Tag Archives: islam

Global Peace and Unity: only connect

On Saturday night, I was on a Northern Line train heading back to north London. At Charing Cross, a group of Asian youths got on the carriage, five girls and three boys. The girls were all wearing headscarves and trousers, but had full makeup on. The boys were manhandling the girls in a way reminiscent of, well, most horny teenage boys – and were hardly being put off.

I mention this because one of the girls – and manhandlees – was wearing a tshirt that identified her as a warden of the Global Peace and Unity Conference which I happened to be aware was taking place because of this piece on Lib Dem Voice. That debate – essentially over whether the Policy Exchange should be “privately briefing” against the conference and whether Clegg (along with several other senior politicians) was right to attend the conference – has continued raging over the last few days. David T from Harry’s Place has been wading in to criticise Clegg for attending the event, likening it to a White Supremecist rally.

It all sounds rather reminiscent of the debate over the 2003 anti-war demo. Back then I was on opposite sides with Harry. Now I am… erm…

Having looked at the Policy Exchange document (word file here, still not available via main PE website as far as I can see, cheers Alex Hilton Andy Hinton), I agree it is somewhat dodgy. Some of the biographies are tenuous at best and criticising people for selling shahadah headbands on the basis they are associated with Hamas is desperate to say the least. But for all the fluff, there are some genuinely concerning people mentioned on that list.

But you have to weigh that up against the fact that it is a genuine opportunity to engage with tens of thousands of British Muslims. This includes the teenagers I encountered on the tube on Saturday night. If they were hardline Hamas supporters, they had a funny way of showing it. Should we really write off an opportunity to connect with them, show them solidarity, because there are other people on the platform we don’t approve of? Should Clegg really have used his ten minute slot, as David T suggests, to hector the audience about the ne’er-do-wells they may or may not have listened to that day as well? What would that achieve apart from earn Clegg a few brownie points in the blogosphere?

There are no hard and fast principles Clegg should be sticking to here, only rough and messy pragmatism. If politicians are serious about engaging with the Muslim community, they have to go to them; the mountain must come to Mohammed. The potential reward? The opportunity to pull people away from the extremists.

Is it comparable to Clegg (or anyone else) attending the BNP’s annual Red, White and Blue Festival? No, because mainstream white Britons don’t attend it in any significant numbers. The Lib Dems should engage with BNP voters, but the way we do that is on the doorstep.

Back in 2003, we were told off by Harry’s Place and others for participating in the anti-war demo on the basis that it was also attended by Muslim extremists and the far left. As anyone who was there can tell you however, all those groups were drowned out into insignificance by the large numbers of ordinary members of the public. I very much hope that after this latest event and the controversy surrounding it, Clegg, Jack Straw, Dominic Grieve et al are getting together to discuss how they might collectively encourage the GPU event further into the mainstream. But start boycotting it? They’d be insane to.

Rowan Williams: still clinging onto exceptionalism

Blink and you might miss it, but someone at the BBC has finally spotted the real problem with Williams’ speech and his repeated clarifications:

He made that clear to the Synod, too: “…as the assumptions of our society become more secular…Christians and people of other faiths ought to be doing some reflecting together.”

That of course lays him open to a quite proper charge by non-believers, that he is seeking to advance the interests of religion however it is defined. But that is quite separate from the criticism assailing him from within Anglicanism.

The point which much of the media has ignored is that Williams has argued for a system of exceptionalism whereby we atheists (or, as he put it in his speech on Thursday, sterile positivists) must abide by the rule of law while anyone of faith can negotiate whatever opt-outs they wish. At the same time, of course, he insists that the Church should be established and retain its existing seats in the House of Lords. Gay marriage, and even same-sex registered partnerships, is apparently a threat that undermines the institution of marriage, yet we should at least be open-minded about the idea of Muslim polygamy. People of faith can say what they like about atheists, but atheists should be locked up for slagging off the religious. In short, he believes absolutely in equal rights with the modest proviso that the religious are more equal than the rest of us.

Sadly, I suspect that because of all the sound and thunder over sharia, we won’t have a wider debate about this most pernicious part of his thinking. Ho hum. The only rational response is to all go and join Charlotte Church’s Jedis.

