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Archive for the month “February, 2011”

The Unlikely Bigot

One of the most disappointing things to happen whilst researching for my blog was confirming my suspicions that someone I respected and admired was as intolerant and ignorant as the religious literalists he’s so critical of. I’d heard others accuse him of arrogance, and being too confrontational and militant. I always found him to be fairly reasonable, softly spoken and even a little timid in his television appearances. This could be because what he was saying articulated what I was feeling at the time. I wasn’t in the frame of mind to be objective. I still find him a fascinating person to read or listen to in his areas of expertise, but I’ve lost a great deal of respect for him. Disappointment is the overwhelming feeling I have.

I’m referring to Richard Dawkins. Celebrity atheist and evolutionary biologist. His 2006 book The God Delusion is his most popular and controversial to date, is an international best seller and was my introduction to his work. As I’ve blogged previously, already being an atheist, this book illustrated my attitude to religion perfectly. Not only that, but it consolidated and exacerbated it. I say exacerbated, because I believe that an extreme intolerance of anything is unhealthy. Particularly if it’s clouded by a lack of knowledge or understanding. In hindsight, this is where I was. But it wasn’t directed at any one in particular, just organised religions in general.

I’ve also explained how and why my attitude has softened over the last couple of years. I believe this has enabled me to see the issue from a different perspective, more compassionately. As a passionate scientist I get the impression that Dawkins takes personal offence from people’s devotion to religion. There’s a condescending overtone and mocking nature to much of what I hear from him now. A few years ago I would have approved, but now I just find it infantile and unnecessary.

He’s also a secular Humanist, and is Vice President of the British Humanist Association. I also consider myself to be a humanist of some description. I support and agree with much of what they believe in and campaign for. For instance, a reform of Religious Education so that “all pupils in all types of school should have the opportunity to consider philosophical and fundamental questions, and that in a pluralist society we should learn about each other’s beliefs, including humanist ones”.

Their campaign for the repealing of the blasphemy law, their support of human rights and free speech, their pro-choice stance on abortion and defence of stem cell research. A quick scan of notable supporters reassures me that my lefty credentials are intact. Stephen Fry, Richard Herring, Stewart Lee, Ed Byrne, Prof. Brian Cox, Jon Ronson and Robin Ince are all present.

Their Wikipedia page also states the following:

The British Humanist Association campaigns for a number of causes. It campaigns for legal provision against discrimination on grounds of religious belief or sexual orientation. It has called for unification of existing anti-discrimination legislation and has contributed to the Discrimination Law Review which developed the Equality Act 2010.

How could anyone representing these values possibly be smeared as a bigot? The same way as anyone else can be bigoted despite being well intentioned. Through a lack of knowledge, understanding and empathy. Woah! Who am I to question the knowledge of a fellow of New College, Oxford, and former Professor for Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford? Doubt the understanding of the inventor of the concept of the meme, and a winner of countless honours and awards?

Good point. My argument is; he’s only human. He’s not immune to having blind spots caused by prejudice, or exempt from negative human traits such as stubbornness, or arrogance. My opinion is that his militant atheism, his distrust and dislike of organised religion, is clouding his otherwise brilliant mind. His refusal to make any attempt to appreciate and understand the complexity of certain religions, and only look for reasons to condemn them is shameful and embarrassing.

I first became aware of the unlikely bigotry sometime last year. I heard that he’d been extremely critical of Islam, but thought it’d probably been taken out of context or someone was being hyper-sensitive. Why would an atheist single out one particular religion, and surely someone like Dawkins would be intelligent and perceptive enough to not jump on the bandwagon?

Whilst looking for information for one of my posts, I stumbled across the website. I decided to browse the site out of curiosity and became both confused and angry. I must stress this isn’t Dawkins’ personal website, it’s run by The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, of which he is the founder, but it is official. He does contribute to it, and is aware of its content. As well as articles by Dawkins and other regular contributors, the bulk of the site consists of items from the global media that are considered newsworthy for atheists, secularists and humanists. Some are truly fascinating pieces about nature, science, and the human mind. But a huge portion is dedicated to articles cherry picked to highlight the dark side of religion, or rather the dark side of people or organisations claiming to represent religion. Don’t get me wrong, I’m passionate about exposing the crimes committed by Catholic priests, the abuse of human rights that exist in Wahabist Saudi Arabia, the persecution of homosexuals in Uganda, Zionist expansion into Palestine and the variety of unpleasant views expressed by religious extremists. But to use them as examples of why religion is inherently ‘bad’, as if the crimes are committed by religion and not people, is missing the point entirely in my view.

Some of the names that crop up on a regular basis on the website will be quite familiar to keen followers of Islamophobia. People that are lauded by the websites readers as robust and brave critics of Islam, but in reality are nothing more than agenda driven right-wing bigots. Just two of these people are Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Pat Condell. Ali is an Islamophobes wet dream. A female Somali ‘ex-Muslim’ who fled her native country to escape from an arranged marriage and honour killing, to become a born again atheist and radical anti-Muslim.

Pat Condell is a UKIP supporting, BNP and EDL approved ‘comedian’ who at one time was fairly even-handed in his criticism of religions, but seems to have focused 100% of his vitriol on Islam recently. He perpetuates misconceptions and myths for laughs whilst his supporters applaud him for ‘telling it like it is’. Which to me translates as ‘using the privilege of free speech to be tactless and offensive, whilst using gross generalisations and exaggerations’.

To concentrate on Condell for the time being. A number of people actually complained about his YouTube monologues being posted on the website. This was the reply from Dawkins:

“I believe Pat Condell deserves a hearing. He may sound extreme, but that could just reflect the extremes he is fighting against. I don’t know the corresponding figures for America, but polls in Britain suggest that an alarmingly high percentage of young British Muslims support the terrorists of 9/11 and 7/7, and some 40% of Muslims want Sharia Law introduced into Britain. Disquietingly high percentages supported the death sentence against Salman Rushdie and the threats of violence against the Danish cartoonists. Even ‘moderate’ Muslim leaders support the principle that apostasy deserves the death penalty, even if they are too nice to carry out the sentence themselves. I think it is well arguable that Islam is the greatest man-made force for evil in the world today. Pat Condell is one of the few with the courage to say so.”

It reads like a more eloquent version of any number of EDL rants. I’m not going to get side tracked by pointing out the inaccuracies and untruths in his statement, but the fact he’s using much the same well-worn clichés parroted by right-wing extremists speaks volumes. Here’s another sycophantic gushing from Dawkins:

“Pat Condell is unique. Nobody can match his extraordinary blend of suavity and savagery. With his articulate intelligence he runs rings around the religious wingnuts that are the targets of his merciless humour. Thank goodness he is on our side”.

Depressing. I won’t go into an in-depth analysis of the content of Condell’s diatribes; I’m hoping that my series on Islamophobic misconceptions will do that job in due course.

The story of Ayaan Hirsi Ali is far more exciting than that of a grumpy, middle-aged bigot. She’s exotic, intelligent and articulate, with a colourful history. But she also has some extremely unsavoury friends, and is a growing presence on the Islamophobic circuit. Hirsi Ali was born in Mogadishu and moved between Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya with her politician father. She claimed political asylum in Holland in 1992. Her asylum application was based on her claim that her father was forcing her into a marriage with a cousin, and would face an honour killing if she refused. She also claimed to have fled the Somalian capital to escape the civil wars she had witnessed, and was forced to live in refugee camps. Her family denies all accusations made against them, and she herself admits to lying in order to gain asylum. In the meantime she had earned a master’s degree in political science and forged links with the centre-left PvdA party.

She later suffered a crisis of faith and eventually renounced Islam in 2002. She wrote her first book criticising Islam shortly after, and began receiving death threats. She also wrote a screenplay for a short film called ‘Submission’ which controversially depicted the abuse of a Muslim woman at the hands of her husband, and seemed to infer this behaviour was encouraged by the Qur’an. In 2004 the producer of this film Theo Van Gogh was murdered by a Dutch-Moroccan member of a terrorist cell. A five-page letter was pinned to Van Gogh’s chest with a butcher’s knife that amounted to a fatwa on Hirsi Ali, forcing her into hiding. During this period Hirsi Ali had become an elected member of Dutch Parliament as part of the VVD party, where she became a colleague of Geert Wilders.

