Secularism, priorities, Islam, and Waleed Aly

What follows here after some introductory paragraphs repeats almost verbatim a post that I published over on my personal blog back in 2007. Now, my thinking has moved on a little bit since then, and you will see a slightly different formulation and emphasis in Freedom of Religion and the Secular State: I am less enthusiastic, for example, about the word “religionist” than I once was, and I would no longer be so quick to dismiss the word “Islamophobia” as merely stupid (I discuss the issue of “Islamophobia” in the book). But what I have to say in the 2007 post, responding to some views of Australian moderate/liberal (I guess) Muslim author Waleed Aly, still strikes me as about right and as fairly clear. Aly questions why we should want a separation of church (or mosque) and state, and is sceptical that there is any basis for such a principle in modern democracies. Should we agree with him?

In developing his views, Aly uses arguments that should, I think, cause us concern. But reflection on this also raises more general questions about the priorities and motivations of secularists. In researching Freedom of Religion and the Secular State, I was struck by how many supporters of a church/state separation do not share my suspicion of using state power to enforce religious morality. For me, this is a priority – indeed, a higher priority than some other concerns that perhaps are clearer examples of church/state entanglement but are less oppressive (I have in mind, for example, the established churches of Europe). For some of us, at least, the greatest fear in contemporary circumstances is not that we will be required to put up with or take part in religious ceremonies and the like; rather, it is that politicians who are able to command electoral support will bring their religions’ doctrines, particularly those doctrines relating to canons of conduct, to the table of ordinary politics, and attempt to impose them on an unwilling minority.

These issues are always important, and my return to them is provoked by, among other things, the appointment of a new Executive Director at the Secular Coalition for America – a person whose priorities might be rather different from mine, judged by her interviews so far. So permit me to return to this via my reflections on Aly’s sceptical rejection of a separation between religious doctrine and government…

In People Like Us, Waleed Aly spends a whole chapter attacking the idea of a separation of Church and State, and defending Islam from the charge that it is incompatible with secularism. He argues that the separation of Church and State makes no sense from a Muslim perspective, because Islam (or at least Sunni Islam) has no established hierarchy that could be called its “church” and no official doctrine that it could impose through the powers of the state. He is scathing about secularists in a way that I find disquieting.

He describes an occasion when he spoke on a panel and was subsequently asked by a number of audience members who pressed him on his attitude to the separation of Church and State. He found the whole idea confusing, thinking it sufficient that if a politician brings specifically religious moral attitudes that are out of touch with the mainstream, then he or she will be electorally punished. In other words, democracy is the cure for any untoward imposition of religious doctrine and morality through state power.

Of course, audience members found this unreassuring, and it’s no wonder that a number of them kept pursuing the issue (evidently with mounting frustration at his seeming obtuseness). Later, Aly spoke to one of his interlocutors but evidently still gave her no real reassurance.

What is surprising is that Aly never mentions Locke or Mill in his discussion of all this, and never discusses the principles on which a liberal state – such as Australia – stands. He imagines that the phrase “separation of Church and State” is all about struggles between kings and popes – issues that are of no interest to anyone in the contemporary context. He genuinely seems to have no understanding of what is really at stake in this discussion.

The question is not about kings and popes (though it is certainly relevant to the temporal ambitions of the current pope). It is about how religionists of any stripe can reassure the rest of us that they will not use the coercive power of the state to impose their contentious (and, let’s face it, usually miserable) moral doctrines, should they come to command an electoral majority. We are concerned about the tyranny of the majority, not about the attempts of a minority to bring others into line … for which political hubris the remedy would, indeed, be an electoral one.

Of course, it does not matter whether or not what is being imposed comes from a literal “church”. The fear is that politicians who are able, somehow, to command an electoral majority will bring their religions’ doctrines to the table and attempt to impose their doctrines on an unwilling minority. This is something that we have good reason to fear. Islam, of course, is a minority religion in Australia, but it may well become more popular in the future and meanwhile there could easily be cases of Muslims entering into alliances over particular issues with other religionists. Aly’s interlocutors obviously wanted to be reassured about all that, and Aly failed to say anything helpful.

Unfortunately, the impression has been created by many Muslim leaders that Islam seeks to control all aspects of individuals’ lives and does not shrink from using secular power to achieve its aim. We are all well aware of extreme examples in recent history, such as Afghanistan under the benighted Taliban regime. Until that fear is laid to rest, it is quite rational for the rest of us to fear Islam’s political ambitions – which is one reason why the word “Islamophobia” is so stupid. A phobia is an irrational fear, but secular Westerners actually have perfectly rational reasons to be at least wary of Islam, as Aly himself fully appreciates and acknowledges.

