Extending the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism

I recently read an anti-Zionist inveighing against Zionist Jews who accuse non-Zionist Jews of “ethnoreligious treason”. He asked why the people who react badly when critics of Israel invoke Jewish identity to tell other Jews what to do, don’t react similarly badly when supporters of Israel use the same strategy. Although he should understand that equal treatment would protect those he hates – progressive Zionists or non-Zionists who are not antisemitic – as much as it would protect him, I think this is a good question.

One example – back around 2010 the EDL’s former (miniscule) Jewish Arm leader Roberta Moore was calling the Jewish Community Security Trust, not to mention Binyamin Netanyahu, the Chief Rabbi of the time, and many other Jews ‘kapos’. Here’s an example:

“I am talking to YOU, you pathetic anti-Zionist Jewish twats out there!! You shall deserve the end that you get, because I will not fight for you if you will not fight for yourself. I would defend you if you are fighting with me, but if you are leaving this dirty work for us, I will NOT even forgive you. Cowards deserve my contempt.

If you think that appeasing Islamo-fascists will keep the beast at bay, you have learnt NOTHING from Nazi Germany, you bloody KAPOS!!!!

I am very very angry with the Jewish community for being so weak and so pathetically afraid of such vermin which we ourselves, even in small numbers can bring down!!”

Kapos were Jewish concentration camp inmates who gained preferment by taking roles as camp enforcers for the Nazis. Roberta Moore calls latterday Jews ‘kapos’ for being insufficiently militant in defending Israel. I realise that not everybody would agree with me that calling a Jew a kapo is antisemitic – indeed it seems to be something that some Jewish people of earlier generations do occasionally to make a point about Jewish self-interest. But times change – or should. In Roberta Moore we got a far right demagogue who, in her use of the word ‘kapo’, verbally attacked Jews as Jews, accused them of siding with Nazis to save themselves, called them inferior as Jews – in fact as bad or worse than Nazis – questioned their loyalty as Jews, and blamed them for violence against Jews. This is what ‘kapo’ means – it is a Holocaust-minimising term, a dog whistle, and almost always a smear against progressive Jews. Surely that is antisemitic.

At the time I invoked the EUMC Working Definition of Antisemitism to call this antisemitic, and tried to shoehorn what Roberta Moore had said into the example “Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”. However I arranged it though, it was as awkward as a kitten in a bonnet. Though I support everything in the EUMC WD, the Roberta Moore example reveals gaps which leave far right Israel supporters (on the rise) much freer to make tribal demands on Jewish people with as-a-Jew stereotypes.

I’d say that the WD comprehends most kinds of antisemitism adequately (and with restraint), but insufficiently comprehends antisemitism in the name of Israel. I think antisemitism in the name of Israel might push idealised notions of Jewishness with respect to Israel,  seek to impose Jewish loyalty tests in support of Israel, or call Jews who are critical of Israel inferior Jews. At a population level I doubt this kind of antisemitism is ever going to be a massive problem. Being antisemitism from the ‘inside’ it will be perceived differently, perhaps more complacently, than that from the outside. But it does exist, it will acutely harm those it targets, and it will also harm those who take risks to build bridges for peace. Since I expect hate-fuelled simpletons to prevail in their polarisation of left and right, and views on Israel to be taken, like it or not, as a prominent marker of which pole you lean towards, I think it’s worth giving this some attention.

Here is the original EUMC WD, and below are my small changes. I’ve marked them with italics or strike-throughs but Diffchecker lets you compare if you care to.

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Working definition: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

In addition, such manifestations could also centre on or target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.

Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:

  • Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing, or harming, or limiting of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.

  • Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.

  • Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.

  • Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).

  • Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.

  • Accusing Stating that Jewish citizens of being are more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations, or that they are inferior as Jews for being insufficiently loyal.

Examples of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself with regard to the State of Israel taking into account the overall context could include:

  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.

  • Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

  • Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.

  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

  • Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel, or accusing Jews of being insufficiently active for the welfare of the state of Israel.

However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.

Antisemitic acts are criminal when they are so defined by law (for example, denial of the Holocaust or distribution of antisemitic materials in some countries).

Criminal acts are antisemitic when the targets of attacks, whether they are people or property – such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries – are selected because they are, or are perceived to be, Jewish or linked to Jews.

Antisemitic discrimination is the denial to Jews of opportunities or services available to others and is illegal in many countries.

