Zeal of the Land Busy

Blimey. A reader emailed to tell me he’d tracked down the ‘April Fool’s leader’ in the Guardian that Anthony Andrew mentioned in his Guardian article that I commented on yesterday – got all that? It is a bit complicated – but then that’s how this sort of thing works. One article leads to another which leads to a comment which prompts an email – and so it goes. At any rate I read the leader, and boy it’s foolish all right.

There are many in the Muslim community whose warnings, through the early 1990s, of a radicalised generation fell on deaf ears. They would argue that Britain has not so much failed to integrate Muslims, as failed even to try…They argue that the response to setting up Muslim schools was too slow, and that boys’ vital religious instruction in mosques on Saturdays has remained in the cultural clutches of religious authorities back in Pakistan or Bangladesh. The resources were inadequate to promote a vibrant Islam of which these British youngsters could be proud.

So…’Britain’ is supposed to set up Muslim schools (quickly), give boys vital religious instruction in mosques on Saturdays (or perhaps merely fund it?), and promote a vibrant Islam? It is? Dang. I know the UK doesn’t have separation of church and state, I realize that’s a quirky Yank idea, but still…that does seem like asking a lot.

And then there’s this interesting observation:

The crucial ingredient which radicalises this kind of community disaffection into some individuals undertaking acts of extreme violence is the international context. It began with the slow international response in Bosnia, but now spans the globe from Chechnya and Palestine to France where the sisters cannot wear the hijab.

The sisters cannot wear the hijab. Anywhere, ever. It’s torn off them in the street, at the supermarket, in the cafĂ©. Not. But it sounds so nice and unfair and discriminatory to say so.

But religious zeal is not confined to ‘vibrant’ Islam. There is also this bit of whimsy from the Los Angeles Times telling us what a good thing it is that George Bush is a religious zealot.

Even those who don’t share Bush’s religious convictions should see them as a good thing. His faith compels him to wrestle with ethical questions that less religious men might simply ignore. And his strong faith offers us visible guideposts by which we can evaluate his performance as president. Find me a commander in chief who lacks core convictions rooted in something greater than himself, and you’ll have a leader who lacks an identifiable moral compass and will, accordingly, be prone to drift off course.

Well, that’s blunt, at any rate. We know where we are. Less religious ‘men’ (and probably women too, but who cares what they do) ignore ethical questions that Bush wrestles with on account of his ‘faith.’ Ah. Interesting. Well, leaving aside the question of whether Bush really does seem to be an ethically thoughtful kind of guy, there is also the question of whether or not it is true that people who don’t share Bush’s ‘faith’ might simply ignore ethical questions. And the further question of what the authors mean by ‘something greater than himself’ – and the question of what Bush means by it, and what the rest of us might mean by it. It’s a nice vague phrase, isn’t it. But does it really mean something vague? Or does it mean something specific? To wit, a specific person, one God by name, with a particular (supernatural) character and history, known to us via a book named the Bible (a book named the Book). Since the article refers approvingly to ‘Judeo-Christian principles’ it seems fair to assume that it does mean that. So there we are, an exceptionally clear statement of the familiar implication: atheists lack an identifiable (you know, as in a lineup – that’s the guy, number two, with the beard!) moral compass and so will drift off course. It’s worth knowing that’s what they think.

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