Secular Right | Reality & Reason

TAG | Fundamentalism

Dec/13

23

Sparks at Marks

Butchers closes after161 yearsAdapted from a post at Ricochet:

Theotory blogger (and martyred Archbishop!) Cranmer’s response to the decision (discussed here earlier) by retailer M&S to accomodate members of staff who, for religious reasons, do not want to handle pork, alcohol is too good not to share here.

Here, by the way, is what M&S has to say for itself:

“We recognise that some of our employees practise religions that restrict the food or drink they can handle, or that mean they cannot work at certain times. M&S promotes an environment free from discrimination and so, where specific requests are made, we will always make reasonable adjustments to accommodate them, whilst ensuring high levels of customer service.”

Over to Cranmer:

An environment free from discrimination? Have they considered that their customers don’t wish to be discriminated against and made to feel morally deficient or ‘unclean’? How is inconveniencing customers by forcing them to queue at non-Muslim checkouts consistent with “high levels of customer service”?

The main problem with this is that it plays to a certain Muslim stereotype: it affirms an utterly myopic interpretation of sharia law and so perpetuates prejudice against all Muslims. The Qur’an exhorts Muslims not to eat pork products or drink alcohol: it does not say they may not handle glass bottles or pass a plastic packet of bacon over a scanner.

But, no matter. Some M&S equality aficionado has determined the orthodox tenets of each religion, and is prepared to bend over backwards to accommodate them: they have confirmed – in true anti-discrimination style – that Jewish employees are also permitted to decline to serve customers alcohol and pork, notwithstanding that no Jewish employee has ever refused to do this in the store’s 129-year history.

But why stop at alcohol and pork?

Are they also permitted to decline to scan a packet of prawns? May they refuse to sell garments made of wool and cotton? Or meat mixed with dairy? Is a Muslim employee permitted to decline to sell you a bikini or a lipstick? And what about M&S finance? Is a Muslim employee who objects to charging interest on debt going to be permitted to administer an interest-free credit card?

And why restrict this to the point of sale? Don’t these products require handling throughout the logistical chain? Are Muslim (and Jewish) employees going to be exempt from placing orders for certain products? Are they going to be exempt from handling certain boxes in the warehouse?

Are Christians going to be permitted to decline to handle halal meat, since it has been “offered to idols” (1Cor 8)? Or has the M&S equality aficionado decreed that this is not a fundamental requirement of the faith? If so, on what theological basis?

As far as His Grace is aware, M&S don’t sell condoms. But if they did, would a Roman Catholic employee be permitted to decline to serve the customer, thereby compounding their embarrassment?

This is not “reasonable accommodation”: it is not the same as permitting holy days off or the wearing of certain religious symbols over a uniform. It is manifestly unreasonable when customers are inconvenienced by i) having to queue at a non-sharia checkout, or ii) waiting for a member of staff to arrive who is prepared to serve you.

Oh yes, it seems that the Church of England thinks the whole thing is fine. #sigh, as they say over in Twitterland.

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WallsDeciding quite where and how a nation should draw the line between its citizens’ right to practice their religions and its own right to protect itself from spiraling down into balkanization has never been an easy thing to determine and in an age of multiculturalism it is becoming more difficult still.

Over then to the UK: writing in the Daily Telegraph, Matthew d’Ancona laments guidance given by Universities UK on the arrangements to be put in place when external speakers are visiting a campus and, specifically, this:

“[a wish to] accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to [gender] segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system. Ultimately, if imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully.”

D’Ancona’s response:

[T]his is a test case about much more than fringe events on provincial campuses. It is about the very basis of a pluralist society and what philosophers call “value incommensurability” – the clash between principles, and the dilemmas that such conflicts pose. As a ferocious opponent of theocratic creep, Hitchens argued that secular society was becoming far too emollient and unwilling to defend Enlightenment values against attack. Diplomatic immunity, equality before the law, the right of the novelist to free expression: all are now weighed against the risk of upsetting the theological apple cart.

