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Home > fundamentalism / shrinking secular space > From Turkey to Germany to the States Secular Space is Shrinking

From Turkey to Germany to the States Secular Space is Shrinking

by AC Grayling

Wednesday 30 July 2008, by siawi

Road to nowhere

From Turkey to Germany to the States, religious people are intent on taking us back to the middle ages

by AC Grayling

(Published in:, July 29 2008)

I enjoyed the subtlety of the Guardian’s page 13 layout yesterday. It was the first page of the international section, and it contained two stories, the first about legal moves in Turkey’s constitutional court to disband the country’s ruling AKP party on the grounds that it is threatening Turkey’s secularist constitution, the second about complaints by Polish holidaymakers who find the nudity on German “free body culture” beaches disgusting.

To the alert eye the connection is direct. Admirers of the Catholic culture of Poland will assuredly be delighted by its success in making the unclothed human frame an object of disgust. Admirers of Islamic culture will be delighted to find that Turkish Islamists are encouraging more women to hide that automatic trigger of unbridled male lust, the tresses on the female head.

These are tips of icebergs. In fact the influence of religious attitudes in distorting and limiting aspects of human life, even to the extent of perverting, imprisoning and poisoning them at the extremes, is too well known to require rehearsal. It was against the domination of life by religion that Mustapha Kemal Atatürk acted, founding a secular republic which sought to move religion from “the realm of the state to the realm of belief” – which is how Turkey’s current deputy prosecutor, Omer Faruk Eminagaoglu, puts it in explaining the basis of the case against the AKP, which has – even by the admission of some of its own MPs – been conducting a non-too-subtle yet hypocritically disavowed campaign of re-Islamicisation.

The worshippers of Brian’s sandal everywhere are tireless and persistent in their efforts to recapture the world for dogma. In America the creationists and so-called “intelligent design” votaries expend vast sums and energy on trying to drag us back into medieval times. Islamists have never left them – except of course in freely using today’s technology to further their aims. Cherry-pickers all, the Brian-sandalistas want it all: they want the rest of us to think and act as they prescribe, and to make us do it by the means that infidel thinking has produced: for example, religious freakery is all over the internet like a rash.

If the Brian-sandalistas cannot succeed by direct assault, they will do it by constant nibbling and encroachments: prayers in American publicly-funded schools, headscarves in Turkish publicly-funded universities, a little bit of anti-evolutionary biology there, a little alcohol ban there – and if that doesn’t work, they try more robust means. So it goes: creep creep, whisper, soothe, murmur a prayer with the kids in assembly, ecumenicalise, interfaith-schmooze, infiltrate, subvert, complain, campaign, scream, threaten, explode.

The asymmetry is stark. Secularists say, “believe whatever nonsense you want, but keep it to yourself and act responsibly”. The Brian-sandalistas say, “believe what we want you to believe and act as we say”. The psychopaths among them say, “believe what we want you to believe and act as we say or we will kill you”. Meanwhile the residue of attitudes and practices once foisted on everyone by the zealous still dog and bedevil us, as witness the poor benighted Catholic Poles suffering at the sight of what - you have to larf - they presumably believe God created.

There is nothing trivial about the problem in Turkey; and the problem in Turkey is the problem for the world at large. It is about boundaries, about the place of religious belief in the public domain, its effects on individual lives, and its effect on public policy. The history of “the west” is in essence a history of secularisation, and most even of those who decry what they see as its imperfections would not willingly be without the huge advances it has wrought in scientific, social and political respects. Think: if the clocks could be turned back as the Brians want, the English would be ruled by two people: The Queen and Rowan Williams.

You might be tempted to think that would be an improvement on Gordon Brown and Ed Balls, and preferable to Cameron and his friends from his house at Eton. But what if, say, Hizb ut-Tahrir got its way – it wants the Caliphate back, and by the logic of its outlook, a worldwide one. The ambition of the faiths – once they have finished warring with us and each other – is, remember, infinite by definition: and even one mile in the direction of any of their various paradises-on-earth would be a hell for all but those running the journey.