It’s true, of course, that religionists – Muslims; Christians; Hindus; fire worshippers; devotees of Thor, Aphrodite, Baal, or Quetzalcoatl; or whatever – often feel that their religious identity is something “given” rather than chosen, and somehow essential to them. It is not possible for them simply to leave it behind like checked-in luggage when they enter the public sphere.

Fine. That’s understandable, but it raises the bleak possibility that they will use the public sphere as a means by which to impose religious doctrines, or specifically religious morality. Some may even see nothing wrong with this – and those are the people whom we have every cause to fear. If the Quetzalcoatlists or the Thorians take this stance, then they stand outside of the Enlightenment compromise … and just as they can give no guarantee of tolerating the rest of us if they come to wield the coercive power of the state, they have no claim to toleration by us. If that is their attitude, they are outside the Lockean circle, beyond the pale of liberal tolerance.

However, it’s way, way, premature to conclude that Islam falls into such a category. As I’ve written in earlier posts, Locke thought that atheism and Roman Catholicism were beyond the pale, but this has turned out not to be true – atheists can be peaceful and honest citizens as much as anyone, and while the current Catholic leadership appears less and less interested in the Lockean concept as it is understood today, and more and more inclined to impose its views by force of law where it can, Catholics have also made good citizens. The expansion of the circle of liberal tolerance to include a wide range of religious and non-religious worldviews has been a great success story in Western history. There is every reason to think that almost any religious sect can come to value the political benefits of voluntarily joining the circle.

So what should Waleed Aly have said?

Well, he could have said something like this:

“I cannot guarantee that I’ll come to the political table setting aside my identity as a Muslim. But I can guarantee you this much: from within my understanding of Islam, I accept the political values of individual liberty and religious tolerance. I do not make the Christian distinction between Church and State, but I realise that what you are really concerned about is whether I understand that I am living in a liberal society and whether I accept the distinction between sin and crime. Yes, I do understand and accept those things. From within my own view of the world, I can see the necessity for tolerance of all views that advocate reciprocal tolerance. I also accept the political need for something like John Stuart Mill’s harm principle (we can discuss the details of the ‘something like’, but I am not using weasel words). I can say unequivocally that it would not be my intention to prohibit behaviour merely on the ground that it is theologically wrong in my understanding of Islam. I will look for clear secular harm before I invoke the might of the state in an attempt to restrict liberty. I will not invoke the superiority of a way of life that is favoured by Islam, and I will respect the right of others to pursue their own conceptions of the good, however foreign to Islam’s values. Nothing in my understanding of Islam prevents me acting in accordance with those liberal political values, knowing that I live in a liberal country.”

I have hopes that Aly could give that undertaking – or something very like it – sincerely. Elsewhere in his book, he shows that he does value religious tolerance and does understand the distinction between the theological notion of sin and the secular political notion of crime. Many liberal Muslims, perhaps most, could probably give such an undertaking – perhaps with more sincerity than some Christians.

That is what we need from religionists when they enter the public sphere. When Aly was grilled by the audience at his panel session, that is all he need have said.

It would be reassurance enough.

Leave a comment ?


  1. If we choose a diverse and pluralistic society based on tolerance and respect for different world views, a separation of church or religion and state is an imperative.

    In general, the majority of religions are highly normative and base their beliefs in faith. It is very difficult to solve a faith difference; why a person believes in one God and another person in another God is not a question subject to reason.
    In the past and present, these differences were and are solved through intolerance and violence.

    The american revolution and our forefathers understood and lived through the religious persecutions and wars in Europe, and that is the reason they envisioned the separation of church and state. By doing so they assured a tolerant and pluralistic society where everyone’s faith or lack of would be respected.

    I believe that any attempt to blur or cross this line is a threat to our american way of life and the right to freely choose a belief system.

  2. michael reidy

    I share with you your suspicion, disquiet, concern, global fear and the particular fear of oppression and Anglicans who would steal the flowers of Mummy’s grave but being unwilling to retire to bed with my teddy bear and blue blanket I have decided to get on with my life and engage in the electoral process. If it is an electoral process which allows for the engagement of minorities then I have the confidence that they will join me inside the tent or the charmed Lockean Circle. I think it is important to continue the dialogue in a respectful fashion. In short: Vote for the candidate of your choice or in the order of your preference whatever the case may be.