The segregation row has forced us to confront the friction between religious sensitivities and core aspects of our common citizenship. The heart of the matter is the word “freedom” and its abuse. The original guidance claimed that forbidding segregation by gender on campus might infringe “the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker”. This is babble, but it is dangerous babble. It implies that upsetting the religious sensibilities of an individual or congregation – and it is possible to take offence at anything – is a form of censorship.

I heard a similar argument made during the gay marriage debate: that same-sex weddings would somehow infringe “religious freedoms”, even though they were to be held exclusively in civil settings. In the segregation row, the hurt feelings of a believer or group of believers are weighed against the entire principle of gender equality – as if core principles are upheld only on the probationary basis that they do not upset the faithful. This amazing proposition reverses the polarities of the 20th century and replaces the totalitarian state with the totalitarian individual – the person who claims that absolutely anything that offends him is an assault on his “religious freedom” and has to be stopped. And let us be frank: because, collectively, we have grown fearful of religious extremism, we, too, often nod respectfully when we should be fighting back.

Well, yes.

And right on cue, there’s this, also from the Daily Telegraph:

At M&S [a British retailer], Muslim staff who do not wish to handle alcohol or pork have been told they can politely request that customers choose another till at which to pay.

At one of its stores in central London last week, customers waiting with goods that included pork or alcohol were told by a Muslim checkout worker to wait until another till became available. The assistant was extremely apologetic at having to ask customers to wait.

One customer, who declined to be named, said: “I had one bottle of champagne, and the lady, who was wearing a headscarf, was very apologetic but said she could not serve me. She told me to wait until another member of staff was available.

“I was taken aback. I was a bit surprised. I’ve never come across that before.

Well, get used to it. Best guess is that there will be more of this nonsense to come.

Writing in the same newspaper, Damian Thompson hits back:

I’m sorry, but if you cannot “handle” bacon and champagne and dozens of other products – even though your co-religionists have been doing so for decades – then don’t work in a secular supermarket. And I’d say the same to a Christian from a teetotal sect who refused to process the sale of alcohol.

When Islam and political correctness join forces, as they do so often, questioning their demands is portrayed as racist. Actually, if you really want to damage relations between communities, then ordering harassed shoppers to change queues (which are long enough already in M&S, God knows) is a good way to go about it.

Another chain, Sainsbury’s, has said that it has no plans to follow M&S’s lemming lead.

Thompson applauds:

Good for Sainsbury’s. Accommodating employees’ religious beliefs and customers’ requirements can be tricky; but there are times when common sense tells you that a particular demand is over the top and counterproductive. Give in to it, and not only will unfounded accusations of racism fly around, but genuine racists will jump in to sour relations between shoppers and (typically) young female Muslim checkout staff, some of whom may already be under pressure from the religious police in their own community.

Note that in our report the Muslim lady says apologetically that she “could not” serve the customer buying champagne. Is that because it offends her conscience – or because she’s been told that, as a Muslim, she is no longer allowed to do this part of her job?

That last point is important. By doing what it has done, M&S has lent a helping hand to the fundamentalist enforcers.

I won’t be shopping there next time I’m in Blighty.

Update

The Jewish Chronicle reports:

Marks & Spencer has confirmed that Jewish employees do not have to serve pork products at tills to its customers, if it goes against their religious beliefs. The chain confirmed that, in the same way a Muslim member of staff could refuse to handle pork and alcohol, a Jewish employee could decline to sell pork sausages, bacon rashers and sea-food.

A M&S spokesperson said: “We recognise that some if our employees practise religions that restrict food or drink they can handle, or mean they cannot work at certain times.

“M&S promotes an environment free from discrimination and so, where specific requests are made, we always make reasonable adjustments to accommodate them, whilst ensuring high levels of customer service.”

As I said, balkanization.

And what about,, say, secular vegetarians compelled to sell the remnants of slaughtered livestock? Do their feelings count for nothing? Or does M&S only respect deeply-held religious belief.

Discrimination!

