Current Affairs Education History Politics

A Republic Of Equals

Photo of Mae Burke, Eithne Coyle and Linda Kearns, Irish Republican revolutionaries, standing on a British flag in an image taken shortly after they escaped from a British POW camp, Ireland 1921
Photo of Mae Burke, Eithne Coyle and Linda Kearns, Irish Republican revolutionaries, standing on a British flag in an image taken shortly after they escaped from a British POW camp, Ireland 1921. Who would dare tell these patriot citizens of Ireland that they had no right to look any man in the eye?

There is an old saying in the history of Ireland that relates to the waves of immigration our island nation has witnessed, a saying that many Irish people take a quiet pride in. Describing the invaders, colonists and settlers that have made our country their home it is said that they became, Níos Gaelaí ná na Gaeil féin “More Irish than the Irish themselves”. It says much for the flexible character of Ireland’s indigenous culture that it took the customs and traditions of others and added their uniqueness to its own. Assimilation, uniting old and new while retaining the richness of the former, has been a dominant feature of Irish history. Where it was blocked, the bloody conquests of the Cromwellian era or the genocidal century of the Ulster Plantation, conflict and enmity has always ensued. The north-east of Ireland is a warning of the dangers of encouraging ethnicity, language, culture and religion to become the hallmarks of separation. So it is with some alarm, and sadness, that I read this report in the Irish Times:

“Muslims in Ireland are not interested in assimilation, according to a new book to be published next Thursday. Titled Islam and Education in Ireland, it is written by Dr Ali Selim of the Islamic Cultural Centre in Dublin’s Clonskeagh who is also a lecturer at Trinity College Dublin and the Mater Dei Institute.

In the book he says that “the Muslim community in Ireland expresses its interest not in assimilation but rather in integration and unity.”

One might well ask what is wrong with “assimilation“, the voluntary absorption of the new immigrant population by the existing indigenous one? Especially when “integration” is simply being used as a code-word for what is otherwise known as “separate but equal“. That is not a united society. That is a Balkanised society. Dr. Selim goes on to make some fair points in relation to Muslim dress.

“Where the wearing the hijab by Muslim girls in Irish schools is concerned he says this “shouldn’t cause any more debate than other religious symbols worn by either male or female students in Irish schools do.””

He is quite correct and the banning of the hijab or burqa in some European nations is reprehensible. Yes, the latter does represent the demeaning of women, whether worn voluntarily or not. It signifies their lesser status and fallacious arguments by traditionalist Muslim scholars does not change that fact. However the state should not dictate people’s modes of dress, whatever their reasons for doing so. Let societal pressure make such judgments and such behaviors unacceptable not the law. However there then follows something that to me is deeply troubling and quite hypocritical.

“He continues: “school is a public place, where no one has the right to dictate or impose their views or beliefs on another.”

More generally,and where Muslim parents in particular are concerned, Dr Selim points out that “when it comes to shaking hands with members of the opposite sex, most Muslims are reluctant and many of them may refuse. This behaviour does not imply a lack of respect or that the other person is not clean.”

For some Muslims to do so would be “a clear breach Muslim teaching” or “is inconsistent with their culture.” Similarly, “Muslims do not believe in eye contact between members of the opposite sex.” This was “significant for teachers when dealing with Muslim parents.”

Also, and “from a Muslim perspective, members of the same sex can stand very close to each other” but members of the opposite sex are to be kept “at arm’s length. Apart from facial features, the entire body is still. Body language, in this case, is limited to facial features.” This too was “significant when dealing with Muslim parents,” he said.”

I’m sorry but it is utterly unacceptable to suggest that certain citizens, solely on account of their gender, should be subject to some bizarre form of spatial discrimination because of the arcane religious beliefs held by some members of the community. Worse follows in a related article also from the same newspaper:

“…there is “a clash of values” also between Islam and “traditional ways of teaching PE”.

Where schools were “persistent”, they should “employ a female PE teacher and provide students with a sports hall not accessible to men during times when girls are at play. They should also not be visible to men while at play.”

Also, Muslim girls would resist changing clothes in a communal area.

