • Helen Tedcastle 11th Jan '15 - 7:25pm

    Matthew Huntbach
    ‘ If these killers are evil thugs, then so are all those people who support that legislation and make sure it is used in Pakistan.’

    I am not apologising for the blasphemy laws and their interpretation in Pakistan. All I know is that there are people in that country who are trying to change the law. Pakistan is a country which has many problems and it often looks to its former colonial master (the UK) for assistance. If all we do is carp from our ‘enlightened’ vantage-point, it won’t help that country move forward.

    Mass terrorist atrocities by three gunmen who follow the pan-arab nationalist ideology of ISIL/al-Qaeda follow different objectives and are prepared to kill indiscriminately and without limit. I believe that Pakistanis have been victims of this ideology too in the infiltration of their country by the Taliban in the tribal areas eg: hundreds killed recently at a school in Peshawar and the shooting of Malala.

    Muslims are more often victims of extreme pan-arab nationalism than not as we are seeing in Syria and Iraq. Of course the largest persecution of Christians in Christian history is being played out in the middle east by the same terrorist thugs, which, as Christians are ‘people of the book’ according to the Qur’an, is yet another Qur’anic theme they choose to ignore.

  • Peter Hayes 11th Jan '15 - 7:36pm

    How many people here believe freedom of speech includes radical Muslim preachers? There is a certain degree of I believe your right to say what I agree with. My view is incitement to violence or hatred is wrong in theory but subject to law.

  • Tsar Nicolas 11th Jan '15 - 7:41pm

    Stuart Moran

    “There are some people who have been left on the margins by the effects of globalization. Low skill, low educational achievement , unemployment leading to an estrangement from society.”

    When you have 85 individuals owning half or more of the world’s wealth, I think we are talking about a lot more than just ‘some people’ being left on the margins.

    In Britain, real wages have been falling for years, Yet bankers regularly pick up massive bonuses – and for what? Lending out money they didn’t have in the first place! Even my cat could make a profit if allowed to do business on those terms.

  • stuart moran 11th Jan '15 - 7:52pm

    Tsar Nicolas

    Yes, I can sympathise with that but I do not think the people I have mentioned come from the bulk population but rather a particular sector within that

    As I said this is my speculation and I may be off the mark

  • Matthew Huntbach
    I think the more interesting point is that UK h as effectively operated an unacknowledged agreement in the press and on TV to exercise self censorship that has pretty much operated as a blasphemy law since the publication of the Satanic Verses. One of the weird things about Britain is that flinging insults aimed at Muslims as people in print and on threads is depressingly common. The comments section of various newspapers can be absolutely vile. However you can’t really examine the origins or content of the scriptures in Qur’an or print a picture of Muhammad even though his image appears in plenty of old paintings and even on some coins. Completely bottom backwards IMO.

  • jedibeeftrix 11th Jan '15 - 8:43pm

    @ Peter – “How many people here believe freedom of speech includes radical Muslim preachers?”

    Do they incite violence? I have no truck with inciting ‘x’ hatred, as it is a nebulous mess open to misuse.

    Were they british, and were i to have my way, then outside of inciting violence they could do as they please.

    Were they not British, i would hope a function of the visa process would be to question whether their presence would be conducive to the peace…

  • Jayne Mansfield 11th Jan '15 - 9:03pm

    @ Peter Haynes,
    I don’t think that true liberals do believe in freedom of speech only if one has a degree of agreement with what is said.

    Anjem Choudary is a good example of someone whose speeches I find highly offensive. However, the law deems that he has not committed an offence. (As a lawyer Mr Choudary will be well versed in the line that as to be crossed before he is hauled in front of a court.) I don’t doubt that there is close scrutiny of everything he says, in case there is a transgression for which he can be prosecuted. Until then, I and others must take the only action available to us, and control our responses to his provocation.

  • stuart moran 11th Jan '15 - 9:53pm

    Jayne

    Indeed – what an unpleasant man he is as well. It is also the case that no-one should feel compelled to publicise his rantings in the media either – although social media has somewhat negated the need for the mainstream media

    It is also the case that no-one should feel compelled to reprint the Charlie Hebdo cartoons – it seemed the other day that there was a demand that not to do so was cowardly. A pathetic attempt to stir up things.

    In the same light though the same principle should be applied to the red poppy stasi in the media

    The trouble is we all get very excited after events like this but in a week or so we will be back to normal and there will be the normal demands to curb free speech, force people to comply with some media defined reality etc…..rather depressing we will not take any positive lessons from this

  • Helen Tedcastle: you raised the point about not inciting hated or harassment: I was pointing out that in this issue, that is a completely moot point and red herring as very few people disagree with you on it, but it has no applicability to the Charlie issue, so to raise it here, just muddies the water.

    As for Shakespeare to religious text point: no, there is no comparison between a text which is openly a work of fiction, created for the purpose of entertainment, and a text which is holding itself out to be something that contains ultimate truth and teaches on the way one must live their life. The fact that you can read interpretations into the meanings behind the way they are written is a moot point because they are completely different things.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Jan '15 - 11:41pm

    Helen Tedcastle

    I am not apologising for the blasphemy laws and their interpretation in Pakistan. All I know is that there are people in that country who are trying to change the law. Pakistan is a country which has many problems and it often looks to its former colonial master (the UK) for assistance. If all we do is carp from our ‘enlightened’ vantage-point, it won’t help that country move forward.

    And how does it help denying that there is a problem?

    There is a big problem within Islam of people who seem to want to take violent interpretations of it, who seem to delight in killing and inflicting harm on others in the name of that religion. Horrible cruel laws in many Muslim countries show this, it is NOT just a case of one or two “evil thugs” as you claimed earlier. Going on and on about how Islam is a nice peaceful respectful religion and denying all this will NOT help that religion become what it ought to be.

    I am not saying that Islam has to be like that or is inherently like that. I am well aware that many horrible and cruel things were done in the name of Christianity in the past. Thankfully, we have moved away from that. I am pretty sure, for example, that no Catholics now would advocate burning heretics at the stake, for example. But did Catholicism drop that cruelty and become more true to the actual teachings of Jesus because people who weren’t Catholics felt they had to say what a nice good religion it was, and anyone who said otherwise was just a Catholophobe who was only saying what they were saying out of irrational prejudice? Er no. Catholicism stopped doing these horrible things in part because of various enlightened Catholics who realised how wrong they were, and in part because others expressed their disgust at them and in that way shamed the Catholic Church into changing.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Jan '15 - 12:10am

    Stephen Campbell

    The point @Stuart is making is simple. The holy books of Christianity and Islam (I’m not too knowledgeable of the Jewish holy texts, but I gather they’re much the same) are both full of some of the most vile content. Sexism, racism, a genocidal god, apologies for rape, and instructions for said religions followers to kill non-believers

    Most of the Christian Bible is the Old Testament, but the part called the New Testament is the critical part. The New Testament is about a person that Christians believe is the incarnation of God coming to earth and telling people who were living according to the Old Testament that their interpretations were wrong, that they were hypocrites, that they had missed the point of what God was trying to tell them, and that they should love their enemies, respond only with peace to any attacks, and that treating others as you would want yourself to be treated was the key underlying way to behave.

    The idea that Christianity is about treating the Bible as some sort of rule book, so that any part can be taken out and used as a rule is wrong. Given that much of the New Testament is a criticism of that sort of attitude, how could it be right?

    Islam is similar in terms of conflicting message, but not so neatly divided with such a clear overall message. You can pick out bits which do give a message of peace and tolerance and freedom of thought. You can pick out bits which give the opposite message. I don’t want to dictate to Muslims how they should interpret it, but I do think those who tell us it’s a nice and peaceful religion and want our respect for that have some duty to push that interpretation and show up those who interpret it horribly as missing the message, rather than just reacting defensively and accusing those upset by some of those interpretations as just being motivated by racial hatred or whatever.