In 2006 her admission of making a fraudulent application for asylum forced her resignation from politics, and her Dutch citizenship was nearly revoked. Since then she has been working in the USA for a right-wing think tank and earning a pretty penny playing the martyr and cozying up to the A list of the Islamophoberatti. During this time her anti-Muslim comments have been prolific, here is a small collection:

Hirsi Ali: I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars…. you look them in the eye and flex your muscles and you say, “This is a warning. We won’t accept this anymore.” There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.
Reason: Militarily?
Hirsi Ali: In all forms, and if you don’t do that, then you have to live with the consequence of being crushed.
Reason: You’re in favor of civil liberties, but applied selectively?
Hirsi Ali: No.
Reason: In Holland, you wanted to introduce a special permit system for Islamic schools, correct?
Hirsi Ali: I wanted to get rid of them. …
Reason: Well, your proposal went against Article 23 of the Dutch Constitution.
Reason: Here in the United States, you’d advocate the abolition of—
Hirsi Ali: All Muslim schools. Close them down.
Hirsi Ali: There is no moderate Islam.

“It is a totalitarian method. The Nazis tried it using women as incubators, literally to give birth to soldiers. Islam is now doing it.”

On women who chose to wear the niqab: “They are the female equivalent of the radical young men who travel to Pakistan and come back wanting to blow up trains.”

“The Prophet would have not have disapproved of 9/11, because it was carried out in his example.”

“Muhammad is, seen by our Western standards, a pervert”

There’s also the standard fare of comparisons between Islam and Nazism.

While Dawkins and other people who should know better have been, or still are fawning over Hirsi Ali, progressive Muslim scholars and thinkers have challenged her, the Dutch Muslim women were happy to see the back of her, and she’s been exposed as a died in the wool neo-con. The scale of her hypocrisy and double standards are laughable. Despite being a Muslim refugee that was granted asylum on a false premise she went on to represent a political party that would have denied her application, and seeks to persecute Muslims. She also proposes the following measures for the EU:

Admission of immigrants on the basis of their contribution to the economy. The current system “is designed to attract the highest number of people with truly heartbreaking stories”.

Diplomatic, economic and military interventions in countries which risk causing large migrant flows.

And like many atheists she doesn’t seem to offer a bad word for any religion other than Islam. In fact she goes out of her way to be complimentary about some of them. It comes as no surprise at all then that her views on the Israel-Palestine issue aren’t entirely balanced or sympathetic.

In perusing Dawkins’ website I also discovered a new name. Yet again his story fitted exactly what I’d come to expect of this strange breed of humanists. Sam Harris is another secular atheist that reserves particular disdain for Islam. The article below contains pretty much every generalisation and misconception you could ask of from an Islamophobe.

The only future devout Muslims can envisage—as Muslims—is one in which all infidels have been converted to Islam, politically subjugated, or killed.

In Islam, it is the moderate who is left to split hairs, because the basic thrust of the doctrine is undeniable: convert, subjugate, or kill unbelievers; kill apostates; and conquer the world.

They must tolerate, advocate, and even practice ethnic profiling. It is simply a fact that the greatest predictor of terrorist behavior anywhere in the world (with the exception of the island Sri Lanka) is whether or not a person believes that Allah is the only god and Muhammad is his prophet.

The outrage that Muslims feel over U.S. and British foreign policy is primarily the product of theological concerns. Devout Muslims consider it a sacrilege for infidels to depose a Muslim tyrant and occupy Muslim lands—no matter how well-intentioned the infidels or malevolent the tyrant.

It is time we admitted that we are not at war with “terrorism”; we are at war with precisely the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran.

The idea that Islam is a “peaceful religion hijacked by extremists” is a dangerous fantasy—and it is now a particularly dangerous fantasy for moderate Muslims to indulge.

The arrogance, condescension and ignorance are almost too much to put into words.

On the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’:

But the margin between what is legal and what is desirable, or even decent, leaves room for many projects that well-intentioned people might still find offensive. If you can raise the requisite $100 million, you might also build a shrine to Satan on this spot, complete with the names of all the non-believing victims of 9/11 destined to suffer for eternity in Hell.

Equating Islam with Satanism? Nice. Hang on what’s this?

Harris was raised in a secular Jewish home by a Jewish mother. Harris also defends Israel and its military actions in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and is critical of liberals who do not:

“For instance, [liberals] ignore the fact that Muslims intentionally murder noncombatants, while we and the Israelis (as a rule) seek to avoid doing so. Muslims routinely use human shields, and this accounts for much of the collateral damage we and the Israelis cause; the political discourse throughout much of the Muslim world, especially with respect to Jews, is explicitly and unabashedly genocidal. Given these distinctions, there is no question that the Israelis now hold the moral high ground in their conflict.”

Indeed, it is telling that the people who speak with the greatest moral clarity about the current wars in the Middle East are members of the Christian right.

In the article below he espouses support for Geert ‘The Most Dangerous Man in Europe’ Wilders.

Are these really the words of a humanist liberal? Let’s look at some quotes from Dawkins himself.

“I do feel visceral revulsion at the burka because for me it is a symbol of the oppression of women.”

He calls the burka the “full bin-liner thing”.

“It is possible to see Europe as a haven of civilisation, with the pincer movement of Islam on one side and the US on the other.”

“This is historically a Christian country. I’m a cultural Christian….  I’m not one of those who wants to purge our society of our Christian history. If there’s any threat to these sorts of things, I think you will find it comes from rival religions and not from atheists.”

“The Government could do more but it doesn’t want to because it is fanatical about multiculturalism and the need to respect the different traditions from which these children come.”

“It seems as though teachers are terribly frightened of being thought racist. It’s almost impossible to say anything against Islam in this country because if you do you are accused of being racist or Islamophobic.”

‘Because we are all brought up to respect faith, it leaves open a gap through which fanatics can charge’

“The young men whom you call ‘radicalised Britons’ and ‘extremists’ are just honest Muslims who take their scriptures seriously.”

There is precious little difference between these comments and those we hear from the likes of the EDL and other right-wing bigots preceded by the caveat “I’m not being racist but….”

Elsewhere on the site the articles are reproduced from their source uncritically. There’s no moderation with regards to the accuracy or bias. Take this one for example. In an obvious attempt to discredit someone they view as an ‘Islamic apologist’ they unwittingly side with and give credence to British nutjob Anjem Choudary.

Recently, Christianne Amanpour hosted a panel discussion meant to explore the misunderstood delineation between moderate and extremist Islam.

She likely sought to support the notion that Islam is peaceful, and to advance the belief that only a small contingent of radicals corrupts the faith. To those ends, she enlisted guests of Christian and Muslim backgrounds for her panel.

It’s the standard stuff that tends to make Christians look intolerant and Muslims look misunderstood.

When Amanpour addresses the ideas of Muslim cleric Anjem Choudary, she has the audacity to question his ideas about Islamic domination.

Then, in an effort to convey that Islam can live in peace with the Western world, he concludes, “We do believe as Muslims that the east and the west will one day be governed by the Sharia. Indeed we believe that one day the flag of Islam will fly over the White House.”

So a Muslim woman in the panel decided to take Choudary to task for his reckless and inflammatory statements, and she went on to instruct him that Islam is a faith of pluralism, and that it provides an allowance of other faiths to exist in a state of equal importance.

But my guess is that she forgot that she was speaking with someone who had given far more study to the Quran and Hadith than most Christian theologians.

To her assumption of Islamic tolerance of other faiths and legal systems, Choudary simply suggests that she knows nothing of what Islam desires or requires.

He even makes the comparison that she is a Muslim in the same way that a person who occasionally eats beef burgers is a vegetarian.

This exchange reveals that cleric Anjem Choudary practices fundamental adherence to Islam in an effort to live in reflection of and submission to the prophet.

While it is important to note that moderate Muslims do exist, it is imperative that we keep that fact within the proper global context.  Amanpour and liberal pundits the world over can host hundreds of panels comprised of thousands of Muslims that have embraced Western culture, and that will not change the fact that such voices are irrelevant in the Islamic worldThe millions and millions of Muslims that share Choudary’s literal belief in fundamental Islam are ultimately compelled to achieve the goal of universal Sharia, or die trying.