When it came to music some Muslims would see it as prohibited but “if music is performed using non-tuneable percussion instruments such as drums, most Muslims will have no problem”.

On school plays Dr Selim points out that “physical contact between members of the opposite sex who can be legally married is forbidden in Islam” and that “gender role-reversal is not permissible”.

Acting “in a way that may arouse sexual feeling or give sexual hints causes objection.””

This a recipe for quasi-apartheid based not upon supposed differences of race but upon faith or sex. We are all citizens of this republic, regardless of our gender, sexual orientation, religion or ethnicity. We are all equal, none superior or inferior to the other. In Ireland we have lived with the diktats of theocracy, irrational or otherwise. However the dark days of church and state are behind us and we have no wish to see them reimposed, whatever the source. Education is the responsibility of the government and it is one that has been shirked for far too long. The days of faith-based schools and schooling must end. Patronage by vested or partisan interests with the connivance of the state is incompatible with a modern republic. We no more desire Muslim schools or influences in our schools than we desire it of Christianity, Judaism, Mormonism, Scientology or any other organised religion. Belief is a private affair not a public one. Let our children be educated as free citizens of a free republic. Or as we would have it:

“The Irish Republic is entitled to, and hereby claims, the allegiance of every Irishman and Irishwoman. The Republic guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, and declares its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and of all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally, and oblivious of the differences carefully fostered by an alien government, which have divided a minority from the majority in the past.”

27 comments on “A Republic Of Equals

  1. Absolutely agree with that. And the sooner the Catholic church are oxtered oot – North and South – of education the better.

    and great, great picture.

    New format of the site is excellent.


    By the way did you see

    Some excellent investigative journalism – the format of the program required the boy Brendan to feign surprise at the rehearsed revelations – but that’s the way they package these things I suppose and Brendan’s a good egg so it easier to take.


    • Secular, public-funded and run schools with elected parent and student boards is the way forward. That 80% of Irish schools remain under the patronage of the RC Church is shameful. I cannot understand the silence of even the most radical Republican parties on this matter. Sinn Féin, IRSP, RNU, etc. all all run away from tackling the subject in a “republican” manner.

      I may add that funding and recognition of private schools should end as well. Either we are all in this society together or we are not.

      Thanks for the good words on the new look. And that photo is a great one. I have a good few relating to CnamB actvists which I might do a post on soon: “Women of the Revolution” will be the title. I want to clean them up in Photoshop and other software first.

      Missed the Brendan thing but will watch it soon. It certainly raised some eyebrows in the British newspapers. Some of the press reporting was so ignorant in terms of historical knowledge it was laughable.


      • Secular, public-funded and run schools with elected parent and student boards is the way forward.
        I’m very surprised that you’re not there yet.
        Even Eastern Europe is miles ahead of Ireland in this matter.

        How come that you’re one of the richest countries in the world and yet can’t fix such no-brainer basic stuff?

        The same can be said about your abortion laws.


  2. I was unpleasantly surprised when I found out that most of the schools in Ireland are faith-based. (Catholic, Anglican, whatever).

    (And also girls’ and boys’ schools – wtf?)

    We don’t have anything like that in Latvia. All state-owned schools are secular and not segregated by gender – teaching bullshit like “Intelligent design” in biology lessons, for example, is strictly forbidden.

    The educational system is mostly free from influence of religious nutbags – that’s why we can have proper sex education at schools, despite the fact that some want to forbid it because they think that it’s “immoral”.

    While I don’t agree to their methods (executions, imprisonment, etc) – the Soviets really weakened religious institutions during the occupation period.


    • Yes, it is awful. Embarrassing actually. I would rather the French way of doing things.


      • john cronin

        The French secular system also had problems though. Because of “laiaicite” ie the dogma of church-state separation, any Catholics who did take their religion seriously (as well as the smaller Protestant communities who were left over after the expulsion of the Huguenots) were forced to go private, or have extra religion classes, or Saturday schools for instruction in the Catholic faith.

        Certainly my experience of France is that many practicing Catholics regarded the French Dept of Ed as little more than a bunch of secular anti-Catholic bigots who were determined to interfere with their freedom of conscience. I remember in particular going to a wedding in a very rural part of France a few yrs back.

