Someone called Baroness Warsi has penned a piece in this morning’s Daily Telegraph, my attention to which was drawn by a tweet by C4 news reader Cathy Newman. Notwithstanding the fact that I link to the Telegraph and that I struggle to find a justification for “fighting for faith”, this is not an unfamiliar argument in Ireland. Recalling the visit by Margaret Thatcher to the Vatican some three decades ago, therefore aligning herself with a seamless tradition of shameless self-promotion, Warsi argues that her leading a Vatican visit “is about recognising the deep and intrinsic role of faith here in Britain and overseas” and that she “profoundly believe[s] that faith has a vital and important role to play in modern society”. (The lack of actual facts to back this up makes it more egregious still.) The fact that her delegation is heading to Rome and not Makkah or Salt Lake City should not be lost on us. Warsi’s declaration of intent goes on to argue “for Europe to become more confident and more comfortable in its Christianity”. Now we’re getting closer.
It is suggested that closing the Irish embassy to the Vatican state was a smokescreen for other matters, namely the closure of two others in East Timor (remember them?) and Tehran. This might be right but the issue remains alive only because a substantial number of FG TDs think this is one they believe they can ‘win’. Goodness knows that they’ll not win much else with billions being used to prop up non-existent banks. This morning it rumbles on with Gilmore stating that he might review this closure, as if we are are all waiting with breath abated for such an announcement. It now seems that Gilmore is a willing accomplice in this distracting and overtly stupid public discussion. The standard criticism from FG deputies (and others) is that the closure of the embassy is a step too far and ‘so soon after Enda’s speech rebuking the Vatican’ for its inaction over abuse. Talk of rosary beads being swung in the air is all very jolly stuff for the idiocratic fourth estate that maintains itself in Leinster House but there’s a bigger point to me made here.
For Europe to retain its ‘Christian heritage’ and to foster the values that are apparently understood by all is to draw attention to those who are not Christian as problematic. If Europe is a Christian space then Muslims and others are not really European. Asad maintains (OK, Kevin I’ll bring it in tomorrow) that Islam is seen as a carrier civilization by those who espouse an epistemology of bounded ‘Europe’ . It brings problems with itself into the European political space from ‘outside’. Those who are insufficiently European need to conform to ‘our’ dress codes and ways of behaving. (Lentin and Titley draw upon the narratives around the politics of anxious queuing among their many fine examples.) Europe is Christian so everywhere else is merely playing catch up. ‘Their’ dress, food prep and other basic rituals are problematic so a restatement of Europe as Christian space means that we do not have to dialogue, merely reject. Islam ‘carries’ culture according to this way of telling the story; the religious aspects are but codes for other ways of life which we can no longer criticise for fear of being ‘politically incorrect’.
The overreaction (fighting for faith) implicit in Warsi’s argument is that secularisation has taken totalised control over something called ‘our culture’, as if this is universally agreed upon and can the elide massive gulfs of experience and knowledge that exist between a ministry to working class communities in Leeds and the kind of high church that Warsi admires so much (from under a mantilla?). This from an MP in a parliament that draws upon its legitimacy from a regent who is the head of a church. A reaction such as we have seen from Warsi in England and Creighton and Matthews here relies on a narrative that ‘things have swung too far the other way’. We see this again and again in the writing of John Waters and Mary Kenny: I used to be a radical but then I grew up. This has the additional effect of unifying people around the notion that we all know and agree what religious faith is and that there is ‘a place’ for it in something normatively constituted as a public sphere. In short, the privatisation of religious life suits neoliberalism far more than the interests of those with a religious conviction.
Not only should we reject FGs attempts to recast what the secular and the faithful are but also the racialising tendency that Europe is a Christian political space. These are rallying calls for a very different political battle, one which Christians should be exceptionally cautious about.