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David Solway

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January 19, 2014 - 11:00 am

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I learned recently that Carleton University in the nation’s capital, Ottawa, following in the footsteps of other Canadian universities, has set aside a designated and enlarged prayer space, intended mainly for Muslim students who, as the Ottawa Citizen reports, “pray five times a day and for years have suggested that they need more room.” Otherwise, as president of the Muslim Student Association Mohamed Abdalla informs us, students end up praying in stairwells or libraries. That would clog up the works p.d.q., especially when convened five times a day.

Such accommodation, however, has no place in the public mandate of the academy’s parietal affairs, and Muslim students who proceed to foreground their faith in this disruptive manner should perhaps consider attending a Muslim university, or no university at all. The easing of the prayer crunch by constructing or expanding a designated venue, accepted by the author of the Citizen puff job as a prudent expedient, should not disguise the fact that public prayer (and in particular numerous prayer sessions punctuating the scholarly habitat) has no place in the Western university whatsoever.

I do not believe that Muslim students need more room. I believe that they need less mollycoddling and fewer concessions made in the name of their religious convictions. The university is a secular institution operating under an implicit code of academic conduct, which stipulates, inter alia, that classes be attended, that academic work proceed under rules of normative and respectable behavior, that examinations be held and properly invigilated, that modes of dress not be offensive, and that religious observances not interfere with a course of study. Allowing students to march five times a day to a prayer room in the midst of pursuing a concentrated program of academic activity, whether in the middle of a class or in the middle of a test or in the middle of a joint research project, does not seem an optimum means of following a university curriculum.

Of course, one need not stop at prayer rooms. Recently, the University of Regina has accommodated its Muslim students by installing specialized sinks for pre-prayer washing of feet, at the cost of $35,000. The entire tone of the Saskatchewan News article reporting on this glorious event is complaisantly favorable; after all, as journalist Aaron Stuckel educates us, “All Muslims have to purify themselves before they can pray to their god, Allah”—and the temporal Western university is, on this view, just the right place for foot baths to assist a sacralised washing ritual at multiple intervals during the academic day.

A controversy has recently erupted over a species of abject propitiation at York University that illustrated the academy’s dilemma over competing rights. A male student, whose name is being withheld, had asked to be excused from attending a class where female students form the majority, because the presence of women interfered, as Martin Singer, dean of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies deposed, with his “firm religious values.” The professor in question, J. Paul Grayson of the Department of Sociology, rejected his request on the principle of gender equity. The administration, however, sided with the student and admonished the professor for refusing to “accommodate” the defector, on the principle of religious freedom. Singer afterward glossed the episode by declaring he was bound by the Ontario Human Rights Code, a fancy title for the sanctimonious folly of cultural, ethnic and religious appeasement that is denaturing the province and the country.

Michael Coren, host of The Arena on SUN News cable TV, suggests there is a reasonable probability that the student is a Muslim; after all, it does not seem remotely likely that Mr. X is a Jain, a Hindu, a Shintoist, a Christian or a Jew (even orthodox Jews or Haredim would not refuse to sit beside a woman) and, in any case, members of weird extremophile or peripheral sects obsessed with gender discrimination would not enroll in a co-ed course or attend York University. Indeed, only adherents of a supremacist doctrine would insist that the university bend to their demands.

If Coren is right—and it still remains an if, though a plausible one—it would appear that the university, in an access of political correctness, is scrambling to avert the charge of Islamophobia. At the same time, it is violating both the principle of gender equity on which it has long prided itself—70 percent of the student clientele at York are women (which, from a male perspective, ironically renders the concept moot)—as well as the core values that underwrite the educational mandate. As the Arena transcript puts it, “In fact, the professor added, such religious accommodation would require York to agree to segregated seating, separate tutorials and even gender-specific instructors.” The toxic mix of hypocrisy and cowardice is palpable, and the stink of capitulation to religious intolerance has poisoned what John Milton once called “the quiet and still air of delightful studies,” a phrase that sounds rather quaint these days.

Muslims are now agitating for prayer rooms in high schools—once that demand is granted, foot baths are sure to follow and, naturally, assorted forms of gender apartheid. It is no surprise that the Toronto District School Board decided to permit Islamic prayer sessions in one of its school’s cafeterias, and then colluded in the relegating of female Muslim students to the back rows and the exclusion of menstruating girls. Most commentators and interested parties have focused on the scandal of religiously ordained, in-group segregation within a laic environment, losing sight of the pedagogic mutation that is occurring in our places of learning, namely, the ongoing facilitation of Islamic encroachment within the educational institution in large.

Another egregious act of pusillanimous deference has just surfaced at a Halifax, Nova Scotia akido school, which complied with a Muslim student’s request to avoid physical proximity with his female classmates, whom he refused to touch. Abiding by provincial human rights law, the sensei duly separated female students from the Muslim, who was moved to the other side of the dojo. “Get used to it,” the sensei advised. As the National Post reports, the Muslim student also refused to bow as specified by the akido ritual, proclaiming that he only bowed to Allah. Eventually, he began proselytizing by distributing Islamic literature, copies of Islam: from darkness to light, turning the dojo into an Islamic soapbox.

