Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for May 24th, 2007

Religion and Politics: Tension or Tolerance?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 24th May, 2007

dawood-akhoon.jpg‘Disestablishmentarianism’ is not a word I casually drop into garden party conversations, but it just popped out when Hackney LibDems held a Pizza and Politics this evening, on the theme of Religion and Politics, led by Cazenove ward councillor, Dawood Akhoon. Cazenove is unusual in that Dawood — a member of the shura of the local Muslim boys’ secondary school — has two orthodox Jews as his ward colleagues. In fact, Hackney is increasingly recognised as a place where community cohesion, involving all the local religious groups, is considerably more evident than in some other places in Britain. Dawood himself is directing a very new organisation, called React, which will be working with young people locally to promote mutual respect and tolerance — the very opposite of sectarian tensions.

All too often, however, when religion does mix with politics, it divides rather than unites — which is why countries such as France and Turkey cling so strongly to secularism, with both good and bad consequences. However, post-9/11, a sizeable section of Britain’s Muslim population — not least the young — feels unfairly targetted and under suspicion, as a consequence of the activities of a small number of extremists who are by no means representative of the wider community. On the other hand, the situation has been made worse by the inflammatory teachings of a minority of foreign-trained religious leaders who have little understanding of (let alone sympathy with) Britain’s liberal society.

Not surprisingly, in a LibDem gathering, there was a consensus on the principle of ‘live and let live’, and the importance of individual freedoms. But there was far less agreement on the desirability of faith schools — something which Dawood supports, not least on the grounds of their often high level of discipline and academic success. There was nonetheless a general feeling that the time has come when it is difficult to justify the continuation of an Established Church in this country. The idea of King Charles as Head of England’s official Church in the 21st century is grotesque, though would the Heir Apparent’s self-redefinition of ‘Defender of the Faiths’ be a sufficient improvement?  

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