    Part of the reason I make this point, even though I myself have been accused here in LibDemVoice of being borderline Islamophobe for making it, is my own deep concern and experience of the way loud-mouthed and extremist Christians, who pick out particular bits of scripture to fit their own agenda have come to dominate the public image of the religion due to those with more peaceful and liberal interpretations often feeling they should just keep quiet and not want to impose on others.

  • The intellectual problems discussed here all arise because the question is analogous to “Should a man who is dying of thirst drink water which he thinks has been poisoned?”

    There is no clear answer to the dilemma. One or other option might turn out to be the better in practice, but the dying man may have no means of guessing which.

    The dilemma here is: “Is it a good thing to treat a religion as something which people should be free to criticise and to mock”?

    In a sense, the answer should always be “Yes”. Tyranny is the inability to criticise or mock the tyrant, and it should always be opposed.

    In a sense, the answer should in many cases be a very definite “No”. Mockery of religion is not acceptable when it becomes a means of engendering hatred against a specific racial group, or equally, against a group of people who are defined as a group by their religion.

    Is David Allen stupid to think that one question can have two opposing answers which are both correct? No, it’s the people who can’t conceive of such a logical conundrum who are losing the plot.

    PS, don’t anybody tell me that Muslims are uniquely linked to their religion. If you are from a Jewish family, then you may well be able to say that you don’t believe in Judaism, but most people will still think of you as a Jew. Here is an Ulster joke which illustrates a similar point: Thug walks menacingly up to lad on the street and says “Are you a Protestant or a Catholic?” Lad says “I’m an atheist!” Thus says “Yes, but are you a Protestant atheist or a Catholic atheist?”

  • David,
    There is a difference between Judaism and Islam. While the world still believes in the concept of race Jews are a race not a religion. There are a lot of atheist Jews although religion still as a formative cultural importance. A Muslim who becomes an atheist ceases to be a Muslim just as a Christian who becomes an atheist ceases to be a Christian.

    Mockery of a religion is not the same as victimising the people who practices it. What we are talking about here is the fact that certain interpretation of Islam and a lot of cultures that base their political systems and socially norms on Islam absolutely do victimises non-Muslims as well as Muslims who are perceived as the wrong kind of Muslim. The problem for liberals and especially those of us on the Left is that in the West Muslims a minority which raises a lot of complicated issues.

  • @David Allen
    “In a sense, the answer should in many cases be a very definite “No”. Mockery of religion is not acceptable when it becomes a means of engendering hatred against a specific racial group, or equally, against a group of people who are defined as a group by their religion.”

    Would you apply that standard to the religions themselves?

    For instance, there is a passage in the Qu’ran which mocks Jews by saying that Allah has turned them in to “swines and apes”. You will find this passage quoted widely by various middle eastern politicians, Arab TV stations, and even in “textbooks” used in certain British schools. The end result of centuries of this kind of thing is that many Jews are now preparing to flee France in terror according to yesterday’s BBC news.

    So would you include that in your list of things that are “not acceptable”? Or do religions, as well as having immunity from criticism, also have special dispensation to mock other religions?

    More to the point – if I criticise the Qu’ran for including such passages, would you class that as “not acceptable” also? Is it unacceptable to criticise the unacceptable?

  • @ David Allen

    What position would you take if the courts in the UK or somewhere else in Europe ruled that sections of the Qu’-ran constituted incitement to hatred?

  • Tsar Nicolas 12th Jan '15 - 10:09am

    Ollyt

    I know what i would do if I was in government – I would ignore the courts. For any public body to come to that conclusion would say to me that the state has oversteppped the mark.

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th Jan '15 - 10:49am

    Liberal Al
    ‘ As for Shakespeare to religious text point: no, there is no comparison between a text which is openly a work of fiction, created for the purpose of entertainment, and a text which is holding itself out to be something that contains ultimate truth and teaches on the way one must live their life. ‘

    I don’t recall arguing that these texts were exactly the same. Both texts though can be read as literature.

    I was making a comparison as to how one can easily select material for one’s own purposes from each text on particular themes such as violence – for one’s own ends.

    Shakespeare is performed but the idea that it’s written for entertainment – as if that is its only purpose – is clearly not the case. A brief study of the characters, imagery and language shows how it penetrates into the human condition. One reason for it’s longevity in my view.

    Similarly with the Bible. The stories of the Hebrew Bible are evocative. One could read them as literature or as spiritual texts for reflection. Or one can read them with a mind to extracting reference from it to support a violent political ideology. The variety of genres within the Bible – history, law, poems, myth, means that a variety of interpretation outside of mainstream religious interpretation (ie: the authority of the church, rabbinate or academy), can and does occur.

    In other words, texts serve multiple purposes – even sacred texts.

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th Jan '15 - 11:02am

    Matthew Huntbach
    ‘ Going on and on about how Islam is a nice peaceful respectful religion and denying all this will NOT help that religion become what it ought to be.’

    I didn’t think I was denying that there was a problem in Pakistan or at the periphery of Islam itself. My point has always been that this major problem involves a relatively small number of people. The fact that they are found in pockets of France, England, Pakistan and Iraq still does not get away from this.

    There is a major problem with marginalisation of muslims in French society and this has led to disaffection with sections of French-Algerian youth. This does not excuse it but it may explain it. Equally, small numbers of disaffected youth in England seem to gravitate towards online jihadism and Salifism. Even white-British rootless young people are joining in. So that suggests to me that the problem is about alienation/ lack of identity and an inability to relate to mainstream life in islamic communities or British/French societies…

    The zealous interpretations of Sharia in parts of Pakistan and elsewhere grab the headlines here in Britain and we are all shocked. We never hear about the daily peaceful administration of islamic law in the UK, Pakistan and elsewhere though – that doesn’t make headlines.

    What I am not going to do is join in the general chorus of condemnation of Islam in some quarters because that is too simplistic a reaction.

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th Jan '15 - 11:22am

    Stuart
    ‘ So would you include that in your list of things that are “not acceptable”? Or do religions, as well as having immunity from criticism, also have special dispensation to mock other religions?’

    But religions don’t have immunity from criticism. They are criticised all the time and within religious traditions there are vigorous debates. The fact that these are not publicised outside of the faiths does not mean they don’t go on.

    Secondly, the quotes you make from the Qur’an to David Allen are a classic case of lifting selected quotes out of context and applying them as universal in the present moment. Those quotes refer to a particular conflict in Medina involving the muslims of Medina and the Jewish community. There are also many more passages referring to peace between the Jewish community and the Muslim community in the Qur’an.

    If passages are taken out of context without any background or commentary then it leads to misunderstanding and potentially the incitement of hatred. it sounds like this is exactly what is going on in France against Jewish people and as you claim, in other quarters – – this is why religions have scholars and interpreters to help in educated understanding of the texts.

    I would like to check the evidence for the British schools though – certainly in no mainstream faith or community school could it go on. If it is happening at a free school or private school (such as ones we discussed in a previous thread) the inspection system will pick it up and it will be dealt with in the usual manner – fairly and sensitively I hope – to avoid witch-hunts.

    What can not be extrapolated is a universal rule from the misdemeanours of a few.

  • Tsar Nicolas 12th Jan '15 - 11:27am

    Interesting take on this from Glenn Greenwald.

    Read the article, but only if you are prepared to be offended.

    https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2015/01/09/solidarity-charlie-hebdo-cartoons/

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Jan '15 - 11:38am

    Helen Tedcastle

    What I am not going to do is join in the general chorus of condemnation of Islam in some quarters because that is too simplistic a reaction.

    So, you put a blanket label on me “just another of those people who has an irrational hatred for Islam which is really because he is a racist” rather then engage in what I am actually saying.

    My point is that well-meaning people like you whose reaction to criticism of anything bad done in the name of Islam is ALWAYS this are a contributing part of the build-up of this nasty streak. It is playing to the “poor little us” victim culture which means those who are in the position to stop these nasty interpretations feel they don’t have to, and those at the fringes who get whipped up into a fury about it are sent into the hands of the psychopaths.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Jan '15 - 11:47am

    David Allen

    Here is an Ulster joke which illustrates a similar point: Thug walks menacingly up to lad on the street and says “Are you a Protestant or a Catholic?” Lad says “I’m an atheist!” Thus says “Yes, but are you a Protestant atheist or a Catholic atheist?”

