Pastafarian gesture makes a point:

What is another good use for a pasta strainer ?  As a religious headgear of course! So says an Austrian atheist who insists on wearing it for a driving licience photo.

When you’re a member of the Church of the Flyng Spaghetti Monster where the only dogma allowed is the rejection of all dogma, this light-hearted gesture makes a subtle point about religious headgear and religious practices in general.

Interestingly, he was required to undergo a mental fitness check – a procedure which I believe should also apply to other religions. But, I expect in doing so, mental institutions may be filled with nutcases.



Multifaithism: the scourge of Multiculturalism and Islamophobia

“Together in diversity” was one slogan used to promote multiculturalism in Britain in the 1980s. The intention was that recognising different cultures would help to build a unified society. However, the results of multiculturalism have been devastating in terms of the ghettoization and radicalization of Muslim communities, particularly in the North of England. It has made it harder for young Muslims to walk the delicate path between respect for their home culture and the culture of the West, and it has driven wedges between communities that have resulted in the further radicalization and strength of the Far Right.

While it may be considered important to recognise different cultures as a means to help unite groups of people in implementing anti-racist policies, the anti-racist struggle was, and remains a struggle for equality in all walks of life, whereas multiculturalism demanded separate rights, exemptions and provisions. Rumy Hasan, author of, Multiculturalism: some inconvenient truths, takes the view that, “Though there is likely to be a strong correlation between racists and opposition to multiculturalism, one can be anti-racist yet oppose multiculturalism”. He adds, “Most people oppose racism and multiculturalism, on grounds of equality, advocating equal rights and opportunities regardless of race on the one hand and, on the other, equal treatment without the conferral of privileges on the grounds of religion and culture”. He goes further to suggest that, “There is no demonstrable evidence of a backlash with respect to anti-racism, but there is good reason to think that there exists increasing alienation and resentments in regard to the conferral of cultural and religious privileges”.

While it would clearly be a mistake to hear the most radical voices within Islam as being representative of the diverse communities within that religion they certainly drive the agenda in ways that significantly affect us all. The concept that the casual observer will be most familiar with is that of Jihad, which has been perverted by radical Islamists to support the creation of a new Umma or Caliphate run according to the principles of Sharia Law. Such a Caliphate would involve the reconquest or conversion of countries within Europe as did earlier Caliphates. The radicalization of Muslim youth consequent upon, among others, Western foreign policies toward the Islamic world and the higher incidence of calls for Jihad after 9/11, and the Anglo-American response to that disaster is only the most violent of the strategies used to reach this ultimate goal. What is unlikely to be won by violent struggle can also be prepared by propaganda and cultural tools; tools which were often originally forged by Liberal westerners in the spirit of fairness and diversity with the concept of multiculturalism and the birth of a new type of phobia: Islamophobia.

Following the 9/11 attack in the USA, the term Islamophobia became the buzz word for any form of criticism of Islam. Though the literal meaning of the term is “irrational fear of Islam”, it was created in the same spirit that drove Anti-Racism and Anti-Gay initiatives but has been twisted into something entirely different to cover grievances such as racial, cultural and social problems that had nothing to do with Islam. Moreover, it has become a blunt instrument used by Muslim religious leaders to suppress both criticism from outside their sphere of influence and dissent within it. Muslim leaders have been explicit in their use of Islamophobia as a tool somewhat like the way that radical Zionist supporters of Israel have successfully used Anti-Semitism as a means of creating guilt and thereby acquiescence in the West towards racist and anti-democratic policies.

Many apologists for political Islam claimed that to criticize any aspect of Islam or its practices was to be guilty of racism and Islamophobia. However, much of the criticism was directed not against Islam itself, but against political Islam. Much of that criticism came from Muslims who wanted to distance themselves from fanatical elements of the Koran. How then could this have been racism or Islamophobia? However much activists might like to try and insist that it is, it simply can’t be as people of all races can be Muslims and one cannot guess from outward appearances who is or isn’t one. The tragic proof of this is that many British Hindus and Sikhs of Indian origin had been attacked in the aftermath of 9/11 not as Asians, but mistakenly as Muslims. Scaremongering about Islamophobia has promoted a victim culture and has allowed some community leaders to inflame this sense of injury and thus contributed in fostering further alienation. Evidence for Islamophobia has been lacking and the claim disputed by several writers including Rumy Hasan in which he examined the way some Muslims and all Islamist organizations have and continue to use the term to serve their purpose in hindering criticisms of Islam and its practices.