UPDATE: Another point which I meant to include here but forgot was a reminder that for all Williams’ exhortation about the importance of human rights, it was the Church of England that demanded that they be exempted from such rights when the Human Rights Bill was being debated in 1998.

Does Rowan Williams have any more idea of what he’s going on about than I do?

It isn’t every day that a single line blog post elicits quite so many responses – clearly Rowan Williams has touched on a raw nerve.

I’ve listened to his WATO interview and I’ve skimmed through his speech (pdf). I’m still struggling to get my head around what exactly he’s going on about.

On the one hand, much of what he’s saying seems to be what we have already. Civil law is a fairly flexible beast and contains within it the scope for individuals dealing with it however they might like. Where there are restrictions to that, there is certainly a scope for reviewing it. Personally I’m delighted that we have regulated for Islamic mortgages for example – extending choice is a fundamental good thing.

There is no particular conflict between religion and a secular society in this narrow context, but what applies to religions must also apply to the rest of us. You cannot simultaneously say what Williams appears to be saying here on the one hand while taking a moral position on what the UK law on marriage, civil partnership or adoption should be. So long as people of faith are not being required to get married to people of the same sex, it should be none of their business at all what anyone else gets up to. The claim that same sex partnerships “undermine the institution of marriage” should, under Williams’ argument here, be utterly irrelevant.

Sadly though it appears that he must have it both ways, appearing to not only argue for exceptionalism, but refuting the value of the enlightenment project itself. He seems only interested in religious people having this flexibility and appears to attack the notion that it should be a universal right on the grounds that that would be a “legal monopoly” – the right is reserved only to people with their own quasi-legal (religious) framework. Any attempt to talk about universalism in the context of a single rule of law for all is denounced as positivism.

Yet he seems to lack the courage of his own convictions, waffling on about apostacy to the point of absurdity and essentially accepting that you couldn’t have sharia apply here. He seems to want Muslims to have the flexibility to pick and choose between sharia and the country’s legal system; my reading of that is that they wouldn’t be bound by either.

What I find completely baffling is this strange switching between on the one hand rejecting out of hand of us having a set of universal legal principles on the basis that it can get in the way of what he regards as the “good” aspects of sharia while on the other hand wanting to avoid a situation where all the “bad” caricature of sharia – stoning, limb removal, denial of basic rights to women – can be wafted away. How can we judge what’s good or bad without a set of universal principles? The conflict, some would say straw man, he subsequently creates he then declares can only apparently be resolved through theology. Oh, how convenient!

For the most part though, I’m just confused, which you can probably tell. I think its going to take me quite some time before I’ve got my head properly around what he’s talking about at all.

As I’ve said before I think there is some capacity in a liberal, secular society for allowing individuals to resolve private issues between them using whatever process they feel appropriate. But that only reinforces the need for a set of fundamental rights that everyone is entitled to in order to prevent abuse. Putting all this emphasis on an essential withdrawal from the public sphere also renders the Church of England’s current constitutional position untenable: we cannot have Bishops sitting in our legislature setting our laws while simultaneously demanding their right to pick and choose them whenever it suits.

UPDATE: I can’t really improve on Andrew Brown:

Dr Williams, characteristically, is interested in the arguments over what sharia law actually says. The rest of the country is more interested in whether and how it might be enforced. Only if Islamic law can be reduced to a game played between consenting adults can it be acceptably enforced in this country; and that’s not, I think, how it is understood by its practitioners.

Laurence Boyce: j’accuse (UPDATE)

I had intended to respond to Laurence Boyce’s handbagging in response to me calling him a bigot a while ago. Not wanting to get dragged into the comments thread (which appears to still be getting longer and longer…), I meant to post a riposte here last week but I got knocked out by the lurgy for a few days. Not sure how of interest it is to people now and I’ll try to keep it brief, but here goes…

First, it should be pointed out that when I originally called him a bigot, I was half-joking. Indeed, for me, I was being nice. The incident occurred, m’lud, at 11.15 on the evening of Monday 7 January 2008. The fact that I called him an “equal opportunities bigot” might possibly give the reader a clue about me having my tongue in my cheek at the time. The point I was originally making was simply that while Angus Huck didn’t like Islam, Laurence Boyce didn’t like any religion. It was as simple and as prosaic as that and I’m not convinced I particularly left myself open to interpretation. It is rather ironic, to say the least, to now find my target – an outspoken critic of fundamentalist religion – has interpreted me so literally. I certainly didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition!

