Multiculturalism s New Faultlines: Social Work and the Challenge of Religious Absolutisms

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Aims/Structure. What is religious fundamentalism/absolutism?How/why is this an issue for Social Work?How does religious fundamentalism/absolutism impact on the value base of Social Work, in particular the commitment to anti-oppressive practice?Questions for the future.. Shabina Begum and Denbigh High School.

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Multiculturalism s New Faultlines: Social Work and the Challenge of Religious Absolutisms

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1. ĎMulticulturalismís New Faultlines: Social Work and the Challenge of Religious Absolutismsí Dr Gurnam Singh and Dr Stephen Cowden, Department of Social and Community Studies, Coventry University, Priory Street, Coventry CV1 5FB

2. Aims/Structure What is religious fundamentalism/absolutism? How/why is this an issue for Social Work? How does religious fundamentalism/absolutism impact on the value base of Social Work, in particular the commitment to anti-oppressive practice? Questions for the future.

3. Shabina Begum and Denbigh High School "There is no reason why the colour of any school's uniform, for example, cannot be used for the jilbab Ö Schools have to take account of genuine health and safety concerns in subjects such as science or physical education but answers can be found to these practical problems.Ē (Stephen Sinnot, AUT Guardian: 8/2/06).

4. Multiculturalism: the solution or the problem? Post 7/7, the race relations industry has provided a vital post-emergency service which will have to be continued in the medium to long-term to address the increasing segregation of our communities Ö The fact is that we are a society which, almost without noticing it, is becoming more divided by race and religion Ö We are becoming more unequal by ethnicity. If we allow this to continue, we could end up in 2048, a hundred years on from the Windrush, living in a Britain of passively co-existing ethnic and religious communities, eyeing each other uneasily over the fences of our differences (Speaking at Manchester Town Hall on 22nd September 2006, Trevor Phillips, Chair of the CRE)

5. From Ďraceí to religion? Authentic Ďanti-racismí for Muslims...will inevitably have a religious dimension and take a form in which it is integrated to the rest of Muslim concerns. Antiracism begins (i.e. ought to begin) by accepting oppressed groups on their own terms (knowing that these will change and evolve) not by imposing a spurious identity and asking them to fight in the name of that. The new strength among Muslim youth in, for example, not tolerating racial harassment, owes no less to Islamic re-assertion than to metropolitan anti-racismÖThe racist taunt ĎRushdie!í rouses more self-defense than ĎBlack Bastard! (Modood, 1992 p272) "The emergence of a 'politics of difference' out of and alongside a liberal assimilationist equality created a dissonance. Similarly, the emergence of a British Muslim identity out of and alongside ethno-racial identities has created an even greater dissonance because it challenges the hegemonic power of secularism in British political culture, especially on the centre-left" (Modood 2005).

6. What is Fundamentalism? Origins in early 20th Century US amongst American Protestants to assert their commitment to the basic tenants of Christianity through a literal interpretation of text (Armstrong 2004). Literal translation of the term is problematic as the idea of as going back to fundamentals, particularly in case in some non-Western traditions or devotion to key principles, can see how the term could represent virtue Starting point for fundamentalist claims is cultural relativism, although they end up as absolutist claims Political in nature - far removed from those religious organisations and individuals that make benign and largely sincere demands for religiosity, spirituality and affirmation of difference.

7. Fundamentalist movements and modernity Fundamentalist movements are paradoxical: they present themselves as expressions of the primordial, the traditional and the pre-modern, but are in fact adept participants in the political technology of modernity Fundamentalist movements therefore construct themselves through the language of the past, but are very much products of the contemporary - Ďanti-modernist forms of modernityí. They seek to re-assert repressive forms of control and regulation and explain social problems in terms of moral degradation and Ďlack of respectí

8. The context of Fundamentalist resurgence

9. The politics of fundamentalist movements Bottom-up Group like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, operates an effective ďfrom belowĒ strategy, building a base for itself by providing social services to poor communities, and thus building political allegiance and loyalty through that. Top-down Group like the Exclusive Brethren in Australia provides money and support to political parties and individuals who support a right wing anti-feminist anti-gay ďpro-familyĒ agenda. They seek to influence social policy ďfrom aboveĒ.