    Most atheism in the UK is Protestant atheism. This is very evident in some of the comments in this thread. So many who think they are being religiously neutral show they are not by starting off with the thoroughly Protestant assumption about religion which is that it is “start with The Book, invent a religion around that”.

    Catholic atheism tends to see religion starting off from thinking of it as pompous hierarchy engaged in silly rituals. That is why Catholic atheism tends to be keen on pricking that pomposity by such things as publishing silly cartoons.

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th Jan '15 - 11:52am

    Matthew Huntbach

    I don’t think that at all. I simply said I won’t join in with a chorus of condemnation of Islam as a religion. There are a whole host of other factors and forces at play in the jihadi movement of which a violent form of pan-arab nationalism has been exported and mixed with the most extreme version of islamic interpretation – it is a perversion.

    It is like saying those who bomb, kill and maim and then go to Mass to receive Holy Communion are somehow representative of Catholicism – and that it is Catholicism that is responsible for them. In reality, they can sit in as many masses as they like – they are not Catholics in any meaningful sense but playing out externals to hide a dark truth about themselves.

    I don’t doubt that many muslims feel under siege at the moment but I don’t see that as playing into a victim culture – Islam has no hierarchy. It is made up of communities and families and scholars. These people have spoken out but they need to be more systematic in rooting the radical preachers of hate. For this they need our help and co-operation.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Jan '15 - 11:55am

    Helen Tedcastle

    The zealous interpretations of Sharia in parts of Pakistan and elsewhere grab the headlines here in Britain and we are all shocked. We never hear about the daily peaceful administration of islamic law in the UK, Pakistan and elsewhere though – that doesn’t make headlines.

    I believe there is no moral difference between someone in Pakistan who administers the deliverance of the death penalty to a person whose only “crime” was to say something rude about a neighbour’s religion when provoked by that neighbour, and someone in France who kills a cartoonist for producing cartoons offensive to Muslims. Or. actually, I believe the Pakistani person is morally the worst, because that was for an unconsidered provocation, whereas in France the provocation was planned and deliberate.

    So, whatever you say about the killers in France you should be willing to say also about the killers I mention above in Pakistan. Helen, I ask of you now – either do that, or explain why you think the killers in Pakistan do not deserve the condemnation that the killers in France got, or be shown up as a hypocrite.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Jan '15 - 12:11pm

    Helen Tedcastle

    It is like saying those who bomb, kill and maim and then go to Mass to receive Holy Communion are somehow representative of Catholicism – and that it is Catholicism that is responsible for them

    No, it is not just bombing, killing and maiming and then going to Mass and receiving Holy Communion. It is bombing, killing and maiming and stating that you are doing that in the name of Catholicism and that you are the best and most holiest of Catholics for doing so. I am not aware of anyone who is currently doing so, or was doing so that recently – but we most certainly do find that back in Spain in the 1930s. I am very aware of such atrocities, stretching back in history, it is there is my mind in all the comments I have been making on this issue. My awareness of that, and yet remaining a Catholics is very much part of why I know that when I criticise current cruel practices done by many now in the name of Islam, I would be a hypocrite if I were to move from that and say it is a proof that Islam itself is an evil religion. Knowing that my own religion has mostly escaped from the horrible things it used to do in the past is very much part of my motivation in urging Muslims not to adopt the defensive “poor little us” attitude, or the selfish and uncaring “all criticism of any aspect of our religion is due to prejudice” attitude, but instead to recognise that there is a problem in the way many practice and interpret their religion now in a way that revels in violence, and to wish to do something to stop that.

    If you had meant to refer to the IRA by your statement, note that the NEVER claimed to be doing what they were doing in the name of Catholicism,NEVER mentioned religion in their publicity material and excuses for atrocities. So that is VERY different from current “Islamists”.

    Nevertheless, if what you mean is that in criticising the practices of some Muslims I am suggesting they are “representative of Islam”, you are wrong, and actually you are insulting me because I have gone to lengths to explain that is not what I mean, the insult comes form your deliberate ignoring of that and twisting what I am saying to make out is something different. You and I have agreed on many things in the past, so please take me very seriously when I now say I find what you are suggesting about me to be deeply offensive.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Jan '15 - 12:30pm

    Helen Tedcastle

    It is like saying those who bomb, kill and maim and then go to Mass to receive Holy Communion are somehow representative of Catholicism – and that it is Catholicism that is responsible for them

    Now, let us address this point.

    If people really were bombing and killing and maiming in the name of Catholicism and supposing that in doing so they were the best and most holy of all Catholics (which, as I said, was NOT the IRA’s position), then most certainly I would say that the Catholic Church in general and Catholics in general would have a moral duty to stop this misinterpretation, or stand condemned and be treated as objects of disgust if their reaction was “Nothing to do with us, and if you disagree we’ll condemn you as prejudiced”.

    If the Catholic Church failed to condemn these people and failed to take active steps to stop them, I would say that it was failing in its duty to promote what it was about, and that any claims it tried to make about it not being that would be shown up as hypocritical. If people YOU have brought up in YOUR belief and practice system do horrible things in its name then YES YOU DO have a responsibility to stop them, and YES YOU DO share some of the blame for brining them up wrongly in a way that lets them think they are acting in your name by doing what they do.

    To say that it is a failure and a bad thing when a religion writes off responsibility for what is done by extremists at its fringes is NOT to say, as you are suggesting, that you think those extremists are “representative” of that religion.

    I myself, as a Catholic, felt I has a moral duty to speak out against the IRA when they were committing terrorists acts, and I did so. Even though I knew they did not claim to do what they did for Catholicism, they were considered to be the “Catholic” side, and most of them, as you said, went to mass and received communion. I believe the conditions in Northern Ireland fell way, way short of what Catholicism states are just reasons for going to war. That’s not to say there were no problems of injustice to Catholics in pre-1969 Northern Ireland, just to say the other avenues open meant there was no justification at all for what the IRA did for any of their members or supporters who claimed to be Catholics. I myself believe anyone who supported them – and that includes voting for Sinn Fein – should have been denied communion, for surely they were guilty of a far deeper sin than those who divorce and remarry.

    I’m afraid I cannot interpret the official teaching of the Catholic Church in any other way but that anyone who voted for Sinn Fein in the 1980s and dies without repenting for the murder they supported by doing this is condemned to Hell.

  • Mathew,
    I don’t think protestant atheism starts with book. What you’re taking about is difference between people brought up within a religion and people with basically no religion looking at it aghast. I would argue that most of the atheist commenting here simply have no religious background at all because going to church is a rare experience and religion just seems a bit weird and uncool. The clichéd English image of a vicar is of a posh bloke with a high voice who eats cakes . It’s the guy in Dad’s Army. Priests tend come from fairly humble backgrounds whereas in the Church of England vicars tend to be upper middle class. There’s a big difference with what you call Protestantism and the Cof E and an even bigger one between people who were never really exposed to religion and those who break from, religion. When I was a kid my only exposure to religion was. like, two Harvest Festivals and since then it’s been a couple of weddings and some funerals, which is about the norm.

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th Jan '15 - 12:58pm

    Matthew Huntbach
    ‘ Nevertheless, if what you mean is that in criticising the practices of some Muslims I am suggesting they are “representative of Islam”, you are wrong, and actually you are insulting me because I have gone to lengths to explain that is not what I mean…’

    I was certainly not trying to insult you by suggesting that is what you meant. I was making a more general point and a general comparison between how one might react to terrorists who claim be belong to a faith and give the impression of following it.

    I was indeed referring to the IRA. You are right that they did not claim to be acting directly on behalf of the Catholic church (because they couldn’t) but they did claim to represent communities and they did let it be known they attended mass. You are right that people around them in the church should have condemned them – many did but others kept quiet out of fear or collusion.