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Dec/13

14

Annals of the Arab Spring (Ctd.)

snow-in-cairoCross-posted on the Corner:

Writing in the Spectator last month (behind the paywall) Aidan Hartley took a look at what is happening to Egypt’s archeological heritage:

[W]ithin a kilometre of the Sphinx, I found the desert honeycombed with deep, freshly dug shafts. The criminals are not archaeologists, so they may be digging in vain, but if Egypt’s authorities can’t prevent treasure–hunters from doing this in the shadow of the last of the Seven Wonders of the World, then it’s a safe bet they’re not doing much to stop it elsewhere.

Some of the desecration is spurred on by religious zeal. Before he was deposed, President Morsi appointed as governor of Luxor a former member of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, the terrorist group that murdered 64 people in the Temple of Hatsheput in 1997. Under his watch, monuments were neglected, while extreme Islamists began demanding the destruction of pre-Islamic monuments such as the Sphinx and pyramids.

One cleric, Sheikh Murgan Salem al-Gohary, said in a television broadcast aired in Egypt: ‘All Muslims are charged with applying the teachings of Islam to remove such idols, as we did in Afghanistan when we destroyed the Buddha statues…’. Before they had a chance to blow up the Sphinx, the military seized power from the Muslim Brotherhood in June — but the looting escalated even further in the bloodshed that followed.

In August, mobs attacked a museum at Mallawi, in Middle Egypt, and looted 1,000 artefacts. They murdered a curator and vandalised what items they could not steal. Monica Hanna, a young Egyptologist who is struggling to rescue her country’s heritage, rushed to the museum and led efforts to save the few exhibits remaining. She was shot at and menaced and when she asked the vandals what they were doing, the youths replied: ‘This is the property of the state. The state is killing Muslims — so we are destroying what the state owns.’

In September, I accompanied Monica to Ansana, an early Christian complex of rock-hewn churches and ruined monasteries along the Nile. Ansana has never been properly studied, and now Islamists are destroying the sites altogether. In one church, we found 4th-century frescos of biblical scenes freshly scratched to pieces. Looters had tried to blow up one church with dynamite, acting on rumours that hoards of gold were hidden beneath the rock. A cemetery Monica said was for Christians martyred under Roman Emperor Diocletian at the end of the 3rd century had been recently desecrated, and we found piles of skulls and skeletons ripped out of tombs and kicked about the desert.

On one mountainside, Monica found a carved monument marking the boundary of the city of Amana, built by the iconoclastic Pharoah Akhenaten over 3,300 years ago. The vandals who defaced this exquisite work had helpfully recorded the date they did it — in February of this year…

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Aug/13

21

Meanwhile…..

Cross-posted on the Corner:

Via Bloomberg News:

A Jeddah criminal court judge has sentenced Saudi Arabian journalist Raif Badawi to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for the crime of “insulting Islam.” It could have gone worse for Badawi: Had the judge not thrown out the charge of apostasy, he would have received a death sentence. He’ll probably survive the whipping only because it comes in four sessions with planned hospitalizations in between. He has until Sept. 6 to file an appeal.

Badawi, 30, is the co-founder and editor of the website saudiliberalnetwork.com, which encouraged people to post their thoughts about the role of religion and politics, among other things, in their lives. (No longer, however: The site has been shut down.)

…Can any human being survive 600 lashes? I asked Waleed Abu al-Khair, a Saudi Arabian human-rights lawyer who is handling Badawi’s case, to tell me about this particular form of punishment.

“The lash is like a horse whip,” he said during a telephone interview from Jeddah. “You stand with your face to the wall. They lash his back from top to legs. 150 lashes are given at a time. Then he will need to go to the hospital.”

Badawi was given five years for “insulting Islam.” Two more are for insulting both Islam and Saudi Arabia’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.

According to the global watchdog group Human Rights Watch, a popular cleric, Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Barrak, called for Badawi to be charged with apostasy for allegedly saying that “Muslims, Jews, Christians and atheists are all equal.”

