London is bucking nationwide trends and becoming more religious. This research project seeks to map and analyse this phenomenon. (Upcoming)
Britain, so the line goes, is world famous for being free, tolerant and liberal. After all we just celebrated 800 years of Magna Carta – and the smugger coverage would almost give you the impression that we invented the whole concept of being free and tolerant. So why, in this country of such famous liberty is the veteran Conservative David Davis MP (not exactly a Corbynite, to put it mildly) comparing government policy to Franco’s Spain?
Responding to the new Trade Union bill on Sky News Davis said “I agree with most of the trade union bill. I think it’s very sensible…but there are bits of it which look OTT, like requiring pickets to give their names to the police force. What is this? This isn’t Franco’s Britain, this is Queen Elizabeth II’s Britain.” Trade Union members are not the only people who might be wondering where the government is taking its liberal values from. The Telegraph reported on Monday that new proposed measures to counteract extremism will require religious figures including imams, priests, rabbis and others to be kept on a national register. The government will apparently “set out the minimum level of training and checks” faith leaders must have to join the new register. Faith groups have not been consulted about these measures and it is, to say the least, a serious expansion of the role of the state if it is going to start defining who religious groups are allowed to appoint as leaders. It is a policy more reminiscent of Putin’s Russia than the rosy image of tolerant, liberal Britain.
By what criteria will the government assess the training and suitability of religious leaders? Who is going to define what counts as the appropriate skill set and suitability for different religious roles? An imam is not just a vicar without the dog collar – the roles are significantly different. Neither are the same as a rabbi, or a guru. Why haven’t faith leaders been consulted? For that matter, why are secularists not up in arms about this intrusion of the state into the religious realm?
There is, of course, legitimate concern about how we confront radicalisation. But these proposed extremism policies in fighting so hard to defend “fundamental British values” including “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and the mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs” run the risk of destroying what they seek to defend.
Ben Ryan is a Researcher at Theos. Follow him on Twitter @BenedictWRyan
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Theos researches and investigates the intersection of religion, politics and society in the contemporary world.