But since I’m a repeat offender, I won’t try to wriggle out of it that easily. My objection was to Laurence stating that “Islam is a vile, pernicious, and utterly false ideology (just like every other religion).” If you find the word “bigot” a bit strong I will happily substitute it with “factually wrong and inflammatory” – it amounts to the same thing.

Why would I, as a fellow atheist, think such a thing? Because one of the things I least like about organised religion is that it tends to deal in absolutes, and this description is an absolute. However much Laurence might try to wriggle out of it, anyone who practices a “vile, pernicious and utterly false ideology” must themselves be vile, pernicious and utterly without merit; how would they be able to withstand the power that Laurence attributes to it? If religion is truly “vile, pernicious and utterly false ideology” then we surely have a moral imperative not merely to establish a secular state, not merely to try and stop people from being exposed to it and to “convert” people away from it, but to ban or at least severely restrict it. That’s broadly how I feel about Nazism. If Laurence truly believes his description, then surely he feels the same way about Sufism, Bahaism and the Society of Friends?

To assert something as being an “utterly false ideology” is also to imply that there is such a thing as a “true ideology” or at least an unfalse one. Again, isn’t this the sort of language we complain that practioners of religion adopt? Is it not also to suggest that a religion could hypothetically be founded on “truth” and therefore avoid the mistakes of all the others? Isn’t that pretty much what every single religious founder has set about doing since the dawn of time?

And where does this falsehood reside? There are obvious factual assertions made by various religions which science has shown quite comprehensively to be wrong, and there are those who cling onto these facts as if their whole faith is underpinned by them. But for others, this is less crucial. Indeed, both Lambeth Palace and the Vatican have, individuals aside, had very little problem adapting to the theory of evolution. The real challenge to religion was Galileo and Copernicus. Mainstream religion is rather adept at incorporating scientific theory into its world view. Fundamentalism (which I would broadly accept as being pernicious in character) is a modern phenomenon: Christian fundamentalism is a 20th century creed while Wahhabism only dates from the 18th. They have grown in popularity, and are growing, not because of something inherent in religion but because of something inherent in modernity (future shock?). Shouldn’t we be denouncing modernity?

And while we’re on the subject of modernity, can we really excise religion from all progress in science and philosophy? These spheres didn’t just evolve despite religion but frequently under the patronage of it. If religion were “utterly vile and pernicious” why did it so happily allow Greek philosophy and Islamic mathematics to flourish? The Renaissance was a complicated period in which religion showed its ugly side more than once, but it also inspired great art, engineering and architecture (hand in hand with capitalism of course, but that’s another story). You don’t have to be Tristram Hunt to acknowledge the important role that protestantism has played in the development of liberal democracy. Only the most crass analysis (step forward Mr Hitchens) can categorise all these leaps as somehow alien to religion rather than one of its many aspects.

Laurence also objected to my comment that “religions are ultimately what you make of them. Secular ideologies are too,” and my assertion that the fact that Marxism is what you make of it is “self evident”. Here I feel he has got completely the wrong end of the stick:

Let us get one thing straight: Marxism is not simply what you might choose to make of it. While the task of nailing down the principles of Marxism might not be entirely trivial, we can nevertheless be clear in the main about what Marxism does and does not entail. For instance, it is surely uncontroversial to assert that Marxism comprises a belief in the common ownership of property and the means of production (a terrible idea by the way). Now I suppose there is nothing to stop somebody from saying, “I’m a Marxist, though I don’t believe in the common ownership of property and the means of production.” But on the whole, I prefer the simpler, “I’m not a Marxist.” It’s brief and to the point, and has the compelling advantage of not stretching the meaning of words beyond the bounds of reason.

Note that I didn’t say “Marxism is what you want it to be” but “Marxism is what you make of it” – sorry to have to resort to semantics but there is a crucial difference as the former is how Laurence has chosen to interpret it while the latter is explicitly about action, not belief.