  3. Informed rational freedom loving people have all the reasons in the world to fear islam. The twin fogs of political correctness & ignorance must be dispersed before western society better understands this menace. Even a brief review of islamic theology & history quickly exposes the deadly roots of this evil ideology.

    Mohamhead was a 7th century murdering warlord who rose to power on a river of blood surrounded by thugs and gangsters using intimidation, violence, deception and trickery to expand their criminal empire while mercilessly suppressing and killing their opponents and enriching themselves on stolen booty.

    The evil koran is a collection of sayings and speeches by this diabolical madman claiming divine guidance from some mythical sky-god which has inspired generations of crazed fanatics to abhorrent behavior resulting in historys worst ever crimes against humanity starting 1400 years ago and still continuing even today.

    Islam is just another fascist totalitarian ideology used by power hungry fanatics on yet another quest for worldwide domination and includes all the usual human rights abuses & suppression of freedoms.

    and some snappy graphics, great for emailing…

  4. I feel sometimes I’m drowning in religion. This has made me more determined than ever before to fight for my freedom from religion. I am offended by all signs of religion in public let alone in government. The crucifix, the burkha, all of it. I’m fed up with it. I have a right to go out into my world and not see it. To me signs and reminders of insanity. I would fight for peoples rights to believe whatever they want to believe, as long as they keep it to themselves. When the religious dress up in it and go out publicly advertsing it, that is an infringement on my rights. But they care not.

    I welcome going to the markets in ten years from now and seeing different skin colours and different cultures. Wonderful. I have a huge problem with the thought of going to the market in ten years and seeing burkhas. The religious treat me with contempt and disrespect and I have grown tired of it. I am determined now more than ever to fight the religious and the likes of Waleed Aly.

  5. Re Russell Blackford 13th April.
    “What is surprising is that Aly never mentions Locke or Mill in his discussion of all this.”
    Quite possibly never heard of them. Quite probably never read them.

  6. Re: john pearce

    Do you seriously think it is your “right” not to see people weaving crucifixes or hijab (burqa is basically unseen outside certain areas in central Asia) in the public space?

    Personally, I consider the policies of certain political parties being insane and murderous (literally, no joke here), do I similarly have the right not to see any signs of them in public? No posters, no people wearing campaign t-shirts?

    Don’t you realise that what you wrote amounts to plain intolerance?

  7. Yes I seriously believe it IS my right to not see people wearing crucifixes and burkhas. It is the right of a freedom from religion. The relationship between Gods and his/her/its followers is a personal one. To be done behind closed doors. The Bible says it well..

    Matthew 6:5 When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.

    They are free to do it in their houses and in their churches. NOT on my streets. When they do they infringe on my rights. A freedom from religion is my right. They need to understand this and show me some respect, or none will be given in return.

    Your political analogy doesn’t stand. Intolerance perhaps fro me but maybe I’ve run out of it. Being called infidel or being told I’ll burn in hell. What would you call that?

  8. Islam is not a pastime. They pray 5 times a day and fast in Ramadhan not because it feels good but because if they don’t, they’ll go to Hell. Muslims take this stuff very seriously. How can you expect them to take others – who don’t do as they do – seriously? It’s no mystery why Waleed Aly refused to say the things you hoped for. As a Muslim, he simply couldn’t.

  9. @ John Pearce … historically, freedom of religion means not being persecuted for your religion, and not having a religion imposed on you, by the power of the state. It has nothing to do with your “freedom” from people expressing their religious views via their choice of clothing, or by words, or whatever. If the state prevented people from doing that it would be a serious breach of the principle of freedom of speech and expression.

  10. JohnM, you raise a good point … but lots of people can take their own spiritual salvation seriously, while also taking seriously the view that religious doctrines, including those relating to canons of conduct, should not be imposed by the state. That is not the state’s proper role.

    Plenty of Protestant Christians believe this, for example. There is no doubt that such a position can be taken from within many theological worldviews. The question is whether it can be taken from within Islam, and if so from within which varieties of Islam. Waleed Aly is some sort of political scientist, or something similar, so he should be very familiar with all this (including with Locke, Mill, etc.).

  11. Hi Russell. I understand what you’ve said. I will explain myself this way using the crucifix as an example. To Christians a symbol of perhaps sacrifice, faith, love, etc? To me a symbol of oppression, prejudice, fear, etc. I can’t see why it can’t be hidden so everyone respects everyone. To show it or any religious symbol is advertising the religion with the specific aim of spreading it. I think religion is peverse and wrong. So I am asked to do nothing about what I see as being the spread of peversion? I simply cannot do it.

