Marginalising religious minorities harms society
Between a rock and a jihad place
If a secular and pluralistic society wishes to function well, it must not disadvantage religious minorities. Indeed, it is critical – whether you are a doctor, a school teacher or the head of the BBC’s religious programming – that your cultural and religious background does not handicap you.
However, it is a distinction not always appreciated that acceptance of an individual and their right to affiliate is not equal to an unconditional acceptance of their ideas.
In a recent televised row Muslim engineer Yassmin Abdel-Magied, above, left, and Tasmanian Senator Jaqui Lambie disagreed on the relationship between Australia’s non-Muslim majority and its Muslims. Lambie seemed to be calling for anyone who supports Sharia, to any degree, to be deported – both Australians and Non-Australians alike. This is a shocking sentiment and Abdel-Magied articulated that it was distressing to hear someone:
Negate my human rights as a human being […] as a person with agency simply because they have an idea about my faith.
As an Australian, Abdel-Magied has a right to feel safe and represented in her country. Jacqui Lambie – who once said that her “sacred religious traditions” mean she does not support gay marriage – does not seem totally convinced by this, but to an attentive observer of their discussion it seems an obvious and irrelevant nugget of wisdom. It is unfortunate that she went on to say something that most of us would find very hard to believe – and for good reason – that :
Islam is the most feminist religion.
Lambie’s remarks were both xenophobic and racist, and one is almost inevitably drawn to the other side of the discussion. However, the issue of “Sharia” and the beliefs that Australian Muslims have about their religious obligations, about which Lambie seems to be riled, is an issue that should still be taken seriously. We must appreciate the critical difference between an acceptance of Muslim people because they are people and a rejection of a theology that poses a real threat to civil liberties.
The fundamental truth that would allow these two some common ground is one that they both missed. Yes, Abdel-Magied is an Australian Muslim and a feminist, who values democracy and the rule of secular Australian law. It is also true that there are many like her.
Additionally, it is imperative that those being herded towards the nationalist right, who promise to protect “Western” identity against the “tyranny” of Islam, understand this. It is also imperative for those of us who wish to steer people away from the nationalist right that we honestly talk about the fact that there are also many Muslims who do not agree with her, who see her as “secularised” and an inauthentic Muslim.
Few listeners would disagree with Abdel-Magied’s assertions that she doesn’t wish to impose Sharia and that Lambie is misrepresenting both her and the views of her immediate community. Nonetheless, this does not require an acceptance of the truth or value that Abdel-Magied places on her own religion.
The idea of “Sharia” being implemented in Australia should be daunting for most Australians, as it would be here in Britain. Every country in the world that privileges Islam has a terrible record for upholding civil liberties, with human rights abuse and blasphemy laws rampant.
Western politics is weakened by political representation where one must is forced to stomach white nationalism, spurious connections, and a sympathy for Russia to vote for a candidate who will admit these problems do tie to religion.
Globally, there appears to be a dearth of liberal progressive candidates who are willing to openly admit that within the Muslim world, there is a lack of freedom, equality, and a deluge of anti-Western conspiracy thinking – one doesn’t need to despise minority communities to realise that our way of life must be protected against ideological threats.
In reality, it is the case that these beliefs are prevalent within even Western Muslim communities, as well as Muslim majority countries. We absolutely have an ethical obligation to the huge numbers of asylum seekers arriving from these countries, but it would be foolish to ignore the fact that this has the potential to bring problems.
It is necessary for our government to acknowledge this without desiring to preserve our “Christian heritage” or ban burqas or burkinis – in a way that protects and preserves human rights and freedoms, in balance with security.
There must be dialogue about religiously inspired extremists eagerly anticipating the fall of Western democracy, and those plotting to use violence to expiate this as part of a transnational ideological problem; but this must be understood with the caveat that these things are not synonymous with “Muslim”.
The lives of apostates and atypical, LBGT Muslims, are damaged by giving the Muslim community a free pass under the misappropriated label of “egalitarian” in spite of evidence to the contrary. All Muslim people are treated unfairly if we regard them as a monolith of Sharia-crazed pseudo-foreigners.
The Western world would be a worse place without successful and secular Muslims. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan does his job uninfluenced by his private religious beliefs. But we must also acknowledge that this is not the norm within heavily Islamic communities and that their suitability for their role, comes from a rejection of the fundaments of their religion.
Mistrust simply because of someone’s demographic is bigotry. However, the strength with which someone holds to their religion tells you a lot about what they believe and it may tell you something very negative very quickly.
If someone is clearly homophobic, or wishes to remove the civil liberties of their population in deference to a god, then we should discriminate against these people. However, if liberal politicians could acknowledge this alongside the fact merely calling oneself a Muslim does not mean that they want to do this, then perhaps there would be no room for dogmatists like Lambie.
• Dale Claridge is a student at the University of Nottingham. As well as being an editor for the student paper Impact he is also President of the University of Nottingham Agnostic, Humanist and Secularist Society. He is also an avid supporter of the British Humanist Association.