The new intolerance: will we regret pushing Christians out of public life?: A Challenge to the Left
Cristina Odone’s headline article in this week’s New Statesman describes how a liberal consensus has taken hold which does not brook dissent: where despite there being an established Christian church, people who hold standard Christian positions on issues like marriage and homosexuality can be sacked or fined for upholding them and where conferences are frequently cancelled for the same reason. She fails to acknowledge the reason, however, why the Christian right remains weak: because like the Right throughout recent history, it supports only the “mainstream” in society, i.e. middle-class whites, and alienates others, forcing them to stick together despite disagreements.
She offers an example of a conference she was planning to speak at, organised by Christian Concern and originally booked at the Law Society’s premises, which was cancelled by the Law Society because it was “contrary to [their] diversity policy … espousing as it does an ethos which is opposed to same-sex marriage”. The organisation found another venue, the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster:
This publicly owned modern building is named after the supreme governor of the Established Church, and is situated across the street from Westminster Abbey, for nearly a millennium the symbol of Christian Britain. Who could hope for a better venue, in short, to discuss what the churches still regard as a sacramental union? But with only 24 hours to go before the conference, managers at the QEII centre told Christian Concern that the subject it planned to discuss was “inappropriate”. The booking was cancelled. When challenged, the QEII centre’s chief executive, Ernest Vincent, cited its diversity policy as reason for the cancellation. A journalist asked for a copy of the diversity policy. The centre refused to provide it.
The conference was finally held in the basement of a hotel. However, incidents of this type, where conferences are cancelled because of violating some sort of “diversity policy” beyond the traditional reasons for refusing to provide a platform, i.e. racism, fascism or association with or likelihood of violence, are common on the political scene in the UK at the moment. In some cases there will be an attempt (sometimes successful) to get a speaker’s visa revoked if he has ever been recorded as saying something deemed homophobic or anti-Semitic, even if it was years ago and even if the subject of the conference has nothing to do with what he was speaking about at the time. The usual targets are Muslims, but two years running a conference in London by a group of radical feminists has been forced to move because venues cancelled either on grounds of “violation of diversity policy”, in this case for having a women-only policy which excluded transgender women, or because of threats by outsiders. In 2012, the campaigners who got the venue to pull out were transgender activists; in 2013, it was so-called men’s rights activists who gave enough of an impression of a threat of violence to get their first venue to cancel on them. While I have a world of disagreements with this group, they are not racists or fascists and did not threaten violence to anyone. They would not have been the focus of a “no-platform” policy at any time until very recently.
Most Muslims would agree with Odone and her friends in Christian Concern on the particular issue of gay marriage and having to accommodate gay couples by providing them with a bed in privately-run small hotels. Many Muslims run restaurants, and do not serve alcohol or, in some cases, even allow it to be brought onto the premises, something which the dominant culture permits and even encourages. The problem is that Christian Concern and groups like it are part of a movement which demands Christian supremacy, not rights, and is as anti-Muslim as it is anti-gay, if not more so, as demonstrated in an exchange on this morning’s BBC talk show The Big Questions, in which an Evangelical Christian audience member defended B&B owners’ rights not to take gay couples, then applauding a ban on the Muslim woman’s veil. They spread scare stories about mega-mosques and when pursuing their legal claims for various concessions, they make false or exaggerated claims about the concessions Muslims have received, so as to buttress their status as a ‘persecuted minority’. Christian Concern itself lists Islam as one of its “concerns”, alongside abortion, gay marriage and human trafficking, claiming:
The influence of radical Islam is growing in the UK and as an ideology it seeks to shape our political and social landscape. From the introduction of Sharia law and Islamic finance to the implications on freedom of speech and women’s rights, the presence of Islamism in the UK has great repercussions for all of us. At Christian Concern we hope to bring awareness of the impact that this may have on the UK and offer a Christian response.
And their concerns about Islam are suspiciously similar to those of secularists: the top article at present is about how Universities UK “kowtows to extremism” by theoretically endorsing separate seating for men and women in some university lectures (and welcomed their withdrawal of that guidance); they also have stories about face-coverings, Islamic bonds and the Muslim call to prayer on Channel 4, most accompanied by quotes from hostile figures (in some cases pseudonymous bloggers) about how these things lead to the breakdown of Britain’s identity, or some such thing.
Odone makes regular reference to Muslim sentiments and to atheist attacks on Islam in her article, but fails to consider the hostility her friends in the Christian right have towards Muslims. She also does not mention that they themselves demand concessions that are far more ridiculous and impose far more hardship on others than anything Muslims have expected (and many of those are half-true, false or just reasonable — like putting reflective film on the glass at a ground-floor swimming pool and getting a sandwich bar to relocate their extractor fan so it doesn’t blast the smell of bacon into the house next door). These include demanding to have Sunday off from a job involving caring for disabled children, even though, of course, these children are no less disabled on Sunday and still need caring for. It has become very obvious that this is a group looking to dominate society rather than be equals with anyone else, hence their reliance on nuisance litigation and scare stories about minorities, particularly Muslims. They are no exception to the conservative Right at any time in recent history; they always represented the Rich, using the interests of the white middle class, and were against minorities and the working class (but would seek to use one against the other as it suited them).
This is why the present defenders of “Christian Britain” do not have the support of religious minorities in this country, particularly Muslims, and may have meant they lack the critical mass of public support to blunt some of the most ridiculous sharp edges of some of these new policies. (We are also not all reactionaries, and many of us do not want to participate in an American-style religious Right which fosters a climate of suspicion against poor mothers and pregnant women, for example.) People cannot vote for specific policies, of course; they can only vote for an MP for a party which best reflects most of what they support, and just have to accept the rest, and cannot even control what that MP does once elected, as all of us who voted Liberal Democrat last time found out to our cost. Gay marriage and adoption are just not big enough issues to persuade a religious minority, most of which is composed of immigrants or decendents of recent immigrants, to vote for a party with an anti-immigrant record, and they’re certainly not big enough for us to support a movement which spreads scare stories about us and tries to stoke hostility.
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