    As to the principle freedoom of speech and expression. I still give this thought. By this rationale it is ok for me to walk in the markets wearing a nazi uniform? I’m not for it. Some would be offended while I walked around freely expressing myself, surely.

  12. Hi John – well let’s think about the Nazi uniform and images for a moment. These have a very specific and recent history. As a result, many reasonable people will respond to them not just with feelings of annoyance or offence but with something more like visceral terror.

    No offence, as it were, but everyone reaches for the example of Nazi regalia in these discussions. Even I have been known to do so. But that’s because Nazi regalia mark out an extreme point, a point where what we could call mere offence is shading into something else, and where we can all understand why reasonable people feel this “something else”. So yes, there’s a case at that extremity to make an exception and ban the wearing of Nazi regalia in public streets, shopping malls and similar places. I’m not sure whether the case succeeds, but if it does it’s because there’s something unique and extreme about Nazism and its symbols that justifies an exception to the rule, and fences it off from being a precedent for other cases.

    Once we recognise a special case like that, it might be thought that we’re on a slippery slope and will have to start banning all sorts of things that might offend someone or other, such as T-shirts supporting Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. Or at least we’ll have no case to argue against such bams. But that’s not necessarily so – as in the rest of life we can identify why some cases are anomalous, rare, and special, and not general precedents, and what makes them so, while retaining our general rule.

    I hate to self-promote, but I do talk about extreme, high-impact offence in FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE. There’s quite a bit more to say about it, but one of the things that should be said is that we need to be rather reluctant to apply a doctrine in any particular case that X-ing should be banned because it induces extreme, high-impact offence in ordinary people. There will, indeed, be cases where we do want to adopt such a principle (what if someone wants to express herself by defecating on a public tram, perhaps as a kind of performance art?), but it will lead to highly illiberal results if we start applying an idea like this to situations where it is merely that some people are annoyed, offended, fed up, pissed off, etc.

  13. Hi again Russell. Much thanks for the response.

    Firstly, by what you say.. “there’s something unique and extreme about Nazism and its symbols that justifies an exception to the rule, and fences it off from being a precedent for other cases.”

    This is one exception then at least to the freedom of speech and expression principles. I suggest then that there is something “unique and extreme” about religion, and it should not be “fenced off” from similar restictions.

    I do not trust the religious. To me they are void of the ability to think rationally. When I come across a religious person, how am I to know which they are and what they will do? Will they hold their hand out to me for their God? Or will they put a bullet in the back of my head for their God? How am I to know which they are and what they will do? I cannot know. Until they put me first as I do them, I can never trust a religious person. I explain this for a reason.

    The religious make it quite clear that I come 2nd to them, and I am inferior to them. So when I go to my markets and I see burkhas or any religious symbols on people, I know already what they think of me. A 2nd class citizen, an infidel, someone that will burn forever. I don’t want to be around that, and I feel uncomfortable being around that. So where can I go to be free of it? Nowhere is what you are suggesting to me? I must be tolerant of it? And I must not fight a spread of perversion for the name of freedom of speech and expression? Not me I’m afraid.

    I want a future Australia where you can look at a person and not tell what goddamned religion they are simply by looking at them. Everybody respecting everybody – as law.

  14. Re:-john pearce
    I read what you say with interest and understand your viewpoint. With the greatest respect I think it is something of an over reaction. Personally I don’t give a damn what these people wear or stand for, for the simple fact there are more interesting avenues to pursue in life. It there a threat there? Yes probably, and personal appearance and demeanour does seem to support this, but I am more likely I think, to meet my end in a road accident. Can we do anything to make things as you would wish? I don’t think so, well not as things currently stand in the world. I suggest two main threats for extinction of Humanity are Asteroid impact and Religion. I would like to think more deeply on this subject and write more but as I say there are more interesting and thought provoking things here to absorb me.
    “First attested in medieval Latin si fueris Rōmae, Rōmānō vīvitō mōre; si fueris alibī, vīvitō sicut ibi (“if you were in Rome, live in the Roman way; if you are elsewhere, live as they do there”); which is attributed to St Ambrose.” cf Wiktionary

  15. Thanks Don. I rest assured that Sister O’Flaherty is unlikely to pop me off while I’m in Coles. I was getting a point across.