The judge, Faris al-Harbi, tacked an additional three months onto the sentence, al-Khair told me, for “parental disobedience.” Badawi’s father, he says, went on TV to condemn his son’s statements and the website.Badawi has repeatedly claimed that he never attacked Islam and that he only sought to provide a forum for open debate. He even convinced al-Harbi of his own faith, which led to the dismissal of the apostasy charge….

· · ·

Aug/13

1

On The Unlearning of History

Germany ThenAn atheist group is opposing the use of a Star of David in the design of a Holocaust memorial that is to be built on government property near the Ohio statehouse:

…In the negative space between the two structures is a very large sacred religious symbol known as the “Star of David” which dominates the structure, even from a long distance. FFRF believes with the state of Ohio it is important to memorialize the Holocaust. We also believe that the solemnity and import of the task can be accomplished without permanently placing a religious symbol on government property. As the Star of David was deemed by European Jews to be the symbol that “would represent Judaism just as the cross did Christianity,” its prominent inclusion in the memorial gives the impression of an endorsement of Judaism.

Absurd.

In the course of a lengthy post over at Patheos, James Croft writes:

Interpreting the Star as a government endorsement of the Jewish religion requires an unreasonable rejection of central historical facts regarding the use of that symbol. A reasonable, well-informed observer (and any reasonable observer would seek to inform themselves) would see in this memorial not an attempt by the government to promote Judaism, but an attempt by the government to memorialize a despicable moment in human history, and to educate about it: a secular purpose. So, in my view, there is no legal problem here…

And:

While I want to live in a secular society, I also want to live in an intelligent, thoughtful, historically-literate society which is capable of recognizing the difference between promotion of religion and memorialization of an atrocity.

Quite.

· · ·

Sep/12

12

Barbarism

The New York Times reports:

DAKAR, Senegal — Radical Islamists who control northern Mali extended their campaign of enforcing harsh Shariah law on Monday, amputating the hands and feet of four young men they accused of robbery in the main square at Gao, a principal town in the region.

“We cut their right hand and their left foot, in the city of Gao, at the Place de l’Indépendance,” Aliou Mahamar Touré, a professed Islamic commissioner with Mujao, an offshoot of Al Qaeda that controls Gao, said in a telephone interview. “We cut all that today. It is not us who ordered this. It is God.”

…In Gao, the real jihadists took their four young victims to the town center at midday Monday, according to a municipal counselor who saw the amputations, Abderahmane Oumarou Maïga. They tied them to pillars, “feet at the top, heads at the bottom,” Mr. Maïga said, “solidly attached.”

For “each one, they cut off their hand and foot,” said Mr. Maïga, using what he called “giant scissors,” which had been specially fabricated, under duress, by a local blacksmith. “It was under threats that they did their dirty work,” Mr. Maïga said.

Revolting.

· · ·

Sep/12

12

Cretins

Via The Blaze:

Atheist activists have a knack for picking riveting, infuriating and seemingly never-ending battles. During the Christmas season, they aim for nativities on public property and at the end of every school year, their targets set on commencement prayers.

While these battles have become all-too-familiar, there’s one showdown brewing that distinguishes itself from the rest — atheists’ demands that a cross found in the rubble following the September 11, 2001 attacks not be included in a museum that is being planned to commemorate the lives lost during the tragedy.

American Atheists (AA), a group working to advance the secular cause, has been leading the charge against the Ground Zero cross since July 2011, when the organization first filed suit against it. TheBlaze’s Meredith Jessup has explored this issue, in detail, on TheBlaze Blog, where she explained AA’s main arguments against the cross’ inclusion.

“The atheists’ suit claims that by including the cross in a museum on public property, the government is unconstitutionally endorsing a religion,” Jessup writes. “It also asserts that the mere presence of the cross would result in emotional — and possibly even physical — injuries among atheists who will feel anxious and excluded.”

Get a life and all that.

Cretins.

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Aug/12

26

Same Script, Different Stage (Ctd.)

Cross-posted on the Corner:

Bamiyan, Timbuktu, and now Tripoli.