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I can’t see these small changes criminalising anything that isn’t already criminal. It doesn’t remove anything from the original WD, either. And it doesn’t make anti-Zionism any less hare-brained. What it does achieve is recognition of antisemitism from the authoritarian pro-Israeli right, whether religious or statist. It allows us to refer to the EUMC when calling statements like Roberta Moore’s antisemitic.

Does that work?

Racism of low expectations

Still pondering the implications of the near miss with gender segregation on university campuses.

In his 1950 book Psychoanalysis and Religion, Erich Fromm made the following distinction between authoritarian and humanistic religions which, though I can’t see where religion ends and politics starts, seems right to me:

“Man’s [sic] aim in humanistic religion is to achieve the greatest strength, not the greatest powerlessness; virtue is self-realization, not obedience. Faith is certainty of conviction based on one’s own thought and feeling, not assent to propositions on credit of the proposer. The prevailing mood is that of joy, while the prevailing mood in authoritarian religion is that of sorrow or guilt.

“Inasmuch as humanistic religions are theistic, God is a symbol of man’s own powers which he tries to realize in his life, and is not a symbol of force or domination, having power over man.

“Illustrations of humanistic religions are early Buddhism, Taoism, the teachings of Isaiah, Jesus, Socrates, Spinoza, certain trends in the Jewish and Christian religions (particularly mysticism), the religion of Reason in the French Revolution. It is evident from these that the distinction between authoritarian and humanistic religion cuts across the distinction between theistic and non-theistic, and between religions in the narrow sense of the word and philosophical systems of religious character.”

I read that David Edwards (incidentally co-founder of Media Lens – a site I distrust because it views establishment media as corrupt propaganda by definition, irrespective of quality, principles and governance) developed this further in his book ‘Free to be Human. Intellectual Self-Defence in an Age of Illusions‘ as the idea of ‘power religions’ and their mind chains,

“Power religion, unlike true religious endeavour, has nothing at all do with the search for fundamental, adequate answers to human life, but is purely a means of justifying, enforcing and facilitating the exercise of power. Power religion does not consist in a particular set of beliefs, but in a set of functions supporting power. Because these functions remain essentially constant, we discover close similarities between versions of power religion widely separated by historical time, geography and superficial appearance. The differences between these beliefs represent a sort of superficial clothing over an essentially identical framework of underlying function.”

Religious authoritarianism enforces practices in the name of religion. Examples are the strict subjugation and exclusion of women (Saudi Arabia), outlawing abortion (Republic of Ireland, USA, ongoing attempts in the UK), state-enforced child bearing (Ceausescu’s Hungary), restricting the education of women (most conservative religions).

There are plenty of practices associated with power religions that mainstream UK commentators are prepared to publicly condemn, criticise or satirise. The most striking thing about these practices is that they tend to be from the dominant culture. Richard Herring’s Christ on a Bike show, which contains extensive material on the Pope and the Catholic Church met with some offended and wounded reactions to which he responded without compromise and in similar vein as before,

“A lot of things that Christians say annoy me (for example the Pope saying people should not use condoms in AIDS infested areas) but I believe they have the right to say them. The point of the routine is that it is a bit much for the Pope to tell us what to do with [our] sperm when some of his priests are having sex with kids – maybe it’s a priority to sort that out first.”

and although he has some material on Islam he points out,

“It’s harder as a non-Muslim to “mock” Islam and obviously it’s a different thing to concentrate on a minority religion, who are already the subject of prejudice and opprobrium (whatever that is)”.

This makes good sense and I am continually reassured by evidence that I live in a country where scruples about minority sensitivities have considerable influence. But, for the same reasons, it’s also tricky to criticise anything done in the name of a minority religion. This has led to the current situation, where many (most?) of the people who don’t pull their punches on authoritarian practices associated with minority religions are either open or crypto racists, the most organised of whom support the English Defence League, the British National Party, or their respective fragments.

The opinion that political left has ducked its responsibility is strengthening. A couple of months ago when campaigner against female genital mutilation Leyla Hussein took a sounding of cultural eggshells in Northampton by asking shoppers to sign a petition in favour the practice, she was appalled by her success. Signatories were prepared to support misogynistic violence against adolescent girls in order to express their ‘cultural sensitivity’. Another example, incompletely documented in some of my earlier posts, is the recent Universities UK recommendation that higher education institutions consent to segregation by gender if demanded by a presenter. The ensuing debate drew out the view – shared by a number of intellectuals including politicians and feminists as well as activists for an Islamic state – that to be worried about segregation is to be Islamophobic. For others – who themselves often face opprobrious charges of racism – this reaction confirmed their existing belief that there’s a thin spot where non-racist campaigns against religious authoritarianism should be, and in their place is the racism of low expectations.