    I remember how people reacted to Catholics at the time and there was a feeling of suspicion in some quarters in the UK about Irish people and Catholics in general – it was deeply unpleasant. The press did not help. I always condemned their behaviour as did my family and friends but we were pretty powerless to stop it. I agree with you that Catholics have a moral duty to speak out as do muslims and my point is that many did and do but it doesn’t stop those outside the faiths being suspicious or the climate of opinion being hostile. I try to be mindful of that in my comments on here, because of my own experiences.

    On Pakistan – of course I condemn harsh implementation of Sharia and want the blasphemy laws repealed. I think it is about time the Pakistani government reformed the law and enforced it with moderate and reforming interpretations.

  • Matthew and Helen.
    I think you are missing the point and singling out Pakistan. In 18 countries where Islam forms the basis for the legal system they reserve the right to execute people foe blasphemy and leaving the faith. Even in moderate Turkey there are restrictions placed on other faiths, which is one of the reasons it is not in the EU. The reason we no longer have such laws in the West is that we separated the state from religion and in-so-doing reduced the importance of religion in daily life to the point where practising Christians are a not much less of a minority in Britain than practicing Muslims.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Jan '15 - 2:35pm

    Glenn

    I don’t think protestant atheism starts with book. What you’re taking about is difference between people brought up within a religion and people with basically no religion looking at it aghast. I would argue that most of the atheist commenting here simply have no religious background at all

    We see a lot of casual comment which works on the assumption that religion means start with a book and build the religion round that. That IS an assumption about how religion works which starts off with the Protestant model. I am talking loosely here, so the extent to which the CofE fits that model can be argued (though actually a lot of the more Catholic aspects of the CofE were only introduced into it through the Anglo-Catholic movement in the 19th century).

    I don’t think people who know little about religion consciously use this model, my point is that they are unconsciously using it. The fact that people here assume this model may be something to do with our country’s history, it may also be because certain loud-mouthed extreme Protestant groups like to call themselves just “Christian” and pretend they are mainstream Christianity. Some of what I post here is very much influenced by my strong opposition to that sort, and my belief that mainstream Christians have been too timid in stopping them from coming to dominate what people who have no religious background think of as “Christianity”.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Jan '15 - 2:44pm

    Helen Tedcastle

    I was indeed referring to the IRA. You are right that they did not claim to be acting directly on behalf of the Catholic church (because they couldn’t)

    No, it is not because they couldn’t. It is because it is a central part of their ideology that they are about Irish nationalism and not religion. Their position is that there is no religious aspect to what they do, and their idea that Ireland should be united and it needed violent action to push that unity is open to all, no matter what religion. Not making any use of religion in their material is a conscious part of their ideology.

    I put it this way because casual comment often makes attempts to suggest the IRA and Catholicism are the same sort of things as the Islamists and Islam. They are not the same sort of thing. The IRA were not fighting for Catholicism, never claimed to do so, never claimed that what they did was influenced in any way by Catholicism.

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th Jan '15 - 2:55pm

    Matthew Huntbach
    ‘ The IRA were not fighting for Catholicism, never claimed to do so, never claimed that what they did was influenced in any way by Catholicism.’

    I agree.

  • nvelope2003 12th Jan '15 - 3:25pm

    Interesting discussion about the Catholic Church.
    How does the state enforce freedom of speech in a community where many, if not the majority. would be horrified at some of the things which were published. There is no absolute right to say what you like because of the laws relating to incitement, the ban on denying the holocaust, sexism and racism etc

  • nvelope2003 12th Jan '15 - 3:26pm

    On many websites the term “moderation” no longer seems to mean what it used to – as in moderation in all things. I am opposed to censorship.

  • nvelope2003 12th Jan '15 - 3:26pm

    Hypocrites

  • Matthew,
    I see what your driving at. But I think you’re wide of the mark. Most people simply do not go to any kind of church and certainly don’t read the bible. Let me tactfully suggest that you are simply viewing the irreligious through the prism of Catholicism and Methodist Christianity. England had Anglicanism which is really a bit like Catholicism with inconvenient bits removed. Honestly, All things Bright and Beautiful and more Tea Vicar is how the English view religion. People in England by and large simply no longer have any real grounding in religion at any level and certainly not enough to qualify as a subconscious.
    The reason some people go through the book with Islam is because a lot of terror groups directly take their beliefs from the Qur’an and there are passages that could be interpreted the way ISIS interpreted it, , but It also has a very complicated structure because early teachings are abrogated by later teachings. I think a lot of people here are actually going through what they read on blogs and in the news and others are simply assuming Islam is like Christianity and the Qur’an is like the Bible. in the way same way they think Jews believe in the Old Testament.

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th Jan '15 - 4:21pm

    nvelope2003
    ‘ Hypocrites’
    Could you expand on this?

  • Getting back to some of the comments at the top, particularly those by Graham Evans and Mark Wright: Freedom of speech has two sides. People are free to say what they like, regardless of offence, actual or potential; and, conversely, people are also free to respond to that speech with their own speech, criticising or condemning it.

    Celebrities have the right to make racist statements. Anti-racists have the right to respond, to criticise them for their statements, and to demand a retraction or apology. That’s how free speech works.

    Matt Taylor had the right to wear a ridiculous shirt carrying a sexist and exploitative message on television, and he did. And women and other feminists had the right to ask what on earth he was thinking, and whether he thought that sent a good message to women working in STEM fields, and girls interested in entering those field, and to ask him to apologise. And they did. That’s also how free speech works.

    Free speech is not the right to speak and not be criticised. That’s not freedom of speech at all; that’s a one-sided protection of only one kind of speech from other speech which is prohibited or inhibited.

    It’s rather sad that some Liberal Democrats appear to be confused on this point.

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th Jan '15 - 6:32pm

    Glenn
    ‘The reason we no longer have such laws in the West is that we separated the state from religion and in-so-doing reduced the importance of religion in daily life’

    Except that it took two world wars in the twentieth century to then see a noticeable reduction in church attendance. Also in England, the church and state and not separated completely as it is in France. What is called a secular state can mean different things in different countries. The USA is meant to be secular and it is in the sense that the church doesn’t interfere with governance but in other ways the USA is one of the most religious societies in the world and it is near-enough expected that the President belongs to a church and uses religious language in public.

    ‘ Let me tactfully suggest that you are simply viewing the irreligious through the prism of Catholicism and Methodist Christianity. England had Anglicanism which is really a bit like Catholicism with inconvenient bits removed. Honestly, All things Bright and Beautiful and more Tea Vicar is how the English view religion.’

    Notwithstanding the plethora of stereotypes in your comment, I would also add that I think you might be surprised how ‘spiritual’ people are even if they do not affiliate to a church or synagogue. If someone does not attend a church on a weekly basis, it does not make them ‘irreligious.’ It just means they do not attend an organised religious congregation.

    There are a multitude of different attitudes from yes, the decidedly atheist through to agnostic and to spiritual seeker who mixes Buddhism and Christianity, to people who call themselves Christian but fell out with the local vicar and haven’t attended church for years etc…

    All of these could potentially tick a box marked ‘no religion’ for private reasons of their own.

  • Graham Evans 12th Jan '15 - 7:23pm

    @Tsar Nicholas
    “When you have 85 individuals owning half or more of the world’s wealth, I think we are talking about a lot more than just ‘some people’ being left on the margins.”

    It is sad to see this totally inaccurate quote being used again. The actual quote is “The 85 richest people in the world are as wealthy as the world’s poorest half.” This is a gigantic difference from the misquote of Tsar Nicholas, The calculated appears in a report by Oxfam, which itself acknowledges the short-coming of its assumptions. For more details see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26613682

  • Graham Evans 12th Jan '15 - 7:45pm

    @David-1
    In fact I think Mark and I actually draw somewhat different conclusions from the examples of abuse which I quoted. I think Mark believes the abusers to be misguided, whereas I see it as evidence that in a liberal democracy there can never be such a thing as absolute free speech, otherwise, because of human nature, the result is anarchy. In particular I think there is a big difference between putting an alternative viewpoint and subjecting the person with whom you disagree to a campaign of psychological violence, which is now all too common thanks to the internet. Another example perhaps underlines the point. Cyber bullying is now a real problem, not only for celebrities but for many, particularly young, ordinary people. The proponents of absolute free speech, if they are being logical, would presumably defend the rights of cyber bullies to express their views on all and sundry, provided the bullies do not make direct threats of physical violence.