        In France, getting hitched in the local church ain’t enough for the state to recognise the marriage: you have to go through the whole rigmarole a second time at the local town hall. The family of the bride, good Catholics and Gaullists, were clearly sickened by the thought of their girl having to make the vows again in front of a Communist mayor whom they utterly despised, and who probably despised them in turn. Just spent the whole ceremony glaring at him.


        • To be honest those are examples of the very definition of the separation of church and state that I would agree with. The state should have no religion nor reflect no religion.


        • In France, getting hitched in the local church ain’t enough for the state to recognise the marriage
          And it should not be. Churches are not state institutions and priests are not civil servants.
          forced to go private, or have extra religion classes, or Saturday schools for instruction in the Catholic faith.
          That’s a good thing. Religious garbage should stay out of schools completely.

          Christianity is no different to Ancient Greek and Roman myths and should be taught as such at schools.


      • Janis, I couldn’t agree more. Great article, Sionnach, and I have to add that while I was reading it i thought, but surely I am reading something out of Brave New World? Separation is a fabulous idea– of church/religious affiliation and state, that is, *not* of individuals. I probably don’t need to elaborate on all manner of destruction that can be caused by allowing the former and forbidding the latter. I feel like America grew out of this one more or less in the seventeen hundreds. I also probably don’t have to elaborate on the psychological and even spiritual damage that would occur for anyone, especially children, who did not share Islamic beliefs, to adopt the inferiority of women and cease to be able to make eye contact and otherwise naturally relate to one another. it’s a tragedy to the human spirit I wish will never happen. Of course for similar reasons i believe it would be a huge victory for our human family if Muslims decided to stop following these practices as well, but has been said already people are entitled to their own choices and spiritual beliefs and though I may strongly disagree, mandating such a change is never the answer. I can’t help then but add that, to be consistent, abortion cannot be outlawed due to the same argument.


        • Hmmm, i should really not try to write sentences using double negatives. that one turned out to be a bit of a mess. 🙂 I meant it is destructive to refuse to separate church and state but continue to reenforce the myth that as individuals we are not equal, because equality is the birth right of everyone. eye contact is one of our most powerful ways to acknowledge that equality within each of us. I hope I’ll still be understood.


        • I get your points, Niamh, and I agree with them. The US’ separation of Church and State is an admirable one though of course it has been under attack by some Conservative forces for many, many years.


          • Actually the USA’s separation is often considered to be a factor feeding the fundamentalism and isolationism of religion there. With no Religious Education (as distinct from religious instruction), students learn nothing about their own religions or any other in a formal school setting. This leads to enormous ignorance which leads to xenophobia. Compare Ireland’s RE which has a compulsory World Religions section within an optional RE subject with a state exam.

            France similarly has enormous problems dealing with religious minorities, as generally speaking the overzealous church/state separation does not apply usually to dominant Christianity but is allowed full reign against Muslims and other minorities. Having said that, I have heard (anecdotally) that teachers there are reluctant even to teach things such as the Reformation in history because it mentions Christianity for fear of being in violation of policy and therefore dismissed.

            Most European countries do have religious education, some of the pluralistic kind practiced in Ireland, some of specifically Christian kinds, some mandatory, most voluntary (Spain is one of the very few examples of compulsory denominational RE which is really religious instruction while Sweden has mandatory RE covering all major world religions).


            • Some interesting points though personally I’d prefer no religious teaching in the Irish curriculum, however pluralist, unless it was in the context of religion and mythology, from ancient Egyptians to contemporary faiths. Though I suspect some might find the categorisation offensive. Additionally what religions get examined? Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism ok but what others? Hinduism, Jainism, Shintoism, Sikhism, Mormonism, Scientology? What do we define as a religion, what do we define as a cult? What faiths get on the list? That is surely a “political” judgement”.


              • “Additionally what religions get examined?” There should be more… wicca, druidry, asatru, discordianism, religions specific to Native American tribes, Voodoo, and an increasing number of modern polytheistic faiths.

