Banning The Burqa And Burkini Is Not The Correct Liberal Response To Conservative Islam

Free Speech - Say No To Burqas - Burkini - Mural

In a liberal democracy, government has no business dictating what clothing is or is not acceptable to wear – and banning the burqa or burkini only further delays the long-overdue day of reckoning between conservative Islam and modern Muslim women

France is now taking its official ban of the burqa one step further, as the mayor of Cannes announces a ban on burkini beachwear on the grounds that the concealing garment poses a security risk.

The New York Times reports:

The mayor of the French resort city of Cannes has barred women from bathing on public beaches in swimsuits that reveal too little skin.

At issue are the full-body, head-covering garments worn in the water by some Muslim women, which have been nicknamed burkinis, an amalgam of burqa and bikini. The mayor’s ban has drawn protests from French Muslims who say it is discriminatory.

That the debate is occurring on the Riviera, the Mediterranean vacation area that has been on edge since the terrorist attack on a Bastille Day celebration in nearby Nice, has only added to the controversy.

Critics of the ban say it risks deepening rifts with France’s Muslims. It is the latest example of the long-running tensions between France’s forceful — some say inconsistent — commitment to secularism and the desire of many Muslims to express traditional values like modesty through their attire.

The mayor’s ordinance, which runs until Aug. 31, bars people from entering or swimming at the city’s public beaches in attire that is not “respectful of good morals and secularism” and that does not respect “rules of hygiene and security.” Offenders risk a fine of 38 euros, or about $42.

Why are burkinis against the rules? “Beach attire that ostentatiously displays a religious affiliation, while France and places of worship are the target of terrorist acts, is likely to create risks to public order,” the ordinance says.

If this were being done in a public place on the grounds of security, the mayor of Cannes would be in a much stronger position, and would gain this blog’s sympathy, particularly after the appalling terrorist truck attack in Nice on Bastille Day. There is a very logical and powerful argument to be made against the prohibition on wearing any overtly concealing clothing when entering public buildings such as town halls, courts, public schools, parks or beaches, just as motorcycle owners are asked to remove their helmets before entering a bank branch.

But the mayor of Cannes has taken this action with specific reference not to security, but in the name of  laïcité (the separation of church and state). We know this because French government officials have explicitly said so:

This costume [the burkini], Mr Lisnard [the mayor] declared, “ostentatiously displays religious affiliation”, could “disrupt public order”, and might even, in the words of one official, demonstrate “an allegiance to terrorist movements”.

Now secular government is broadly a very good thing, and societies become more free as they cast off the remaining vestiges of theocracy – one of the reasons that this blog is so keen to get rid of the Lords Spiritual and remove Britain from Iran’s company as the only countries where unelected theocrats sit in the legislature by right.

However, while citizens – even those of faith – should absolutely demand secularism from their government, it does not follow that the government can unjustly impose secularism on the people as they go about their lives. That would be a grave wrong, and the growing movement to ban the burqa represents an abuse of power by governments against their own citizens.

The Telegraph’s Juliet Samuel agrees:

Now it’s hard to muster much enthusiasm for the burkini. It harks back to an age, still dominant in much of the world, when a woman’s worth was measured by her modesty. It belongs to a belief system in which women cannot experience one of the joys of the natural world – feeling the wind and sea on her body. It suggests that the female form is shameful and provocative. But those who want to ban the burkini for these reasons are forgetting one of the most important values of a free society: we don’t all have to believe the same thing in order to live together.

Every day, thousands of Britons wake up and do things I think are crazy and wrong. They drink instant coffee, listen to Magic FM and wear Spandex. Some wear high heels or bowties. Others have plastic surgery, get tattoos, cheat on their spouses, drink too much, shout too much and vote Labour. They get their news from Facebook and watch hours of trashy TV. Many of them pray to a god, convert to Buddhism, believe in crystal healing or sing in Church on Sundays with their eyes closed and their arms in the air. I don’t do or understand any of these things. But I let them get on with it.

[..] Like a theocratic regime, the Cannes burkini ban forces some Muslim women to choose between their religious and their national identity and perniciously suggests that their choice of dress is a political statement, whether they mean it to be or not. It is unsurprising that the French should lead the way in this kind of thinking, because in France nothing is allowed until the law permits it, whereas in Britain, everything is allowed until the law forbids it. So, in the name of enforced secularism, France forbids covering the face in any public setting, whether it’s for religion or Hallowe’en, and bans religious symbols like hijabs (hair coverings) in state institutions such as schools. The burkini ban takes this illiberal trend even further by making it illegal to wear “ostentatious” religious symbols even when going about one’s own private business.

[..] A normal Muslim, who has grown up seeing a hijab as an unremarkable but important symbol of womanhood, finds herself forced to choose between respect for the law and her family’s everyday customs. Is this senseless, banal and brutal ban more likely to awaken a hidden feminist creed and a love of La République in her heart or to make her feel attacked and excluded from mainstream society?

Strong societies cannot permit parallel legal or political systems, such as Sharia courts or caliphates. But they can cope with differences in dress and customs. They should not allow obstructive religious clothing like face‑coverings to disrupt teaching or court hearings. But if a Muslim woman wants to wear a baggy wetsuit and go for a swim on a public beach, that does not make her a threat to Western society. The real enemies of freedom are not the burkini-wearers, but the politicians who want to ban them.

Amen to this. Samuel is quite right to fear the politicians over the burkini-wearers, even if we may disagree with their sartorial and religious motivations. Indeed, we should fear any further legitimisation of the idea that our rights derive from the state, who can suspend our freedoms at will in the name of “security”.

One of the most alarming things about this century has been the rejuvenation of authoritarianism, spurred on by the growing threat of Islamist terror. Whether it is manifested in airport security theatre, the banning of religious jewellery or other symbols from the workplace or the dystopian suppression of free speech in universities, public squares and social media, we have become markedly less free in sixteen years with precious little to show for it.

But more than all of that, if we are serious about tackling the skewed ideology and belief system which preaches that women must be modest to the point of having to bathe fully clothed, then a government ban is the absolute worst way to go.

Such a diktat of law effectively exonerates conservative Islam (or fundamentalists of other religions) from any responsibility to reform and recognise the equality of women, gay people and other minority groups. Ban the burqa (or burkini) and conservative Muslims may obey. But not only will they immediately be able to portray themselves as victims in the process, claiming persecution for their religious beliefs, they will be under no further internal pressure to reconsider and reform centuries-old religious diktats in the changed context of modern society.

If we want a world where the burqa is relegated to fringe extremists and museums, then the pressure must come primarily from Muslim women. Only when they demand their right to dress as they please and force the reluctant accommodation of religious authorities will they be able to win the parity of treatment which has been missing for so long.

The job of Western governments in all of this is not to interfere or seek to be a white knight, banning the burqa or burkini on the behalf of oppressed women. Government’s role is to make sure that Muslim women have full access to the legal system to sue for their equal treatment in court where it is being infringed, and to clamp down insidious efforts to set up parallel justice systems based on Sharia law or any other religious code instead of shamefully welcoming them in the name of “multiculturalism”.

We should be encouraging a more liberal form of Islam to prevail over the more oppressive and fundamentalist conservative wings. We need more Ahmadis and others like them, openly tolerant of other faiths and proudly patriotic. And when these groups of progressive Muslims are attacked we should stand shoulder to shoulder with them rather than shamefully currying favour with their persecutors in the name of “multiculturalism”.

But ultimately, this is an internal enlightenment which must take place within Islam. It is not the job of provincial mayors in France or government departments in Britain to “rescue” their female Muslim citizens from oppression; nor would any such rescue hold any legitimacy. Western society can take certain actions to encourage this revolution among its Muslim communities, but ultimately the heavy lifting must be done by Muslim women standing up to claim their own full rights as citizens.