    In fact what I find so disappointing about this whole debate is a general failure to acknowledge that in the real world the issue of free speech (like to right to privacy) is a not a black and white issue, and that like equality issues law-makers have a very difficult path to tread.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Jan '15 - 7:55pm

    Glenn

    I see what your driving at. But I think you’re wide of the mark. Most people simply do not go to any kind of church and certainly don’t read the bible.

    Er, yes, but you seem to be missing the point. It is BECAUSE people are unfamiliar with religion that they may so easily jump to conclusions which are wrong. It is BECAUSE people are unfamiliar with religion that they are so easily misled into thinking that certain loud-mouthed pushy types are representative of the religion they claim to be attached to, rather than fringe elements.

    All I am saying is that we have seen in recent discussions many comments which just assume that Christianity is about “take the Bible, base a religion on it”. I am sure that most people who say that thing don’t realise that actually that’s a very Protestant view of religion. So what you say about people’s ignorance supports me rather than argues against me.

  • Matthew Huntbach 12th Jan '15 - 8:00pm

    Glenn

    Let me tactfully suggest that you are simply viewing the irreligious through the prism of Catholicism and Methodist Christianity.

    Er, do you know what it is like where I live? Catholicism has retained its numbers due to the number of people from immigrant backgrounds who affiliate to it. But old-style Protestant denominations like the Methodists are in sharp decline, and have long been eclipsed by huge numbers of Pentecostalist and Evangelical type Churches, which are opening up all over the place as well as renting Methodist halls and taking over buildings abandoned by old-style Protestant denominations.

  • jedibeeftrix 12th Jan '15 - 8:10pm

    David – “People are free to say what they like, regardless of offence, actual or potential; and, conversely,”

    The thousands of people who have been investigated by the police in incitement to ‘x’ hatred laws might feel otherwise. Equally as damaging, are the many more who have held their tongue out of fear of police investigation. Where is your free speech now?

  • Mattew,
    they weren’t stereotypes they were basically a bit of humour to counter act your unfounded assertion that Protestant Atheist go by the book and Catholic ones criticise the pomposity of religion. Which I think is actually tinged with a slight of anti protestant snifiness . That is stereotyping. It also misses out on the way Italians and Spanish atheism tends to criticise the dogma, corruption, tyranny and power of religion. Like in the films of Passolini and Luis Bunuel. The fact is 63% population and an ever increasing number of the young have no religious beliefs. At a pinch you will find some vague spiritual leanings. When pushed some will say Church of England (note that it isn’t the church of Britain hence the more tea vicar and Dad’s army asides) but this is because the C of E is the official religion of Britain and its just easier than saying anything else. Vague feelings that there might be something out there is not religion. Religion is an organised system of beliefs with some kind of clergy, rituals and places of worship. The average Britain actually thinks religion is a bit odd, but is usually tolerant enough to not make a fuss about it. Virtually no one in my family, or any of my friends families or any of the people I ever worked with ever went to church, except for weddings and funerals. If you did a straw pole of the average Brit you would find that people who had read the Bible were in a minority. This I think is more to the point. What I think these post really reflect is that irreligious people tolerate religion but actually don’t like it very much. They look at the wars, the beheadings, the Christian Right, the discussions on TV, ISIS and think this is just crazy can’t these people find better things to do than kill each other over nonsense.
    As for me My mother was of Romany and Jewish decent educated in a Catholic School in Glasgow so I don’t really get this idea that Protestant atheist are this and Catholic ones are that argument. It just sound s to me that you’re over thinking it.
    But I think the chances of you getting to read this reply are slim.

  • Tsar Nicolas 12th Jan '15 - 8:53pm

    Graham Evans

    “It is sad to see this totally inaccurate quote being used again. The actual quote is “The 85 richest people in the world are as wealthy as the world’s poorest half.” This is a gigantic difference from the misquote of Tsar Nicholas.”

    Firstly, it is inaccurate to refer to what i posted as a misquote – i placed nothing in quotation marks, and I wrote from memory.

    Secondly, I can see that there is a difference between what I said and what Oxfam said, but nothing of real substance to convince me that the world is a less unequal place than it was, or that the substance of the post you attacked was incorrect..

    Nor is Britain less unequal than it was – the GINI Coefficient is such a damn inconvenient measure for Orange Bookers.

  • There’s a pretty big difference between “less than 1% of the world’s wealth” (the actual amount) and “half or more of the world’s wealth” (what you claimed). If that difference doesn’t bother you, then perhaps other differences between propaganda and facts might not bother you either.

  • I think the invocation of cyberbullying is a red herring. Cyberbullying consists of lots of things, but name-calling is the least of them, and a robust debate in the public sphere is not one of them at all. Cyberbullies are not simply mean people but people who are out to destroy other people’s lives: by threats against life, family, and property, by forming false friendships and betraying them, by entrapment, by improperly gaining and releasing private information, by DOS attacks, by cyberstalking and physical stalking, by hacking accounts, by cyberfraud, and many other things that go well beyond speech. The victims are frequently minors. All of these things can be dealt with, often using existing laws, without limiting public discourse.

  • jbt: All of Mark Wright’s examples dealt with popular reaction (sometimes spontaneous, sometimes orchestrated) to speech by public figures. Graham Evans called similar twitterstorms “psychological violence.” Where they see a problem, I see open public discourse. I also don’t see any solution to the supposed problem offered, perhaps because there could not be one short of either (a) closing down all social media, (b) a massive bureaucracy devoted to monitoring and suppressing private speech, à la chinoise.

    The real danger does not come, as far as I can see, from a groundswell of individuals or even private entities (though there might be potential dangers there). It’s when governments wake up to their ability to mobilise such support and opposition as they wish through creating and controlling cybercrowds, “trolls,” and disinformateurs. This can lead, in the first instance, to widespread public ignorance and false beliefs; in the second place, to widespread violence, lynchings, pogroms, kristallnachts. If some sort of speech laws are warranted, they are those which limit the authority of the government to control mass speech and thus shape public opinion to its liking.

    In the 20th century we saw the blunt use of propaganda machines to form public opinion into a shape governments liked; in this century, we see subtler but no less effective use of propaganda techniques that succeed by monopolising discourse through a wide variety of supposedly independent outlets. Try to imagine a Charlie Hebdo in Moscow or Beijing; the one would have been suppressed years ago on some spurious grounds, the other would never even have existed.

  • Tsar Nicolas 12th Jan '15 - 10:33pm

    David-1

    Agreed, there is a difference between the two, but both demonstrate appalling levels of inequality.

    As for propaganda and facts – it seems to me that what we have had on the BBC and mainstream media for days is propaganda which is light on facts.

    We know that the Charlie Hebdo journalists were massacred. After that, everything becomes hazy, unless, like you, we assume that everything said by the French state, BBC, CNN, Murdoch et al is true.

    One of the reasons the Soviet Union collapsed is that people stopped believing what they were told by the state propaganda organs. they turned to underground communications called ‘samizdats,’ much like many citizens in the West rely on the alternative media to find out what is going on.

    You exhibit, I must say, David, a remarkable double standard. When your favourite state owned or corporate media outlet speculates, you call it news. When I ask a question, point to some (inconvenient) historical facts and indulge in speculation, you call it conspiracy theory and propaganda.

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th Jan '15 - 10:49pm

    @ Glenn

    What/where is the evidence for your assertions ? Even at the last UK census in 2011, 25% professed having no affiliation to a religion compared with 75% professing affiliation to a religious community of some kind. As for reading the Bible, since when was this the sole benchmark for displays of religious faith? There are plenty of others but they get no mention… and there are quite a few religious people who do not go round starting wars… most in fact.

