Big­otry cam­paign is se­ri­ously flawed

The Herald - - OPINION - DR JAMES EGLIN­TON Lec­turer in Re­formed The­ol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Ed­in­burgh

LAST week, Po­lice Scot­land, the Scot­tish Govern­ment and One Scot­land – a gov­ern­men­tal ini­tia­tive in­tended to fos­ter a spirit of equal­ity across Scot­land – joined forces in a blunt new ad cam­paign against re­li­gious big­otry. One poster reads: “Dear big­ots, you can’t spread your re­li­gious hate here. End of ser­mon. Yours, Scot­land.”

Scot­land is no stranger to so­cial dis­cord caused by a myr­iad of fac­tors, re­li­gion in­cluded. Many Scot­tish com­mu­ni­ties are blighted by a trib­al­ism that re­fuses to prac­tice “love thy neigh­bour” if that neigh­bour has a dif­fer­ent re­li­gious iden­tity. In view of this real prob­lem, the re­sponse of Po­lice Scot­land and the Scot­tish Govern­ment is so­cially ir­re­spon­si­ble. Rather than pro­mot­ing equal­ity and peace, this par­tic­u­lar ad­vert will sow fur­ther divi­sion, sus­pi­cion, and in­equal­ity.

This lack of mu­tual trust, how­ever, will not grow be­tween dif­fer­ent re­li­gious groups – Scot­land’s Chris­tians, Mus­lims, Hin­dus, Sikhs, Bud­dhists or Jews. Rather, it will in­crease be­tween non-re­li­gious and re­li­gious Scots. In place of an older set of in­ter-re­li­gious tribal bat­tles, this poster fos­ters a more zeit­geisty al­ter­na­tive: sec­u­lar cit­i­zens set against their re­li­gious neigh­bours. Why does this poster run this risk? There are two rea­sons.

The first con­cerns the poster’s fail­ure to de­fine ei­ther of its key terms: bigot and re­li­gious. It would not be un­rea­son­able for some­one to read the poster’s am­bigu­ous terms and un­guarded flow of rea­son­ing, and con­clude that big­otry is pro­duced ex­clu­sively by re­li­gion, that big­oted peo­ple are re­li­gious peo­ple, or that one so­cial group should carry the blame for in­tol­er­ance: the re­li­gious.

The poster makes no dis­tinc­tions as to whether any sin­gle re­li­gious com­mu­nity might be par­tic­u­larly prone to big­otry, or whether all stand equally guilty in the eyes of our Govern­ment and Po­lice. The poster’s mes­sage has no ex­plicit in­ter­est in dis­tinc­tions be­tween re­li­gions. In­deed, to name and shame any spe­cific group – it­self an un­help­ful

The poster has ended up as a hard punch aimed at no-one in par­tic­u­lar

al­ter­na­tive – would pre­sum­ably go against One Scot­land’s pol­icy on re­li­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion. Be­cause of this, the poster has ended up as a hard punch aimed at no-one in par­tic­u­lar. This means that its vague but se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tion con­cerns all re­li­gious Scots as those who have been tarred, for one rea­son or an­other, by the same brush. This gen­er­al­i­sa­tion has given non-re­li­gious Scots a pub­lic sug­ges­tion that they should be sus­pi­cious of their re­li­gious neigh­bours.

The sec­ond rea­son flows di­rectly from this. In its ef­fort to pro­mote peace­ful re­la­tions be­tween

Scot­land’s re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties, the poster im­plies that those re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties are not able to solve their own prob­lems. Prac­ti­tion­ers of in­ter­faith peace­build­ing of­ten em­pha­sise that the most ef­fec­tive voices in com­bat­ing re­li­gious big­otry are drawn from the faith com­mu­ni­ties in ques­tion. Those na­tive voices draw on their re­spec­tive tra­di­tions in demon­strat­ing why their fol­low­ers should think and live dif­fer­ently. In that model, the peace­build­ing as­sumes that a com­mu­nity can draw on its own re­sources in search of peace – an act of trust that is so­cially em­pow­er­ing and in­clu­sive for re­li­gious ad­her­ents.

In this poster at least, our Govern­ment and po­lice have not ex­tended that trust to Scot­land’s faith com­mu­ni­ties. Rather, their ap­proach has cen­tred the task of iden­ti­fy­ing and solv­ing the re­li­gious prob­lem en­tirely out­side of our re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties. The poster’s im­plied speaker is not a Scot­tish Protes­tant, Catholic, Mus­lim, etc. The poster’s speaker, quite ex­plic­itly, is pro­gres­sive sec­u­lar Scot­land. It is the voice of the non-re­li­gious, non-big­oted Scot. And as such, the poster is not a call for bet­ter di­a­logue be­tween re­li­gious Scots. It is, rather, a call for non-re­li­gious Scots to pity their backward neigh­bours. End of ser­mon. Yours, a Chris­tian Scot.

Agenda is a col­umn for out­side con­trib­u­tors.

Contact: agenda@the­herald.co.uk

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