frontline 12

The Secularism of Fools

From the proposed banning of the hijab in France to the integration of catholic schools with ‘state’ schools the question of religion and education has been widely debated recently. In this article Graham Campbell (above), an activist in the SSP Black and Asian Network examines the issues.

I vehemently support an integrated educated system and the SSP policy on this but I am in favour of voluntary integration not the reactionary bourgeois integrationism being carried out in France.


France’s call for the banning of religious symbols has not come from the religious minorities and majorities deciding democratically through an inclusive process of engagement to integrate. Rather it has come from Chirac and Raffarin’s pandering to the racist Front National (FN). The French ban is a massive own goal because it gives FN fascists legitimacy to campaign against the presence of Muslims as a terrorist threat to French culture, while Islamic extremists are handed a legitimate grievance to exploit for their own ends. It also destroys at one stroke French ruling class chances of influence in the Middle east and increases the excuse for Islamic extremist terrorism. They are making a big error and many French leftists including half the LCR and all of LO have fallen for this trap. Why?

This banning of the hijab has nothing to do with the 1789 revolution. This revolution saw the working masses, weapons in hands rise up against the wealthy and powerful church. The subsequent bourgeois governments seized church property (which was considerable) and sold it, in most cases to the highest bidder. Whilst the new bourgeois class in France gained most of the land the peasantry were able to keep the land they already had and were freed from the need to pay tithes and duties to the church and aristocracy. The banning of the hijab has everything to do with present-day racist appeasement of Front National fascists within the reactionary Fifth Republic with its shared ideas about the immutability of Islamic and French cultures. Fascist growth in Europe has been based on this rising anti-Muslim chauvinism. The French government may have majority support in the polls, but uniquely Chirac has pissed off Sikhs, Jews, Muslims and Rastas and united their enemies too.

I think it is the ‘secularism of fools’ to support a capitalist state abolishing the rights of minority ethnic/religious communities in a climate of extreme racism - using its clumsy methods - in the name of an integration that is not genuinely voluntary nor expressing a progressive mass movement in society for educational and/or social integration, as during the civil rights movement.

Enforced ‘secularism’ can be and is just as oppressive as the imposition of religious observance. When it comes to ‘secular’ bourgeois states I believe that’s a contradiction in terms. No bourgeois state, not even Turkey, France or other states that make such a song and dance of being so, actually are secular in practice, in terms of their power structure. Islam and Catholicism still wield privileged and influential positions in those societies.

The only truly secular state can be a socialist one. I think the theory of permanent revolution applies here too. The ‘’abolition’ of religion from the state’s structures can only really occur with a massive shift in social consciousness of the people. That only occurs historically in revolutionary situations. Outside of a revolutionary situation it’s nonsense to raise those slogans.


In looking at the situation in Scotland, as compared to that in France there are a number of points to bear in mind.

Firstly Catholicism and Islam are minority religions in Scotland historically based within Irish and Pakistani ethnic communities. Religion and race and/or nationality are deeply inter-linked in the sectarian mindset. We shouldn’t conflate Marxist propaganda against the ESTABLISHED state religion and the critique of religion in general. From my memory of reading criticism by Marx, Engels (Jewish question, Peasant war in Germany etc.) and Lenin (On the Jewish question, and various other works) most of it is aimed at the established, state-favoured religion’s control over land, property and the minds of workers and its oppression and exclusion of members of minority religions. Secondly, Lenin does criticise the Jewish elders in the pale of settlement to the degree that they promoted separatism as a virtue, but in an overall context of self-defence against Black Hundred Russian chauvinist pogroms. He also criticises Jewish community leaders because of their defence of private property and petty trading.

Anti-Catholicism or Islamophobia today wouldn’t make sense without the cultural nationalist - British imperialist racism of the WASP ruling class against Highland Gaels, Irish and Pakistani immigrants - a nationalism that (mis)uses the Protestant faith as cover. The prime victims of sectarianism have historically been Catholics but today that institutional sectarianism affects Muslims too. Of course individual sectarian prejudice is a cancer in individuals of all and no religion, but in terms of power structures, who rules; and who has the power to discriminate, prejudice is not the same as the power to discriminate. Working on this definition of racism or sectarianism, there is clearly not equal strength or power to discriminate between Protestant, Catholic, Jew and Muslim in Scotland. Primarily we are talking Protestant domination within a claimed ‘secular’ system. Catholics and Jews have an opt-out, Muslims don’t.


Thankfully Scotland’s not quite like the US South where whites didn’t want to integrate. The question is how and with what process integration is likely to happen. Even in the US despite its history of civil rights struggles - blacks and whites are much less likely to be in integrated schools today than during the 1960s. Why? Partly because ‘white flight’ from the urban areas where black people live mean there’s no white kids in their state schools (a demographic reality on this island too though limited to neighbourhoods, not yet whole cities). But more importantly, it’s because many Black parents were and are fed-up with stereotyping of their kids as “troubled” or “violent”; and limiting of their kids horizons to sport and music by white racist teachers and institutionally racist schools.