I wasn’t claiming that you can define Marxism however you want (although for what its worth I think Laurence defines it rather poorly here: Marxism is at its heart about class struggle and historical materialism more than anything else; Laurence’s definition leaves most Marxist academics out in the cold); I was arguing that what matters is what you do with it. It is possible to believe in common ownership of property and not feel compelled to take up revolutionary struggle in order to achieve it. Indeed, most Marxists don’t. Not every Marxist is a Stalin. Not every Marxist is even a Tony Benn. And not every Wahhabi Muslim is Osama Bin Laden. It seems remarkably obvious to write it but apparently it isn’t “self evident” so clearly I need to spell it out.

Why does this matter? Because if you’re a secularist and a liberal what matters fundamentally is what people do, not what they think. That isn’t to suggest that thoughts don’t lead to action or to endorse a mushy relativism where there nothing can be said to be wrong. I’d even agree that some ideas and creeds are very vile and pernicious indeed. But to claim, as Laurence does, that religion is somehow sui generis from liberal, enlightenment and secularist thought is to dismiss its origins, ignore history and flirt with notions about thought crime. Strip those noble ideals from their context and I would suggest you have something potentially very ugly indeed.

Ultimately, I think there is a better way than religion. The theos model really ceased to have any meaning once we realised Ptolmy was wrong. The fact there is good in religion (and there is plenty of good) doesn’t get away from the fact that it requires several logical backflips (the God of the gaps and its like) to fit in which what we have clearly established using the scientific method. While science can never disprove religion’s claims to be able to explain “why” we came to be, it superceded religion’s ability to explain “how” a long time ago.

That tension has lead to a culture clash with plenty choosing to deny modernity instead of accepting the moral superiority of honest intellectual inquiry. Those individuals are currently locked in an all-too mundane political battle across the world, from the US Presidential race, through to the Anglican Church and of course the Middle East. While I don’t expect him to man the barricades, I wish that people like Nick Clegg didn’t feel they had to apologise for their lack of belief, implicitly ceding the moral ground to organised religion which I do not believe it has any claim to.

But it is plain ignorant to label religion as a whole as evil. In doing so we perversely absolve the responsibility of those individuals who do evil in its name. And I am more comfortable with theists who do those logical backflips and manage to have a liberal world view than those atheists who seem to indulge in categorising the world into black and white in the very same way that they accuse religion of doing.

UPDATE: Laurence has chosen to elongate his already overlong and impossible to follow thread over on Lib Dem Voice.

There’s no way I can even attempt to offer a line by line rebuttal in the way he seems to have infinite time to do. There is something slightly bizarre in arguing with a “secularist” who lobs his own sacred texts by Dawkins and Harris at you rather than engaging in the debate itself.

He says “polls have show that around 36% of young British Muslims think apostasy should be punishable by death. As a matter of interest, how high would that figure have to go before ‘vile’ and ‘pernicious’ becomes about right?” This is of course to completely miss the point since if Islam were so vile and pernicious, 64% of Muslims wouldn’t be able to disregard this core belief. Of that 36% I have no doubt that most of them don’t really believe in apostacy beyond paying lip service to it. Certainly none of them seem to be in any hurry to start lobbing stones about. And of course what about all those Jews and Christians? If religion is so vile and pernicious, how come they don’t all support apostacy too? After all, it is as much a part of those religions as it is in Islam. How come you’re still alive Laurence? How come I am?

Laurence links to an article by Dawkins about religion being a Virus of the Mind. What’s most interesting about this theory of Dawkins is how unscientific it is. He’s on shaky ground to start with when he redefines religion not as analogous to a biological virus, which are increasingly being found to have all sorts of useful applications in medicine (d’oh!) but a computer virus. That is to say, it is like something that has been specifically designed, by a human, to parasitise on a computer system. He talks about computer viruses being unlike computer programs because they are “not useful” – but that depends if you’re the programmer or not; the only non-useful computer virus is one that do what it was intended to do. And of course, unlike either a biological virus or a computer virus, we can’t map the code of a “virus of the mind”.

It’s sad to see Dawkins do this because his idea about memetics really was quite innovative and forces us to think about the promulgation of ideas in a different way. He’s a victim of having his metaphors deliberately misunderstood in the past, the “selfish gene” for instance, so why he went out of his way to come up with such a sloppy metaphor here is anyone’s guess.