I their haste to discredit someone who clearly has the intention of portraying a balanced and positive image of Muslims, they have assumed that a leader of a proscribed group who supports terrorism is the voice of Islam. Someone who is regarded as a joke and a nuisance among the 2.5 million Muslims in the UK. A brief scan of the ‘About’ page of the blog reveals:

The right to exist and the survival of the State of Israel are of great importance to us.

Sigh. Ignorance? Coincidence?

The Dawkins website also had a Bad Faith Awards in 2010. Predominantly made up of figures that had made distasteful comments, or were at odds with atheism. But in 8th place was Lauren Booth who had converted to Islam. The rationale?

8th place: Lauren Booth (286 votes)

Perhaps readers viewed Cherie Blair’s sister’s very public conversion to Islam as an act worthy of ridicule rather than the Bad Faith Award.

Another minor quibble that, whilst being relatively trivial, is another indication of Islam’s special place in the websites crosshairs, is the fact that it has its own search tag. Islam has only 5 pages of search results whilst ‘Religion’ has 132. Take the Islam related articles out and you have 128 articles associated with other religions, yet none are singled out with their own tag. As I say, it may seem pedantic, but hints at an underlying prejudice which becomes more apparent on closer inspection.

There seems to be an attitude among atheists whereby the urge to criticise religion is so overpowering, they abandon their propensity for critical thought and prefer instead to believe the propaganda and lies peddled by Neo-cons, Zionists, Islamophobes and racists. Instead of being allies in the battle against bigotry, the militant atheists and secularists seem to have chosen to use their rational thought process to do the opposite.

Myth-Conceptions Pt. I: Halal

In light of the EDL demo at a KFC in Blackburn recently I thought I’d bring forward a post I was going to publish a bit further down the line.

As part of their humanitarian effort the EDL have become animal rights activists by voicing their disapproval of the availability of Halal meat in the UK. They claim that the method of slaughter is inhumane and barbaric. The real reason for their opposition is the perception that it’s another sign of what they see as the Islamization of Britain, or to use the correct buzzwords, Stealth Jihad or Creeping Sharia (boo hiss). They are particularly disgusted that Halal food is being served in some schools, and that children have been consuming it unwittingly. Or ‘force fed’ if you want to get all tabloid about it.

Apart from the EDL opposition, ‘normal’ parents have also voiced concerns. Some share the worry that the ritual causes unnecessary suffering to the animal, and others feel the problem lies with the alleged absence of knowledge or choice on the matter. There are those also that take umbrage with it on religious grounds. Whether it is because they are of a different faith, or feel that religious slaughter shouldn’t have a place in our society.

On the face of it I’d have to concede they are largely natural and legitimate points to raise. Let’s put aside the fact that the EDL masquerading as an animal welfare organisation is quite absurd considering they have no qualms about leaving severed pigs heads outside mosques, and are strangely silent on, well, literally ALL other animal welfare issues. I have yet to see the EDL Vegan Division or a flash demo at a fox hunt.

Is the claim that Halal slaughter is inhumane and causes unnecessary suffering to the animal accurate? When considering this, it’s important to bear in mind the alternative, non-religious method, as any conclusion must be relative to this.

Dhabihah is the Arabic name for the method of slaughter. This method of slaughtering animals consists of a swift, deep incision with a sharp knife on the neck, cutting the jugular veins and carotid arteries of both sides but leaving the spinal cord intact. The objective of this technique is to more effectively drain the body of the animal’s blood, resulting in more hygienic meat.

There are other prerequisites which need to be adhered to, to ensure the meat is Halal.

• The animal must not be a forbidden substance as per the Quran.

• The slaughter itself must be done by a sane (mentally competent) adult Muslim. Some Muslims also consider it acceptable to eat the meat slaughtered by “People of the Book” (Arabic: Ahl al-Kitāb, i.e,Jews and Christians(not St. Paulists) ‎) as stated in Surah Al-Maa’idah, Ayat 5.

• Some Muslims believe the name/praise of God Almighty must be read before sacrificing the animal (as opposed to the name of anything other than God). This is a major split amongst Muslims. Those believing the former do not eat food killed by Christians (as the name of God is not read during the killing), even though it is in direct conflict with Surah Al-Maa’idah, Ayat 5.

Several other conditions are also stated: the knife’s blade should be extremely sharp yet not be sharpened in front of the animal, the animal must not be slaughtered in front of other animals, and the animal’s eyes and ears must be checked to ensure its health and suitability for slaughter. If it is deemed to be healthy, it is given water to drink (to quench its thirst). The animal should then be stood to face the Qibla, and the actual slaughter can begin.

According to Islamic tradition, the animal is brought to the place of slaughter and laid down gently so as to not injure it. The blade must be kept hidden until the very last moment while the jugular of the animal is felt. The conventional method used to slaughter the animal involves cutting the large arteries in the neck along with the esophagus and vertebrate trachea with one swipe of a non-serrated blade. Care must be taken that the nervous system is not damaged, as this may cause the animal to die before exsanguination has taken place. While blood is draining, the animal is not handled until it has died. If any other method is used its meat will not be halal.

This method adheres to Islamic law (it ensures the animal does not die by any of the Haraam methods) and helps to effectively drain blood from the animal. This may be important because the consumption of blood itself is forbidden in Islam.

The conditions of slaughter are stated in the Qur’an:
Forbidden for you are carrion, and blood, and flesh of swine, and that which has been slaughtered while proclaiming the name of any other than God, and one killed by strangling, and one killed with blunt weapons, and one which died by falling, and that which was gored by the horns of some animal, and one eaten by a wild beast, except those whom you slaughter; and that which is slaughtered at the altar and that which is distributed by the throwing of arrows [for an omen]; this is an act of sin. — Al-Maa’idah 5:3

Non-Halal meat uses the following methods:

Stunning is the process of rendering animals immobile or unconscious, without killing the animal, prior to their being slaughtered for food.

Electrical stunning is done by sending an electrical current through the brain and/or heart of the animal before slaughter. Current passing through the brain induces an immediate but non-fatal general convulsion that produces unconsciousness. Current passing through the heart produces an immediate cardiac arrest that also leads shortly to unconsciousness and death. It is a controversial subject however.

With percussive stunning, a device which hits the animal on the head, with or without penetration, is employed. Such devices, such as the captive bolt pistol, can be either pneumatic, or powder-actuated. Percussive stunning produces immediate unconsciousness through brain trauma.

It must be stressed that Animal Welfare is an increasingly important issue for the EU. The Law of slaughter is seen as an integral part of the Animal Welfare Legislation. The issue of ritual slaughter isn’t a new one though and it’s very interesting to see where and by whom the practice has been particularly opposed.

Religious slaughter without stunning was prohibited in several countries in Europe from 1936 to 1944 under the occupation of Nazi Germany (Germany in 1936, Italy in 1938, then in the majority of the other European countries according to the Nazi Germany occupation progress between 1940 and 1944)

The far-right National Front (NF) party, via offering support to the animal welfare groups in their opposition to the ritual slaughter of animals, was able to target Jews and Muslims. An official NF publication at the time announced:
“All the Jews have to do is stop this barbaric and torturous murder of defenceless animals. When they cease the slaughter the NF will cease its campaign. Until then the NF campaign for animal welfare will continue.”

Sound familiar?

BNP journal, British Countryman, contained an article entitled ‘Stop the Real Cruelty,’ which stated: ‘Hundreds of thousands of animals die in terror and agony by having their throats slashed open without humane stunning. Halal and kosher ritual slaughter of fully conscious animals is a barbaric affront to the British tradition of livestock […] Ritual slaughter is a deliberate torture!'”

It’s no surprise then, that there have been numerous scientific studies on this subject in order to comply with animal welfare legislation.

Experiments for the objectification of pain and consciousness during conventional (captive bolt stunning) and religiously mandated (“ritual cutting”) slaughter procedures for sheep and calves.