    If I were to come across a person wearing a t-shirt for example that said, “God hates fags”. I would confront this person. Just because it’s not written in words it’s still just as filthy. Religious symbols say just that and much more. But I cannot confront it? I will on behalf of others, not only myself.

    Keeping in mind here that this would take nothing from them. They have their religious freedom to practice what they like in their homes and churches. To give them the right to go into the public wearing their religion, deprives me of my rights. But to give me my rights, deprives them of nothing. Except of course their main objective which goes beyond religious freedom – that of spreading their filth.

  16. Surely the fact that Sharia courts enact capital punishments contrary to state law despite their being no popes, kings or “church hierarchy” is reason enough to be skeptical.

    Just off my RSS feed, a story with this link:

  17. John, I think the exception is really eating up the rule if we start treating relatively ordinary self-expression, such as expressing your religion through choice of clothing and other regalia, as if it were some sort of extreme, high-impact offence to others’ sensibilities. If it has that sort of impact on you, I’m afraid you’re in a tiny majority, and we can’t have people’s self-expression tyrannised by tiny minorities. Contrast the defecation-as-performance-art example – most normal people would be highly impacted by this. Even if the performance artist somehow took steps to mitigate any public health effects, the impact would be so severe for so many people’s quiet enjoyment of the public streets that it would make sense to stop her from doing it there. But someone wearing a crucifix or even a burqa … not so much.

    I actually see a lot of women wearing burqas – my local university seems to have quite a few foreign students from radically Islamic countries. I’d say that it has a medium impact on me. It is certainly a fairly in-your-face statement to wear a burqa. But I mainly feel pity for these women, for the ordinary pleasures they are denying themselves – or being denied by their husbands – and the sheer discomfort of the garment, especially in the hot summer in Newcastle, when most people who are not required to wear suits for work are in very light clothing.

    But it would be disingenuous of me to claim that my feeling when I see a woman in a burqa is nausea or terror or anything of the kind, and I very much doubt that the proverbial person on the Clapham omnibus feels anything like that.

    (I should add that this kind of high impact may be necessary for us to ban things on the basis of “offence”, but I don’t think it’s sufficient or least that it’s indefeasible. E.g. many people may feel nausea when they see gay couples holding hands, but it doesn’t immediately follow that we should have a law against gay couples holding hands in public.)

  18. Hi Russell. Firstly this, “I think the exception is really eating up the rule if we start treating relatively ordinary self-expression, such as expressing your religion through choice of clothing and other regalia, as if it were some sort of extreme, high-impact offence to others’ sensibilities.”

    I would give the example of Italy banning crucifixes in public schools. The reason that was given was that the crucifix “may be emotionally disturbing” for some of other faiths or of no faith. This was done in public schools because the children had no choice but to be there and so were subjected to it. I would argue that the public arena is also a place where we have no choice but to go, and so are likewise forcibly subjected to it.

    As to being in a tiny minority? I would suggest that is is because not enough people are fully aware of what they unknowingly do. Which I hope will change.

    As to the defacating woman and the gay couple analogy? I totally agree. The same could be said for pornography and a myriad of other issues that may cause some to be offended. I cannot see the similarities with these analogies and religious symbols. I see more similarity with the “God hates fags” analogy. These symbols represent. They say to others “we discriminate against you”. Who do the gay couple discriminate against? What are their crimes? What is their message?

    I see it as the tolerant tolerating intolerance. And it must change, so nobody goes disrespected and there is nobody subjected to being “emotionally disturbed” when they go out into the public.

    I would also make the point that even if you are personally not affected by it, we need to think of those who might be.

  19. swallerstein (amos)


    There are so many things that a person could be offended by.

    The poor might be offended by conspicuous consumption by the rich, by seeing luxury cars and jewelry and yachts and expensive restaurants where they cannot afford to eat.

    What’s more, one might well argue that inequalities in the distribution of wealth do as much harm (or more) than relgious fundamentalism.

    Still, it does not seem like the way to deal with religious fundamentalism or inequalities in the distribution of wealth is to ban their exhibition in public.

    It seems, that rather than banning displays of wealth or of religious fundamentalism, we need to do some very hard work convincing people that
    rational solutions can solve problems of inequality and can provide a better life than
    do religion and superstition. That is a long term project and we need to work at it.

  20. Swallerstein, I agree that there are many things in the public domain that may offend. The rich may be another of those. But again I cannot see the similarities with these analogies and religious symbols. There is a distinct and noteable difference to me.