Which finally brings me to legal scholar Karima Bennoune’s recent book ‘Your fatwa does not apply here. Untold stories from the fight against Muslim fundamentalism’. The first review I read, by Julia Droeber, sociologist at An Najah University, Palestine, approached the book cautiously in the knowledge that its subject could make it attractive to political inclinations that are unfavourable to Muslims. However, her fears were quickly allayed:

“Bennoune admits that she is walking a tight-rope. She is painfully aware that right-wing elements in the West may use this book as a pretext for further discrimination against Muslims at home and abroad. However, she says that she  felt compelled to document these accounts for two reasons: her fight for global human rights and her disappointment with the too-complacent view of allegedly “moderate” Islamists by the political Left in the West. To a large extent it is the tolerant and secular interpretations of Islam the protagonists of this book are trying to promote as they contest attempts by fundamentalists to place restrictions on their day-to-day lives, and Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here was prompted by the lack of attention paid in the West to those struggles.”

Droeber continues,

“… she takes issue with the view that Muslims and Muslim fundamentalists are victims (of the “War on Terror”, for example) and criticises governments for their reactions (or lack of reaction) to fundamentalist violence and its consequences for people’s everyday lives, for instance in Palestine.

“The final chapter’s title summarises the book’s message “Raise your voice while singing is still possible.”

Good advice – plenty more here.

Update

Gender segregation on campus – “taken over” by the far right?

Bob From Brockley has a recent piece on Mandela as a mirror. It’s about how disparate movements can opportunistically hitch up to a campaign, a cause, or sometimes a person. To add another example, we have Southall Black Sisters invoking Mandela’s anti-apartheid struggle at an event protesting gender segregation, and then we get Spiked with a piece on the hyperbole of calling segregation ‘apartheid’ and the event explodes into a kaleidoscope of different angles on angles on angles. This here is mine, but on gender segregation, Sally Feldman and Laurie Penny.

Last week mainstream politicians finally found their voice and came out against religious gender segregation on campus. Predictably this functioned as a bright green go light to anti-establishment types. Here’s Times Higher columnist Sally Feldman’s weak satire on the opponents of gender segregation. I couldn’t have guessed the piece would end up defending the platforming hate preachers at the University of Westminster where she works – Haitham ‘apes and pigs’ al-Haddad and gender segregation in the same article – wow. She’s more worried about the calibre of the opponents of misogyny, antisemitism and homophobia than she’s worried about the views themselves. So, for the record, al-Haddad does preach hatred. And Sally Feldman should know that events that are carefully convened to ensure hateful views are likely be countered by other invited speakers tend to escape the kind of alarmed response she objects to – mainly because they are obviously ‘championing free speech’, rather than simply connecting haters with free premises and audiences and leaving it to the objects of their hatred to do the hard work of speaking against them.

How did we get here from gender segregation? Maybe the quality of the objections to gender segregation – the passion, the outrage, the hyperbolic exchanges – reminded Sally Feldman of the upset about al-Haddad and reminded her of her University of Westminster agenda. That’s my best guess. It’s also the most charitable account.

Which brings me to Laurie Penny’s recent Guardian piece, ‘This isn’t feminism. It’s Islamophobia‘. It’s about the pressure she has come under from ‘white men’ to condemn gender segregation. At its crux,

“…demanding that feminists of every race and faith drop all our campaigns and stand against “radical Islam” sounds more and more like white patriarchy trying to make excuses for itself: “If you think we’re bad, just look at these guys.””

But at the bottom you’ll find a note, ‘This article was amended to draw attention to the fact that many Muslim and Asian women were involved in the “gender segregation” protests.’ This amendment only came about because Twitter users like the Ex-Muslims Forum, Lejla Kuric, Alya, Ophelia Benson, One Law For All, Sarah Brown and others civilly alerted her to Asian and Muslim feminists defending secular space and pointed out the stark inaccuracy of claiming that the protest on December 10th was led by right wing men. By mid morning Laurie Penny had recognised the problem and was making efforts to correct it.