The same is definitely true in England and Scotland which is why there was a mushrooming during the 1980s and 1990s of Black and Asian supplementary schools. They were fed-up with the educational under-achievement - of Black and Asian boys especially. This dissatisfaction is what was behind the failed Iqra Academy attempt to have a private Muslim school in the Southside. They were merely repeating what Yusuf Islam (ex-Cat Stevens) did with the Islamiyya School in Brent, northwest London that started out private but became a state school a few years ago.

For Black peoples it is essential to have an education that values our culture and traditions so that we feel a sense of self-worth and identity. But racist education in Britain has regularly failed Black peoples in terms of identity and self-esteem - myself being one of them. After all, what can white middle-class university educated young teachers tell an urban working class Black male youth about these things?

Unless and until the state can demonstrate itself to be competent to provide an inclusive secular anti-racist, anti-bigotry education, you would have thought Black and Asian parents are gonna look elsewhere. Not so? The option of private religious schooling is there with plenty of resources available. But miraculously, most working class Muslims actually want the state to educate their children in a secular manner because they want their kids to integrate.

Incidentally, because a state school must deliver a state national curriculum, it would by definition exclude a) proselytising religion; b) blocking sex, gender and other special education; or c) blocking history of Darwinism in biology. Isn’t it part of the National curriculum? Any current or future Muslim school would surely lose its state funding if it transgressed. It’s better to transitionally regulate Muslim schools in the state sector than have private faith schools over which there is no state control and supervision. (Incidentally Muslims are very pro-science, just they believe Allah made this system of atomic structure in nature. Islamic philosophy translated the Greek works in the 9th to 11th centuries and dialectics have long been part of the tradition).


Right now in Dalkeith, Midlothian at least they’ve integrated the campus, then the playground. It’s a matter of time before the logic of integrating the schools altogether takes hold amongst parents, kids, teachers and governors. The point is though they will do it on a voluntary basis based on their recent experiences. It seems to me that Jack McConnell and co. got the Dalkeith schools built next to each other as a pathetically tentative step towards integration, though I have my doubts as to how far there was any real consultation amongst parents and kids before it was built.

In a religiously divided society it is a relative step forward that Catholics seem so part of the power structure. Much as I personally object to Catholic organised religious hierarchy or disagree with its concepts of sin; I can see that there is an anti-Catholic chauvinism behind some of the so-called secularists calls to “abolish Catholic schools” even if it’s dressed up as ‘abolish all religious schools’. These campaigns in Scotland are not being initiated by socialists on a progressive basis but by anti-catholic bigots. We should have no part of their ‘campaigns’ and nothing we say should identify ourselves with them. Socialists would therefore be wrong to side with the nakedly sectarian attitude of the white Anglo-Saxon Scottish protestant establishment against the relative concessions made to the Catholic church in terms of equal status.


The big issue for me is the right of an ethnic minority community to equality of esteem, equal recognition of their traditions and values as part of genuine diversity. Only if you have equal status and treatment can there be genuine integration. For that reason, while we are somewhat short of the socialist revolution, and therefore lack the political power to implement an integrated socialist education system, in the meantime we should favour measures which genuinely promote secularism and integration.

Therefore, wherever the education system discriminates (of course there are examples of anti-protestant/Muslim/atheist discrimination by Catholic institutions - not least if you want to be a non-catholic teacher at a Catholic school) I am in favour of campaigning against it while steering clear of anti-catholic, or anti-Muslim bigotry. While there are other faith based state schools I am in favour of the equal right of Muslims - only where there is genuine need and demand for it - to have state faith-based schools as long as there’s a commitment to delivering the secular National Curriculum and a clear separation of religious instruction from school assembly functions.


Lastly, a word or two on tolerance. I have been, if not surprised then severely disappointed, about the intolerance of some socialists towards religious believers. I get the impression some on the left believe you must either become, or adopt the mannerisms of an identikit infidel, pub-going, university educated white leftie - with the generally unhealthy lifestyle to match - in order to be considered genuinely “integrated”. I am non-white, non-Christian and proud of it. The vacuous cultural homogeneity of our society is not necessarily attractive to me.

I am aware that many socialists will have had very negative experiences of the organised religion they were brought up with. Your anger and frustration over the way you were treated obviously, and rightly affects your view on this. But you must realise that if your former religion oppressed you, it does not mean that those who still believe in it, will agree with that treatment or the ‘religious’ justifications for it. You must have knowledge, tolerance and understanding of where people are coming from or you cannot help them lose those illusions you believe them to have. You’ll get nowhere with them - especially not with Black and Asian believers -with a negative stereotyped and ill-informed attitude towards their faith.

The majority of workers have a passive religious belief - even if they don’t go to church. Within Black and Asian communities that majority of believers is active and overwhelmingly attends religious services. It is highly unlikely that the majority of working class people will be convinced of atheism prior to being convinced of the need for socialism. It therefore should not be a requirement of membership in a socialist party to be either an atheist, materialist. Only that you agree with most SSP policy and programmes and fight for them in your community.

For me integration’s prerequisite is recognition and understand of difference. Otherwise it’s not integration, but rather European cultural hegemony and forced assimilation dressed up as the secularism of fools.