Monday 4 June 2007

Religion, 'truth' and the state revisited

It seems the government is once again trying to encourage the development of the 'right kind' of religion, backing a 'moderate' conference on Islam and pledging money to academic courses that present the 'authentic voices' of the faith. I've explained in a previous post why this kind of thing makes me extremely uncomfortable, much as I'd like to see fundamentalism sidelined and versions of religion more compatible with liberal modernity gaining ground. There's something very unsettling about government ministers intervening in the internal affairs of a religion they don't believe in. For despite their statements in support of 'true' Islam, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and all the others lining up to speak at this event don't actually think Islam is true - otherwise they'd be Muslims. It's as if the government were to take sides in the current disputes within the Church of England, advancing the ideas of (say) the evangelical wing as more 'authentic' than those of the Anglo-Catholics - and just as much a threat to the separation of religion and the state.

Others are unhappy with the conference for different reasons. Tariq Ramadan is given the top comment slot in today's Guardian to argue that the government is failing to talk to the right kind of Muslims (I suppose he means those who agree with him) and to recycle yet again the hoary old theory that Islamist terrorism is all the fault of western policies. If anyone is taken in for a minute by Ramadan, they should read Paul Berman's magisterial dissection of his ideas in the latest New Republic: free registration required and be warned, it's very long, but absolutely worth reading in full.

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