    A Porsche owner does not think of me an infidel. And if I walk by a Porsche or Porsche owner with my gay friend, or a woman, or a non-Muslim, he or she would not be insulted or offended by seeing that Porsche or Porsche owner.

    The banning of crucifixes in Italian schools acknowledges that these symbols can be disturbing. They tell of an ideology that can offend many. And again, like the “God hates fags” t-shirt wearer that states what it does. I can confront this person about his or her disgusting message. But I cannot if they are religious?

    If you come out in your religion, with all of it’s divisiveness, prejudice, and filth, expect to have to defend it. Just like the t-shirt wearer.

  21. Just quickly, you can’t go banning people’s forms of expression on the basis that ordinary people *should* be freaked out by them, but actually aren’t.

    That would be a crazy way for the state to do business. All sorts of people could argue for all sorts of things to be banned on such a basis, based on their pet fears or moral theories or areas of outrage. And in the present case, it would be massively against freedom of religion (not just freedom of expression) if we asked the state to rule officially that religious symbols are objectively terrifying, or whatever, even though only a tiny number of people are actually terrified, or whatever, by them.

    If we’re going to ban certain public displays on the basis that they cause widespread high-impact offence that destroys quiet enjoyment of the public streets, we’d better check whether these displays really do have that effect.

    Really, John, I think you’d better do a reality check if you think that high-impact offence arguments are going to be seen as anything other than preposterous by most people when it comes to banning the wearing of crucifixes, burqas, etc. Many people may find such regalia annoying or pathetic, or whatever … but high-impact offence shading into emotions like terror? I’m sorry, but that’s just not the real world. Someone who goes into a state of terror at seeing a woman wearing a burqa will be regarded as needing psychiatric assistance (contrast someone who is terrified at the sight of a young, strong man entering her shop in full Nazi regalia … depending on the circumstances, we might well understand an ordinary, reasonable person feeling at least intimidated, and possibly even more than that, but this is because of the unique history associated with those particular images).

    The Italian crucific case in the European Court of Human Rights (Lautsi), if that’s what you’re referring to in your comment, is discussed in FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE, and I won’t try to get into the niceties of it here. But that was a totally different situation, as the issue was endorsement of religion by the state. No one suggested for a moment that crucifixes are high-impact-offence images (though I suppose a sufficiently realistically gory one could be).

    The outcome was that crucifixes were not banned from Italian public schools, which was pretty much inevitable really, as the European Convention on Human Rights has always had to be read conformably with the existence of established churches in Europe. I don’t like the outcome, but there it is.

    Issues about pornography, and so on, also raise different issues. Yes, there could be a high-impact-offence justification for banning the screening of truly pornographic images (not just billboards with “tasteful” nudity or sensuality or eroticism) in the public street. But the reasons some people offer for banning privately-consumed pornography are totally different and have nothing to do with high impact. After all, pornography is usually consumed willingly, not inflicted on people who can’t avoid seeing it and will be shocked by it.

    E.g. anti-pornography campaigners may argue that pornography inevitably brainwashes men into being callous and violent towards women, or something of the sort. Even if somebody could make out such a case, which I actually rather doubt but don’t rule out entirely, the principle involved would be remote from what we’re talking about here.

  22. I don’t think Australia needs the Taliban to descend into religious persecution. Not when you have Stephen Conroy and the Australian Family Association.

  23. “Just quickly, you can’t go banning people’s forms of expression on the basis that ordinary people *should* be freaked out by them, but actually aren’t.” I find this presumptuous. This is a personal opinion that I disgree with.

    “All sorts of people could argue for all sorts of things to be banned on such a basis, based on their pet fears or moral theories or areas of outrage.” Again, I liken religious symbols more to the swastika. Nazism can be outlawed because of the offence it gives. Maybe the second of the exceptions to the rights of free speech and expression with religious symbols? It would be well justified.

    “ would be massively against freedom of religion.” Why such the concern for the religious here? Why no concern for others. Always the religious’s rights. They have them already, while others have none.

    “if we asked the state to rule officially that religious symbols are objectively terrifying, or whatever, even though only a tiny number of people are actually terrified, or whatever, by them.” I also find this presumptuous. Also I have not mentioned terror or being terrorised.

