Sunday, 22 February 2009


This morning's episode of Big Questions is available to watch again on I-player (Thanks to those who pointed this out to me)

Of the three questions raised this morning (see my previous post for the details of the speakers and topics), the most interesting was without a doubt the question of whether or not Islam is intolerant. Despite sitting with my hand up for a large part of the debate, Nicky Campbell chose to ask the relatively attractive girl next to me for her input instead (which, as it turns out, was a very valid and salient point – that she felt welcomed in a Muslim country when she stayed there, so why don’t Muslims feel welcomed here?).

The point I would have made was that I would not have personally thought Islam intolerant until two weeks ago, when I saw an example before my eyes that was hard to believe.

It occurred at a debate on Radical Islam in Britain, at which Douglas Murray (seen on the programme this morning), Guffar Hussein (the other head of the Quilliam Foundation) and Haleh Afshar (Iranian born feminist in the House of Lords) all made their case very well an articulately.

What followed was extraordinary. The Muslim Councillor for Students, Mohamed El-Gomati, stood up to say a few words of response before the question session. In the following moments, all potential for consensus was shattered as he turned to Douglas Murray, and an accusation echoed around the room: “racist”.

Maybe this is a one off. Nevertheless, for the man who many people see as representing Muslim students on campus to stand up and revert to such playground-ish accusations in the face of a considered and professional debate is utterly derogating for the image of Muslims everywhere.

Are they tolerant? I certainly hope, for their sake, that Professor El-Gomati is the exception, not the rule.

Big Questions

Apologies for not uploading anything in the last few days.

Tomorrow morning I'm going to the BBC show The Big Questions. It should throw up some interesting discussions. This week’s panel members are Ann Cryer, Labour MP for Keighley; Douglas Murray, Director of the Centre for Social Cohesion; Majid Nawaz, Director of the Quilliam Foundation; and paralympic athlete Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson.

The three ‘big questions’ are:

Is Islam an intolerant religion?
Are men's sins worse than women's?
Do benefits encourage sponging?

It’s in BBC One at 10.00, or in I-player afterwards. I will no doubt be posting something coming out of it later on.

Thanks to everyone who has commented or emailed me, your contributions are much appreciated.

Keep reading!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Missing the point

Someone has just brought this to my attention, and I feel that it cannot go un-commented on.

You may or may not have heard of the Westboro Baptist Church. If I said they are the group who proclaim that “God hates gays” and were involved in picketing funerals of soldiers who died in Iraq, then your memory may be jogged.

It seems that their brand of Christianity has made a transatlantic voyage, and they will begin their campaigns and pickets over here. This comes in response to a school theatre in Basingstoke hosting a production of The Laramie Project, a play that is perceived to have anti-homophobic connotations. The language of their group is frightening.

What is fundamentally damaging about the group is not, surprisingly, their opinions. They are, by all means, entitled to them. What is concerning is that they portray themselves in a light that is to Christianity what radical jihadist preachers are to Islam.

If the group gets lots of publicity, it would become very easy to take random verses of the Bible and create a video similar to Geert Wilders’ Fitna, shown in my previous post. The God they refer to hates people, and who commands his followers by a set of strict rules. Who, given the constraints put on the believer in such a God, would ever choose to become what these people understand to be a ‘Christian’?

Taking the Bible in context (something that is very often not done when considering these contentious issues), the God that is portrayed within is a God of immense power and holiness, but primarily is a God of love. What the Westboro Baptists seem to forget (or conveniently ignore) is that God, rather than being a tyrant bent on the destruction of evil humanity, is a God who reached out to us by His son Jesus.

Such is the love of God in the Bible that He sent His son to die so that we might be able to be in a relationship with God – no matter what we have done, God will accept us due to the totally sufficient sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross.

That, in a nutshell, is the message of Christianity. What the Westboro Baptists seem to ignore is the love that covers all evil deeds of man. If they focused a little more on this and a little less on the apocalyptic, then people might start to pay the right kind of attention to them.

Action and reaction

It seems that there is a ream of problems facing the Government over counter-terrorism measures that are all unravelling at the same time.

The Daily Telegraph this morning leads with an interview with Dame Stella Rimington, ex-head of MI5, who warns that the Government have used the fear of terrorism as an excuse to erode civil liberties. What is more concerning is the she believes that “It has achieved the opposite effect: There are more and more suicide terrorists finding a greater justification.” Several other right-wing papers publish the story with the words ‘police state’ in the title.

Secondly, a report published by the International Commission of Jurists has accused the UK and US of undermining international law and “presents alarming findings about the impact of counter-terrorism policies worldwide and calls for remedial action.” The press release regarding the report also states that “the report calls for the rejection of the ‘war on terror’ paradigm and for a full repudiation of the policies grounded in it.”