By W. Schulze, H. Schultze-Petzold, A.S. Hazem, and R. Gross
The Animal Welfare Act of 24 July 1972 (TierSchG) assumes the basic concept of an ethically orientated animal welfare legislation.

Professor Schulze and Dr. Hazem of the University of Hanover undertook a comparative study of various methods of slaughter: religious slaughter by direct bleeding and slaughter with stunning using a gun (“captive bolt”) followed by bleeding. To measure in an objective way the pain, the authors took care to obtain an electroencephalogram (EEG) and an electrocardiogram (ECG) for each animal.

The experiments show that recordings of the EEG done on the animals slaughtered by direct bleeding did not show any change between the moments before the bleeding and after the bleeding, thus clarifying the fact that the animal does not feel pain during and after the incision (measurements were taken on 17 sheep and 10 calves). The state of unconsciousness (major sleep) is detected between 4 and 6 seconds for sheep and around 10 seconds for the calves. The flat EEG (brain death) is reached after 13 seconds for the sheep and 23 seconds for the calves. The ECG showed an increase in the heart rate to 240 beats per minute in the 40 seconds after the bleeding of the sheep and 280 beats per minute in the 40 seconds after the bleeding of the bovines, which correlated with the phenomena of convulsion of the body as is generally observed.

Concerning the measurements taken on the stunned animals (6 sheep and 5 calves), serious disturbances were observed in the EEG after the application of the gun. The flat EEG is reached after 28 seconds for 4 calves. They also noted the following phenomenon for two sheep: whereas the activity of a half of the brain is stopped, the other part presents intense activity until the bleeding stops. The bleeding that occurred after stunning resulted in a stopping of cerebral activity. Recordings of the ECG showed values higher than 300 beats per minutes after stunning. More over, differences were observed during measurements of pain by thermal stimulation carried out on some animals: nothing was detected after the direct bleeding, while an increase in the pain was observed for a sheep after the stunning.

The authors concluded that if the direct bleeding is done well (adequate equipment, and a cut that is deep and rapid), it is more effective than the stunning by gun (i.e., the flat EEG was reached more quickly); and that methods of direct bleeding, following these studies should be reconsidered by European authorities so that religious slaughter is not an “exception” within the framework of religious freedom but is in fact a more humane form of slaughter.

“When the instrument is well sharpened and the slaughter is fast, the incision does not cause in the animal a defensive movement and there is no immediate reaction (…). On the contrary, voluntary defensive movements were observed in stunned animals at the moment when the knife is inserted in the animal to slice the chinstraps and the carotids”

The slaughter in the form of ritual cut is, if carried out properly, painless in sheep and calves according to the EEG recordings and the missing defensive actions.

During the experiments with captive bolt stunning no indications could be found for proscribing this method for calves.

For sheep, however, there were in parts severe reactions both to the bloodletting cut and the pain stimuli. A proof of the reliable effectiveness of captive bolt stunning could not be provided using the methods applied.

Here’s another.

This report quotes in particular the Ph.D work of Dr Pouillaude which concludes by: “religious slaughter would thus be a less stressing mode of slaughter. Conclusions of all the scientific experiments converge towards a firmly supported certainty: properly carried out, religious slaughter is the most humane way because it leads to less trauma to animals to be killed to be consumed for its meat”.

“In addition, we hear the reflections of professionals daily confronted with slaughter who take refuge initially behind the lawful requirements. Then they expose their perplexity: one can cause suffering while stunning, one can be compassionate while bleeding directly. Essentially, concludes one (prudently or sincerely?) that when it “is well done” direct bleeding gives a very fast death, but requires a very qualified slaughter man; stunning, in terms of the current situation, requires less expertise, but if the stun is unsuccessful, it is very likely more painful than direct bleeding” religious slaughter without prior stunning is the least painful method for the animal and for humans; it does not neglect the interests of the animal nor does it pose a medical risk for the consumer “in any case, associations of animal welfare estimate in a unanimous way that the stunning of the animals before the bleeding ensures unconsciousness and anaesthesia; In that case, there is no reaction by the animal during the incision.” It seems that the animal is not conscious that its throat is cut”.

From the same report:

Does the processes of stunning remove suffering itself, OR the possibility to manifest it?

She puts forward an evaluation of certain methods classically used to evaluate pain, and, in particular, the exploration of the reflexes of the eyelid, cornea and the legs. Suppression of these reflexes at the time of stunning can come from a driving paralysis directly induced by these methods (e.g., electro narcosis) without modifying cerebral functions.

• The calm cattle collapse quickly (often after 10 to 20 seconds, average 17 seconds) and they have a faster onset of insensibility.

• The simultaneous cutting of the two carotid arteries and the two jugular veins (as required by the religious rule) reduces, significantly, the time to loss of sensibility. By carrying out a fast cut, 95% of the calves collapse almost immediately.

For the sociologist Noélie Vialles, the stunning is appreciated much more by the public as it is less spectacular and consequently appears to be less painful, but without assuring the public that it is actually an efficient process:

“Generally, the analyses of people who are supposed to know conclude that it is not certain concerning the stunning prior to bleeding; but that the spectacle of the direct bleeding appears to be more violent and painful to the human observer, thus humans should watching it, whatever the results are for the animal. What stunning eliminates, most surely, is therefore human discomfort.

Nobody can dispute that any slaughter of animals is an aesthetically loaded process. Thus the wide-spread emotional resistance to kill an animal, which has not been stunned, by cutting the throat, is understandable.

So there we have two major studies, one of which forms the basis of the Animal Welfare Act in force in Germany, using scientific evidence to prove that ritual slaughter without stunning is not more inhumane and painful. In fact, the opposite.

In a strange twist, there are statistics that say stunning actually DOES take place prior to slaughter in up to 90% of Halal slaughter in the UK anyway. Where this leaves the EDL is anyone’s guess. In a state of confusion more than likely.

Something that really seems to be riling the Islamophobes is not just the issue of Halal meat, but other foodstuffs that are Halal approved. They appear to be under the illusion that if a chocolate bar or other confectionaries are Halal approved, some form of barbaric slaughter has taken place. The thought of unknowingly eating a Haribo sweet that is Halal fills them with the kind of disgust I could only feel on finding out I was being served the family pet for tea.

Attn EDL: A label stating that a Cadbury’s Cream Egg is Halal doesn’t mean that the Easter Bunny has been sacrificed in the name of Allah by a bloodthirsty jihadist.

“Halal” is an Arabic word meaning “lawful” or “permissible”, and the term not only covers food and drink, but also to all matters of daily life. When it comes to halal food, most people think of meat foods only. However, Muslims must ensure that all foods, particularly processed foods, pharmaceuticals, and non-food items like cosmetics, are also halal. Frequently, these products contain animal by-products or other ingredients that are not permissible for Muslims to eat or use on their bodies.

• The abundance of pork and non-dhabiḥa meats at restaurants presents a rather-difficult problem to overcome. While a Muslim will not order a non-dhabiḥa halal dish, there is a concern about cross-contamination. This is likely to occur when the dhabiḥa halal dish is prepared with the same cooking tools and in the same kitchen as other non-dhabiḥa halal dishes. Food particles and juices from the two dishes are likely to be exchanged, technically rendering the dhabiḥa halal dish as haraam.

• Many apparently meat-free dishes, and even some desserts, contain pork, such as most kinds of gelatin, or other non-conforming substances. There is some disagreement about food additives such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) that may use enzymes derived from pig fat in the production process. It is difficult to avoid such additives when eating out since they are usually not listed on restaurant menus. Some Muslim organizations compile tables of such additives.

• Alcoholic beverages, including wine and whiskey, are used in many sauces and cakes, and alcohol is used as ingredient (a solvent and a preservative) for the production and storage of food flavorings such as vanilla and other extracts.

‘kay? If you want to treat yourself to a Ferrero Rocher, and it’s Halal, fear not. It only means that all of the ingredients used are ‘permissible’ for Muslims. You will not need your stomach pumped or a bleach enema.

