Monday, January 18, 2010

Burqa Bans & Other Religious Symbolism

Shami Chakrabati makes a surprising amount of sense here in her discussion of UKIP's burqa banning proposal and BA's recent legal battles with an employee who wanted to wear a cross (which was banned whilst the religious paraphernalia of other faiths was permitted):

It seems to me that any society has three choices in dealing with this small question of religion.

The first is to elevate an approved faith to the point of dominant status over all other belief systems. It is formally woven into the legal, political and social system, every sphere of public life and as much of private life as possible. An extreme example might be Afghanistan under the Taleban; a more moderate one, Britain at earlier and less enlightened times in its history.

The second option is, in many ways, equal and opposite. It is based on the view that faith is all dangerous, divisive mumbo-jumbo. No good can come of it so, if it cannot be eradicated altogether, it must be chased from the public sphere, confined to a place of worship or the home, upstairs under the bed with the pornography. An extreme example would be Stalin’s Russia; a more moderate one, the French Republic.


If we really believe in freedom of thought, conscience and religion, this must include the right to the faith or belief of one’s choice, the right to no faith and to be a heretic. Proportionate limits on this precious liberty don’t arise because a minority causes irritation or even offence. We interfere when someone is harming others, or in the workplace when, for instance, their faith or clothing prevents them doing their job.

This seems a sensible approach. Religious beliefs should have no special place in a secular society but they should not be specifically opposed by the state either. Obviously I believe that private organisations should have the right to allow or disallow any symbols they wish, but their behaviour has still been extremely foolish.


banned said...

I'd go with the third option with the proviso that legitimate fears over security must overide any reason for someone concealing their identity.

Mr Grumpy said...

"An extreme example might be Afghanistan under the Taleban; a more moderate one, Britain at earlier and less enlightened times in its history."

Yes, who would want to return to that twilight world of moderate Talibanism we had to live in before we had people like Shami to enlighten us! I remember as a little boy watching the stonings of adulterers and apostates from the C of E - infrequent, to be sure, but still bad enough.

Ross said...

Banned- no, just as things shouldn't be banned simply because of their religious significance, they shouldn't be permitted due to their religious significance.

Mr Grumpy- She may be smug but it's surely right that back in the 15th and 16th centuries England wasn't exactly a fun place to be for religious dissenters.

asquith said...

Well, it wasn't so long ago (in the Victorian age that we're supposed to revere) that Bradlaugh was hounded for his atheism, even though he actually did have the courage of his convictions rather than being a cynical, disgraceful cunt like his accusers.

There were frequent executions of religious dissenters in Christian countries prior to the modern age, & in fact before the Enlightenment the majority of faithful managed to avoid concerning themselves with trivial shite like individual liberty & rights.

Funny how we are, by most accounts, on a higher moral plane than when the church prevailed in past centuries. Is it because secular morality has moved on through the centuries?

In a similar way, those Muslims who wouldn't themselves marry 9 year old girls, who disdain the practice, are showing that they respect secular advances rather than what their holy book considers acceptable ways of living.

Mark said...

Shami Chakrabarti and Liberty are on the right track here- and UKIP are heading down a cul de sac (which often happens when short term opportunism crowds out strategic thinking).

Chakrabarti is a high caste Hindu Bengali name, but I seem to recall reading once that her parents were either Christian converts, or were self consciously secular. Whatever the truth about her background, it has certainly helped to equip her with the sharp antennae required for negotiating this particular minefield.

Ross said...

"Chakrabarti is a high caste Hindu Bengali name, but I seem to recall reading once that her parents were either Christian converts"

I had always vaguely assumed that she was a non practicing Muslim for some reason.

Mr Grumpy said...

Ross, I wasn't trying to defend Queen Mary, my point was about the kind of society we had from (say) Catholic/Jewish emancipation until well within living memory. We had an established religion which most people accepted as in some sense a source of shared values. But Darwin wasn't burnt at the stake, Bradlaugh did become an MP, and the Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking was built in 1889. And so on and so on. We have seen the past and it worked - but it has no place in Shami Chakrabarti's scheme of things.

Ross said...

Point taken