10. Religion and the State in the UK Any attempt to understand the emergence of religious fundamentalism needs to understand the way this is situated with the issue of religion and formation of the British state. Contemporary manifestations of this have taken the form of both ďMulticulturalismĒ and ĎPostmodernism/Diversityí policies

11. Multiculturalism and the undermining of collectivism Despite the importance of multiculturalist policies, there was a tendency to ďconstruct a ďunified and homogenous picture, both of the culture and the community. This has the effect of reinforcing cultural stereotypes, any contestation of deviation of which was perceived as Ďinauthenticí, but also of promoting group or communal identityĒ (Segal 2004:53). "We have a system in which Muslim organisations are in charge of all Muslims, Hindu organisations in charge of all Hindus, Jewish organisations in charge of all Jews and so on." This parcelling out of the nation can only weaken civil society. "In downplaying political and social identities, as opposed to religious identities, the government has weakened civil society precisely when there is a great need to strengthen it." (Amartya Sen 2006)

12. Multiculturalism and Community Leaders? Redefinition of ďcultureĒ not as lived experience but on appropriations of Ďauthenticityí Religious leaderships as guardians of Ďcultureí able to gain a significant foothold in the process of representing their community within state policy and organisation. They found a way of undermining and/or shield themselves form criticism, particularly that of black and Asian feminists, secular anti-racist organisations such as the Asian Youth Movements. Religious leaderships redefined their role as enforcing patriarchal norms with regard to questions of marriage, domestic roles and responsibilities and sexuality.

13. Weakening of anti-racist social work New Right backlash against anti-racist social work The de-coupling of anti-racism from wider community based activism through a process of de-politicisation, Ďprofessionalisationí and privatisation The fragmentation of old anti-racist collectivities with those primarily but not exclusively constructed along religious identifications. The displacing of anti-racism by notions of Ďmanaging diversityí, anti-oppressive and anti-discriminatory practice A weakening or sidelining of anti-racist critiques through a selective amnesia of the endemic and historic nature of racism in the production and reproduction of modern Ďracialí states. The inability of some Ďanti-racistí theorists to move beyond postmodernism and post-structuralist theorising, thereby shifting the priorities of anti-racism from the Ďrealí to the Ďsymbolicí.

14. Why has postmodernism not made a difference? Anti-intellectualism in social work! Convoluted language Inability to re-construct! Legitimates fundamentalist claims! From a secular politics of Ďraceí to a sectarian politics of difference The dematerialisation of Ďraceí does not eradicate racism.

15. Responding to the challenge of religious fundamentalisms We need to stop avoiding the issue or underestimate the problem Ė we need to study and teach this phenomena on social work courses We need to take a stand against fundamentalists. Re-establish the link between Ďraceí, gender and class. Reclaim universality; re-connect anti-racist social work to a wider utopian politics.

16. Need to confront the fundamentalist emphasis on the Ďpureí and argue for a reading of religious identities as porous historically and politically based constructions, rather than fixed and eternal. It is important to understand that fundamentalism is opposed not just by non-believers, but is rejected by many believers as well. Indeed eliminating the latter is central to the way fundamentalists establish an intimidatory discipline over Ďtheirí communities. Challenging fundamentalism may therefore require a defence of secular spaces by an alliance of anti-fundamentalist believers and non-believers. In this respect it is important to note that many religious texts themselves provide critiques of fundamentalist views.

17. As social work academics and practitioners we need to reflect on our own commitment to taking a sufficiently robust stance, intellectual and political against the rise fundamentalism; for providing some degree of comfort for fundamentalists on the one hand and the neo-liberal state and its repression of targeted groups, including Muslims on the others; for allowing the political struggles for liberation, social justice, freedom, to become appropriated and redefined by the very state that is/was responsible for overseeing the denial of these fundamental human rights

18. Some challenges for practitioners working with clients Within the context of social work values and commitments to human freedom and liberation encapsulated in the IFSW definition (2003) of social work: Can a social worker who holds Fundamentalist do proper, ethical, and professional social work with Fundamentalist clients and with non-fundamentalist clients? Can a Fundamentalist client receive appropriate professional services from non-Fundamentalist social worker?

19. Can we use the code of ethics as a way out? ďall social workers must work to achieve self-awareness of their own values, beliefs, and convictions and carefully and consciously wall them off from whatever it is that a client says, believes, or does. Only when a client poses a risk to self or others, when laws require that social workers act, does a social worker have the right to assert and override this commitment to a clients self-determination as primaryĒ (2003 p250) Problem/Critique: motivations of adherents to fundamentalist views which would usurp ALL other commitments, including those enshrined in professional codes of ethics and laws if they were in contravention of the particular belief system.

20. Some questions for discussion 1. What do/should social workers and social work students know about out contemporary religious absolutisms/ fundamentalisms? 2. How should social workers respond to state responses to the rise of religious absolutisms/fundamentalisms, specifically in relation to the demonisation, profiling and targeting of some black minority ethnic communities. 3. Should social workers support faith based initiatives in education and social welfare provision, particularly where these might be motivated by fundamentalist concerns about moral degradation. 4. In what ways has the rise of contemporary religious absolutisms/ fundamentalisms impact anti-oppressive agendas within Social Work 5. What is the relationship between contemporary religious absolutisms/ fundamentalism and emergent discourses of religion, spirituality and secularism in Social Work 6. How can/should social workers work with individuals, families and groups with absolutist/fundamentalist beliefs.

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