What of the other issues? I’m not aware of any Christian texts that forbid the consumption of meat slaughtered in accordance to any other faiths law. Jews have Kosher food if they adhere to halakha, Hindus and Sikhs may require Jhatka meat, may abstain from meat completely or not restrict themselves in any way. If a person has dietary restrictions through adhering to religious requirements, they should be respected. But if someone refuses or objects to eating food simply because it complies with a particular faith, but their own religion places no restrictions on it, I have no sympathy. The same for atheists, or secularists. If they only object to Halal food because there are religious stipulations, then they have the right not to eat it, but to make an issue of it would be pointless and unnecessary in my view. I have no time for religious bigotry.

As far as the right to choose, or the right to know is concerned, I think transparency is important. I also think a person should have the right to decide for themselves. A school, for example, should provide a Halal option if it’s required, but also a non-Halal option. Crucially though, people should be able to make an informed decision. Deciding because of a misconception or prejudice is not helpful. It maybe trivial in the grand scheme of things, but if it’s more economical and practical to only provide Halal meat in certain schools, non-Muslim pupils and parents should be in possession of the facts. Ignorance can be cured, but bigotry can be very stubborn. If you still object in the face of scientific evidence, then you deserve to spend your evenings making bland sandwiches.

The rabid ferocity from the EDL that has seen flash demo’s at fast food outlets and schools that offer Halal options is due to what they see as ‘Stealth Jihad’. This phrase is the title of a book by Robert Spencer, a bogus ‘scholar’ who peddles inflammatory anti-Muslim propaganda. It is used to describe what he and his like see as the Islamisation of the Western world. The paranoid belief that Muslims are migrating, breeding and enforcing Sharia law, in order to establish a global caliphate. ‘Creeping Sharia’ is another of the favoured terms (as well as being an excellent name for am Islamic heavy metal band).

Whereas I and most liberals would see providing a Halal option as being part of an inclusive and integrated society, the Islamophobes see it as the first step on a slippery slope that leads to infidels being hung in local town centres. Asserting that brutally oppressive practices by corrupt rulers, is a result of Islamic law is bound to cause panic among the naïve, and manifests itself in the guise of misguided protests by ‘patriots’ defending ‘our way of life’. Are they right to be afraid of Sharia law? Is it a threat to our society? In my opinion, no. Muslims make up 4% of the UK population. Not all British Muslims are practicing and therefore don’t live according to the Qur’an, Sunnah, hadith, Sharia etc. The EDL would have us believe that in the next 20-40 years, this 4% will rise to such an extent that we will all be living under Islamic law. The logic and statistics they use to prove this have been debunked comprehensively on numerous occasions. It’s just paranoid fantasy.

As for whether Sharia actually IS oppressive and barbaric? That’s a whole other question that needs specific attention, and I have no doubt will be addressed in the future.

A few interesting Halal related websites and articles below.

Islamophobia & Myth-Conceptions

As I have mentioned previously, one of the reasons I started this blog was to address the problem of Islamophobia. It’s a word that has crept into the vocabulary of what you might term the liberal or progressive fairly recently. But the existence of the word and even the concept itself, still gets denied and ridiculed by certain sections of the right. For those who may be uninitiated, I’ll give as clear and concise a summary of what it means as I can. The dictionary definition is: hatred or fear of Muslims or of their politics or culture or, simply, prejudice against Muslims

There are people that claim it’s a manufactured word, invented by the PC Brigade to stifle debate about the ‘Muslim problem’. This is incorrect of course. There is absolutely no denying that prejudice against Muslims exists, so what should it be called? You could use the phrase ‘religious bigotry’, but that would be avoiding the fact that the religion of Islam is the target of more discrimination than, say Christianity or Hinduism. The phrase ‘Anti-Semitism’ is used to describe discrimination against Jews, so why shouldn’t Muslims be able to legitimise the discrimination they face by giving it a name? It’s a rhetorical question, but I’ll just say, it’s because it doesn’t suit the agenda of the right, who are relying on the perception of the bogeyman of Islam to further their power and influence.

One of the reasons the word Islamophobia needed to be coined, was because it was too easy for the anti-Islam movement to deny accusations of racism due to Islam not being a race. A convenient excuse that’s become a tired cliché parroted by the likes of the EDL. It is now standard procedure for them to scoff at their new label as a made up word, invented to stop their freedom of speech. As far as they are concerned, as their mission statement claims, they are only against militant Islam not ALL Muslims. They are an anti-extremist pressure group, a human rights organisation in fact. Everyone is against terrorism, oppression and brutality right? How can that be construed as racist or Islamophobic?

It doesn’t take too much scrutiny to find the ignorance and prejudice that earns people of their ilk the label though. They are against Sharia law being implemented in the UK, they are against Halal meat and produce on the grounds of animal rights, they are against the Burka on the grounds of women’s rights, they are opposed to the building of Mosques as they believe they are breeding grounds for extremism, they believe the Qu’ran is an evil, barbaric book that promotes hatred of non-Muslims. You might be thinking, ‘but surely if all that’s true, their cause is valid’. And you’d be right. But the problem is, their opinions are based on myths, misconceptions and blatant lies. Aided and abetted by the right wing media and professional bigots, there is no shortage of anti-Muslim propaganda to fuel their beliefs and justify their prejudice.

The Runnymeade Trust attempted to define Islamophobia way back in 1997. Their document ‘Islamophobia: A Challenge For Us All’ is widely accepted, including by the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia.
The eight components are:

1. Islam is seen as a monolithic bloc, static and unresponsive to change.
2. Islam is seen as separate and ‘other’. It does not have values in common with other cultures, is not affected by them and does not influence them.
3. Islam is seen as inferior to the West. It is seen as barbaric, irrational, primitive and sexist.
4. Islam is seen as violent, aggressive, threatening, supportive of terrorism and engaged in a ‘clash of civilisations’.
5. Islam is seen as a political ideology and is used for political or military advantage.
6. Criticisms made of the West by Islam are rejected out of hand.
7. Hostility towards Islam is used to justify discriminatory practices towards Muslims and exclusion of Muslims from mainstream society.
8. Anti-Muslim hostility is seen as natural or normal.

Other definitions and comments can be found here:

What I intend to do, is debunk the myths, expose the lies and set the record straight. The information needed to do this is already out there and readily available. So I’m not claiming it as my own work. Merely presenting the results of my research, in the hope that it can contribute positively, in some way, to the fight against hatred.

Fighting Talk

When is enough, enough? How much does one have to endure before it’s acceptable to cross the line that your conscience and values mark out? Is there a point whereby you’re permitted to stoop to a previously unchartered level and still keep your dignity and morality in tact? Is there a time and a place where, allowing the most primal animal instincts within us to overcome our better judgement, is justifiable?

I like to think I’m a pacifist. I’m pretty laid back and reserved, I’m usually calm and rational even in heated situations. I don’t have a short temper, and even when I lose it, instigating violence has never entered my mind. I don’t experience a red mist and I’m always able to stay in control of my actions. The thought of inflicting pain on someone else doesn’t sit easily with me at all. Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age. Maybe being a father has given me an added sense of empathy and compassion. Hurting someone means hurting somebody’s son, father, husband, brother. I don’t really want to do that.

Solving problems with reasoning and forgiveness gives me a much greater sense of satisfaction than I imagine knocking someone out would. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to sound smug and superior because it actually frustrates me sometimes. I’ve been in situations where a confrontation was a possibility, and I know other people would have taken that step, but I’ve decided it’s just not worth the hassle. But maybe giving my alpha male instincts a bit of exercise would have been the best thing to do? Would letting a loudmouthed bully off the hook give him the confidence to pick on someone else more vulnerable than me? Am I showing a sign of weakness that encourages the bully? Would flexing a bit of muscle enhance my male pride and earn me respect and admiration? Maybe, but it’s just not in my nature.

I’ve also developed a keener sense of self preservation in fatherhood. Getting into a physical confrontation is dangerous, that’s pretty obvious. But people are unpredictable when the testosterone and adrenaline are flowing, not to mention alcohol. The survival instinct kicks in and anything can happen. A bottle or pint glass can turn skin and flesh into a bloody mess. Someone’s head between a heavy foot and concrete pavement could mean curtains. You could end up unrecognisable, in prison or dead, over something trivial just to save face. It’s not just one person that suffers the consequences.