Al-Jazeera reports:

Attackers in Libya have bulldozed a mosque containing Sufi Muslim graves in the centre of Tripoli, a day after Sufi shrines in the city of Zlitan were wrecked and a mosque library was burned. The demolition of the large Sha’ab mosque happened in broad daylight on Saturday, drawing condemnation from government officials and Libyans across the country and abroad.

…A man who appeared to be overseeing the demolition told Reuters the interior ministry had authorised the operation after discovering people had been worshipping the graves and practicing “black magic”. The ministry was not available for comment . . .

In Zlitan, witnesses said that an armed group, claiming to be Salafis, carried out the assault on the Sufi shrine, the tomb of Abdel Salam al-Asmar, a 15th-century Muslim scholar…The attackers also set fire to a historic library, reducing years of academic and religious writing to ash. While the official line from the government is condemnation, there are reports security forces stood by and just let this destruction go ahead.

One of Libya’s highest-profile cultural clashes since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi has been between followers of the mystical Sufi tradition and ultra-conservative Salafis, who say Islam should return to the simple ways followed by its prophet.

Salafis have formed a number of armed brigades in Libya. They reject as idolatrous many Sufi devotions – which include dancing and the building of shrines to venerated figures…

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Jun/12

24

Hikikomori, Again

Via the Forward:

“Dear Jew: You are entering a dangerous place. Shield your eyes.”

That’s the Hebrew-language text on a huge billboard that an Orthodox group has paid to post alongside a Brooklyn highway.
The “dangerous place” is Manhattan. The danger isn’t specified, but it’s clear they’re not talking about muggings.

Presumably directed at ultra-Orthodox Jews traveling to Manhattan for work, the billboard puts a stark spin on the new study out yesterday from the UJA-Federation of New York, which raised the possibility of an impending Orthodox majority among New York Jews.

New York’s Orthodox Jews and non-Orthodox Jews exist in separate, parallel worlds. In the broadest terms, each group has its own borough. Brooklyn Jews are poor, young, and religious. Manhattan Jews are rich, old, and more secular.

While Brooklyn’s Jewish community is exploding, Manhattan’s is shrinking. And judging in part by the highway billboard, the ascendant Brooklynites have little regard for the declining Manhattanites.

Hoping to preserve its massive growth, the ultra-Orthodox community has been on a war footing in recent months, striking back against web access in its homes and yeshivas by holding a massive anti-Internet rally and promulgating new bans against web use.

The billboard, which has been up for at least a few weeks, seems to signify the opening of a new front in the same war. The billboard was sponsored by an organization called the Congregation of Yad Moshe, which appears to have ties to New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind.

There’s no explanation on the stop sign red billboard, but the message is clear: Manhattan is unkosher. Stay in Brooklyn.

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Apr/12

28

Balkanization Watch

Via the Washington Post:

The Hutterites are Protestants similar to the Amish and Mennonites who live a life centered on their religion, but unlike the others, Hutterites live in German-speaking communes scattered across northern U.S. states and Canada. They don’t pay wages, don’t vote and don’t enlist in the military. They make their own clothes, produce their own food and construct their own buildings.

“Their core belief is that they have no property. All the property and labor they have, they contribute to the colony,” Ron Nelson, an attorney for the Big Sky Colony, told the Montana Supreme Court.

The state’s high court on Wednesday heard arguments by the colony and the state on whether Montana’s requirement that employers carry workers’ compensation insurance can be expanded to religious organizations. A state judge has already ruled the 2009 law expanding the workers’ compensation law to force the Hutterites to pay for the insurance violated their right to freely exercise their religion.

The state is asking the high court to reverse that decision, arguing the new law deals only with commercial activities and stays out of the Hutterites religious affairs.

The Hutterites’ argument that everything they do is tied to their religion cannot exempt them from regulation when they voluntarily enter into an outside commercial activity, assistant Attorney General Stuart Segrest said.

“They’re not allowed to become a law unto themselves,” Segrest said

Quite.

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