The new atheists are quite right to see the threat of theocracy in Islamism. But in attacking all religion, they are like the French government which banned not only the wearing of the headscarf in schools, but the wearing of all religious insignia whatsoever, despite the fact that wearing a Star of David or a crucifix has and had a completely different social signification from wearing a headscarf. In the name of non-discrimination, the French government failed to discriminate properly: and proper discrimination is, or ought to be, practically the whole business of life. If there were large numbers of Christians or Jews who were in favour of establishing a theocracy in
, who had a recent record of terrorism, and who terrorised each other into the wearing of crucifixes and Stars of David, then the banning of those insignia would have been justified too. The wearing of the headscarf should be permitted again when Islam has become merely one personal confession among others, without the political significance that it has now. France
In attacking all religion so indiscriminately, the atheist authors are, I am sure inadvertently and unintentionally, strengthening the hand of the Islamists. In arguing, for example, that for parents to bring up a child in any religious tradition, even the mildest of Anglicanism, is to abuse a child, with the natural corollary that the law should forbid it (for how can the law permit child abuse?), some of the authors are giving ammunition to the Islamists, who will be able with justice to say to their fellow-religionists, See, it is all or nothing. If you give the secularists an inch, they will take a mile. No compromise with secularism is possible, therefore; cleave unto us.
Islamism is a worthy target, of course, but by now one that has been pretty well aimed at (though I recommend very strongly the forthcoming book from Encounter Books, Brother Tariq: The Doublespeak of Tariq Ramadan, by Caroline Fourest). To suggest, however, that all forms of religion are equal, that they are all murderous and dangerous, is not to serve the cause of freedom and tolerance. It is to play into the hands of the very people we should most detest; it is to hand them the rhetorical tools with which they can tell the gullible that our freedoms are not genuine and that our tolerance is a masquerade. It is to do what I should previously have thought was impossible, namely in this respect to put them in the right. Read all.