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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Church and state?

After reading this article by Cassiem Khan, the country director for Islamic Relief Worldwide -- South Africa in the Mail and Guardian, I am almost at a loss for words. Almost.

In case you don't feel like reading through the original article, I'll summarize in the language of my personal bias:

Khan appears to be upset that Christian faith-based organisations receive more government funding than Islamic faith-based organisations. He feels that he's being discriminated against.

Firstly: duh. The majority of our government and parastatal officials are either Christians themselves, or at least harbour a pro-Christian bias. Their ideology (made up by nomads, sitting in tents in a desert many centuries ago) teaches them that non-Christians are not to be trusted, and are infidels. You, Mr Khan (like me) are not a Christian, and are therefore not to be trusted.

Although your organisation claims to "...promote[s] sustainable economic and social development by working with local communities - regardless of race, religion or gender", I sincerely doubt that your members truly subscribe to that whole-heartedly. The problem is that your mission is at odds with some of the basic tenets of the Muslim faith, namely that the Prophet commanded his followers to murder all infidels (non-Muslims).

Murdering and helping the infidel poor are mutually incompatible.

So, one is forced to ask the question: are you really an Islamic faith-based organisation, as you claim to be? If that is the case, then your mission is most certainly not to help the poorest poor (unless they happen to be Muslim) and you should not receive any government funding. Or, are you really a humanist organisation, with an honourable mission masquerading as a faith-based agency in order to swindle funding out of gullible governments such as ours?

I hope, Mr Khan, that it is the latter. I can more easily support the Robin Hood approach than the alternative.

Secondly: what is our government doing giving our tax money to faith-based organisations to begin with? By handing over funding to religious organisations, the government is essentially endorsing their practice. Regrettably, I don't know whether or not our country's constitution supports the separation of church and state the way the constitution of the United States does. I would expect that it should, but I could be wrong. (I would appreciate it if anyone could point me in the right direction to find that out)

Regardless of whether or not that separation is legislated, it's just a good idea for precisely this reason. You invariably end up in a situation where certain religious groups will be more likely to receive funding simply because they happen to share their ideology with a majority of whichever individuals happen to be in power. Minority faiths will tend to be marginalised, and groups like Islamic Relief, no matter how much good work they may actually be doing, will tend to be denied funding solely on the basis that they pray to the wrong invisible sky-daddy.

The only reliable way to avoid this sort of situation altogether is to simply deny funding to all faith-based initiatives, and instead put all funding through secular organisations. This will encourage the charitably-minded folks to align themselves with those secular organisations, with which there should be no substantial ideological clashes. Those folks who are adamant that charitable works must be done in the name of the sky-daddy of their choice, can continue to operate their faith-based organisations with funding received from the ample pockets of any individuals or corporates who feel so inclined.

Separation of church and state is a fundamental aspect of a democratic system of government. The quicker we can get that bedded down, the better it will be for all of us.