    Maybe you need to get your information from other sources than the media (they tend to have their own agenda and only ever deal with conflict – when was the last time there was a good news story about muslims?).

  • Helen
    I got my evidence on line just like you. But I would back it up with friends family, over hearing people in shops, work, play, my sons friends, falling church attendance figures and closing churches. To me it’s fairly obvious people in Britain are not really religious in the true sense of the word and the religious tend to skew figures in a more positive light than real life models tend to suggest, I could be wrong,. I don’t think, I am but I could be.

  • Helen,
    Some people argue that the census figures are misleading because the question “what religion are you” is understood to be a proxy question for distinguishing ethnicity from a broader definition of race, So the 70% figure is arguably more indicative of a loose affiliation based on cultural and racial background rather than an indication of belief. A lot of white British people put Cof E despite never going to church or really being interested in religion mainly because they are not attached to any other religious or ethnic group. This by the way describes my Dad to a T, not baptised, never went to church, and would groan at the merest mention of religion In the stats he’s C of E and therefore a Christian, I think this is far from unique.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Jan '15 - 9:42am

    Glenn

    That is stereotyping. It also misses out on the way Italians and Spanish atheism tends to criticise the dogma, corruption, tyranny and power of religion. Like in the films of Passolini and Luis Bunuel.

    Sometimes it seems as if we are furiously agreeing with each other. Far from “missing” it, the point you make here is JUST the point I was making in the first place. Italian and Spanish atheism tends to have a rather different emphasis on the way it criticises religion. Yes, that’s what I was saying and you said there was something wrong with me for saying it, now you say the same thing yourself. The point I was making in the first place was that atheists in places where religion has in recent history been Catholic tend to concentrate more on criticising dogma, corruption, tyranny and power, and less on the illogicality of scripture, which is what atheists tend to put more emphasis on in places which in recent history have been Protestant.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Jan '15 - 9:55am

    Glenn

    I think you are missing the point and singling out Pakistan. In 18 countries where Islam forms the basis for the legal system they reserve the right to execute people foe blasphemy and leaving the faith.

    Here we are again. This was an earlier point of yours I did not get round to replying to.

    I quoted Pakistan as an example. I did so because there have been enough recent cases there which have had publicity enough for me to know about them that I know I could mention it and be sure there was some fact behind the point I was saying. I did not at any time say that Pakistan was the only country that did this, as you are now wrongly accusing me of doing so.

    However, you do very much support my original point. I believe that killing someone for these things you mention is as bad morally as the killings of the Charlie Hebdo people. I believe that every word of condemnation s that was made against the killers in Paris should equally be made against ALL those who uphold and support and put into action those laws. I challenge anyone who has said various things about the Paris killers, such as claiming they were not true Muslims to make EXACTLY the same points about those who uphold and support and put into action those laws, in 18 countries you say – and that, of course, includes those lines which say they are not true Muslims etc. If they can’t do that, then I think they have to say why killing people for saying rude things about Islam or for deciding they don’t believe in it any more is acceptable in those 18 countries but nit in Paris. And if they can’t or won’t do any of this, I say they are hypocrites.

    Now, it seems to me that the line about the Paris killers which says they are just one or two madcaps and nothing at all to do with the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world rather falls down when we see it this way. Are the governments and people who support those governments in those countries also not part of that 1.6 billion?

    I hope any Muslim who is disgusted by the Charlie Hebdo killings will think through this and realise how disgusting it is that so much similar nastiness is supported across Muslim majority countries, and from this realise that THEY as Muslims must fight this nastiness within their own religion, and stop using the cop-out lines “Nothing to do with us”, “It’s all the fault of the west”, “You are only saying that because you are a racist” and so on.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Jan '15 - 10:04am

    Glenn

    The fact is 63% population and an ever increasing number of the young have no religious beliefs.

    Yes, and again you completely miss my point, because far from this being an argument against what I was saying, it is an argument in favour of it.

    My point was that because most people here have very little in the way of any direct religious background, they may not realise that what they think or say about religion may be unconsciously biased towards some particular interpretation. It was just this unconscious bias that I was pointing out. The bias is likely to come from what historical relics of religion survive or are passed on informally as comments, or it may come from what they see in the media which is likely to be dominated by groups who are loud-mouthed and aggressive but less likely to be representative of the whole.

  • Matthew,
    I completely agree with both of your posts.

  • Jayne Mansfield 13th Jan '15 - 11:39am

    @ David Allen,
    ‘Don’t tell me that muslims are uniquely linked their religion.’

    I wouldn’t. There are some, who have their own agenda, who use the problems within Islam, to fuel racism and racial division. They use the religion to turn people against Muslims because Muslims are predominantly brown or ‘foreign’.

    This is why I find the term Islamophobia problematic. I find its overuse dangerous because it puts people who are critical of certain aspects or strands of a religion or culture in the same category as people who are not so much ‘Islamophobic’ whatever that means, just plain, old fashioned racists, who use criticism of the religion as a ‘trojan horse’ to further their racist aims. The answer as far as I am concerned is to follow Nigel Farages advice and stop being PC. Where appropriate, let’s call a racist a racist.

    @ Helen,
    I think that one of the major issues is the one that you raised. Unlike Catholicism, Islam is not hierarchical. There is no equivalent of the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury offering an authoritative interpretative of what followers should believe.

  • Shaun Whitfield 13th Jan '15 - 12:07pm

    Helen Tedcastle :” Even at the last UK census in 2011, 25% professed having no affiliation to a religion compared with 75% professing affiliation to a religious community of some kind”.

    Crucially, the key point you are ignoring is the direction of travel – over successive censuses, overall religious affiliation is declining, while those declaring themselves to be of no religion is rising. You may get minor resurgences eg polish workers and followers of Islam, but Glen is right. The last poll on young people’s religious affiliation I saw had nearly two-thirds of young people professing no religion at all. This is why the CoE is desperate to maintain and if possible increase its influence and role in our education system (or ‘mission’ as it describes it). Only today I read an article where the CoE was lamenting the fact that it will be short of priests soon because many will retire in the next few years, often without any prospect of replacement. The CoE is dying on its feet, but is able to maintain much of its power and influence owing to its established status embedded in the state. That and an elite political class which also appears to be unrepresentative of the country as a whole in another way – many more seem to believe in god compared with the population as a whole.

  • Helen Tedcastle 13th Jan '15 - 12:24pm

    Glenn
    ‘Britain are not really religious in the true sense of the word and the religious tend to skew figures in a more positive light than real life models tend to suggest’

    What is ‘religious’ in the true sense of the word? Do you mean sitting in a church on a Sunday? I don’t.

    Certainly it would help the quantifiable data which we as a society are so keen on – plus ultimately pointless bragging rights against those who dislike religious faith – and it would probably help social cohesion if more people met together each week.

    But to me religion is as much a life practice and state of mind as bums on seats. Plenty of people who do not go to a church at present are deeply spiritual (even if they don’t subscribe to a formal religion). This country is, as Rowan Williams describes, ‘saturated with Christianity.’ So I’m optimistic.

  • Helen Tedcastle 13th Jan '15 - 12:39pm

    Shaun Whitfield
    ‘… nearly two-thirds of young people professing no religion at all. This is why the CoE is desperate to maintain and if possible increase its influence and role in our education system’

    Those two statements don’t follow. The CoE is clearly not in the business of mass conversions/mission if the stats you suggest are true. It in fact suggests the opposite – that young people go their own way and are not being indoctrinated – the classic secularist argument against faith schools and their alleged ‘sinister’ use of education.

    No. The CoE educates because it serves the community and likes to serve the community – it’s part of its remit as is the case with other faiths in education. Yes this is a noble aim and cynics like to think otherwise but it’s true.

    Those who think that church attendance is the sole indication of religious belief are those who prefer to live by data than understand how people tick.

