Monday, 18 February 2013

Is religion getting too close to nationalism? OR If you don't like the separation of Church and State, move to Iran

This week Libyan authorities have arrested four foreigners for allegedly distributing Christian literature, and Iran has begun to seize images of Buddha to prevent the promotion of Buddhism in Tehran. On what we would expect to be the other side of the freedom divide, four mosques have been the targets of vandalism, threatening behaviour and harassment in France over the past week alone, perpetrated by self-declared "patriots". Often the West points the finger at Arab and Muslim states as perpetuating  religious intolerance through their refusal to embrace secular governance and positive measures for religious minorities. However, France is only the epitomisation of a growing trend across the Western World for non-secular, and often misplaced, nationalism. That is not to say that France is embracing Catholicism or any other particular faith: it is just embracing not being Islamic. Global Comment author A. Miller sum up my feelings on France's current circumstance pretty well, in reference to their highly demonstrative ban of religious coverings: "I am sick and tired of the “debate” over the burqa ban. The issue at stake is not the burqa. It is Islamophobia; as per usual, the war of cultural values is being fought on the battleground of women’s bodies". 
Over the Channel, the UK is seeing renewed active public interest in the Church of England's relationship with social policy, highlighted in their recent failure to allow women bishops, and their overwhelming influence (relative to other faith groups) on the recently passed same-sex marriage bill. It goes without saying that the United States, a country whose founding fathers explicitly tried to separate church and state in their constitution, has become a safe-haven for Christian fundamentalism and intolerance. This never fails to amuse the adopted Briton in me in its contrast to the reason for the original settlers of America leaving the UK. 

So if Français self identify as not-Muslim and Libyans and Iranians identify as Islam-protectors and Americans identify as nationally Christian and Australia can have an atheist, unmarried Prime Minister who still clings to heteronormativity and Israelis are banned from Arab states by virtue of nationality and not faith, then where, honestly, are we heading with this? Towards national identities being intertwined with religious ones? Or, as in France, with religion as an object of hate and harassment? Sadly, I think this is strongly linked to my last post about China and the US exploring paths of least resistance, a realist and a liberalist (basically, read the last post for better words). States are exploring paths both internally and externally which are more and more subject to how they would like to be seen, not what they would like to achieve. These paths are expedient, but not goal orientated; they are usually only short term or band-aid [UK read: plaster]  fixes. In the case of religious tolerance the base line is pretty simple: tolerance is hard. Individuals find tolerance hard, and therefore governments find enforcing tolerance hard. To you or me religious tolerance might seem easy, but if you portray it as tolerance of deeply threatening or objectionable beliefs it becomes blurred, especially if those beliefs are professed or observed in a public space. It's as hard as it is not to crack when someone says something unintelligent and bigoted in the most untactful manner possible, in your favourite cafe. 

So here is my question to governments: What has happened to our Article 18(1) rights from the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights? According to international law "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion... and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching". 
So in my opinion, at this point, Egypt is doing better at that than France. I wonder if it's because Egyptians are just ethnically smarter than Francs? I mean, pyramids, pretty obvious evidence to me. 

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