Which is typically big of her but I was interested in what had happened, which is this. A self-styled feminist found the ‘white patriarchy’ so much more interesting than all the feminists of Muslim or Asian background that she completely omitted them from consideration. In this she is no better than most of the other reporters party to the silencing of non-white voices, as This Is The End puts it. Or as Lejla puts it, “White western feminist ignore us and dismiss our struggle”. Or as Alya puts it, “The very idea that this debate has been “taken over” by the far right is both naive and insulting”. As such Laurie Penny gives us a classic example of reductio ad absurdum filtering an event through an existing agenda. It’s also a particularly self-absorbed piece; the poor feminist is not the woman affected by gender segregation – it’s Laurie Penny herself beset by ‘white men’ asking her to condemn something. This is a maddening change of subject.

A united front is needed to fight religious authoritarians on campus. They are not yet strong but they would like to be and they have a small foothold already. So congratulations any ‘white men’ of any political stripe who based your arguments against gender segregation on feminist principles and not culturally racist ones. Sadly for me I think it may be true that you are mostly to the political centre and right – but you got it right this time. Please carry on doing it, as often as possible, and don’t be put off by people telling you you’re the wrong sex or colour.

Finally, Laurie Penny is right that there is certainly anti-Muslim sentiment lurking within the debate about gender segregation, as Soupy explains – people with these views are also subtly changing the subject to further their own agenda.

Universities UK agrees to redraft guidance on gender segregation

Good news below which broke after I started writing this.

This morning’s BBC Radio 4 Today programme said that politicians were reluctant to talk to them about gender segregation on campus. Let’s take a sounding on who is defending segregation, who is defending desegregation, and who is silent.

Defending segregation

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive, Universities UK.

Source: BBC Radio 4 Today, 12th December 2013, c. 8.15am. This person resembles somebody doing her best to represent the legal opinion obtained by Universities UK. However, I’d say from the quote below that the legal opinion is in line with the one she personally holds: it makes her uncomfortable to withhold segregation from speakers who insist on it.

“What we’re talking about here is voluntary segregation”.

Justin Webb points out that the possibility of segregation itself constitutes a pressure to go along with it. ND responds that universities will know if there is pressure. This is over-confident. She continues,

“What is very uncomfortable about this argument is you are assuming that we have the right to impose views on participants. If the participants say this is how they want it to be, it is not appropriate for us to disregard their views.”

She then asserts that this is “clearly not” core university teaching, as if that were protected in law. In fact the implication of the particular legal judgement she is promoting is that it is not protected by law.

iEngage (organisation which promotes political Islam)

“Much like the cacophony of voices calling for the banning of the niqab in the UK, in contravention of liberal democratic principles, those decrying the UUK guidelines as a sop to ‘Islamists’ display the same tendencies of subjecting a minority to ‘majority tyranny’.”

iEngage is fully aware that women are minorities in societies which segregate. They tend to be isolated from the movers and shakers who make decisions about their circumstances, and dependent on men. There are exceptions, probably, but this is the norm.

Myriam Francois Cerrah, academic and journalist implies that there is anti-Muslim sentiment in the reaction:

“The question does arise, why – when some of the UK’s leading schools, including some state schools – continue to offer separate educational facilities without encountering mass protests, why Muslims organising separate seating in an educational facility, does.”

There is certainly a lot of anti-Muslim sentiment around these days and it deserves attention. It’s worth wondering about the heat in this backlash against university segregation. She continues:

“Treating men and women identically doesn’t always mean treating them equally, since each might have specific needs.”

Let’s stop a minute and think about what has happened. Universities UK has said that it is OK for visiting speakers to dictate separate areas for men and women. Universities UK is at the same time saying that this could never be the case for core teaching. Myriam Francois Cerrah here is saying that men and women may have specific needs. She is quiet about different ethnicities, age-groups, sexual orientations, having different needs and what that should mean in a public space – it’s settled that segregating on those lines would be illegal, but she is asking for an exception on grounds of sex. She is quiet about the fact that it is the speaker who gets to make these decisions, rather than the audience. Is there a group of women or men so putatively empowered that they spontaneously elect to withdraw to sit on their own? If so, then so be it – as long as it isn’t organised from the top. She is also quiet about the implications for core teaching if, say, a visiting lecturer asked for male, female and mixed sitting areas. Clearly if it’s permissible for one speaker, it is for another – or if not, why not? Imagine an education system where people frequently had to make a gender-based decision about where to sit. And if in higher education, why not in schools? Because this is a matter of whether or not orthodox religion takes deeper hold in public life – Camden School for Girls is not along those lines at all.

Shohana Khan of Hizb ut Tahrir is passionate that segregation is not a symptom of a patriarchy, but a measure against the ‘taint’ of sexual instincts.