Back to Laurence, he makes the claim that “if a religious moderate espouses a belief that we perceive to be of disturbing consequence, we just keep quiet about it.” Er, really? When did I do that? Didn’t this debate start because I decided to criticise the Bishop of Rochester, a man whose views on Islam Laurence appears to find much common cause? I seem to spend much of this blog slagging off religious “moderates”.

He goes on to include a long quote from the Book of Harris, which contains this insightful gem: “There is no telling what our world would now be like had some great kingdom of Reason emerged at the time of the Crusades and pacified the credulous multitudes of Europe and the Middle East. We might have had modern democracy and the Internet by the year 1600.”

Deep stuff, eh? Anyone notice the word “might” there? Because, you know, we “might” also have invented the nuclear bomb and we “might” also have destroyed civilisation before the internet even got a chance. The problem is Harris, and by extension his loyal disciple Laurence, are playing a silly game here where ideas can be shorn of their historical context. How would this “kingdom” (sic – think about it) of Reason have come about? Spacemen arriving with tablets of stone? If you can’t answer that question then resorting to counterfactuals is just pathetic.

I mentioned Aquinas in the comments below so I’ll mention him here: without wishing to over-egg it, this man is both one of the most important figures in theology but also philosophy. No Aquinas, no classical revival, no age of enlightenment. No golden age of Reason, monarchy or not. Yet the man was also a religious fanatic.

Martin Luthor, too, who Laurence chooses to quote, was a fanatic. Yet this doesn’t undermine the importance of protestantism in the Glorious Revolution whatsoever. For all its faults, the idea underpinning protestantism was intensely democratic.

I could go on, but it’s far too late. The point is that the history of thought is inextricably bound up with the development of religion. It is an incredibly rich and evocative background that we forget at our peril. Reducing this all down to “reasonable” white hats and “religious” black hats isn’t just reductionism of the worst kind, it’s downright unscientific. When Dawkins calls religion a virus, or a drug, my response is to demand hard, testable evidence. Talk of “Reason” as if it could have emerged without the hot and bloody crucible of religion, politics and economics is meaningless, frankly laughable, and smacks of mysticism.

It is notable that Laurence has avoided answering my fundamental charge, that he deals in the language of absolutes which is one of the main things that is wrong with the religion he criticises. Perhaps Sam Harris hasn’t written a chapter on it?

Pigs 1, Goths 0 (UPDATE)

The two most read articles on BBCi today give us a fascinating insight into where Britain’s collective head is at.

First of all we have the goth couple who have been banned from the bus because he insists on leading her on a lead. There are two issues here. First of all the bus company are surely only being responsible to ban them on health and safety grounds – the inherent dangers are quite obvious. Secondly, while what people do behind closed doors is fine by me, it is fascinating to compare this issue with the ongoing controversy over Muslim dress codes.

There is much public anxiety these days about Burqas (which I don’t see around anything like as much as I did a couple of years ago – anyone else notice this?) and other forms of Muslim dress. Would we have the same anxiety if like “Dani” and “Tasha” (guffaw!) they merely defined it as a form of sexual expression?

Is it really, as I fear some of my readers may accuse me, illiberal and prejudiced to suggest the two simply grow up, get a life and stop shoving their crass faux radicalism down our figurative throats? Where is the fine line between pointing out that people are making arses out of themselves and celebrating self-expression? Answers on a postcard (well, in the comments below) please.

Meanwhile, a retelling of the Three Little Pigs has been banned from a competition because it apparently is offensive to both Muslims and builders. In the case of the latter, I’m not sure if any retelling of the story can really avoid portraying them in a good light, unless the story is changed so that the houses made of straw and sticks end up meeting the latest tough EU building directives. I wonder if this sudden concern for the portrayal of the construction industry has anything to do with the current domination of Eastern Europeans of it in the UK? Should we all be talking it up with a view to establishing a new generation of eager young British labourers? Maybe studying Auf Weidersehen, Pet should be made compulsory on the national curriculum? Perhaps Bob the Builder should be monumented on the fourth plinth on Trafalgar Square?