                Incidentally I like your idea of teaching all religions as mythology. To me, the Christian Bible is full of as many interesting myths and legends as is for instance The Mabinogion. Also I would love to see more traditional Irish mythology taught in Irish schools. The stories passed down to our families from ancient Irish culture have enough insights, lessons, teachings, excitement, all sorts of other things in them that you could easily create many different classes around them. I’m not suggesting anyone needs to believe the stories, that’s up to them, but Christianity comes from a completely different culture and I have always found it valuable and empowering to be just as aware of the stories that guided my own ancestors.


            • You’d definitely have to have at Hinduism on the list (although ‘Hinduism’ is basically an artificial category or umbrella group created by British colonial authorities in India to describe a multitude of traditions). For reasons of timing (3 year Junior Cert, 2 year Leaving Cert as it stands) there’s not a lot of time for any amount of depth in more than say 2 major world religions (those largest 6 being Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Judaism; with the last two being almost negligibly small on a global level compared to the first 4) but at least a cursory overview (important symbols and such) of the majors is perfectly possible).

              I’d love an Ancient Religions category covering systems such as those of the Ancient Egyptians although such a thing would probably only have to be covered within a few weeks so maybe a single example (like an overview of Egyptian polytheism) would be the way to go (rather than giving time to multiple systems which would be limited to a single lesson or less each).

              Mythology and traditional stories are interesting because they aren’t necessarily bound within religious systems in a way that is explicable and the Irish mythology we have access to tells us little enough about pre-Christian Irish religion. The modern Irish words for religion (religiúin agus creideamh) are Latin borrowings as Ireland was very thoroughly Christianized and there’s very little teachable evidence about any overall Irish religious system although individual examples could be used in specific instances (a class or two focusing on Hallowe’en could begin with the festival of Samhain and how it was transformed by and merged with other tradition festivals over the years).

              As to the definition of religion, it’s contentious and standard dictionary definitions are mostly useless (much like poetry, people usually know it when they see it but dictionaries are unhelpful for definitions). I usually go with (atheist) Emil Durkheim’s “A system of beliefs and practices”; it’s not perfect and it’s a sociological definition but as a starting point, it’s the best definition I’ve come across and it’s the only one that seems to cover monotheistic, polytheistic and non-theistic/atheistic religions.


              • The problem with “A system of beliefs and practices” is who decides what is recognised as such and what does not? Scientology is a cult to me and many others but to its adherents? They could argue just as easily that Christianity or Islam is a cult? And do we allow the more extreme Wahhabi-style teaching as Saudi Arabia promotes? They sponsor Islamic schools in Ireland. What are they teaching?

                I’d argue for no private/partisan schools, state/public schools only, and no religious teaching except in a global context including historic precedents.


              • Cult and religion are not mutually exclusive. Cult originally meant “the act of worship” and then became a term to describe a group of worshippers (as in a television programme with a ‘cult following’. The only problem with describing Christianity or Islam as a cult would be that the term has connotations of being small or unusual while these two religious communities make up over half the world’s population.

                I’m not sure what you mean by Wahhabi-style teaching in a school context as the RE syllabus does not teach a religious point of view but mere teaches about them and in truth does not really have the depth to allow an exploration of what is (globally-speaking) a tiny fringe-movement in Islam (Saudi Arabia is the only state on Earth where Wahabbi Islam is a majority although it seems to be having a disproportionate influence on the world stage in recent years, much like American-style Creationism).

                The current RE syllabus is taught in a global context (although Christianity tends to be the the most consistently focused on as most Irish teachers are most familiar with it, and because it is, by far and away the largest religious community in the world) but it is only required in state schools (like the former VEC, now ETB schools) and other scools tend to be left to their own devices. Also, most schools do not have a qualified RE teacher and even those that do have one often do not teach for the exam (RE did not exist as an exam subject with a syllabus until the 2000s and most people who left school before then seem not to be aware that it exists but instead presume that modern ‘Religion’ classes are still the preserve of nuns or whatever.


              • an lorcánach

                in the context of the article, perhaps it is important to understand that the 26 counties is undergoing cultural change in last 20 years not witnessed since over 200 years during 16th-17th centuries and no denials of this will change that fact: as liberal as the public education system is in the uk, there is much we can and must learn


  3. john cronin

    Google in Palmira Silva, Edmonton.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: