Muslims Under Attack: Solidarity or 'Left Secularism'

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1820 ... May 7, 2019

Muslims Under Attack: Solidarity or ‘Left Secularism’

John Clarke

Western governments and the xenophobic far right are engaged in a veritable war on Muslims. One way in which this attack unfolds is an ongoing effort to force Muslims to embrace dominant ‘values’ and change their forms of dress or abandon religious observances. Though he was not speaking exclusively about Muslims, the infamous war criminal, Tony Blair, recently sounded off on this very theme of the obligation to ‘integrate’ and was challenged very powerfully by Aditya Chakrabortty in The Guardian.

As this vicious and escalating attack on Muslim communities unfolds, many on the left appreciate clearly its racist nature and the need for active solidarity with those on the receiving end. However, there are others... whose ideological opposition to religion is rather rigidly applied and, when the hijab, niqab or burka come up or the issue of prayer rooms is considered, they fall into equivocation or worse. On my own Facebook page, which probably offers a fairly good sampling of broad left opinion, posts that deal with such matters always bring in comments on the need to keep religion out of schools and musings on the need to ‘save’ Muslim women from their own lack of enlightenment and assumed male coercion. In some instances, this viewpoint takes the form of equivocation, but there are leftists who will actually support the position that no one wearing the hijab should be allowed to teach in school and who actively campaign for Muslim prayer rooms in schools to be closed down.

Though I am on the political left and support secular public institutions, I give this perspective the somewhat tongue in cheek title of ‘left secularism.’ In my view, it is a mistaken approach that renders those who adopt it passive (or even complicit) in the face of the reactionary and highly dangerous proliferation of Islamophobia. I want to deal more fully with this, but, first, there are a couple of more general questions to consider about freedom of religion and the very valid and important issue of secularism.

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