Where am I going with this rambling self analysis? Well, as usual, the racists have got me wound up. I tell myself not to react, but I have to. I shouldn’t look, but it’s like a car crash. Those four characters that open up a world of hate and bile: #EDL. It’s like internet crack for do-gooders like me. One hit and there’s no going back. No matter how unhealthy and damaging it is, I’ve just got to have my daily fix. But it never changes. The same vile racists, spewing out the same vile clichés. No matter how many attempts are made to educate and inform them. No matter how many myths and lies you debunk, with quotes, facts and statistics, the record never changes. Using irony and wit to combat the hate doesn’t work either. On a few occasions I’ve let myself down and even resorted to childish insults and personal abuse. It’s like picking an itchy scab. Momentary relief followed by the realisation that you’ve just reopened the wound and made it worse.

Why take it so seriously, it’s only Twitter? I know this, but I also know that Twitter is just the tip of the iceberg. It pales in comparison to some of the comments written on the EDL Facebook pages. Dig a little deeper into the history of the EDL, their affiliations, their family tree, and it becomes apparent that even if the rank and file are a knuckle dragging laughing stock, there are far more powerful and sinister characters pulling the strings, and lending support. Amongst the foot soldiers are hardcore racists, neo-Nazi’s, and white supremacists. These aren’t gullible kids who are being manipulated. These are dangerous people who will not change their views. They’re using the surge in Islamophobia and the EDL movement as the bandwagon they’ve been looking for since the demise of the National Front and Combat 18. It gives them the outlet for violence that the BNP doesn’t and the pretence of being a non-racist pressure group as cover.

A cursory glance at screen captures from the EDL Facebook is enough to confirm that there are a large number of people willing to use violence and intimidation to realise their racist ideals. It’s not uncommon to see suggestions of ethnic cleansing, arson, and murder along with military imagery and balaclava-clad men with machetes, Samurai swords or firearms. Is it all just posturing and empty rhetoric? The fact that there are a number of members, who make no secret of their convictions for racially motivated assaults, hooligan activities, paramilitary affiliations, as well as some who are already serving time for murder, or on terrorism charges seems to suggest it’s not all just hot air.

The EDL have also recently ‘enjoyed’ much media exposure, and are making a name for themselves on mainland Europe and Stateside. They have overtly aligned themselves with the Jewish Defence League, a Zionist organisation who the FBI have classed as a right wing terrorist group, and the SPLC have called a hate group involved in anti-Arab terrorism. The FBI also claims they have been involved in plotting terrorist attacks within the United States. Alan Lake, a multi millionaire business man, has previously approached UKIP with the intention of politicising the EDL. He has provided them with funding, and has also financed and advised far right political parties in Europe. Many people believe Lake to be the EDL puppet master.

There’s no denying that the EDL has evolved significantly since its inception. In fact the whole Islamophobic movement has become the right wing bandwagon of choice in recent years. Fox News, The Tea Party, SIOE & SIOA, EDL, Geert Wilders & PVV, Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, Melanie Phillips, Daily Star, Daily Express, Daily Mail, the Sun, Sweden Democrats and others have all found it very lucrative and profitable.

Despite this, the poor turnout of the EDL’s recent Luton demo has led many to believe that they have lost their initial momentum, and the increase in publicity has worked against them. Right leaning ‘news’ papers such as the Daily Mail have been (hypo)critical, and even the Daily Star have backtracked from what seemed to be a sympathetic stance. Their planned demo in Birmingham (in protest at two Respect Party councilors who refused to give an ovation to a Marine receiving the George Cross) has been aborted due to the soldier in question distancing himself in no uncertain terms. Where does this leave them? They have certainly been shunned by the mainstream right wing. It will be interesting to see what transpires when the next major march is planned.

My take is they will undoubtedly gain members and sympathisers with the exposure (and continued anti-Muslim media and government bias), but inevitably more critics and opposition to boot. It’s what form this opposition takes that is really at the heart of this blog post. One of the reasons I started this blog was to address the Islamophobic myths and lies. An attempt to demystify, and re-humanize the bogeyman that has been created. There is no substitute for the truth. Knowledge and understanding are the real keys to stopping the hate. But I fear that the vast majority of the EDL only believe what suits their agenda, and will only take notice of anything that re-affirms their views. They have financial backing and influential allies. In one form or another, these people are here to stay and so is their bigotry. It’s up to us how successful they, and future generations are.

Am I going to be arguing with the EDL on the internet for the rest of my life? There’s only so much banging my head against a brick wall I can take. The frustration and anger I feel at their inability and unwillingness to engage in meaningful dialogue is not good. Not good for my stress levels and not good for society. It’s also an indication that they aren’t going to back down from their stance. There are plenty of people willing to fight fire with fire. Who believe that the only way to talk to the EDL and their ilk is by using the only language they understand, hate and violence. They will look to the UKuncut movement, to Tunisia and to Egypt, and see that sometimes a degree of militancy is needed to kick-start a change, to highlight the urgency and importance of the cause. But is it ever possible to justify the use of force for good? Is there such a thing as righteous violence? I know, I’m on dangerous ground here. But how many times have you thought “that Tommy Robinson needs a good slap” or “Nick Griffin has got such a punchable face”? How satisfying was watching the Ajax fans humiliate the EDL in Amsterdam? Should we lose any sleep over some racists getting their comeuppance when they provocatively stray into ‘enemy territory’? I know it’s wrong and hypocritical, but these people bring out the worst in me.

The approach of Hope not Hate at the Luton demo was exactly what was needed on the day. Avoiding confrontation and liaising with the local community was the right thing to do. Hopefully this is the way forward in defeating the EDL. My worry is that the more peaceful their demos are, the more chance they have of creating a more acceptable image. If their events take on a more respectable guise, how long before they are family events with new generations of poisoned minds with no visible opposition? Will they just go away if we ignore them? Just fizzle out with a whimper? Am I overestimating them and underestimating the general goodness in humanity? I hope so.

I’d better add a disclaimer here. This isn’t intended as a rallying cry or call to arms for the militant left. It’s just a stream of consciousness I’m using as therapy. I’m talking myself down from an angry place. It will all be better in the morning. Peace. 🙂

David Yaxley-Griffin

Half listening to Radio 5live on Saturday, while going about my business, in a haze of sleep deprivation, and the first 6 Nations hangover of the year. I caught the tail end of David Cameron’s speech in Munich. To my surprise he seemed to be making refreshingly balanced and even complimentary statements about Muslims and Islam. As I was going to be spending the majority of the afternoon keeping tabs on the EDL demo taking part in Luton that day, it gave my spirits a little boost.

A little while later, a news item on the PM’s speech reported him as having claimed that multiculturalism had failed, while also making criminally inaccurate and ignorant comments regarding what seemed to be the British Muslim community in isolation. I checked my Twitter feed as soon as I could, and the more I read, the more stunned and dismayed I became. It was as if he, and his writers, had used Daily Express back issues and BNP propaganda as research material. As a result he inadvertently gave a speech that, while not going as far as endorsing the EDL, legitimized their cause and their reasoning. The timing couldn’t have been worse. It was a kick in the teeth to every person working hard to combat the bigotry of the EDL, and an insult to the Muslim communities of the UK.

How could the Prime Minister of one of the most tolerant and compassionate countries in the World (in my opinion), get it so spectacularly wrong? He would surely have access to information that documents the work done within the Muslim community to counter extremism? Is he genuinely ignorant to the complex and varied reasons why segregation and division occur? In a way I hope he is. Because if his speech is an indication of what will be put into practice as part of the Governments anti-terrorism strategy, he will only alienate the very people best positioned to co-operate. If he is oblivious to this, at least there’s a possibility of him revising his position. But if this is actually another ideological policy, hidden behind disingenuous misinformation, designed to cut public funding, it worries me even more.

This thinly veiled attempt at justifying withdrawal of funds for Muslim organisations, andstirring of Nationalist pride will act as a rubber stamp for the EDL. Stephen Lennon has already welcomed Cameron’s words, and accepted them as approval for the EDL stance. Whilst Nick Griffin has also claimed that they echo the BNP’s sentiments. You’d think that this would be cause for concern for the Coalition, but instead they’ve issued an unapologetic defence of the speech. There will undoubtedly be numerous blogs and articles that will dissect Cameron’s words, policies and hypocrisy far more articulately and knowledgeably than myself, so I’ll leave that to them. What I will address though, is the concept of multiculturalism. What does he actually mean by ‘state multiculturalism’, and what does multiculturalism mean to me?

