Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

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?  

4 Responses to “Religion and Politics: Tension or Tolerance?”

  1. agentmancuso said

    The idea of an ‘official church’ is grotesque in itself, irrespective of the sobrequet the Heir Apparent adopts.

  2. […] poor pay a higher proportion of their income in tax than the richest under a Labour government? 9. ‘Religion and Politics: Tension or Tolerance?’ on Jonathan Fryer’s blog. Yes to ‘live and let live’, and disestablishment of the CofE – […]

  3. Victoria Lubbock said

    Excellent piece and I’m only sorry I missed the evening. Personally, I am in the ‘No Faith Schools’ camp. Leaving aside the fact that the faith school convent I attended for a miserable two years singularly failed its pupils in any kind of academic endeavour, it seems crazy in this age to have such social and educational separation in the formative years of children. In Northern Ireland, there are significant and on-going efforts to undo and repair the damage caused to generations of Catholic and Protestant children by years of separate education.

  4. Why do you feel that “The idea of King Charles as Head of England’s official Church in the 21st century is grotesque”? Is this a value judgement on him as a person? Is he less worthy than Queen Elizabeth? Or a future King William?

    I can understand that you may wish to disestablish the church, but I wouldn’t be too quick to judge individuals’ moral worth.

    As for faith schools, I struggle to understand why liberals continually wish to regulate how parents educate their children. It seems highly illiberal to me to insist that all school children go to secular schools, not matter what their or their parents wishes might be. On the contrary (and for reasons way beyond mere faith) parents should be given far more freedom to school their children how and where they see fit.

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