“The SNP is using multicultural levers to manipulate religious identity in Scotland for electoral advantage, which I believe is likely to revive inter-confessional tensions as well as those between secular and religious interests.”
In its attempts to wow, particularly the Catholic and Muslim votes in Scotland, the SNP is approaching the communities as sectional interests rather than appealing to voters as individuals.
“They have mobilised not just autocratic Catholic prelates but radical Islamic politicians in the hope that by offering them group rights they will deliver an ethnic block vote to the party. This raises the spectre, in some eyes, that in a Scotland fully under SNP control, individual citizenship will count for little and the party will rule through a large bureaucracy which franchises control of education, policing, and other policy areas to mobilised factions inside and outside ethnic minorities.”
Gallagher is not kite-flying on this issue; he supports his thesis with substantial evidence. Additionally, the SNP’s tactics are consistent with nationalism’s conceptual insistence that people must be divided into distinct and exclusive groups, defined by religion or culture.
“It obliges people to belong to groups, defines those groups by cultural, or religious attributes, gives rights to such groups, and favours the granting of privileges (subsidies, quotas, legal immunities and so on) to them, in order to reinforce their identity. Community ‘leaders’ are hired by the state in order to manage these groups and state agencies proliferate to shape policies around their needs.”
Many of the policies which Salmond is pursuing in this area have been discredited in the rest of the UK. By forming a Muslim Police Association, for example, he has created “a separate tier of police to liase with Muslims, (encouraging) many of them to believe that they cannot approach non-Muslim officers with their culturally-specific problems”. These are measures which are helping to entrench, rather than overcome, division.
The specific groups and leaders to which the SNP are turning in order to engage Muslims as an ethno-religious group create particular concern.
“Salmond works largely through energetic young religious radicals who have advocated the return of an Islamic Caliphate, display an obsession with the Middle East and ending Western influence there and who support the incorporation of Sharia law into British jurisprudence.”
Close links between the SNP and the Scottish Islamic Foundation have been examined on Scottish Unionist previously. The organisation is an energetic pressure group for state funded Islamic schools. Alex Salmond supports the objectives of the group and its chief executive, Osama Saeed, to have schools in which the Koran is taught, the hijab is worn and the sexes are segregated. Amanullah de Sondy, lecturer in Islamic Studies at Glasgow University, has no doubt such schools will “leave young Muslims vulnerable to extremist pressures”. Gallagher notes,
“There are no strong voices pointing out that young people could be pushed towards introspection and even religious militancy through the insistence that Muslims combine a Scottish allegiance with an active search for their religious roots; nor drawing examples from other countries to suggest that tilting the Muslim community towards radicals could damage community relations in a traditionally volatile city like Glasgow.”
Scotland’s ‘Il Duce’ is so eager to pretend that Scotland is already an independent nation that he has been authorising ambassadorial outreaches to various parts of the world. The SIF is his administration’s ambassador to the Middle East. This is an organisation with close ties to the Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign which has enjoyed a commensurate rise in its influence on Scots public life. “Mick Napier, its chairman, said in March that the West Bank Jewish theological college, Merkaz Harav (attacked in March, resulting in the killing of 8 students) was a legitimate target and the Palestinian attackers were acting in self-defence.”
Both Napier and Saeed addressed an event last August called ‘Weaving the Tartan: the Muslim contribution to Scotland’’. Saeed took the opportunity to propound the theory that, “Muslims don’t need lessons in democracy – they invented democracy and freedom of conscience and Islam spread so fast because it opposed tyranny”. A dangerously radical and highly contestable thesis by most standards. At the same event Aamer Anwar, a human rights lawyer, “proclaimed that the roots of terrorism in the West lie in the actions of Britain and the USA in the Middle East”. An argument which absolves terrorists themselves of any blame for their actions.
Due to the patronage of the SNP, Anwar and Saeed have become the pre-eminent figures to which the BBC has turned, in Glasgow, to provide a Muslim perspective. Their leadership credentials have therefore become self-perpetuating.
“Within the Muslim community, this editorial policy boosts radicals, as the uncommitted assume that it is only such views which count in Scottish life.”
Gallagher believes that the SNP’s centralising and authoritarian instincts have served to dampen criticism from both the media and universities. The Herald and Scotsman are increasingly emaciated organisations which are reluctant to criticise Salmond.
“Nor do the universities in Scotland have many voices prepared to speak up about the damage being caused by the state using religious figures to manage communities. There are no strong proponents of secular liberalism comparable to A.C. Grayling in England. This is hardly surprising since identity politics was legitimised first in academia and then by state service-providers. Recently, Edinburgh University’s Islamic Studies department received a huge bequest from a Saudi Arabian foundation. My own visits to the holdings of the premier centre of Islamic studies in Scotland reveal a paucity of works that examine Islam, and especially its politicisation, in a critical light.”
In the short term the SNP may benefit from its policies as regards Muslims, but in the long term the sectional aspect of these policies stores up trouble for the future.
“It is acceptable for Mr Salmond to look for votes among Muslims. But he should approach them as individual citizens whose religion is only one aspect of their identity and not necessarily the primary one. To franchise out the community to religious radicals and to use his party and the state agencies it now controls to buttress a religious identity is a highly irresponsible act. It means that a sectional outlook is likely to become entrenched in the community as it is placed in the control of religious gatekeepers. The opportunities for misunderstanding and friction with other Scots will surely abound.”
Gallagher’s article is not only a timely warning, but also a masterful exposition of the secondary damage which the nationalist outlook can inflict on society.