The rise of the far right – why atheists, secularists and humanists need to make it clear where they stand. - blog by lifelinking


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The rise of the far right – why atheists, secularists and humanists need to make it clear where they stand.
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Posted 26-Sep-2010 at 08:26 PM (20:26) by lifelinking
Updated 27-Sep-2010 at 10:55 PM (22:55) by lifelinking (add Hope Not Hate Link)

Photograph from The Telegraph

The Guardian reported the other day that six people had been arrested on suspicion of inciting racial hatred after a video of some idiots burning Korans in Gateshead appeared on the internet. The next day the Telegraph updated the story, saying that the six men fully expected to be charged. From the telegraph article:

The men, all but one of them members of the far-right English Defence League, set fire to what appears to be the Muslim holy books on the anniversary of the 9/11 atrocities in the United States.

They say they carried out the “private joke” as a riposte to historical images of Muslim extremists burning American flags and effigies of western leaders.

However, all six insist that they have no idea who actually posted the video onto the internet, and say they now “bitterly regret” the stunt. All are now on bail pending further police inquiries.

The clip, recorded in the back yard of a public house in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, has been broadly condemned by other YouTube users, some of whom have expressed concern that British soldiers in Afghanistan could be targeted as a direct result.

They were marshalled by a man wearing a jacket bearing the logo: “English Defence League, Gateshead Division”.
No surprises there then. As the old joke goes, “what is the difference between the English Defence League (or indeed the Scottish or Welsh Defence Leagues) and a bunch of Nazi thugs? “

None whatsoever.

Photo from Scottish Islamic Foundation

Aye, okay, I just made it up and it’s not funny but you get the point. In a direct message to the ‘leadership’ of the Defence Leagues who claim they are non racist, I do not believe you. The well evidenced actions and activities of your supporters on the streets give the lie to your weasel words.

But the purpose of this blog is not to document the rise of the far right in the UK or elsewhere. Others are already doing this job very well, for example this article from the Guardian in May of this year:

English Defence League: Inside the violent world of Britain's new far right

If you have not already read this, and watched the accompanying video, I strongly urge you to set aside the time to do so.

The purpose of this blog is very simply to remind my fellow atheists, secularists and humanists that if you are not careful how you communicate criticism of religion or ideas about secularism, your words can be seized on by the far right to legitimize their loathsome activities. Playing around with the words of an old song, ‘it ain’t just what you do; it’s the way that you do it’.

I made some of these points before in this blog where I made clear the reasons why I would not be ‘drawing Mohammed’ in response to the ill conceived school-boyish ‘Draw Muhammad’ Facebook campaign. As I wrote back then:

We Humanists should be really careful about the battles we choose to fight and the tactics we use to fight them. Clichéd though it may be, freedom of expression carries responsibility. Otherwise we may find ourselves standing ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with some particularly unpleasant allies. I can only imagine that this whole thing will meet with the approval of a well known atheist mouthpiece who, whether he likes it or not, is popular among factions such as the BNP. Looking at some of the images, usernames and links that have appeared on the Facebook site it is clear that lumpen knuckledraggers from bodies such as the English Defence League have gravitated to the site.
Since I wrote this, the Florida Pastor treated us to the circus surrounding his threats to burn copies of the Koran. He is quoted as saying he drew inspiration from the ‘Draw Muhammad’ campaign. Then of course the six brain donors from Gateshead just went ahead and did it, with the video footage then quickly doing the rounds for the world to see.

The fascist far right in the UK has set out to target Muslims. As you will see from the undercover video footage in the Guardian article, these people are vicious, unreconstructed, racist, Nazi thugs. The language used by the leadership of these Defence League organisations, insisting that they are not racist and that they are only targeting extremism and militant Islamists should fool nobody. We should also recognise that by portraying themselves this way, they have successfully tapped in to a groundswell of public indignation about incidents such as the al-Muhajiroun/Islam4Uk ‘march’ through Wootton Basset. The fact that al-Muhajiroun /Islam4Uk are no more representative of Muslim people than the Defence Leagues are of ordinary working class white people is lost in Daily Mail land, where stereo types rule and gutter level politics are the order of the day.

While all this has been going on it both perturbs and disappoints me that that some atheists, who I thought might have known better, have bought into ideas such as ‘Draw Mohammed’ or uncritically accepted pronouncements from the likes of Pat Condell (the ‘mouthpiece’ I referred to earlier). It seems that all you need to do to develop a fan base of sorts, is to vehemently attack Islam.

Photo from Youtube

I don’t object to Condell because he styles himself as a comedian. There may be folk out there who think he is funny. If you look at his series of publically accessible videos however, you will quickly see that these are not intended as comedy. They are political charged polemics. I have never heard Condell actually make a constructive suggestion about how to improve things. Ever the atheist attack dog, all he does is, well, continually and aggressively attack.

A Pat Condell video, given pride of place on a pro BNP blog.

I have no problem with criticising religious ideas, loud and clear. Doing so is really necessary and important in many situations. I do object to the way Condell makes sweeping generalisations about whole groups of people, mostly Muslims. If you take time to look closely and critically at what he says, you find that the generalisations he makes are intellectually lazy and unsupported by evidence. He cherry picks things said and done by the ultra conservative, the radicalised, and the extremists in different places and at different times and generalises these to Muslim populations everywhere, now. He does so in a manner that manages to sound arrogant and paranoid. This is ideal fodder for the far right. Take this, from one of his video rants, as an example.

I also know that the oil that pays for the ongoing Islamization of the West would still be in the ground if the wife beating, child raping scholars of Islam had their way because the internal combustion engine would never have been made.