I’m assuming that when he’s talking of ‘state multiculturalism’, he’s referring to the popular right-wing cliché that New Labours immigration policy was an attempt at social engineering, whereby immigrants would keep them in power in a display of eternal gratitude, whilst also encouraging a dilution of British ‘identity’ and ‘values’ so precious to the Tories. This has been reported as fact, denied, and debated over and over, so I’ll leave it at that. It seems to me that when Cameron talks of this supposed doctrine, he’s referring to the acceptance and tolerance of diversity. But doesn’t see it as being compassionate, and aiding in a transitional process. His view is that it’s divisive and detrimental to society. This is what he said in February 2008.

“State multiculturalism is a wrong-headed doctrine that has had disastrous results. It has fostered difference between communities,”

“And it has stopped us from strengthening our collective identity. Indeed, it has deliberately weakened it.”

Cameron defined “state multiculturalism” as “the idea that we should respect different cultures within Britain to the point of allowing them – indeed encouraging them – to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream.”

it meant “not just essential information, but all information, endlessly translated into numerous languages, to cater for numerous people, who can then continue to go about their daily lives without ever having to learn English.

“Multiculturalism was manipulated to entrench the right to difference – which is a divisive concept. What we need is the right to equal treatment despite difference.”

On Sharia law:

If Williams meant that different communities should have different laws, then that would be “dangerous and illiberal”, the Tory leader said.

The introduction of sharia law for Muslims would be “the logical endpoint of the now discredited doctrine of state multiculturalism”, he said.

He went on: “It would alienate other communities who would resent this preferential treatment. It would provide succour to the separatists who want to isolate and divide communities from the mainstream.

“And it would – crucially – weaken, destabilise and demoralise those Muslims who embrace liberal values and desperately want to integrate fully in British society.”

Cameron said that “state multiculturalism” led to people accepting different cultural behaviour, even if it contravened human rights.

This not only shows his ignorance of Sharia law and its role, but is full of contradictions and huge assumptions. He seems to be inferring that segregation in our towns and cities is based on race and religion, without factoring in economic and social issues. It appears he’s putting the onus on the minority to integrate with the ‘mainstream’, but doesn’t seem to be aware of, or sympathetic to any challenges or obstacles they may face.

Is he actually proposing assimilation rather than integration? Does he expect immigrants, and children or grandchildren of immigrants to abandon all trace of their cultural heritage and identity? What exactly is he suggesting?

Something that really confuses and annoys me is the idea of a British culture, with British values and British identity. Am I alone in wondering what on earth this concept looks or feels like? I mean, I accept that there are character and personality traits that what the BNP would call indigenous British people have in common. The stereotypical stiff upper lip, don’t cause a scene, carry on regardless attitude. The inability to express emotion overtly. The permanently apologetic, awkward person. But even this is a rather outdated and romantic cliché, which fails to acknowledge individual differences.

Are my culture, values and identity identical to those of every other British person? Of course not. How could a married father of two, living in a predominantly white, but ethnically mixed, working class suburb of Cardiff have anything in common with a single, Oxbridge educated man, living in Chelsea? My lifestyle and experiences are worlds apart from many people living on my street. All I could reliably guess I share common ground with most male neighbours on are an interest in football and possibly similar musical tastes. Does a farmer in rural Scotland have an identical culture to an unemployed single mother living on a council estate high-rise in inner city London? Then how can an immigrant adopt a certain culture and a set of values that are supposedly uniquely British, when the ‘indigenous’ British people already have varying cultures, identities, values and moral codes? That’s before you start taking into account British Italians, Greeks, Jamaicans etc that have been part of our society for generations. Is there something I’m missing? Is my definition of culture different to David Cameron’s?  Here’s the Wikipedia definition.

  • An integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning
  • The set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group

The word multicultural suggests that there are several sets of the above criteria in existence in Britain. But how can that be as a result of race, nationality, faith or ethnicity, when people of the same race will naturally have different goals, attitudes, values, behaviours and practices already? What if we narrow down and simplify the criteria to positive values that the majority of us have in common, and the rights we hold dear? Regard for the law, free speech, democracy, tolerance and equality? That’s enough to be getting along with. Is Cameron suggesting that immigrants and Muslims already living here don’t share these values? Is he implying that all ‘indigenous’ Britons do exhibit these values? To suggest either is not only inaccurate, but extremely insulting. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt on this one for now. Let’s assume that what he means by multiculturalism is, a variety of people from different ethnic backgrounds, maintaining their cultural identity, within a society that accepts their difference. As Wikipedia puts it:

The appreciation, acceptance or promotion of multiple cultures, applied to the demographic make-up of a specific place, usually at the organizational level, e.g. schools, businesses, neighbourhoods, cities or nations. In this sense multiculturalism approximates to respect for diversity.

The term may also describe people who have more than one culture in them (people who grew up with more than one cultural identity, also sometimes called bicultural).

If he’s claiming that this concept has failed in Britain, he must also accept that there cannot be true multiculturalism without the acceptance and respect of the host nation’s population. If that’s the case, Britain has failed multiculturalism. I don’t buy that for one second. Britain has welcomed immigrants from former colonies and beyond for decades, and they have played their part in transforming this country into a diverse and vibrant society, that has produced unique cultural phenomena. Multiculturalism in Britain has given us 2 Tone, Drum n Bass, Grime, Dubstep, M.I.A, Balti and Chicken Tikka Masala, as a direct result of the melting pot of cultures, styles and tastes.

No ones claiming Britain to be a utopian cross between a Benetton advert and The Truman Show. There are tensions, and some may indeed manifest themselves along ethnic or racial lines. There may well be issues within certain communities that are particular to a certain faith or nationality. But to present these issues with inaccurate information, and use them to justify unnecessary criticism of the Muslim community, and quite possibly introduce policies that target them unfairly, is disgraceful. Would assimilation eradicate social problems? No. The people who have issues with cultures and customs they see as alien to our society, would simply find another reason to discriminate, be it colour, religion, nationality or anything else that sets people apart from the ‘indigenous’.

In a poll conducted for the BBC in 2009, people were asked to agree or disagree with the statement “Our laws should respect and be influenced by UK religious values”. The proportion of Muslims who agreed (79 per cent) was higher than for Christians themselves (70 per cent). In a survey by the Centre for Social Cohesion, and ironically used selectively by the Daily Mail to portray British Muslims as condoning killing in the name of Islam, found that 89% of those surveyed said women should be treated equally, with only 5% disagreeing, only 25% had an issue with homosexuality, nearly 80% said it was possibly to be equally Muslim and British, 92% had a range of friends across cultural boundaries, and nearly 80% had respect for Jews (with only 7% expressing disrespect), while a similar number respected Atheists. More than 70% said they were more liberal than their parents. Is this an indication that as Cameron states;

“We have failed to provide a vision of society [to young Muslims] to which they feel they want to belong,” and “We have even tolerated segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values. All this leaves some young Muslims feeling rootless. And the search for something to belong to and believe in can lead them to extremist ideology.”?

It wouldn’t appear so. Is he really this out of touch and badly informed? Or is it the start of something altogether more sinister?

I Believe in…………….

What do I believe in? Who do I believe in? Does it matter? Probably not. I’m an atheist. That much I’m sure of. Ever since I understood what agnostic and atheist meant I knew I was one of them, probably agnostic just to be on the safe side. I remember praying when I was a child, but only when I desperately wanted something. I’m pretty certain that even if I believed there might be ‘something’ up there, he wasn’t really doing that good a job if my prayers weren’t being answered. And I never really remember being in fear of the concept of Hell or sinning, or believing that Heaven was real. Not deep down anyway.

