Sayeeda Warsi, the unelected appointee of Prime Minister David Cameron who gave her the portfolio of 'Minister for Faith' in the coalition government has made another speech criticising secularism and suggesting that religion should have a privileged place in British politics.
The occasion was the 'Faith in Politics'
conference at the Winston Churchill archives at Cambridge University.
The whole speech warrants a detailed response and refutation. An exploration of why Sayeeda Warsi has undertaken a very personal (peaceful) jihad on secularism, linked to wider questions of religious identity politics, communalism, religious privilege and Islam in Britain is needed and we hope to engage in that exploration soon. An investigation of secularism and its discontents in contemporary Britain.
But it is important in the first instance to point out some problematic aspects of Warsi using Churchill as the touchstone of her anti-secular crusade.
Winston Churchill belonged to another age and was moulded by the limitations and context of the era he lived in. Using him as a timeless guru of wisdom and truth to leap forth and smite the horrible secularists with in 2013 is slightly problematic for Warsi. Some of his thoughts are inimical to the vision of life and religion that Warsi claims she shares with him.
What were Churchill's views on Islam, for instance?
Whilst it is possible as Warsi suggests that he may have moderated his views in later life, his comments on Islam from his book 'The River War'
sit uncomfortably with any sense of acceptance or respect for Islam.
How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property; either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the faith: all know how to die but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.
This is certainly rhetoric that could be described as inflammatory and hateful in its generalisation today.
As can Churchill's comparison of the Quran with Adolf Hitler's screed Mein Kampf.
In his six part historical memoir 'The Second World War' he examines Mein Kampf and says that it was:
"the new Koran of faith and war: turgid, verbose, shapeless, but pregnant with its message."
This is a belief that has been used by the Dutch politician Geert Wilders to promote his view that in some ways, Islam is comparable to Nazism. As he said in a speech
Churchill's comparison of the Quran and Mein Kampf is absolutely spot on. The core of the Quran is the call to jihad. Jihad means a lot of things and is Arabic for battle. Kampf is German for battle. Jihad and kampf mean exactly the same.
This is not to say that studying Churchill's perspectives on religion and other issues cannot offer us interesting perspectives on the fault lines, tensions and pressures of our contemporary world.
Churchill is a fascinating, contradictory figure. He was marked by heroism and wisdom as well as prejudice and chauvinism. In other words, he was a human; flawed, paradoxical and imperfect.
Rather than turning Winston Churchill into a kind of prophet offering a shield as she goes forth unto the breach of the evil totalitarian tyranny of secularism, Sayeeda Warsi should reflect on the complexity of Winston Churchill, and how that complexity allows her to take her place alongside a figure like Geert Wilders as an appropriator of his beliefs on the matter of religion and Islam.
But that would involve a de-sacralisation of Winston Churchill, to allow us to appreciate his human complexity, rather than his sanctification for the purposes of her crusade. And that would be an act that mirrors secular, critical inquiry, and is possibly something that the unelected 'Minister of Faith' would recoil from.
We shall explore and respond to Sayeeda Warsi's (peaceful) jihad against the evil oppression of secularism in more detail at a later date.