I know these things about Islam because everybody knows them. But people keep telling me ‘you know you are ignorant, you should read the Koran’. Well okay, so I read the Koran. But then somebody said, ‘oh, you read it in English, no, you have to read it in Arabic to truly understand it.’ Ah, Arabic eh? Hmmm. Well okay maybe I could learn Arabic, it would certainly be more than most Muslims on this planet have bothered to do. Let’s see now, what else would Arabic be really useful for, apart from reading the Koran. Hmm {pauses} Hmm

I’ll get back to you if I think of anything. But don’t hold your breath because it’s precisely because of the influence of conservative Islamic ‘scholars’ that the Arab world has become such a cultural backwater and the number of books translated into Arabic each year could probably fit into a briefcase and still leave room for a thermos and sandwiches.
In among the mix, Condell has occasionally made a few valid observations about harm done in the name of religious dogma. But by presenting his view within an overly simplistic narrative full of unsubstantiated assumptions and opinions disguised as strident assertions of fact he actually detracts from the weight and influence that these observations might have had. Making generalised assertions about a whole group of people based on one perceived characteristic is inherently discriminatory.

Overall, it is little wonder that he has become a poster boy for factions such as the English Defence League. But even beyond the narrow world of Pat Condell (I think he might benefit from getting out more); there is evidence of secularists being careless about the impact of the language they use. Take as an example, Terry Sanderson’s ‘Festive Message’ on behalf of the National Secular Society last year. Within the message, he wrote the following:

Muslims from Pakistan and India, Catholics from Poland and evangelical Protestants from Africa and the Caribbean are bringing with them unpleasantly conservative religious beliefs that sometimes shock and repel the majority. They often seem primitive, hysterical, fanatical and alien, full of hatred and intolerance and crazy, senseless rules. Honour killings, violent, sometimes fatal, exorcisms, denial of medical treatment to children on the assumption that prayer will be sufficient, the treatment of women as chattels and the spouting of unvarnished hatred of non-believers, gays and Jews from the pulpits of mosques.
I missed this statement at the time. I would have blogged on it immediately had I seen it. I hope this was just carelessness on the part of Terry Sanderson. As it is, it reads like a recruitment drive for the NSS among racists and xenophobes. The focus on immigrants as a problem, and the use of terms such as 'primitive, hysterical, fanatical and alien', is not something I ever expected to see in a National Secular Society release.

It certainly ignores some pretty important facts. Yes, attendances at Catholic Churches in parts of the UK have increased, with Polish people swelling the size of congregations. But take a bit more trouble to find out and you would know that among the Poles who are here, there is a broad sweep of ideas, views and values. You will find LGBT people that have come to the UK because they expected to feel safer. Look more closely at the other groups mentioned and you will find that they too are not a homogenous ‘blob’ where everyone thinks the same way. There will be people among these groups who hold to fundamentalist or extreme ideas. And there will be those that don’t. The reality (but you actually have to take the trouble to speak to people and listen to them in order to understand this reality - you will not find it by being lazy and just repeating stereo types) is that difference does not just exist between groups of people; it exists within those groups too.

We know that right wing extremists will clutch at anything that might, even only at face value, give a semblance of legitimacy to their odious ideology. In the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Europe we see that Muslims are being portrayed as folk demons and made scapegoats. If you are worried about this, you are right to be. If you are not, then please give yourself a shake. Yes, we should work hard to combat religiously justified oppression, prejudice and bigotry and defend hard won secular freedoms. But not in a way that endangers other, precious human rights. I ask that we all take time to carefully consider the impact of what we say and do, or omit to say and do. It matters, as does making a clear stand both against racism and religious discrimination.

Hope Not Hate

United Against Fascism

Scottish Islamic Foundation

The Institute for the Secularisation of Islamic Society (ISIS)
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« An opportunity missed - but not just by mistake.        ——   Main   ——       Pat Condell v The Amazing Atheist »
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  1. Old Comment
    Gurdur's Avatar
    This bloody well needs saying, and saying hard. I'll write up a blog post of my own, and then tweet this blog post of yours together with mine, if you don't mind, and I will tweet 'em tomorrow.
    Posted 26-Sep-2010 at 10:04 PM (22:04) by Gurdur Gurdur is offline
  2. Old Comment
    lifelinking's Avatar
    Thank you Gurdur
    Posted 26-Sep-2010 at 10:06 PM (22:06) by lifelinking lifelinking is offline
  3. Old Comment
    Great post - a message which (IMO) should not be restricted just to atheists, secularists and humanists.
    Posted 26-Sep-2010 at 11:58 PM (23:58) by Revsimmy
  4. Old Comment
    lifelinking's Avatar
    Thank you Revsimmy. I concur.
    Posted 27-Sep-2010 at 12:02 AM (00:02) by lifelinking lifelinking is offline
  5. Old Comment
    Gurdur's Avatar
    Tweeted this just now, all channels, including my own but noted as being by you

    Rise of the far-right – atheists need to make it clear where they stand, by Lifelinking #racism #atheism #humanism
    Posted 27-Sep-2010 at 03:09 PM (15:09) by Gurdur Gurdur is offline
  6. Old Comment
    Gurdur's Avatar
    abused my admin powers and added three tags to your blog post, please pardon me
    Posted 27-Sep-2010 at 03:26 PM (15:26) by Gurdur Gurdur is offline
  7. Old Comment
    lifelinking's Avatar
    No worries. Thanks for all the work Gurdur. I very much appreciate it.
    Posted 27-Sep-2010 at 03:53 PM (15:53) by lifelinking lifelinking is offline
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