“…the concept of separating men and women in public spaces in Islam, is part of a wider objective. Islam has a societal view that the intimate relationship between a man and a woman is for the committed private sphere of marriage, and should not be allowed to spill outside of this sphere. This is because in society, men and women need to cooperate to achieve things in society whether in the work place, in education, in interactions across the public space. Islam firmly believes if the sexual instinct is let loose in this public sphere, it can taint and complicate these relationships.”

No. Firstly I’m not sure that sexual tension doesn’t galvanise productivity. Secondly, if you have sex on the brain to such a debilitating extent then you need to work on your self-discipline and your professionalism, rather than trying to rearrange society to accommodate your own prurience. I think the level of achievement in non-segregated societies is a testament to the likelihood of success in this – despite (I freely acknowledge) the awful and differently harmful sexualisation of young women and girls which seems to sink deeper just when you think it couldn’t possibly. I also think that the relative status and power of men and women in societies where religious segregation is the norm (Iran and Saudi being two of the most prominent examples (the most extreme, but premised on the same logic) confirms an association between separate and unequal.

The University and College Union has carefully responded to something that nobody was proposing, namely forced segregation. Thankfully we aren’t at that stage just yet.

Defending desegregation

Me, in my earlier post.

Jack Straw, Labour Party (BBC Radio 4 Today, 12th December 2013, c. 8.15am):

“I am very shocked and appalled … [Universities UK] are insinuating that it’s possible to be neutral about whether women are treated equally or whether they are treated unequally … Private groups are entitled to hire private halls anywhere round the country and if they want a meeting on that basis that’s one thing.” He then challenges Universities UK’s legal opinion.

Chuka Umunna, Shadow Business Secretary, Labour Party

“I was horrified by what I heard … let me be absolutely clear, a future Labour government would not allow or tolerate segregation in our universities. It offends basic norms in our society. Of course people should be free to practise their religion privately in places of worship and at religious events. But universities are publicly funded places of research, learning and teaching and, as such, there is no place in my view for state-sponsored segregation.”

The Guardian, Thur 12 December, 2013

Maryam Namazie, One Law For All and the journalist Polly Toynbee, and many more…

But here’s the aforementioned welcome news – as I write this, Mark Hammond, chief executive of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission has stated that gender segregation is “not permissible” under equalities laws.

“Equality law permits gender segregation in premises that are permanently or temporarily being used for the purposes of an organised religion where its doctrines require it. However, in an academic meeting or in a lecture open to the public it is not, in the commission’s view, permissible to segregate by gender … The guidance also gives the impression that the right to manifest or express a religious belief should be balanced against the right not to be discriminated against … We think the guidance could be clearer on what the legal framework lays down on these issues to avoid any risk of misrepresenting the legal position. UUK has now written to the commission and we have agreed that we will work with UUK to ensure that their guidance and our guidance are consistent and clear.”

Say they are feminist but silent on this

I looked to Caroline Lucas, MP, Green Party and Natalie Bennett, Leader, Green Party. Presumably they do not find it politically expedient to speak up. The LSE and its Student Union, who have been trying to exclude outspoken atheists, were also silent. They are a tiny fraction of the people who were silent, but they’re all I have time for.

I have no excuses for people who are silent or who defend segregation. In Turkey the government recently moved to segregate women’s and men’s university accommodation. Gaza’s rulers have just passed a law to segregate school classes for children over nine and prevent men from teaching girls. Iran and Saudi have a terrible culture of exclusion which expresses itself as separation. Israel allowed a culture of segregation to encroach into public spaces before the government acted. It used to happen in this country and it could happen here again. Women always miss out when public spaces are segregated by leaders and organisers – even if voluntary, it’s a small change in culture, in the general view of what is acceptable. Authoritarians always use the values of open, pluralist societies against those societies themselves, and weaken them incrementally. Let’s stop this.

What to do if you encounter sexual segregation on your campus

I attended a sexually segregated event in the student union at a previous place of work in the not too distant past. Avoiding confrontation, my friend and I slunk to the back and dragged chairs to straddle the mid line between men and women. A pitiful gesture. Then as a bombastic cleric began to yell from the front we realised it was a scheduling error on the part of the student union – we were at a religious event by mistake, so we left. I often wish I had protested the ignominy of sexual segregation on a university campus. The chaplain of the time was there. He seemed unbothered.

