I have written before about how religious people sometimes condemn other people, or behaviour for what I think are the wrong reasons, you can read about it here, but I think I have to revisit this issue because of the whole “British Values” thing. I think allowing gay people to get married if they want to is liberal, tolerant, and morally right. But until last year it was forbidden by British law, and guess what, it is STILL un-Islamic, un-Anglican, un-Catholic, un-Judaic, and many people would still say un-British.
I am a Humanist but when I was arguing in support of equal marriage I didn’t argue that to be a good Humanist you have to support it. Humanism describes (most of) my values it does not determine them. The BHA supports an opt-out system for organ donation, I think they are wrong on this, that doesn’t stop me being a Humanist or, indeed, a member of the BHA. The trouble with allowing beliefs to hide, in groups, behind labels is that people are taught to belive the labels rather than the values. This can have disastrous consequences.
Imagine a very religious Muslim boy growing up in Birmingham. He believes, because all Muslim authority figures tell him so, that Islam and the Koran are perfect, not good, perfect. It is impossible for Islam or the Koran to be wrong in any way. If I want to convince this boy that beheading, stoning, wife-beating, and going to butcher people in Syria and/or Iraq are right I don’t have to convince him that any of these things, individually, is morally justifiable. I just have to convince him that they are Islamic. If I want him to despise democracy and free-speech, I only have to convince that they are un-Islamic. If his Imam is worried about him and tries to change his mind he cannot argue about the unfairness, suffering, or brutality because he, the Imam, also believes that Islam and the Koran are perfect. All he can do is try to convince him that these actions are un-Islamic.
Then along comes David Cameron, worried about what might, or might not, be being taught in the lad’s school. Does he say what they are teaching is wrong? No he says it’s not British.
So the voice in this lad’s ear is now saying “See. If you are going to be British you have to be less of a Muslim. You may have been born here but they will never accept you as one of them. And if your Imam, or Maajid Nawaaz, says different that’s because he has sold out – he’s not a proper Muslim”
Both the Islamist and the PM are playing identity politics in this poor kids head. By wrapping their beliefs or values in a black flag, or a union jack, they both avoid having to actually justify any of the beliefs and values they are peddling in terms that actually say something about the beliefs themselves rather than the identity they are wrapped in. This kind of argument is know as the “No true Scotsman” falacy. it is a favourite of many religions and is the very essence of blind patriotism.
The young lad in Birmingham isn’t allowed to decide about things on their merits, he has to be “truly” British, or a “proper” Muslim.
One of the things Maajid Nawaaz consitantly argues is that people should think for themselves and get into real politics rather than Identity politics. That’s why he can condemn stoning people to death without refering to the Koran. He is a Muslim, but he can condemn stoning because it is wrong, not because it is or is not Islamic.
This kind of thinking is by no means confined to religion it can be seen in all kinds of identity politics Stalinism, Nazism, the french Front National, and many others but is is particularly found in religion because they can claim to be absolutely perfect as they are obeying the laws of God. This is why faith schools are so wrong. No matter how good some of them are. Not because they teach people to behave badly but because, by definition, they have already decided the answers to questions that people should be free to decide for themselves.
In extremes this can mean the denial of evolution and presenting nonsense as scientific fact, or that people who love others of their own sex deserve to be killed. not because of evidence or logical argument, but because that is what WE believe.
So give the young lad in Birmingham a break. Don’t tell him a 1400 year old book is perfect and don’t tell him that British values are the best despite years of religious buchery and the slave-trade because . . . well . . . Magna Carta.
Tell him there are many opinions on just about everything and that he is free to make up his own mind. He can be his own kind of Muslim, his own kind of British, or even his own kind of Humanist