Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Religions should not be allowed to make ghettos

Some ardent Christians, Jews, Hindus and Muslims wish to demolish our secularism

Monday 30 June 2008 00:00 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


I cannot stand Cristina Odone, and the feeling is mutual. We haven't spoken for years, since the week when, as deputy editor of the New Statesman, she commissioned a hatchet profile on me by a female journalist (of course), who had met me once on a radio show. Even I, well used to abrasive attacks, was knocked back by the virulence in a left-wing magazine I had previously worked for. Time has not healed that bruise, and never will.

It is hard to make fair, objective judgements when there is such animosity. It can be done, one hopes. Odone on, say, the sanctity of life, is sincere and credible. She is a canny networker and obviously has flair. But her new report on faith schools for the Centre for Policy Studies, In Bad Faith: The New Betrayal of Faith Schools, is insufferable.

She enthuses over faith-based schools, especially Muslim schools, where our children are apparently taught to be Muslim and British (you don't say), as if, like donkeys and horses, we have to be specially trained into behaviours to get to this state of grace.

As usual, subtle warnings run through this report. Apologist Muslim organisations use blackmail. Give them what they want or many more Muslims will become domestic hellhounds. If the state does not agree to fund further educational institutions of cultural, religious and gender apartheid, Muslim girls will be "disappeared", forced into marriages. From segregated schools, which, says Odone, are "crucial to traditional Muslim families", they will one day go into higher education.

This stream of irrational consciousness leads to separate universities and colleges, for how can Muslim women be in the same lecture hall, tutorial group, common room, dining room with other Britons and men? Is Ms Odone going to recommend that too, next?

Go into any British university and you see huddles of manifestly Muslim men and women sitting apart from others, including Muslims who refuse to cover up or live separate lives. You never saw this before because, until a decade back, there wasn't this distorted Islamicisation of Muslim life. An evocative film to be broadcast in July on Channel 4 on the Qu'ran examines this alarming spread across the world. More Muslims hate this reactionary Islam than do outsiders. Our thoughts tend not to matter to people like Odone.

The reason so many Muslim girls are abused, denied education and pushed into early marriages is because the community and family patriarchs and matriarchs violate their human rights. Proportionately more Muslim girls and boys run away from home than do the children of other Britons. Are they trying to escape the freedom of British society, or trying desperately to find it? Our state needs to protect these girls, not hand them over to their oppressors.

Odone praises one school where girls, covered up completely except for the face, are kept apart from boys. An "elegant Arabic-style courtyard with a fountain" is the barrier. That's fine then. What about those young girls so swathed and swaddled they constantly fall over in playgrounds? These shrouds sexualise them as much as boob tubes do the daughters of the "infidels". Both see young females as objects of unhealthy desire.

The report disapproves on our behalf of state education which offers "mixed gym classes or art classes where they are asked to draw a human body". Ya Allah. What next? Maybe science books, fiction with male and female characters falling in love, poetry? You want our children to go to hell like yours?

A bigger game is being played here. Some ardent Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Muslims are rising, collaborating to demolish secularism in the UK, which has always been weak and too loosely committed to the separation of faith and state. So the Archbishop of Canterbury ruminates fondly about Sharia family law and his conservative bishops plot to gain moral supremacy. Some from this devious coalition briefed against the nascent British Muslims for Secular Democracy and Ed Hussein's Quillam Foundation. They condemn gay rights, liberal principles and personal freedom.

What I write springs not from personal hostility, but from extreme political opposition to the ideas on state and religion promulgated by Cristina Odone, high Catholic priestess of this new order and the circle of uncompromising believers. I hold my faith dear, and am wary of anti-religious bigots, but religions should not be allowed to dictate policy and politics, nor make ghettoes. Millions of Muslims like me – and others too – recoil from the ideas promoted by this multi-religious Opus Dei. Let's hope God's on our side, not theirs.


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