In the late 80’s and early 90’s, I got into rock music, metal, grunge, wore black, grew my hair and became pretty much the poster boy for the depressed, moody teenager. At the time, the likes of Tipper Gore and the Christian right were crusading against Judas Priest, Ozzy Osborne, Iron Maiden and anything else that was considered subversive and un-Christian. I rebelled against this instinctively without really considering my faith as such. It was just part of being against the establishment, authority, the mainstream, the system, the man, and anything else that was in the unwritten adolescent manual. I didn’t embrace the anti-Christianity stance that saw the growth of a sub-genre of heavy metal that used Satanic imagery and revelled in the hysteria. I was more likely to mumble “you don’t understand me” and sulk in my bedroom for hours than scream “Fuck You!” and carve a pentagram in my arm.

As I emerged from the other side of the horrible teen fog that I’d been living in, I discovered Bill Hicks, cannabis, books and wonderful creatures called girls, not that I had any luck, but they were nice to look at. A moment of clarity I think it’s called. The seed of doubt had already been sewn by now, and roots had taken hold. I was a cynical non believer, and snorted at the very thought of there being a God. Not only this, but I’d decided that religion was in fact a bad thing.

Finding my position politically, and actually taking an interest in current affairs during the 90’s meant seeing the IRA cause havoc in Ireland and Britain, becoming aware of the ‘situation’ in the Middle East, the first Gulf War, Lockerbie, the Tamil Tigers, the break up of Yugoslavia, as well as hearing about the Holocaust, South African apartheid, and corruption in the Catholic church. Place names like Belfast, Beirut, Gaza, Palestine, Lebanon, Baghdad, Tehran, Sarajevo, became synonymous with death, violence, destruction and lawlessness. In my mind religion was the root cause, it was obvious. Religion was divisive, used to manipulate and subjugate people; therefore if religion didn’t exist, the world’s problems would be solved. Simple.

Throughout the 90’s and 00’s, the only time I noticed religion in the news it was negative press. Child abuse, corrupt televangelists, terrorists, wars and civil unrest. The link was clear. I’d formed the opinion that anyone who followed a religion was conservative, ignorant, bigoted and a little bit weird. They were also weak, as they needed a belief in a supernatural being to give them a sense of purpose, and instructions on how to live righteously.

In around 2007 I read Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’. At roughly the same time I’d become aware of the Creationist movement and the hilarious Creationist Museum in the US. Having been a bit of an amateur naturalist in my youth I was familiar with the theory of evolution, Darwinism, the Big Bang theory etc. from a young age. Dawkins’ work was like atheist porn for me. It resonated so strongly, and further enhanced my opinion that religion was illogical and unnecessary. I became almost evangelical in my atheism, and treated believers with contempt, condescension and a complete lack of respect. I wasn’t even an atheist, more of an anti-theist if there is such a thing. Everyone needed to stop the delusion and get a grip.

So how does someone with such a strong stance against religion end up spending a year reading about Islam? The religion I’d been led to believe was the most archaic, oppressive, violent, and fanatical of the lot. Why does this person spend hours arguing with right wing bigots on the internet, defending Muslims and Islam? I mean, look at Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, the Mujahedeen, 9/11, 7/7, Al Qaeda, Bin Laden, Abu Hamza (he even had a hook! That’s how evil he was!). Incontrovertible proof that religion was dangerous, and Islam was the daddy.

I’ve found myself asking these questions on occasions. I don’t believe in God or Allah, it’s not my problem. They’re all as bad as each other, leave them too it. But it’s not that simple. My atheism was trumped by my liberal guilt. As I’ve blogged previously, the emergence of the EDL led me here. It doesn’t take a bleeding heart liberal to recognise that you can’t judge 1.6 billion people on the actions of a lunatic fringe. Does it? It’s easy to let our emotions be clouded by atrocities carried out by Islamic extremists. Even easier when the tabloid media keeps reminding us how ‘they’ are taking over/getting preferential treatment/being different. But you don’t need to be an expert on Islam to see that this is wrong. You just need common sense.  You also need a sense of perspective, a modicum of intelligence, and a bit of critical thinking. But common sense is a good start.

The problem is, not everyone possesses all of these requirements, and some don’t have any of them. Unfortunately there are also people who are quite happy to perpetuate the misconceptions. Call them racists, Islamophobes, bigots or whatever. These are the types of people that make up the EDL. They are fed scaremongering misinformation, and urban myths, and don’t question the veracity for the reasons outlined above.

What I have discovered during my time as a lap-top activist, having dipped my toes into the cesspool that is the EDL’s online presence, and interacted with the pond life that inhabit these murky waters, is that you have three options.

  1. Expose them.
  2. Mock them.
  3. Challenge them.

There is already an army of hardworking people doing a fantastic job in bringing the true nature of the EDL to the attention of a wider audience.

Mocking them is easy. The majority don’t need much help in looking foolish, as they are cliché parroting parodies that resort to insults without much prodding. In the long term though, this doesn’t really achieve anything. As amusing as it is, it doesn’t address the problem, descends into a slanging match and ultimately is a waste of my time.

The option I decided would be the most fulfilling and rewarding would be to challenge them. Not with aggression or insults, but facts. Facts are EDL kryptonite. They have no response as they only know what they’ve been told. Proving them wrong, or presenting a factual counter argument confuses them, and they either stop engaging or bark insults. Terrorist sympathiser, apologist for Islam, Muslim appeaser, dhimmi, paki lover, I’ve had them all.

The only way to be able to do this is to learn. I thought, if I’m going to take this stance, I need to be able to back it up. There’s no use engaging if you have no answer to the smears they throw. I decided to research as many authentic and reliable sources as my time would allow. It was heartening to find an infinite amount of information that would give me the ammunition I needed. Although depressing that it had to exist in the first place.

Without even noticing, my stance on religion softened. Reading work by Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists and secularists, all exposing and debunking Islamophobic propaganda was an eye-opener. Not only was I learning the truth about a religion that had been unfairly demonised, but also that maybe these God bothering weirdoes weren’t the ones being ignorant. Surely a lefty wouldn’t fall into the trap of tarring everybody with the same brush? It dawned on me that as someone who encourages and celebrates freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of thought, I should surely also include the freedom to practice a religion without prejudice.

The more I read, the more I realised that religion has been with us for over 2000 years and it isn’t likely to go away, so I needed to get over it. It was also blindingly obvious that faith is as important to people as the food they eat and the water they drink. It gives them strength, and peace of mind. The texts they follow teach valuable lessons, virtues and a greater understanding of their purpose in life. It makes no difference how we reach this point, whether it’s with the help of faith or without. The important thing is we reach it. Who am I to patronise someone for reaching out to religion when they’re vulnerable? I realised that when all is said and done, I have the same values, morals and wishes as the vast majority of people of faith. That’s the important thing, not how we came to possess them.

I’m not an academic, a scholar, a theologian or sociologist. I’m not a journalist or a reporter and have no qualifications above HND. I’m a layman trying to make sense of the world, and the society he lives in, and his children are growing up in. The only way that’s possible is through understanding. I’m still a cynic, and an atheist, but with a different perspective on religion. Catholicism isn’t to blame for child abuse, Judaism isn’t to blame for Palestinian children being killed, Islam isn’t to blame for 9/11, Christianity isn’t to blame for the persecution of homosexuals in Uganda, Sikhism wasn’t to blame for the death of 329 people on an Air India flight in 1985, Hinduism wasn’t to blame for 68 Pakistani fatalities on the Samjhauta Express in 2007. It goes much deeper than this, and is more to do with human nature than what is written in ancient scriptures. There’s a maxim common to most of the major religions. It can’t be taken out of context or misinterpreted. It’s one we’re all familiar with, and one we should remind ourselves of every day.


Brahmanism: This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.: Mahabharata 5:1517

Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.: Udana Varga 5:18

Christianity: All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.: Matthew 7:12

Confucianism: Surely it is the maxim of loving-kindness: Do not unto others that you would not have them do unto you.: Analects 15:23

Islam: No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother what which he desires for himself. Sunnah

Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not to your fellowmen. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.: Talmud, Shabbat 31:a

Taoism: Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.: T’ai Shag Kan Ying P’ien

Zoroastrianism: That nature alone is good which refrains from doing unto another whatsoever is not good: for itself. : Dadistan-i-dinik 94:5

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