Is religion a higher loyalty?

Jeremy Sammut

16 November 2018 | IDEAS@THECENTRE

At a time when Australia is grappling with the latest example of Islamist-inspired terrorism on the streets of Melbourne, Britain is also dealing with another impact of extremism.

The application for asylum by Asia Bibi — a Pakistani Christian whose recent acquittal of charges of blasphemy and insulting Mohammed sparked violent protests led by Islamic hardliners — was rejected by the UK government, based on security concerns and fear of stirring up unrest among some sections of the community.

This is a long way from the dream of a harmonious multicultural society in which all citizens, regardless of race or creed, enjoy the same rights and liberties.

Islamists believe that religious obligations trump their obligations as citizens, and this belief fundamentally undermines the civil compact of mutual respect for the freedoms of all that lies at heart of Western liberal democracy.

We are of course talking about small number of radicals who hold extreme views and are not representative of the vast majority of Muslims.

However, during the session on child protection in which I took part at  London’s recent Battle of Ideas conference, there was disturbing discussion of the UK child grooming gangs — which involved serial child sexual assaults by mostly Muslim men, often from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds.

As expected, a question from the audience asked what role the offenders’ religion played?

My answer is that the offending by Muslim men had nothing to do with the theology of Islam, per se, but it would be wrong not to consider the role their cultural backgrounds may have played.

This is to say:  we should think about the implications not in terms of religion, but in terms of immigration policy and the selection and integration of migrants.

However, in audience were a number of young Muslim women who eagerly sought out the microphone to express their views.

To all intents and purposes, they were young British women; educated and articulate. But they were also quick to take issue with any suggestion that Islam had anything to do with Rotherham and its sequels.

They had a point. But what struck me was how visceral their reaction was to any perceived slight on Islam, especially as they appeared to be — in all other respects — fully assimilated (to use an old fashioned term) right down to their accents and their jeans and sneakers — without a hijab, let alone a burka, in sight.

Such a demonstrable commitment to ‘defending the faith’ was therefore unusual — and therefore striking — to encounter firsthand, when in a Western nation like Australia we are by habit and custom used to the religious being subordinate to the secular.

This was a different, and obviously less extreme, expression of a higher religious loyalty that was clearly central to these young women’s identity.

But reflecting on these events makes one ponder what the implications may be for the cohesiveness of British society.

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