I was meant to have tea at the House of Lords with Baroness Warsi and a group
of good ladies connected to the British Pakistan Foundation. Unfortunately, not for the first time, my
domestic responsibilities prevented me from entering the Houses of
Parliament. I say “unfortunately” – but
I am more than happy to spend time with my son during half-term holidays. Especially as I wasn’t quite sure what I was
going to say to Warsi.
I was meant
to be writing a piece about Great British Pakistani women – which I will – but
Warsi’s opinion piece about religion in Britain’s best selling quality
newspaper rattled my cage before I had the chance to reflect on her role as
Britain’s first female Muslim minister.
It rattled the cages of friends on Twitter too. When I humble-bragged that I would be
drinking tea with the Baroness, Tweeps got in touch and asked me to pick bones
with the lady.
article, entitled “We stand side by side with the Pope in fighting for faith”,
she claims that “militant secularisation is taking hold of our societies”.
Warsi’s words come hot on the heels of the prime minister’s pledge to remind
Britons that they live in an essentially Christian country. As a non-Christian,
who has represented Britain overseas, and is incredibly proud of diverse
Britain, my heart aches when our prime minister feels the need to state a
single religious identity on my country.
Baroness claims that the “values we hold and the things we fight for all stem
from centuries of discussion, dissent and belief in Christianity”. Like the great philosopher, Nietzsche, I
don’t disagree that in Europe our system of moral judgment, is essentially
inherited from Christian values. And in turn many of our religious festivals
stem from our pagan times. It’s how history works. But I do query how useful it
been amongst those who promote less faith-based governance in Islamic countries
– and eyes have rolled at the involvement of “religious elements” in the new
Egypt. In many places, Britain has attempted
to undermine traditional tribal and Sharia systems in favour of our western
notions of democracy. And yet, in
Britain we still have 26 un-elected Church of England Bishops involved in the
Parliamentary process, making decisions on our laws, and more than a nuance of
Christianity in our governance and legislative structures.
Twitter followers will tell you, I claimed I would come off the fence about
religion. Like Warsi, I am not afraid to stand up and say what I believe
in. Until I see a stronger argument
against, I am in favour of secular rule.
The Baroness expressed concern that when “secularisation is pushed to an
extreme” it would result in the “complete removal of faith from the public
sphere”. This is the very definition of secularism. What Warsi doesn’t do is present an argument
for what faith brings to public sphere.
I believe, as human beings we are perfectly able to govern at a national
and local level on the basis of an agreed set of policies not based on faith,
and ones that do not serve to alienate anyone.
free from faith should not be confused with failure to recognise the rights and
frankly the beauty of the multitude of faiths that exist in Britain – or in
other countries. I personally believe
spirituality and belief should occupy a personal space, and never be imposed on
anyone else. This is about an ultimate
tolerance – a tolerance which is professed by many religions, not least the
Abrahamic ones. I fully agree with Warsi when she writes, “If people understand
that accepting a person of another faith isn’t a threat to their own, they can
unite in fighting bigotry and work together to create a more just world”. I would add to her words, an understanding
that people who are not aligned with a single faith also pose no threat, and
can equally contribute to debate and take action towards a more just world.
government has waded in this week on issue in Devon Council – overturning a
High Court decision that it was unlawful to pray before local council meetings. Some might suggest a proper evaluation of the
pros and cons of official prayers, before we decide that our tax-paid councillors
should or shouldn’t. Is the alienation
felt by non-prayers less relevant than any clarity of mind that praying evokes?
against praying. I myself am prone to
pause for contemplation and thanks from time to time. And the right to pray for civil servants in
prayer rooms, for employees during religious festivals and for Ahmadis in
Pakistan – are all issues I fully support.
However, I do not believe that prayer should be part of official
the first time I have disagreed with the Baroness. My readers will know that I have previously
ranted at Warsi’s stance on Islamophobia.
As I said in that piece, if the British government are serious about
cohesion and integration they should focus on Warsi’s other strengths, perhaps
as a lawyer, for fear of turning her into their honourary Muslim token.
Warsi again sounds little more than Cameron’s token female, minority messenger
– who resides safely in the House of Lords.
I may have blown the chance to write about her other strengths – like
anyone and anything I am sure she is multi-faceted.
noting that in Britain’s “democracy”, we also have unelected Government
Ministers, like Baroness Warsi having input into policy.
Caroline Jaine is a UK based writer, artist and
film-maker with a background in media strategy, training and diplomacy. Her
book A Better Basra, about her time in Iraq was published in August 2011.
The views expressed by this blogger do not necessarily
reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.
Source: The Dawn, Karachi