    “Really, John, I think you’d better do a reality check if you think that high-impact offence arguments are going to be seen as anything other than preposterous by most people when it comes to banning the wearing of crucifixes, burqas, etc. Many people may find such regalia annoying or pathetic, or whatever … but high-impact offence shading into emotions like terror? I’m sorry, but that’s just not the real world. Someone who goes into a state of terror at seeing a woman wearing a burqa will be regarded as needing psychiatric assistance.” Again I have never mentioned anyone going into a “state of terror”. I have mentioned being uncomfortable, and how an Italian court stated that it could be “emotionally disturbing”.

    I understand it as the Italian panel of judges made a decision, which must later have been reversed. “The presence of the crucifix … could be encouraging for religious pupils, but also disturbing for pupils who practised other religions or were atheists, particularly if they belonged to religious minorities,” the court said in a written ruling.” Sourced from ABC news.

    We’ll agree to disagree. Thanks for your responses. Take care.

  24. But Russell, Islam teaches that if Muslims don’t do all they can do to spread Islam (you can confirm this with just about any imam anywhere), they stand a lower chance of getting into Heaven (they really believe in this place, by the way) or worse, be partially guilty of any problems faced by the Muslim community as a result. So how could the state’s involvement, with all its inherent might, be left alone by Muslims except for the neglectful?

  25. @ JohnM … well, this was kind of what the post was about, i.e. the problem of even a very liberal (arguably) Muslim not “getting” ideas of secularism, separation of church/mosque and state, the harm principle, etc. Yes, it’s a problem.

    Now, I doubt that Waleed Aly does actually believe that he must do all he can to spread Islam. It’s a bit like the Catholic Church: bishops and priests can say as much as they like about the moral wrongness of contraception, and the laity will take no notice and go on using contraception anyway. I’m sure that many moderate, educated Muslims feel no imperative at all to proselytise, impose the religion’s canons of conduct, etc., regardless of what their local imam might or might not think. But we still see someone like Waleed Aly really struggling to “get” the sort of thinking involved in, say, the US First Amendment or the Millian harm principle. So I’m not denying that it’s a problem – quite the opposite. It’s not such a huge problem that I want to start persecuting Muslims (and the urge of many people to do just that may well be a larger problem right now, as we see all across Europe). But it’s still a problem. Sure.

    John P, you didn’t first use the word “terror”, but you introduced the Nazis as a comparison. My point is that, first, there might be a case for banning the public wearing of apparel as intimidating (and for some even terrifying) as Nazi regalia. But even if that’s true – and I’m not sure that it is – you can’t logically use that conclusion as a precedent for banning some other apparel that does not have the same intimidating (and terrifying for some) impact. And freedom of religion isn’t just “religion’s rights” – it all of our rights to have the state not take a religious stance. Non-believers need this as much as anyone else. Maybe more than most.

  26. Russell, just try to get Waleed or someone like him to publicly proclaim, for instance, that the Muslim daily prayer is not unequivocally compulsory for all believing Muslims. Something as simple as that. It has never, and likely will never, happen. Check the recognized literature for the past… thousand years even. You’ll find nothing of the sort from any “moderate”. Regardless of what these so-called moderate or educated Muslims might or might not do (personally), none will challenge the established doctrine to even that degree. Why? Because there are some things in the religion that are crystal clear to all who claim to be believers. A small merry band of physicists today may as well go around proclaiming that E=mc^3 in total ignorance or denial of what’s taught in colleges everywhere and in the recognized literature. They won’t get very far with their ideas.

    My point is certainly not to demonize Muslims or persecute them. Just realize that we’re barking up the wrong tree with people like Waleed. All they can do is lull us into a false hope that Islam today will turn out like Christianity has. If this was 1500 AD, maybe, but today… not a chance. Not in an age where any Muslim anywhere can check the Islamic literature in an instant to see if the daily prayers really are compulsory for Muslims or not (and that will be the end of it). He may still not do them… but he’d never ever proclaim it for Muslims everywhere to hear and read.

    Do you think, even for a minute, that Muslims don’t realize what the separation of “church” and state means for them, and what its advocates are “really” trying to do? You’re either with Islam or against it. If you’re in the middle, you are expected to step aside (a “dhimmi”, at best). So what can we do to “accommodate” Islam? I think our only hope is that over time, Muslims will come to accept that it’s really okay to not be a Muslim anymore if they don’t want to. I mean… who really wants to pray so many times a day and fast for a month in Ramadhan? When Muslim families, neighbors and states stop prosecuting (perhaps even accepting) those who want to opt out, we’ll see their numbers dwindling drastically.

  27. I largely agree with John Pearce and John M.

    I guess there is a silent majority that would welcome true freedom from religion in the public square.