Thirdly, the interview comes at a time when some potentially embarrassing reports have come out, including those of local councils using anti-terrorism laws of 2002 to catch people fly-tipping.

Finally, BBC’s Panorama programme last night was on the radicalisation of Muslims due to their lack of trust in British people. The investigation more alarmingly unveils concerns that centrally-funded community projects are being used to gather intelligence about potential radicals to ease MI5’s process of following every extremist in the UK.

All these come at a time when the Home Office is preparing to publish plans to further surveillance in a new series of counter-terrorism ideas. Furthermore, a new level of authorities is to be authorised, with powers above police officers, by the Home Office. This measure was slipped into the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill. Lack of trust? Who can blame them?

So where does the fault lie? Potentially with several parties.

It is easy to blame the government, as they are the ones in direct control of the increase in surveillance and data control. Regardless of whether or not you support them in the policies, New Labour have presided over the greatest rolling back of basic civil liberties in peace-time Britain, and that’s still with some of the most serious policies – ID cards and 90 day detention – having fallen short.

Similarly, it is easy to blame the neo-conservatives. What do they have to do with anything? Well, the neocons were in power in the American administration that dealt directly with the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The US, following a rally-round-the-flag syndrome, created the Department of Homeland Security and passed the Patriot Act. Britain, still seeking to be very much in line with the US, followed suit with a set of policy proposals that increased governmental observation over the lives of its citizens.

You could also try and pin it on the Islamic fundamentalists. If they hadn’t perpetrated the attacks on 9/11, the Madrid bombings, 7/7, and several failed operations including 21/7, Glasgow airport, and the nightclub bombings, then we would not be on the lookout for terrorist potential everywhere.

While all of these are plausible, and do in fact have some truth to them, the main problem is not with the government, or the US neocons who led the world in government control, or even the fundamentalists themselves. The problem is, as with so many things, the state of the media coverage.

The media, particularly the widely-read and little-questioned right wing tabloid media, would lay all of the blame at the feet of Islamists themselves, and actively seeks to make divisions between communities.

The root of the problem then, is what is causing the lack of trust that so alienates young Muslims and leaves a window open for radicalisation. This cannot be the governmental policies alone, and to try and blame America or fundamentalists themselves is ludicrous. The media, who wield their great power often so irresponsibly, are to blame for the greater part of the distrust that has been created.

Maybe a little more tolerance and a little less scare-mongering wouldn’t go amiss.

Monday, 16 February 2009

A deja-vu of closed debate

Last Thursday the Dutch MP Geert Wilders was barred from entering the UK due to his radical views on Islam. He was on his way to present a film documenting the roots of radical Islam in the Koran to the House of Lords when he was held at Heathrow amidst fears that his visit would result in a security threat.

Here is the video, in two parts. It contains very shocking images:

On the surface this may appear a reasonable response to a man who is already facing trial in his own country for inciting hatred. However, there are several things that render the incident completely ridiculous.

The film, while well put together and very resounding, is ludicrously one-sided and verging on propaganda. Showing it in public would not cause outbreaks of violence – it would throw up discussion and ridicule.

If the government want to combat the message of Wilders, the best way is not to cover it up and send it back – it is to invite it in and open it up to debate.

This bares stark similarities to the episode that occurred over a year ago when Nick Griffin was invited to speak at the Oxford Union. Outrage occurred, tempers were roused, and rallies were attended. Griffin spoke, and was intellectually destroyed during the ensuing debate. The end result was that, by allowing the event to go ahead and the highly controversial view to be aired, that view was itself rubbished. This is exactly how a debate should work.

The most ludicrous aspect of the whole Wilders affair is that the film was still shown in the House of Lords, irrespective of the absence of Wilders himself. Furthermore, Wilders was in the country two weeks ago – he said so himself when interviewed by the BBC about it! It seems that the only reason that Wilders was this time prevented from entering (he was actually banned from the UK, but only this time was it enforced) was due to the nature of his visit, and even then the showing went ahead without him.

How many people had heard of Geert Wilders before last week? Substantially less than now do. How many had seen his film? Again, far less than have now seen it as a result of the incident, myself included. The only thing that the government have achieved by this action is free publicity for a biased propaganda film, and emphasising the inconsistency of British policy over free speech.

Maybe now sufficient debate will follow to change this.

Sunday, 15 February 2009


Welcome to POLITICS AND RELIGION, my blog on politics from a Christian viewpoint. This is my first ever blog, so there will no doubt be some teething issues along the way, but I appreciate your comments and your feedback on anything I say.

Equally, if you want to post in response to anything written here, feel free. If there's anything you want me to write about or think that I have missed, please get in touch!

Anyway, here we go...