The struggle to defend secularism is vital, and the left must lead the way

The left must not sacrifice Universalist values at the altar of reactionary and sectarian activism.

The left must not sacrifice universalist values at the altar of reactionary and sectarian activism

Something about the reaction to the Trojan Horse story by parts of the left is deeply troubling.

Firstly, the desire to defend Muslims in Britain from the tendency of the far-right is commendable and to be encouraged.

What is not commendable, however, is the instinct to render apologia for ideas that the left should be at the forefront of critically scrutinising.

In the Guardian Richard Adams suggested that the whole episode was merely a witch hunt.

The problem is that this case is rooted in serious allegations of non-Muslim headmasters of schools being deliberately identified, targeted and then hounded out of their jobs in what would amount to a campaign of racial/religious/ethnic persecution if true.

One of the headmasters, Bhupinder Kondal, who is of Sikh heritage told the BBC:

“she had to leave Oldknow Academy, one of the schools that has been placed in special measures, “in order to safeguard myself”. Asked if it is true she left because she was being put under pressure by a group of Muslim governors, she said “that’s correct”, adding: “I just couldn’t be there any longer, I had to leave in order to safeguard myself and then I approached my union for support and advice. It is such a stressful  situation for head teachers who find themselves vulnerable (and) in this situation and they don’t know really who to turn to.”

If Muslim, black or Jewish head teachers were identified, targeted and hounded out of their jobs by bigots, it would be identified as a hate campaign by extremists.

If Islamist activists do this, why would some on the left then render excuses for what amounts to a campaign of ethnic/religious persecution of innocent people in service of an agenda to compromise governance and impose their values in unethical ways?

This is an actual example of a genuine witch hunt, and the nature of the allegations, made by professionals with real integrity, are sufficient to be taken seriously.

Very troubling questions arise from this. If the allegations of the headmasters are proven to be correct, those parts of the left that have not acknowledged this original act of extremist persecution have effectively rendered an apologia for it. And that would be a betrayal of principles of equality and anti-discrimination that the left is supposed to uphold as sacred.

It seems that when it comes to issues of Islamism in Britain, some parts of the left lose their moral compass, and seem incapable of combining simultaneous positions – that it is possible to be critical towards theocratic ideology and activism, whilst also defending Muslims against bigoted assumptions of collective responsibility.

In doing so they also betray girls, women, dissenters, liberals and secularists within minority communities who oppose reactionaries.

The struggle to defend secularism is of vital importance in contemporary Britain, and the left must lead the way on this issue. As Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters puts it:

“This political use of religion has often involved the appropriation of progressive and secular language and spaces created through struggles for democracy and equality by many, including black and minority women.

“For instance, religious fundamentalists and ‘moderates’ alike are engaged in substituting the demand for equality with the demand for ‘religious literacy.’ That is, the demand for the State to recognise the supposedly ‘authentic’ theological values and traditions of minorities, but not the recognition of the diverse, syncretic, liberal, cultural, political, religious and secular traditions, including feminist traditions, within a community.”

The failure of some parts of the left to acknowledge the original witch hunt against non-Muslim headteachers, persecuted because of their commitment to secularism and religious and ethnic backgrounds, is a deep moral failure that is in danger of rendering an apologetics for racist and sectarian bigotry and extremism of the worst kind.

In doing so, some progressives risk losing their moral credibility on this issue.

All who care for secularism, and who oppose extremism and the persecution of individuals by reactionary ideologues, must ensure that the left overcomes this, and does not sacrifice Universalist values at the altar of reactionary and bigoted sectarian activism.

Al-Razi is a member of the Council of Ex-Muslims

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