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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Position statement on anti-Muslim bigotry

The National Secular Society opposes bigotry and discrimination against individuals or groups because of their religion. Secularists strongly oppose discrimination or privilege on the grounds of religious or non-religious beliefs, or perceived beliefs.

Our mission is to challenge religious privilege and discrimination. This is essential to protect the Human Rights of individuals of all religions and beliefs, including Muslims, and we hope to work positively with individuals and groups of good conscience regardless of their religion or beliefs to further this mission.

Anti-Muslim groups may attempt to link their prejudice to legitimate secular concerns, however secularists do not oppose one form of religious privilege when it is afforded to Muslims while supporting similar privileges for other groups. For example an anti-Muslim group may oppose a Muslim faith school, but that would be quite different to a principled secularist position against faith schools.

Anti-Muslim bigotry, directed against individuals or "Muslims" as a whole, is distinct from (even discourteous) criticism of Islamic ideas, ideology or practices and can be directed against anyone perceived to be Muslim regardless of their religious or ideological views.

In a liberal secular society individuals should be afforded respect and protection, ideas should not. Secularists reject the idea that any set of beliefs should be privileged or protected from criticism. For this reason we have concerns over the use of the term "Islamophobia". Accusations of 'Islamophobia' have been used to silence debate about (and within) Islam, to justify religious privilege, to justify religious violence and even to argue against showing solidarity with Muslim victims of Islamist violence.

Far from combatting prejudice and bigotry, erroneous cries of 'Islamophobia' have in fact become a cover for it. LGBT rights campaigners have been called 'Islamophobes' for criticising Muslim clerics' views on homosexuality. Ex-Muslims and feminist activists have be called 'Islamophobes' for criticising certain Islamic views on women. Even liberal and secular Muslims have been branded 'Islamophobes'

Anti-Muslim bigotry seeks to present Muslims as a monolithic block sharing the same beliefs. This plays into the hands of Islamists, who seek to present themselves as the genuine and definitive voice of Muslims.

Secularists uphold individuals' rights to interpret their beliefs as their conscience dictates. We reject 'religious policing', when groups insist that their interpretation of a religion should be privileged and define who is a 'real' member of a religious group.

Islam like any other religion or belief system is a diverse and evolving ideology. While some Islamic beliefs may conflict with secularism and liberal values, there is no reason why individual Muslims and Muslim groups cannot reconcile the values of secularism and Human Rights with their own beliefs. Indeed, around the world secular and progressive Muslims are often on the frontline of challenging Islamism.

Many Muslims face discrimination and bigotry and may be victims of racism. Some far right groups use Islam and Muslims as code words for non-white to further their deeply anti-secular identity politics. However, erroneous accusations of racism should not be allowed to silencing legitimate criticism and debate about (and within) Islam. Doing so leaves a gulf which is filled by anti-Muslim bigotry and helps extremists from both sides put forward a monolithic view of Muslims.

Islamism

Conflating Islamism with Islam/Muslims can be used either to promote anti-Muslim bigotry, or to protect Islamism from criticism through erroneous accusations of 'Islamophobia'.

Islamism describes a range of religiopolitical ideologies characterised by:

  • The belief that specific interpretations of Islam are definitive, should guide social and political decisions and should be privileged/enforced through violence, state policy or severe social pressure.
  • Extreme hostility to apostates and Muslims with different interpretations of Islam, especially when they are perceived ad progressive or secular.
  • Explicit anti-secularism, coupled with the claim that secularism and Islam are incompatible.
  • Extreme hostility to Human Rights and free expression where they contradict with the Islamists' preferred interpretation of Islam.
  • The desire to establish a caliphate as a real world political entity governed by Islamic law.
  • Extremely reactionary attitudes towards women and LGBTQ people – based on an interpretation of Islam.