Pluralism and Religious freedom sacrificed to preserve British Secularism

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Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw again courted controversy by suggesting that Muslim women should remove the veil. Previously, Straw caused immense hue and cry amongst Muslims and non-Muslims alike, when he authorised the war against Iraq, and denied any link between Britain’s foreign policy and home grown terror.

But Straw is not the only minister who is denigrating the Islamic character of Muslim community in Britain. Ruth Kelly, the Communities Secretary, called for a "new and honest debate" on the merits of multiculturalism. Home Secretary John Reid said that Muslims parents should spy on their children. It is obvious that the British government has embarked on a crusade to trounce its cherished principles of pluralism, and freedom of religion in a last ditch attempt to preserve secular Britain.

Since September 11, under the pretext of the war on terror, the West has undertaken a host of measures specifically aimed at Muslims living in the West. These measures include arbitrary arrests, physical torture, imprisonment without trial, surveillance of mosques, muzzling of Imams, and deaths in police custody. Some have even been forced to become spies. Muslims have also witnessed the endless vilification of Islam by the western media.

All this has left an indelible impression on Muslim minds that secular democracies in the West are incapable of guaranteeing Muslims the peace and security to practice their religion.

The plight of Muslims living under secular dictatorships supported by the West is much worse. In countries like Uzbekistan, Muslim males are routinely arrested for having a beard or visiting the Mosques too often. In Turkey, Muslim women who opt for university education are forced to abandon their hijab.

But the fiercest punishment is reserved for those who seek to criticize these tyrannical regimes; imprisonment, torture and extra-judicial killings can routinely be found in such countries. So we also find Muslims living in the Muslim world convinced that secularism is flawed and unfit to govern them.

Even non-Muslims living under secularism feel that their religion is vulnerable. Many Christians in the West view gay bishops, women priests, illegitimate children, and the commercialization of Christmas as malicious attempts by secular fundamentalist to subvert Christian values and replacing them with secular ones.

Likewise, secularism has failed to protect the Christian sects in Northern Ireland and safeguard the lives of Jewish, Christian and Muslim people living in Palestine. India, the largest secular state in the world, is prone to religious violence where Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Sikhs are all victims of secularism. So, just like Muslims, non-Muslims are also looking for an alternative system that can provide them with an opportunity to practise their religion in peace.

Islam is the sole ideology in the world where people of different faiths can worship and perform their religious duties without experiencing reprisals or insecurity. In practice this is secured by the Caliphate state. In the past the Caliph safeguarded the rights of non-Muslims and Muslims alike, without discriminating between them. Take the case of Palestine: under the shade of the Caliphate, Muslims, Jews and Christians lived in harmony, a feat unrivalled in the history of mankind.

By pressing ahead with the forced secularisation of Muslims, Christian and Jews, western governments run the risk of alienating them. Instead, the West should re-evaluate its policy of coercive assimilation and critically address the broader question of our time – as to whether secularism can really guarantee the rights of people belonging to different faiths.

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