    Islam needs to be put in it’s place, utterly beyond the pale. The other religions are obviously not such a threat at the moment, but their influence is still usually evil ie They all promote irrationality, ignorance, tribalism, superstition and disrespect.

    Sticking with the niquab/burka v nazi uniform analogy, there are much better objective grounds to feel horrified, threatened and disrespected by a niquab/burka than a nazi uniform.

    Nazism only lasted for decades and has not much influence now, whereas Islam has been inflicting barbarity and suffering for 1400 yrs.

    Moreover, Islam is in resurgence at the moment, and is looking likely (if it hasn’t already) to have nuclear weapons at it’s disposal.

    Also, the nazi uniform is not an oppressive outfit
    in itself, it is just the inevitable associations.

    The niqab/burka is oppressive. One can only feel compassion for the wearer, whether it be faith or another person who’s coerced them into it.

    So yes, lets at least ban the burka/niqab for a start.

  28. oops I mean comparison not analogy

  29. U r believing in half measures. well, this has its own importance in the present world. Religious morality is an expression u used – i never believed in it. to me religion is an impediment to progress. I could not read the piece minutely hence it would not be right to give a detailed view.

  30. “So yes, lets at least ban the burka/niqab for a start.”

    Interestingly, my father has recently had a burkha experience, when he has stopped for fuel at a service station. There is a difference here too, in that when a burkha or burkha wearing woman walks around in public, as offensive as that is, it is again different to wearing it in a workplace. In the public domain we have the option to avoid her and to not have to come across her. When she is in the workplace, we MUST come across her. We have no choice about it now.

    My father has said, as expeced, that he won’t be returning to that particular service station. He sees of course the error that management has made here. This didn’t put him in a state of terror, but he recognises it for what it is. Wrong.

    When he puts fuel in his car, unbeknownst to him at the time, he will now have no choice but to converse and deal with a person he would otherwise avoid.

    This burkha wearing woman, without opening her mouth, says, “Good morning infadel. You know what I think of you don’t you. And you know what I think of some of your fellow man too don’t you. Yes. By what I’m wearing. Pump 3? That’ll be $20 thank you, infadel. Do you see this? We have a right to not be forcibly subjected to it.

    Or the gay person that unkowingly does the same thing and stops at that service station for fuel. She again says, without opening her mouth, Good morning you filthy motherfucker. You know what I think of you don’t you. Yes, from what I’m wearing. Ha. And there’s nothing you can say or do about it. Pump 4? That’ll be $20 thank you dirty motherfucker. Have a nice day”. You see this?

    I hope so. It’s completely outrageous.

    Many would be quick to label the likes of my father, prejudice, discriminatory or intolerant. The irony being of course, by not returning to this service station, my father simply makes a stand here AGAINST intolerance. A silent protest of his own. He wouldn’t approach the woman for fear of upsetting her. Personally, I would refuse to pay until I spoke to management.

    It is our obligation to stand up against discrimination and intolerance. If not for yourselves, for others. If a freedom of religion includes this spreading of discrimination and hate, then it is time to fight this freedom of religion, and not defend it.

  31. Reading the Quran and Haddiths leave me bewildered that any rational and educated human being would call themselves a Muslim.
    Waleed cannot say that Islam is a peaceful religion – he knows it is not.

    It is not Islamophobia in action when people assert that Hitler used Islam as his model for Nazism in Mien Kampf, but a reading of the texts.

    Dissembling in allowed in the Quran to lull unbelievers into a false sense of security – Waleed must be watched and never believed…

    Get him off the ABC

  32. John M you are wrong, peacefully proselytizing Islam will not get you to Paradise, it must be through force of arms using terror. A good read on this topic can be found of
    Find out, in Mohammed’s own words, what Islam is all about.

  33. Wow – this has been a fantastic discussion from all of you.
    Who IS this Russell Blackford guy ?? I’m going to have to go off and do some googling !! I have just discovered him after dabbling in a bit of Sam Harris, and he sounds absolutely brilliant. I loved the above article on Waleed Aly and will now have to get both Waleed’s book AND Russell’s book.

    I listen to a lot of stuff on RN, on my way home from work in Melb,(which is a 2 hour car trip cos I live in a country town right down the bottom of Vic) and so I hear a fair bit of Waleed, and I have always had a niggling feeling about what was going on under the surface – just from a couple of things he has occasionally said – but now I will just have to read his book. I had no IDEA he was opposed to the concept of church and state. Wow!

    Thanks everyone. You restore my faith in humanity.


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