The real problem is new atheism

Nick Cohen has a terrific, ferocious piece on Trevor Phillips’s failure, indeed refusal, to do anything about caste discrimination in the UK. Since Phillips is the head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, this failure/refusal is striking as well as tragic.

Nick starts by clearing some stupid lumber out of the way.

You can tell that speakers are preparing to say something scandalous when they assert that “militant atheists” are the moral equivalents of the religious militants that so afflict humanity. Trevor Phillips, whose flighty management of the Equality and Human Rights Commission is becoming a scandal, was no exception when he announced last week that British believers were “under siege” from “fashionable” atheists.

Trevor Phillips’s attack on “fashionable” atheists for exercising their right to speak their minds shows he does not begin to understand modern sectarianism. From his ignorance flows a cowardly refusal to face down those who would bully and harass others, as a story that deserves more attention than it has received shows.

Phillips also, I would add, does not begin to understand people’s right to speak their minds. The endless flow of crap about #BadNewAtheists demonstrates that a lot of people don’t begin to understand that, because the whole “omigod #BadNewAtheists” thing depends on the assumption that there is something obviously Bad about atheists spelling out what they don’t believe.

Faced with the prospect of confronting the prejudices of core supporters, the Labour government preferred holding on to seats to living by liberal principles and backed away from extending anti-discrimination law to cover caste. With Labour gone, campaigners for just treatment for tens of thousands of British Asians have a glimmer of hope.

They are trying to persuade the coalition to take seriously a study of bullying and harassment conducted by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. It is a dispiriting read – little more than a list of pointless cruelties. The Indian supervisor of an NHS worker discovers that he is from a lower caste and makes his life such a misery he becomes ill under the pressure and is suspended; a social services care worker refuses to help an elderly woman wash herself because the old lady is from a lower caste and so it goes on through dozens of examples.

But Trevor Phillips doesn’t want to know.

A search of the Equality and Human Rights Commission records shows that it ignores caste discrimination in Britain.When I phone its press office to ask why, its public relations officers fail to return my calls.

Why tf not? Seriously: why? As it’s a press office, they must know Nick will report the failure, and where he will do so. Are they content with that? An article in the Observer noting that they can’t be bothered to pay attention to a report on caste discrimination? Too busy opposing “fashionable” atheists are they?

32 Responses to “The real problem is new atheism”