    Because someone says they have no religion does not mean they are atheist or secularists. It could equally suggest they are spiritual and in fact deeply religious but non-affiliated. As I have worked with young people for many years I know this is the case – people will always search for spiritual meaning in spite of the proselytising of the BHA and nss and yes, they learn science (lots of it) in faith schools.

  • Helen#
    I think if someone says they have no religion it’s a pretty reliable indicator that they have no religion. Of course it does not follow that they are automatically atheists. I did not say it did. I simply said that in the strict sense of the word they are not religious. But I will respect your beliefs and leave it at that

  • Shaun Whitfield 13th Jan '15 - 2:55pm

    Helen Tedcastle: “The CoE is clearly not in the business of mass conversions/mission if the stats you suggest are true.”

    Firstly, the stats are true, in that they are the result of an opinion poll. There is also bags of evidence from other polls, successive censuses and the British Social Attitudes Survey that shows declining religious affiliation/belief and rising non-religious/lack of belief over the last 40 years or so in this country. So please don’t imply there may be some doubt over the figures themselves (interpretation is another thing).

    All that the figures show is that the CoE is not very good at proselysation in its schools, not that it does not attempt it. You must be familiar with the Dearing Report (2001), which presaged the expansion of church schools in the early part of this century, a process that continues today. Here is para 1.13 of the Introduction:

    “The Church today still wishes to offer education for its own sake as a reflection of God’s love for humanity. But the justification for retaining and aspiring to extend its provision, as recommended in this report, cannot be
    simply this, when the state is willing to provide as never before and when there are so many calls on the Church’s limited resources. It is, and must be, because that engagement with children and young people in schools will, in the words of the late Lord Runcie when he was Archbishop of Canterbury, enable the Church to:
    Nourish those of the faith;
    Encourage those of other faiths;
    Challenge those who have no faith.”

    So, while I am sure there are many working in church schools doing so for the good of the community, the CoE’s purpose in education is not just providing education for its own sake, but, inter alia, to ‘challenge those who have no faith.’ Proselysation in other words.

    I can’t be bothered to quote from the main body of the report, but there is much more like that. It’s as much about saving souls as it is about education.

    Yet when Muslims say they want to be able to do that sort of thing in state schools, substituting islam for christianity, they (rightly in my view) get short shrift.

    With regard to people expressing some sort of ‘spirituality’, whatever that means, rather than adhering to organised religion, I couldn’t care less. It’s unjustified privileges for organised religions that I object to.

  • Helen Tedcastle 13th Jan '15 - 3:56pm

    Shaun Whitfield

    You seem to be objecting to to the following words: Nourish, Encourage, Challenge, especially the third. This is pretty mild stuff.

    What is wrong with being challenged? I would suggest that if people who are no faith in particular meet those of faith, that is a challenge and vice versa – in the sense that they are coming up against difference, discussing it openly. By seeing faith community serving a school, a young person of no faith or fixed views can be attracted to it or not. It’s their choice. They decide and many decide it is not for them.

    The problem with the kind of secularism you want to see is that it disdains difference and wishes to see any ‘challenge’ put firmly in the box labelled ‘private.’

    Is it any wonder that in societies where this kind of public/private divide exists, there is more misunderstanding between groups than in societies where difference is out in the open and normalised.

    Also, I have no problem with muslim faith schools when they follow the national curriculum and are inclusive. We have Jewish, Sikh and Catholic schools – why not?

  • Shaun Whitfield 13th Jan '15 - 4:41pm

    Helen Tedcastle
    Well, I said I couldn’t be bothered to dig out the quotes from Dearing, but here we go.

    “Everything we have to say has its roots in, and derives its validity from, the Resolution of the General Synod in 1998 captured in our terms of reference in the words:
    Believing that Church schools stand at the centre of the Church’s mission to the nation. This Resolution challenges everyone in the Church to consider the implications of this statement of the importance and the place of Church schools,alongside the parish churches, at the heart of the Church’s mission to the nation.”(para 1.5)

    There will be those who, having read what we see as the implications of putting the Church school at the centre of the Church’s mission, will question the validity of the Resolution of the General Synod. We recognize that some parts of our report may be considered radical. As we said in the first paragraph of the Introduction to our Consultation Report, we believe the General Synod judged well in passing its Resolution because the Church
    schools reach out to the young in far greater numbers than regularly attend church, and because through the young the Church is reaching out to parents and communities who would not otherwise engage with it.” (para 1.10)

    “The Church has a major problem in attracting young people to its services as a means of discharging its mission, and one that causes much concern. This bears directly on the future of the Church.” (para 3.3)

    “It has been put to us that a measure of the effectiveness of Church schools should be found in the number of young people they bring into Church services or other Church activities for children. Whether they come into Church or not, Church schools are giving them the opportunity to know Christ, to learn in a community that seeks to live by his word, and to engage in worship. Where pupils come from homes which are not Christian, or only nominally Christian with parents who have little knowledge of the Bible, this is a gift they would not otherwise experience.” (para 3.9)

    To add some balance:

    “Church schools are not, and should not be, agents of proselytism where pupils are expected to
    make a Christian commitment.” (para 3.12)

    However, this is only one of two comments of this type I could find in quite a long report. It reads like a sop to anybody concerned about religious ‘indoctrination’. Otherwise it reads more like a religious tract, with ‘mission’ being a favourite word.

    No, my kind of secularism does not disdain difference, that is what exclusive faith schools do, eg London Oratory. Rabbi Romain of the Accord Coalition sums up my views well:

    “I want my children to go to a school when they can sit next to a Christian, play football in the break with a Muslim, do homework with a Hindu and walk back with an atheist – interacting with them and them getting to know what a Jewish child is like. Schools should build bridges, not erect barriers.”

  • Helen Tedcastle 13th Jan '15 - 6:06pm

    Shaun Whitfield

    Thank you for bothering. Two words: proselytism and mission. It is clear from the document you provided that the Church of England is not in the business of active proselytism (unlike the BHA I might add). That is stated clearly.

    Secondly, mission in the sense used by this document as ‘purpose’ and ‘vision’. If it was mission in the sense of conversion, then the document would be more strongly worded ie: bringing young people to the faith. It is nothing like that. I am amazed how mild it is. it just says ‘giving opportunities’ to know about Christ/Christianity and ‘reaching out.’

    This document reads like an exercise in inclusive community relations.

    I am not suggesting that there are not problems of mono-religious concentrations in some schools where there are up to 95% + of one faith. However, these tend to be in areas where Community schools/Academies (multiple) and the single Catholic or CoE school serve concentrations of mainly muslim pupils. This is exceptional and tends to be played out in dense urban areas, not suburbs or rural areas.

    This is a problem for ALL schools not just the small number of faith schools the nss objects to.

    Jonathan Romain is just about the most secular-liberal- minded rabbi in the UK. I can see why he would appeal but his talk of barriers is ludicrous as if it was a universal rule.. Faith schools welcome all faiths and none. As I taught in two faith schools where there was a healthy mix, the barriers are in people’s minds not in the schools.

  • Matthew,

    Sorry, but you’ve completely missed the point of my Ulster joke. To put it another way, certain surnames mean you were born a Catholic, certain other surnames mean you were born a Protestant. An Ulster thug will do you is you come from the wrong side, and it makes absolutely no difference if you say you have changed or discarded religious beliefs.

    It follows that racial mockery and religious mockery can sometimes be quite undistinguishable. One cannot simply say that mocking religion is OK (or even admirable) while mocking a race is unacceptable. They can be exactly the same thing. When that logical conundrum is applicable, you can’t do anything that is uniquely right. You just have to, in this imperfect world, make a best judgment as to which of two imperfect choices you will make. Ordinary folks are usually able to deal with such dilemmas. It’s only ideologues and fundamentalists (including fundamentalist liberals) whose mental equipment can’t cope.

