‘One of my closest friends is Turkish, and she won’t have anything to do with Muslims, OK?’
Camden Council has finally voted on the Quranic Society’s development application, and has unanimously voted against it. We now have to wait and see whether the applicants will appeal, and if so there will be another long wait for the outcome.
I’ve already tried to carve out a position on all this, so I’ll just summarise where I stand.
1. I wish we didn’t have religious schools at all. Some forms of religion are harmless, and indeed almost indistinguishable from humanism, in stressing contemplation, love of others and so on. But to the extent that religion demands and rationalises blind adherence to arbitrary doctrines, it’s antithetical to liberal values and it perpetuates tribalism and bigotry. Only the latter kind of religion has any need for its own schools, as instruments of indoctrination.
2. The interests of secular liberalism will not be served by blocking this or that Islamic school. Enlightenment is a long process, and is prone to setbacks as instanced by the resurgence of religious dogma in some middle eastern countries, including Israel, and in the US. But, given the right conditions, it marches on. Among those conditions are cosmopolitanism, freedom of expression (including religion) and social tolerance. None of the above are enhanced when pig-ignorant, Hansonite would-be patriots like Kate McCulloch, are seen to get their way. If migrant groups perceive our planning processes to be captive to that kind of stupidity, it will be no wonder that they feel alienated and maligned, nor any wonder if they turn inward, seek consolation in tribal bonds, and frame their grievances in terms of theological struggle.
3. Only an expert on town planning will be able to judge whether the council had good grounds to reject the application. Especially in the light of the Wollongong capers, we have reason to distrust local government processes. But if there is an appeal, I think we can assume that the proposal will be decided on its merits.
4. Notwithstanding my dislike of religious schools, I hope that there is an appeal, and that Camden Council’s decision is overturned. In the short term, if we are to remain a liberal and tolerant society, we are going to have more Islamic schools rather than less. It will not prove possible to obstruct them all on planning grounds. But blocking Camden will just move the battle ground somewhere else; and the Camden protesters’ ugly tactics, having apparently worked, will lend legitimacy to more of the same.