If you encounter sexual segregation on your campus, chances are it’s against the university’s policies protecting staff, students and visitors against discrimination. So:

  1. Contact the organisers to verify what their policy is. It may be a misunderstanding. But if not, then proceed.
  2. Pinpoint the institutional policy to the effect that religious belief does not justify discriminatory behaviour. If your institution doesn’t have such policy, then lobby for it.
  3. Contact institutional senior management and copy in the people responsible for public or media relations. Insist that the organisers are obliged to make it clear that people can sit wherever they like regardless of sex or any other protected characteristic.
  4. Encourage any speakers or panellists to put pressure on the organisers to desegregate. Ask them to consider boycotting the event unless they have guarantees..
  5. If that fails, obtain a reliable eyewitness account.
  6. If you don’t get a prompt and decisive response, use social media. Ideally amplify your concerns by contacting a celebrated secularist, feminist or other principled public figure – if nobody else already has – and make an indignant scene.
  7. Hold the institution to account – they should ultimately appreciate this anti-discriminatory counter-pressure. Particularly if they have form.

I firmly believe that campuses should be secular spaces – not atheist, but secular. Not without rooms where worship can happen, but secular. I strongly object to the view that male-female proxmity constitutes sexual harassment on the one hand or enticement on the other. I reject the ‘three sections’ approach because it makes default of segregation and normalises segregation – we want to normalise mingling, exchange and diversity across society’s boundaries, and de-emphasise the role of sex in academic spaces. I will oppose any such elevation and institutionalisation of sex as a division between one human being and another.

Women bishops versus church and state

Next time somebody tries to tell you that this country has separated church from state you could cite this response to the e-petition – still open and in need of signatures – No women bishops, no automatic seats in the House of Lords. My emphases:

Dear [Flesh],

The e-petition ‘No women Bishops, no automatic seats in the House of Lords’ signed by you recently reached 10,519 signatures and a response has been made to it.

As this e-petition has received more than 10 000 signatures, the relevant Government department have provided the following response: The Government is committed to the Church of England as the Established Church in England, with the Sovereign as its Supreme Governor. We consider that the relationship between Church and State in England is an important part of the constitutional framework that has evolved over centuries. The Government believes that the second chamber should be more representative of the British people, which is why we introduced the House of Lords Reform Bill; however, the Bill was subsequently withdrawn when it became clear that it could not make progress without consuming an unacceptable amount of parliamentary time. While there continues to be an appointed element to the membership of the House of Lords, the Government believes there should continue to be a role for the Established Church. It is for the Church itself to decide whether it will appoint women Bishops and, if so, what arrangements are necessary to support those who cannot accept this change, but it is obviously disappointing that the Synod was unable to agree how to take this forward. The Government believes that the time is right for women Bishops – indeed it is long overdue. This e-petition will remain open to signatures until the published closing date and will be considered for debate by the Backbench Business Committee should it pass the 100 000 signature threshold.

View the response to the e-petition

Thanks,

HM Government e-petitions http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/

This is unsatisfactory. The Church of England can’t be such “an important part of the constitutional framework” that its primitive exclusions of women from high office should be overlooked. There may be “better uses of parliamentary time” but there are also many worse uses – this is a highly symbolic case of a faith group with a toehold in officialdom taking a position outside good progressive law by excluding women. See One Law For All for arguments against this kind of secession. Moreover this is not just some private members group we’re talking about – it’s the House of Lords, one of the highest governance forums in the land.

I’m for disestablishment but unlike the New Humanists I don’t think this reform-minded petition is tactical blunder. I think campaigning for the exclusion of 26 Lords Spiritual as a matter of principle rather than urgent redress is harder to warm to than arguing for the inclusion of women.

So how about that 100,000 signatures? Sign the petition.

Religiosity

There was something treacley about the kind of admiration Christopher Hitchens attracted that put me right off. But since his death the Prime Minister has brought Christianity into national identity, a pro-Palestinian activist has argued that actually no, this country is Jewish, I’ve downloaded the lauded/maligned ‘God Is Not Great, offended a colleague who disclosed that militant atheism had turned her into an agnostic by calling stridently for militant agnosticism, had that disrupted already by an endearing note from an extremely religious family friend that he is praying for me, seen GALLUP’s 2010 poll of world religiosity speculating what for Hitchens would have seemed obvious, that the poorest peoples of the world need religion to withstand difficult lives, and noticed with satisfaction how more and more Muslim women are fiddling with their hijab to mollify their families while contriving to attract the attention of the opposite sex.