But I digress. As I’ve blogged before, in what way are piggies offensive to Muslims? Just because I don’t eat horses, it doesn’t mean I think Black Beauty should be banned. I don’t seem to ever hear Muslims objecting to it either; only people claiming to speak “for” them. I think I need this carefully explained to me, preferably with diagrams, but apparently doing so would be “culturally insensitive” so I fear it won’t happen.

UPDATE: Okay, mea culpa. I’ve read a couple of alternative accounts of the goth incident and while my views on the couple themselves haven’t changed, my defence of the bus driver in question certainly was misplaced. Everyone has a right to get on a bus without being abused, verbally or physically.

Sadly, Tasha herself though doesn’t exactly come out of this well: “I am a pet, I generally act animal like and I lead a really easy life. I don’t cook or clean and I don’t go anywhere without Dani. It might seem strange but it makes us both happy. It’s my culture and my choice. It isn’t hurting anyone.” Sounds like low self-esteem to me. Since Mat wants to bark Mill at me, I will refer him to this. You really think I’m the one enslaving people by conformity?

Is truly liberal multiculturalism possible?

In my weakened state over having to do back to work on Monday I managed to get myself into a ridiculous argument about the Bishop of Rochester’s comments about Muslim “no-go areas” over at Lib Dem Voice. Apologies to all concerned who are already banging their heads in weariness of the debate. I just thought I’d make a few points in (slightly) less inflammatory terms.

I’ve lived and campaigned in a variety of multi-cultural parts of England for much of the past 15 years. Originally as a student (and penniless graduate) in Rusholme, Manchester; in Beeston, Leeds (just around the corner from home of the famous suicide bomber no less); in Leamington Spa (don’t laugh – it has a sizeable Sikh population in the old part of town where I lived) and now in Jewish North London. All those areas have their issues, but overall my conclusion is that we do multiculturalism quite well in this country.

Based on my ideal of a liberal society which upholds personal dignity and ultimately maximises not merely tolerance but mutual respect, I’m open to the argument that so-called silo-isation has gone too far and that the practice of having separate Muslim, Sikh or Jewish cultural centres, etc. ultimately does more harm than good. I do in fact accept the argument that language is an important factor for integration and generally support the drive for greater emphasis on teaching English while spending less on language translation services. I have little time for self-appointed martyrs like Shabina Begum who take a school dress code which is already sensitive to her faith and attempts to push the envelope several stages too far (if she was a white Christian she would simply have been dismissed as an emo brat who needs to get over herself). And I believe that as a society which places an emphasis on equal rights and individual liberties, while the state can’t expect individuals to like people with different values and beliefs it, it can insist upon tolerance and insist that people living in this country obey our laws.

The latter point is most significant. Many of the loudest critics of “multiculturalism” insist that immigrants and ethnic minorities conform to “our way of life” while insisting that we should never, ever write down those values we hold dear in any meaningful sense. It is for this reason that I am less cynical than some about Gordon Brown’s push for a British “statement of values” – it’s fraught with problems but might, just might, lead us down the road towards an entrenched Bill of Rights and codified constitution. The often lazy form of multiculturalism that has taken hold in the UK (particularly northern cities) is very much a product of our hollow so-called “flexible” constitution however much the ranting Little Englanders might like to think otherwise.

What annoys me the most about people like Angus Huck is that they take a perfectly reasonable position such as zero-tolerance of female genital mutilation, honour killings, and so on, and then leap to the conclusion that opposing such things must by necessity mean insisting that anyone living in this country must conform to a British way of life (whatever that is). How you can make the leap from objecting to the stoning of women to the banning of prayers being broadcast from the top of minarets is beyond me.

In the Sky News interview with Nick Clegg which has caused all the controversy, Clegg likens Muslim prayers to church bells. Both assault the senses; in what way is one benign while the other is menacing (and Angus, the argument that church bells have been rung for hundreds of years simply won’t do – we have neither the demographics nor the level of church attendance that we had hundreds of years ago, nor do we tolerate the religious intolerance of hundreds of years ago – at what point do you want society to have been ossified. It’s for Disney to come up with twee portrayals of the past, not policy makers)? Similarly, how can we single out Muslim men for being “aggressive and macho” and “intimidating” any more than we can any other group of young men? In any case, one person’s “intimidating” is another person’s “laughable posturing”.

