Today, the prime minister David Cameron will chair a meeting of COBRA which, disappointingly, stands for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A. The suits and the spooks will debate the threat to the country by terrorism, raise the level and then what? I think we have to be very clear about this. For all I know, Cameron may be an expert on this subject, although I rather doubt it. Politicians aren’t usually expert in anything, no more than you or I, which is a bit of a worry, and they rely on the advice of the real experts.
Make no mistake, the millions on the march in France in general and Paris in particular was inspiring to behold. Even from the comfort from my armchair, I could feel the power, the emotion and the strength of the people. The media in the UK has given full coverage to this display of unity.
I fear that little will change. The reasons for islamic terrorism remain, the separation of our society remains, in terms of culture, the ghettoisation and, more crucially, education. And education is where everything begins. Long before Michael Gove’s disastrous tenure as Education Secretary, which made things worse in terms of separatism by the introduction of Free Schools and removing local authority accountability at the remainder of the system, the education system was a ball of religious confusion. And even though religion is in decline, with only 7% of the population attending church, there are more and more ‘faith’ schools. And let’s be clear about the purpose of all faith schools: they are set up to proselytise, to bring through the next generation of believers in whatever faith their parents choose. Children almost always grow up with the faith of their parents. It’s not rocket science. It’s brainwashing.
If everything starts in the classroom, then the classroom needs to change. There is no need to abandon the teaching of religion, all religions, because, regardless of whether any of them are real, they are part of our history. But rather than have a catholic school that teaches catholicism as a matter of fact, or an islamic school which teaches islam as a matter of fact, teach all children that these are the religions, take your pick as to which one you fancy but we aren’t going to tell you which god to worship.
Sadly, this isn’t going to happen anytime soon. You cannot imagine the countries of islamic doctrine daring to secularise their countries but worse still it won’t happen here, either. None of the political parties are committed to a truly secular state where everyone is free to practice their faith but not inflict it on everyone else. Nor Cameron, whose beliefs come and go with the political wind (he’s a believer at the moment) or Miliband and Clegg, both atheists, although the latter is happy to send his child to the same catholic school as the Reverend Blair, both show their unqualified respect for the different religions, none of which are compatible, and we carry on as before.
We should not be seeking to ban religion, nor to isolate it, just to put it in its place, on a level footing with everything else.
On the basis of evidence, there is probably no god, any more than there are fairies at the bottom of the garden, but I can’t prove it. Live and let live, believe whatever you want in your home and your place of worship. Say what you want about your god, as long as I am able to say what I want about him (or her). But let’s not kill each other about it and the best way to stop killing each other about it is to education.