In 2001 the Islamic pressure group FAIR (Forum against Islamophobia and Racism) began promoting a multifaith Britain signalling the transformation of multiculturalism to multifaithism. Apparently, multiculturalism has become obsolete. This multifaithism seems politically correct for its ultimate goal is “inclusiveness”. Cultural relativism too played its part in this transformation since there has been a near absence of challenge of religious beliefs and practices. Any such challenge would represent a breach of freedom of cultural and religious expression. For Muslims in particular, this absence has undoubtedly aided the transposing of multiculturalism into multifaithism seen as a means of achieving radical religious goals by a thousand small cuts.

Pragna Patel, in a report entitled, Faith in the state? Asian women’s struggles for human rights in the UK, discusses the government’s approach to religion since 9/11, which has involved treating all religious communities as ethnic blocs that all think the same way. They have pandered to reactionary and unelected “community leaders” without taking account of tensions or problems within those communities. She concludes that the increasing emphasis on religion and religious identities has led to the transformation of multiculturalism into multifaithism and the ones who suffer most are South Asian women.

The State’s belief in faith as a good thing or that faith groups have done a great deal for society’s less fortunate, has led to a situation where religious groups are showered with public money, involved in decision making and allowed to set the agenda no matter how archaic and small-minded they are. They try to convince us that multifaithism is the ideology that would brings us all together and combat extremism. This has been used to justify the outpouring of money into multifaith schemes, promoting Muslim schools, projects and community centres. There is no guarantee that this initiative will root out Islamist radicalisation and extremism for it does not tackle the root cause.

This naive belief of governments that by channeling resources to reactionary religious and community leaders  can both assist in the alleviation of social problems while at the same time “appease” radicals. Such muddled and imprecise thinking is based on an arrogant misunderstanding of the real dynamics of these communities and leads to secular groups such as Southall Black Sisters who are doing good work and focusing on issues such as the oppression and injustice of South Asian women being all but ignored.

The naivety too of Western Liberals who would not acknowledge such oppressive practices from religions they are more culturally familiar with, combined with the arrogance of political elites who seek to “solve” the issue of Islamic radicalism without a proper grounding in the dynamics of Muslim societies are only playing into the hands of corrupt and reactionary elites, which in turn disgusts those who genuinely want to see a fair and open society and who misguidedly turn to the siren voices of radicalism.

Surely a better response would be to listen more carefully to the secular groups, such as Southall Black Sisters, within South Asian communities who are trying to address real problems with real and tangible solutions arising from the dynamics of the culture and not imposed from outside, however well-meaning those outsiders may believe themselves to be.

However good the intentions were for the idea of multiculturalism, it is now generally agreed that it has dangerously back fired, creating a segregated society and the disturbing rise of the political far right has been a direct result. It is not hard to see that the government’s misguided view of this new incarnation of multifaithism as a cure for a more inclusive society with an emphasis on religious rights, recognition and promotion will be just as damaging.

What we need is not special treatment and endless appeasement for Muslims or religion in general, but genuine equality, which sits as the bedrock of our modern democratic society.

The ‘Ground Zero’ hypocrisy

Can Islam show sensitivity?

The recent row over the proposed mosque near the site of the World Trade Centre, where 3,000 people lost their lives following the 9/11 bombing, revealed some exaggerations. Firstly, the location is not at ‘Ground Zero’, but at least two blocks away and secondly, the building, which will be an Islamic centre rather than a mosque, to be known as Cordoba House, is intended to house a multi-story complex boasting a theatre, day care, culinary and sports facilities, as well as an area for prayers.

Objections to the project were swift and vociferous from families of the victims. Other opponents such as the republican right were reputed to have led a campaign of fear, panic and Islamophobia. They described it as inappropriate, wrong and insensitive. They proclaimed it would be a monument to the triumph of 9/11, a desecration, a provocation and a further encroachment of Islam on American soil. Even President Obama was sucked into the furore, giving his full support to the proposal, based on the rights of the American constitution for freedom to practice one’s religion. His message extolled the virtues of living in a tolerant society. Not surprisingly, the next day he backtracked on his statements when rumours spread that he was secretly a Muslim. One can’t help but wonder at the wisdom of such partiality to a particular faith in endorsing this project publicly, and the irony it generated in the context of the American constitution to keep State and religion separate.