We could be having the same debate about Jews in the 1930s, or Quakers 200 years before. These things go in cycles. If the price we pay for expecting Muslim immigrant communities to respect human rights and obey our laws is the odd mosque making a racket on a Friday morning, then it is a price well worth paying. I can’t understand how any liberal would draw the line any other way (although lets by all means listen to the debate).

Clegg’s words were exactly right here; Nazir-Ali’s claims were indeed “extraordinarily inflammatory”. The debate we’re having now only proves his point. They were all-but calculated to generate heat rather than light. If he had a specific area in mind, then why not name it? 70 years on from the Rothermere Press I think we are entitled to expose innuendo where we see it. The biggest throat laugh his article generated from me was when he tutted about Shariah-compliant finance being legislated for in the UK. Outrageous! The very idea that people might not want to practice usury – how very un-Christian! And surely just the thin end of the wedge towards legalised stonings for rape victims!

Sadly, Nazir-Ali seems to be essaying his colleague the Archbishop of York when it comes to making outlandish statements about other groups – remember the guff about “illiberal atheists and aggressive secularists” banning Christmas? This sort of lazy denunciation from the pulpit has become all too common from our so-called national church. Yet criticise them and you can usually rely on someone to attack you for not daring to criticise Muslims in the same way and of course of the old staple “political correctness gone mad”. Here’s a deal: I won’t call that trying to shut down debate if you don’t call my disagreement with you the same thing, mmm’kay?

Can religion make animals disappear?

Honestly, who’d be a pig these days?

It was bad enough in the 70s and 80s when you were associated with the police force (George Orwell’s doing?). Now, your very existence is regularly said to offend both Jews and Muslims.

The latest example of this is an attempt (ultimately futile, but why let that get in the way of a good rant?) in Yorkshire to make a school play featuring the Three Little Pigs change the said porcine characters into canines, on the grounds that it would offend Muslims.

This is of course palpable nonsense. Not only are living pigs not offensive to Muslims (it is the smoke-cured variety that causes them difficulty), but living dogs very much are. Actually, let me be clearer, it isn’t forbidden to own a dog in Islam, but there are certain restrictions on what you do with it regarding purity laws. As with many religions though, cultural practice is often assumed, by practitioners and outsiders alike, as being religious decree. I’ve known Muslims who had a problem with dogs, either regarding them with utter contempt, or having an irrational fear of them. Indeed, the dislike of dogs has been cited as part of a rejection of Zoroastrianism, which highly valued dogs. The rise of Islam in Persia went hand in hand with a persecution of Zoroastrianism and cultural norms about not liking dogs may have started then.

Yet, because the most that the average brainless local government bureaucrat knows about Islam is that his Friday night kebab doesn’t have any pork in it, the rise of the pig as the ultimate in pariah animals has been inexorable. A friend of mine who used to work in educational publishing once told me that she had got a furious complaint, from a teacher who made it clear that she was not herself Muslim, because they had published an alphabet wall chart with “p” for “pig” on it. Last week I mentioned the ludicrousness of the Ham and High of all newspapers claiming that Labour was anti-semitic for portraying Michael Howard as a flying pig.

In turn, I have no doubt that this will become mutually reinforcing. Anxious Jews and Muslims, reaching out to find new examples of how they are being persecuted, are bound to lap all this up. Soon, people will be calling for Charlotte’s Web to be banned (Wilbur is an innocent being manipulated by the sinister, spidery Charlotte whose actions are driven by the Zionist Protocols); I can guarantee that the loony fringe of the Jewish lobby will start asserting that Animal Farm is anti-semitic (after all, Nelson=Marx, and Marx was a Jew). The lunacy can only continue. The only logical outcome of all this is to ban the pig, not merely the animal, but the concept itself. Only then can we guarantee that Jews and Muslims, and people claiming to be speaking for Jews and Muslims, will not be traumatised by their existence.

All of which suggests that Heather Mills is perhaps not thinking things through in her latest attempt to get the public on her side by convincing them she is Linda McCartney protesting at how pigs are treated on farms. She might just as well start doodling pictures of Mohammed.