  • David Allen.
    Mockery of religion and Mockery of race simply not the same thing. You’re explanation of your Ulster joke ignores the fact that (a) Irish Catholics and Irish protestants are likely to be the same race(b) they are both ex Christians (c) it is in fact an illustration of the intractability of religious division which is still continues after logic dictates that it is no longer relevant, which is what mocking religion is often about in the first place.
    What Charlie Hebdo were doing was mocking a religion that sometimes inspires tyranny, intolerance, violence and suppression and they where met with deadly force by killers from that religion who displayed all of those traits, plus extreme racism that resulted in the cold blooded murder of Jewish shoppers. Since then we’ve had a lot of defenders of the faith and one or two well meaning apologists arguing for more restraint from the remaining staff of the magazine!

  • Jayne Mansfield 14th Jan '15 - 8:44am

    One cannot simply say that mocking a religion is acceptable is Ok (even acceptable) but mocking a race is unacceptable?

    Well I can, and I do.

    I support Amnesty International. Last friday a journalist who set up a website in Saudi Arabia received the first of a series of public floggings. He is also serving a long prison sentence. His crime? He set up a public website. He was flogged in front of a mosque in front of people who had just had Friday’s prayers. This punishment will be repeated for weeks.

    I am afraid that saying that religion cannot be mocked or criticised stretches my ability for moral relativism to breaking point. I am with those Muslims who are in a David and Goliath fight ( I am not sure whether that analogy is appropriate) against the sort of political Islam that is a danger to them as well as to non Muslims.

    I agree with Matthew, that the battle for Islam is one for Muslims, but the odds are stacked against moderate Muslims because they do not have the access to resources that some Middle Eastern countries provide. Also, I believe that they do not have the proper support of our government, because as the saying goes, ‘Money talks’.

    Jesuischarlie, if for no other reason, the inexcusable slaughter has made me sit up and think and ask myself how much I have been to blame by staying quiet, thus allowing a grievance culture to take hold. How did we get to a situation where it is the murdered who are put on trial and not the murderers?

  • Shaun Whitfield 14th Jan '15 - 9:15am

    Helen Tedcastle: “Faith schools welcome all faiths and none. ”

    This is patently not true. That largely happens when they have no choice (ie insufficient numbers of parents adhering to the ‘right’ faith). While CoE schools tend to be the most inclusive of faith schools there are many in the secondary sector that still operate a faith test when oversubscribed, particularly voluntary aided schools. Even in voluntary controlled schools of a religious character a large minority are permitted by LAs to apply a religious test. Catholic schools are certainly not, as a rule, inclusive. I remember when Labour made a modest proposal to limit religious tests to ‘only’ 50% of a school’s intake. The catholic church hit the roof and after fierce lobbying from them and others this proposal was rapidly jettisoned. Check out the schools map on the Fair Admissions campaign website to see which secondary schools operate religious admissions tests, and to what proportion of their intake.

    You describe Rabbi Romain as a liberal, so I thought you might support his point of view. The Young Liberals are affiliated to his organisation and I believe your party has voted in support of a policy to rid schools of the daily act of collective worship (I may stand corrected on that one). You may soon be out of step with your party’s education policies the way things are going!

    We obviously do not agree on the issue of whether the Dearing report encourages or constitutes proselytization. I put quote marks around the word indoctrination because I am coming to the view that terms like that and ‘brainwashing’, when applied to faith schools are crude and unhelpful, whereas the Dearing Report is a much more subtle document. I think it is still out to gain converts, though.

    I don’t think the BHA ‘proselytizes’ – that term surely is about conversion to a religious faith. I think it originally applied to gentiles converting to judaism.

  • Helen Tedcastle 14th Jan '15 - 10:45am

    Shaun Whitfield
    ‘ This is patently not true. That largely happens when they have no choice’

    Except that the other argument usually hurled at faith schools is that they are very popular with parents because they tend to be good schools. It can’t be both – exclusive and inclusive? There are some rural primaries where, due to historical reasons ie: the church was the ONLY provider of education for the poor, a CoE school is the village school.

    So the nss and bha basically want to tear up the history book, tear up the wishes of the majority of parents who like faith schools, bar faith schools from admitting Christian pupils to schools with a Christian ethos if say a humanist family are ahead in the queue…. utter madness.

    Are you really saying that Catholic schools should turn away families that sign up to and are wholly supportive of their ethos, values and commitments, in favour of families who are hostile to their very existence but who don’t want to drive a bit further to the community school? So much for a level playing field.

    There are far more community schools than faith schools in this country. Those humanists, atheists, secularists hostile to faith schools – except in a few areas – are well-catered for.

    The bha run regular ‘campaigns’ in London with posters and adverts pushing their beliefs – if that is not proselytising I don’t know what is.

  • Matthew Huntbach 14th Jan '15 - 10:56am

    David Allen

    Sorry, but you’ve completely missed the point of my Ulster joke. To put it another way, certain surnames mean you were born a Catholic, certain other surnames mean you were born a Protestant.

    Oh, I know, to some extent I was just using it as a hook to make a point I wanted to make. It’s not just surnames, I can’t hide my religion myself if anyone asks me what school I went to and I give a true answer.

    The deeper point is that just to think in terms of the religious labels “Christian”, “Muslim”, “Jewish” etc is wrong. It annoys me that religious education in this country always does just this, refuses even to suggest that there are actually different streams within religions, and that some of the most interesting points on religion are cross-cutting rather than “X does this and Y does that”. I was sort of hinting at that with my suggestion that there’s a parallel with the Shia-Sunni divide in Islam and the Catholic-Protestant divide in Christianity, but actually I can be quite serious about that. There are forms of Shia Islam which I find more in tune with my own religion than some forms of Protestantism. To some extent, my jumping at the Islamist extremists is because I see them as another sort of Calvinist, and I really dislike Calvinism.

  • Shaun Whitfield 14th Jan '15 - 2:47pm

    Helen Tedcastle:

    ” There are some rural primaries where, due to historical reasons ie: the church was the ONLY provider of education for the poor, a CoE school is the village school.

    So the nss and bha basically want to tear up the history book…”

    Who’s tearing up the history book? Using an argument from tradition is pretty weak. The Church’s provision of schooling in the 19C does not of necessity justify the educational privileges it enjoys now. Since 1944 the taxpayer has paid for these schools many times over. In exchange for retaining control over some schools under the 1944 Act the deal was that 50% of the capital costs would be borne by the church. That %age has dwindled over the years such that in many cases now no contribution is made at all. Now that many faith schools are 100% state-funded it is difficult to justify the control that religions continue to exercise over a third of our schools.

    “Are you really saying that Catholic schools should turn away families that sign up to and are wholly supportive of their ethos, values and commitments, in favour of families who are hostile to their very existence but who don’t want to drive a bit further to the community school? So much for a level playing field.”

    Well, the CoE now sponsors academies with open admissions policies, so why not the catholic church? Why should parents have to drive further away when there is a state-funded school on their doorstep, which their taxes have helped pay for, and for which the church in question may have made no significant financial contribution?

    “There are far more community schools than faith schools in this country. Those humanists, atheists, secularists hostile to faith schools – except in a few areas – are well-catered for.”

    Well, except that there are no secular state-funded schools in this country, given that all are required to conduct a daily act of collective worship. I know this is observed more in the breach, but the NSS and BHA regularly receive complaints from parents who deliberately avoided sending their children to faith schools only to find that the community school they chose appears to major on religion , owing to staff in key positions being committed to their religion, with the desire to ‘share’ it with everyone else. Indeed, the Dearing Report deals with supporting Christain teachers in non-denominational schools.

    A general point: you seem to assume that a secular school would be the opposite of a faith school. But that is not the case. In fact the opposite of a faith school would be an atheist school, which no secularists, including atheists, would support. Imagine a system where there are atheist schools instead of faith schools; where in many cases you had to produce evidence of your atheism to ensure your child’s admission. A child with, say, Christian parents would fail the test and be prevented from attending. Christians would complain of persecution and discrimination, as their children would be excluded from attending a fair proportion of state-funded schools, which their taxes have helped pay for. That’s the position many parents find themselves in under the current system. It’s not fair, is it?

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