Thursday, December 16, 2004
At its most rational, opposition to protection for Muslims and other religious groups is based on the argument that whereas race is about biology, religion is a set of ideas which can be adopted or discarded at will. But in reality, just as ethnicity isn't mainly an issue of genetics, religion isn't only a question of beliefs: both are also about culture and identity. In Britain, religion has increasingly become a proxy for race. It hasn't escaped the attention of racists that many people in Britain who a generation ago would have regarded themselves as Pakistani or Bangladeshi now see themselves primarily as Muslims - nor that targeting Muslims is a way round existing race hate legislation, as well as drawing on the most poisonous prejudices and conflict of our era.
Precisely, and very aptly put. The issue about Islamophobia is that being a Muslim is just as much a part of one's identity as being a Jew. (Interesting that some 'free speech' advocates have defended Nick Griffin's right to describe Islam as 'evil'; how would they react to such a description of Judaism?)
By the same token, for the secular left - which is about social justice and solidarity if it is about anything - not to have stood with British Muslims over Islamophobia or the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq would have been the real betrayal. It is not, and has not been, in any way necessary to compromise with social conservatism over women's or gay rights, say, to have such an engagement; on the contrary, dialogue can change both sides in positive ways. But it is a chronic flaw of liberalism to fail to recognise power inequalities in social relations - and the attitude of some liberals to contemporary Islam reflects that blindness in spades.
Again, an excellent point put succinctly. A formal neutrality toward every specific religion, in which each is as bad as any other, misses the way in which certain religious groups may be targeted specifically and hatefully by racists (who then go on to add that any defense of Muslims/Jews/Buddhists etc. amounts to special privileges etc).
Outright opposition to religion was important in its time. But to fetishise traditional secularism in our time is to fail to understand its changing social meaning. Like nationalism, religion can face either way, playing a progressive or reactionary role. The crucial struggle is now within religion rather than against it.
That offers one hostage to fortune too many. True, the axis of struggle has been displaced to some extent, and it doesn't make any sense to expend the bulk of one's energies in Britain against the CoE, for instance. On the other hand, Iranian reformers and leftists might have a word or two to say about why opposition to religion can still be important. (Albeit that resistance against that regime can take a left-Islamist form). But Milne's last two sentences are precisely right. Islamism should properly be understood as a kind of nationalism, an 'imagined community' of believers, which may face left or right. Those brought up with a religious background will often radicalise first within their religion before they dispense with it. The crucial battles today are against racism, imperialism & capitalism. Religion only becomes an important enemy when it is contiguous with oppression.