Let us not be deceived by what is actually going on here. Such acts of gutless submissiveness on the part of the authorities have nothing to do with the constantly hyped dogma of “religious accommodation.” Such favors and concessions would not readily be conferred on Christians or Jews. Can one honestly imagine a follower of Christ or Moses receiving special treatment from secular officials? The precept of “religious accommodation” is nothing less than the gospel of out-and-out “Islamic accommodation,” a form of jittery acquiescence to a foreign and incompatible faith we inwardly dread and cower before and which is infecting every quarter of our society.

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All this is only the tip of the sand dune. In most developed nations, religion and state are considered separate institutions, with Caesar legislating in the public domain and God predominating in the realm of private confession. Places of worship are regarded as autonomous, provided they do not infringe on public safety or violate the laws of the land. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, the most obvious being Islam, which recognizes no distinction between mosque and state. Religious belief and practice, social mores and policy, and national governance are bound indissolubly together. Moreover, it is not only a  question of the intimate relation between mosque and state that is at issue; more to the point, the distinction between the private and the public domains can scarcely be said to exist in canonical Islam. Theological dictates and Shariah law are, so to speak, machine tooled to finest precisions and drill down to almost every aspect of personal life and conduct.

This particular dispensation of life is perfectly unobjectionable in countries that have chosen to live by cultural usages, traditions and principles different from ours. It is, in short, none of our business. But serious and socially unsettling problems arise when immigrant communities insist upon imposing their cultural and religious customs upon the host societies which have welcomed them. In other words, our business is none of their business. There is no legitimate or comprehensible reason for the heritage society to accede to the wishes, demands and intrusions of an immigrant minority, at the expense or disruption of the mainstream culture. As ex-Muslim Ibn Warraq urges in his latest book, Sir Walter Scott’s Crusades & Other Fantasies, we “should unabashedly defend, and if necessary fight for our values without apologies.”

When large numbers of Muslims congregate on city streets to pray, causing traffic jams and work stoppages and preventing access to buildings, as in Paris or New York or other cities, we are certainly not defending our values. We are remarking a form of public disorder that constitutes an invasion of both public space and private property and that is legally actionable. Since the public and private domains are regarded as coterminous in Islam, Muslims may justify such anti-social behavior by reference to their own cultural usages and religious axioms—but according to the norms, assumptions and laws of the society in which they have been permitted residency, such behavior cannot be condoned or recognized.

Smoking the cannabis of political correctness... When men become like women...

Smoking the cannabis of political correctness… When men become like women…

Similarly, as we know (and as the Ottawa Citizen scruples to inform us), Muslims are required to pray five times a day, not only to attend Friday service. The interruption such an injunction may cause to the regular flow of the workday, especially when occurring at sensitive times or positions—in court, on a construction site, in the midst of a medical procedure, in classrooms, etc.—can lead to the breakdown of discipline, the dysfunction of the workplace, and other forms of havoc and confusion. In bowing to the demands of a religious minority that insists on the imprescriptible nature of its observances, we have permitted the private sphere to encroach upon the public, and have thereby violated a paramount Western convention that has differentially held sway since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. In this way, the wall erected between church and state, between religious belief and temporal conduct, has been abrogated by and within the very society that established this distinction.

I’m reminded in this connection of the German poet Gottfried Benn, who, in a tragic lyric called “Berlin,” comments ironically, Ozymandias fashion, about the crumbling of the “noble walls” and “eloquent fragments” of Western culture and civilization: “behold the mighty Occident,” he laments. I’m reminded, too, of an article in the Daily Mail about the effects of cannabis, namely the developing of breasts on the male physique, called “moobs.” Ours is a culture that is losing its virility, smoking the cannabis of political correctness and shifting in the direction of an epicene relinquishment of power, vigor and robust self-confidence. In the face of a resurgent Islam, self-assured, clamorous, theotropic, importunate and convinced of its rightness and its mission, the “mighty Occident” has become moobish.

It should surprise and disturb, then, that even the university—the presumed citadel of reason, the “mind” of the culture—has also been infected by what Rush Limbaugh calls “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” that is, “bigotry” insofar as it has betrayed the standards of academic propriety and of avowed civics while showing itself intolerant of those who would have it abide by its secular principles, and “low expectations” insofar as it expects no better from an obstreperous, faith-driven minority. In this way, the university conciliates rather than educates. Surrendering to the claims of an alien confession, and pretending at the same time that in so doing it has burnished its credentials as an institution wedded to “diversity” and committed to large views, it appeases rather than enlightens. Of course, Carleton University is equally motivated by the tuition fees and government subventions its 6000-strong Muslim student body allows it to collect. The game of numbers holds for many other universities as well.

In any case, when the academy has grown thus compromised, inspired by the prospect of lucre to sustain a flaccid and thickly layered bureaucracy, hostage to the numbing and insidious influence of political correctness and ostensible “Human Rights” codes, and attempting, in effect, to preserve peace by supplication, it holds out little hope for the culture in general. Perhaps we should all get down on our knees and pray for our salvation—but only in our temples and our homes.

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images courtesy shutterstock / Zurijeta

David Solway is a Canadian poet and essayist. He is the author of The Big Lie: On Terror, Antisemitism, and Identity, and is currently working on a sequel, Living in the Valley of Shmoon. His new book on Jewish and Israeli themes, Hear, O Israel!, was released by Mantua Books. His latest book is The Boxthorn Tree, published in December 2012. Visit his Website at www.davidsolway.com.

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