While opponents of the project argued over the right to allow an ‘enemy’ of the USA to build a monument as a triumph of their religious conquest (equating this to accepting the right of the Japanese to build a shrine at Pearl Harbour), Muslims of the proposed centre were busy trying to allay fears of any covert Islamist plots, giving assurance that the complex would be open to all visitors and would help to demonstrate that Muslims are part of the community. Moreover, they announced that the Centre would be a shrine to those who lost their lives and would help to build bridges between the West and the Islamic world. But how much of this rhetoric in regards to community cohesion and the moderate aspect of Islam by supporters of Cordoba House are we to believe? The Finsbury Park mosque in London was an example of where a house of prayer was turned into a recruiting ground for extremism. There is also the question of who is funding the project. If it is Saudi Arabia, as many suspect, would followers be obliged to adopt the extremist Wahabi form of Islam which radical muslims are in favour of and which has been responsible for suicide bombers carrying out 9/11, 7/7, bombing in Madrid, Indonesia, Bali and other parts of the world?

The question of sensitivity to the feelings of the victims’ families has been an emotive one. While respecting the constitutional right of freedom to practice one’s religion and the democratic right to buy and build legally on American soil, many Americans and non-Americans feel that the decision to erect such a building in close proximity to Ground Zero, in the name of a religion whose fundamentalist doctrine were directly responsible for the destruction of the site, shows a total disregard of the American people and Western values, and a lack of consideration for the feelings of those who suffered from it. Moreover, it endorses the blatant hypocrisy of Islam, which itself shows no respect for democracy or human rights in many parts of the Islamic world, but insists on fair treatment from others abroad. Quick to condemn any criticism of their dogma even with violence, muslims, to their advantage, have repeatedly played the ‘victim’ card, complaining of hurt feelings and insensitivity. But the table is about to turn. In the spirit of community cohesion, respect for the memory of the victims, recognition of human dignity and sensitivity, would they now take up this mantra and reciprocate? One would hope that these so-called moderate muslims would want to seize an opportunity were it to present itself and demonstrate to the world that Islam can respect the sensitivities of its host nation, if it helps to foster a better and peaceful society. Instead, no sooner do we hear of their demands for tolerance, religious rights and freedom, than we witness the first example of the now familiar voice of hypocritical Islam.

When news broke of a proposed gay bar next to the Islamic Centre, one would have expected them to practice what they preach. Instead, a senior Muslim cleric was reported to have said that this was going too far, given Muslim sensibilities. This, in spite of the announced intentions of the proprietors to emulate the message of the supporters of the Centre in hoping to break down barriers by welcoming ‘secretly’ gay Muslim men and catering for their needs, by providing non-alcoholic drinks on one floor. If this venue goes ahead, will we soon be observing demonstrations by Muslim zealots on the streets of New York with the burning of effigies of gay couples in true extremist fashion? Given their history of intolerance to anything that they believe is an insult to their religion, I wouldn’t be surprised.

When President Obama declared that the American Constitution must protect Islam, it’s only fair that Islam and muslims living in the United States should be held to those same constitutional requirements. If not, they are failing in their duty as citizens to exercise American values of freedom, tolerance and liberty. The double standards practised by the followers of Islam who want to have their cake and eat it, is one of the reasons the right often gains political influence and why Islam is shamelessly hypocritical.

Despite the understandably strong feelings of opposition to the building of an Islamic Centre, so close to Ground Zero, I believe that they have just as much right to build a mosque or Islamic Centre as any other religion proposing to build a particular place of worship. However, when the project is completed, in stark contrast to the insular ideologies and practices of Islam, it should stand as a monument to democracy, a beacon to equality of religion and above all, a symbol of the grown up mentality of a Western nation to respect the civil rights of all citizens including those who may choose to follow their teachings literally and who may not hesitate to condemn or even kill for their delusional religious beliefs.

Islam and Women

Dr. Younus Shaikh, Pakistani Rationalist and founder President of the Rationalist organization of Pakistan, “The Enlightenment”, who was once sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan, writes here on Islam and Women.


From pre Islamic times when women had freedom, equality and respect to the deplorable state of women today under Islam.