So I was interested to read in the 28th British Social Attitudes Survey on religiosity, which found that

  • Religiosity is in decline – two in three respondents belonged to a religion in 1983 when the survey began; this has fallen to one in two today.
  • While 79% of us (including me) were raised in a religion, 50% of us say we have no religious affiliation today.
  • But it’s a bit complicated – those raised in minority religions (including Roman Catholicism) are more likely to remain affiliated than those raised in mainstream Christianity, which has experienced the largest decline, or those raised without affiliation, who tend to remain that way.
  • Those at either extreme in educational achievement are more likely to be religiously affiliated than the middle.
  • Religiosity is most strongly linked with age – in the 18-24 age-group two thirds don’t belong to a religion, comparing to fewer than a third in the oldest age group, over 65s.
  • The non-religious are least likely to identify with a political party, and where they do are most likely to support a party other than the main three.
  • Although more Conservative supporters say they follow a religion, they don’t attend more religious services than the other two main parties’ supporters.
  • No evidence of a life-cycle effect (people’s religious views changing with age); there may be the beginnings of a period effect (change due to events in society); ‘generational replacement’ (each generation less likely to be born into a religious family than its predecessor) best explains the decline in religion.

As a result of the decline in religion I hope to celebrate a strengthening of liberal attitudes to homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion and euthanasia, and the decline of the Conservative right.

EDL update

Not a definitive update, due to pressures of work, but a bunch of stuff I found on the web.

Proselytising Muslims in Peterborough have invited the EDL to dinner at the Khadijah Mosque after a number of conversations at their street stall.

“A member of the EDL approached us and it actually was a very positive incident.

“He was asking questions and listening to the answers we were giving.

“We had a similar incident in Wisbech previously, where a member of the EDL approached us to talk about Sharia law – he did not know what it was, but had a number of misconceptions.

“We were able to explain what Sharia law was and answer all his questions.

“When he left he actually apologised for some of his previous views.

“He was more polite than some other people who approached us, who kept interrupting and not letting us finish.”

This is in keeping with what The Guardian’s Matthew Taylor found during his undercover work among the EDL:

“Last year, I spent four months undercover on EDL demonstrations, witnessing its growing popularity. At each demonstration I attended, I was confronted by casual racism, a widespread hatred of Muslims and often the threat of violence. But I also met non-white people, gay rights activists, disaffected working class men and women, and middle-class intellectuals. I came to the conclusion that the EDL is not a simple rerun of previous far-right street groups. “

The EDL is against sharia law. It’s good to organise against religious law because religious law is deeply pernicious. Sharia law in particular is beginning to flex its muscles in my part of the world so I’m all for pushing it back. The trouble is a) that many of the EDL’s members are also violently racist, b) they frequently implicate all Muslims in the perceived threat and whip up hostility against Muslims, c) EDL business is conducted as an unsavoury expression of insecure nationalism, and d) what about political Christianity? Surely being a committed campaigning secularist is a far better, more inclusive, more positive, less discriminatory way to keep the authoritarian excesses of religion out of public life. In response to religious impositions, there is far more potential in secularism than nationalism.

The Peterborough piece continues:

“Stephen Lennon – also known as Tommy Robinson – an unofficial leader of the EDL, said he was interested in meeting with members of the mosque.

He said: “We have done similar meets across the country in the past, and it is something we would be interested in doing.

“We would not want to hold the meeting in the mosque. We would want to do it in a neutral location.

“We will be in talks with the mosque to see if this is possible.”

Update: it’s not – quite reasonably the mosque is interested in improving relations with its local EDL supporters, not the EDL as a whole.

I’m all for words and exchange – but the problem of a marching, street-dominating event can’t be directly addressed with words, so I think it will be necessary to go to Tower Hamlets on September 3rd and put as many bodies as possible in the way of the rally the EDL plan there. But the street-fighting, spirit-of-Cable-Street, wannabe-heros had better stay away. It’s hard to distinguish between racist and anti-racist among the itchy fisted geezers, presumably lacking both sex and ideas for fulfilling pursuits, who are drawn to such things as an EDL rally for the entertainment, the scars and the nostalgia. But there’s plenty of difference between resistance and provocation.

Update 25th August: News from Hope Not Hate that the Met “requested a ban on the English Defence League march in Tower Hamlets because of fears that this would whip up tensions in the area and ignite trouble”. So though they may rally in Tower Hamlets, they will not be marching through. This is a good outcome.

