For several years now I have had the concern that some anti-religious sentiments may be fuelled by underlying racist attitudes towards certain groups. A recent article in the New Statesman discussing struggles against racism in the context of the British Asian community included some thoughts on this theme from Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters.
Pragna Patel, a founding member of Southall Black Sisters, describes the Southall Story as a timely reminder of the need for a secular approach to fighting racism and oppression. “The state assumes that racism is no longer an issue, and that the real problem is the lack of cohesion brought about [by] the failure of migrant communities to integrate. Within our communities, anti-racist struggles have been reinvented as struggles for recognition of religious identity.”
In the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks and the 7 July 2005 bombings, there has been a backlash against multiculturalism. Yet paradoxically, as Pragna Patel notes, the state, in the name of cohesion, has actually encouraged a “faith-based” approach to social relations. “We are fragmenting as a society into separate religious enclaves in which powerful and religious bodies hold sway. This is deeply anti-democratic, misogynistic and homophobic.”
As a society, I think we need to be very careful not to conflate the religious with the political whether through racist attitudes or through crass generalisation. Religion and belief may be a part of the individual’s identity but individuals and even groups are much more complex than that. If you target a group and discriminate against them, you force the creation of a political identity which stands outside of society. We need to concentrate on addressing issues of equality and justice in all sectors of society instead of pointing fingers accusingly and drawing lines in the sand. We need to work together instead of singling out a target group and casting blame.