Pro-sharia campaigners march through Walthamstow

You can tell Muslims Against Crusades are a tiny groupuscule because all their placards are done by a single person, there’s no report from yesterday’s mini march on their site, and their Media page doesn’t load. They’re expensive clowns and tossers, though – a lot of police, a lot of verbal (though the EDL mostly remained in the pubs), two arrests. Things are getting a bit bigoted round here.

Against religious bigotry stand – among others – the National Secular Society, One Law for All, Quilliam, the British Humanist Association, and British Muslims for Secular Democracy:

Against the far right of various stripes, Searchlight and Hope Not Hate but I should remark that I was recently told in infuriatingly sanguine tones that Hope Not Hate cannot treat the Islamists as they treat the BNP types because they will be called ‘Zionist’ and their credibility will suffer. The point was that HnH are better off sticking to fighting the white far right. If true, this is a disappointing kind of anti-fascism which will tie its own hands (though HnH is excellent at analysis and the absolutely crucial job of getting the anti-racist vote out – both indispensable), and why I will always appreciate Harry’s Place, which researches and fights all the authoritarian, racist, fascist or proto-fascist fuckers regardless of hue, don’t think it’s the worst thing in the world to be taken for a Zionist, and make surprisingly few mistakes while they’re about their business – LibbyT excepted (tosser). There’s also the Guardian’s Matthew Taylor who has been undercover with the EDL and recognises that they can’t be dismissed as thugs:

“At each demonstration I attended, I was confronted by casual racism, a widespread hatred of Muslims and often the threat of violence. But I also met non-white people, gay rights activists, disaffected working class men and women, and middle-class intellectuals. I came to the conclusion that the EDL is not a simple rerun of previous far-right street groups.”

Basically, fighting an anti-Muslim alignment like the EDL entails disrupting anti-Muslim views, and there is plenty of material via the links above. Depending on whether policing is sensitive to the communities targeted by the EDL, it can require some bodily obstruction to prevent EDL types intimidating Muslim communities. It also entails arguing and lobbying against sharia – not because Muslims Against Crusades are any good at what they do – they’re an embarrassment to Muslims – but because the authoritarian and chauvinistic religious right – Christian, Muslim and the rest – feed on each other and the work to keep them from taking power is never done. Harder, it requires circumstances in which a moderate majority exists and turns out to vote to keep the far right out of the seats of power.

For every privilege granted to religion, others’ rights are betrayed

For anybody worried about the advance of religion on civil rights, it has been a bit of a week.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission, fronted by Trevor Phillips, is intervening in the cases of Lillian Ladele, the registrar who refused to fulfil her duties with same-sex partnerships, and Gary McFarlane of Relate who wouldn’t give counselling same-sex couples. If their religion prevents them from doing this, then they have chosen a homophobic religion. I’m an ardent defender of freedom of worship, but if the law finds these people entitled to enact their prejudices in the workplace then the law is an ass.

Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society comments

“Mr Phillips should realise that by encouraging these worthless cases he is putting at risk the rights of gay people and others to live free from discrimination and injustice. For every privilege granted to religious people, someone else’s rights are diminished. The fight for equality for gays has been long and hard, and now we see this campaign putting them at risk as religious believers fight for the right to legally enforce their prejudices against LGBT people.”

And alarming news from Maryam Namazie, whose organisation the Council of Ex-Muslims – mutual support for apostates from Islam – was denied charitable status by the Charity Commission. She writes in a mail-out

In its refusal letter the Charity Commission says:  “Under English law the advancement of religion is a recognised charitable purpose and charities are afforded certain fiscal privileges by the state. The prohibition of any such financial privilege as called for in the demand made in Manifesto would require a change in law. Similarly a separation of religion from the state and legal and education system would appear to require both constitutional reform and change to the law.”

“There is something fundamentally wrong when the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain can’t get charity status but the Sharia Council legislating misogyny in its sharia courts can. And how absurd that defending secularism is not a charitable object but advancing religion is.”

Pretty disappointing then that the best inter-faith organisation I know of, Faith Matters, doesn’t seem to be engaging with secularism at all.

If I can find any, I’ll post details of any campaigns to remove charitable status from organisations advancing religion, or extend it to organisations advancing secularism.

Bonus link: One Law For All.

Update: the Pink News reports that the National Secular Society has gained permission to intervene in four cases – including those referred to above – to come before the European Court of Human Rights. And after strong criticism, the Equality and Human Rights Commission seems now unlikely to argue for reasonable adjustments for religious adherents. Sanity breaks out.