Widespread bans on the burqa or burkini may make us feel good or even allow some of us to burnish our feminist credentials, but that is the only good that they will accomplish. And meanwhile, the long-overdue day of reckoning between modern Muslim women and the conservative wing of the Islamic faith will be deferred indefinitely, to everyone’s cost.

 

Burkini ban

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Citing Religious Freedom To Excuse Discrimination Will Come Back To Bite

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If your religion requires that you attend church every Sunday, you have the right to do so, and no government should ever strip you of that freedom. And if your religious beliefs compel you to speak out publicly on social issues, that also should be your absolute right, provided that you are not inciting violence against anyone else.*

But if the free exercise of your religion requires that you don’t serve gay people at your place of business because you disapprove of their lifestyle choice, that is just called being sanctimonious, and has nothing to do with piety and everything to do with being judgmental – incidentally, a character trait that some major religions frown upon.

And yet this is exactly the type of behaviour that would be sanctioned under a raft of discriminatory legislation working its way through a number of state houses throughout America. MotherJones reports on this new social conservative backlash:

Kansas set off a national firestorm last week when the GOP-controlled House passed a bill that would have allowed anyone to refuse to do business with same-sex couples by citing religious beliefs. The bill, which covered both private businesses and individuals, including government employees, would have barred same-sex couples from suing anyone who denies them food service, hotel rooms, social services, adoption rights, or employment—as long as the person denying the service said he or she had a religious objection to homosexuality. As of this week, the legislation was dead in the Senate. But the Kansas bill is not a one-off effort.

Republicans lawmakers and a network of conservative religious groups has been pushing similar bills in other states, essentially forging a national campaign that, critics say, would legalize discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Republicans in Idaho, Oregon, South Dakota, and Tennessee recently introduced provisions that mimic the Kansas legislation. And Arizona, Hawaii, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Mississippi have introduced broader “religious freedom” bills with a unique provision that would also allow people to deny services or employment to LGBT Americans, legal experts say.

One gets the very strong sense that the principle of “religious freedom” is being used by the proponents of these bills as a cudgel with which to hit people that they don’t much like.

We can also safely strike out the word “religious” and replace it with “Christian” without affecting the real intent of the legislation, because you can bet your life that supporters of the Kansas bill would go insane if the same law that they support was cited in defence of a Muslim waiter who refused to serve pork sausages to a customer. In fact, ten new campaigns to “keep Shariah law out of America” would be launched before you could utter the phrase “hypocritical, discriminatory nonsense masquerading unconvincingly as a principled defense of religious freedom”.

In short, these bills are exactly what we have come to expect from a religious and social right wing in America that believe the founding fathers established America as an explicitly judeo-Christian land and that the Constitution is nothing more than an appendix to the Bible.

Dan Savage pulls no punches in delivering his verdict on the spate of new discriminatory legislation:

I don’t remember where I read it but this is a good idea: these laws should include a provision requiring business owners who wish to access their “protections” to publicly post signs in their windows and on their websites that list the types of people they refuse to serve. That might prompt some hateful Christianists to think twice. Because then they wouldn’t just be losing the business of the odd gay couple they got to turn away in a fit of self-righteous assholery. They would also be losing the business of straight people who don’t want to patronize businesses that discriminate against their gay and lesbian friends, neighbors, and family members—and others who worry about where empowering religious bigots could ultimately lead.

Not a bad idea at all. Savage may propose it only in jest, but perhaps, if these odious bills are to be passed over Democratic opposition, they could be sabotaged with amendments to include just such a poison pill clause. You want to arbitrarily turn away gay people from your business establishment? Well sure, go right on ahead – but make sure that you post a big sign out front listing all of the types of people whose lifestyles you frown on and consequently refuse to serve. And while you’re at it, post the same list prominently at the top of your company website, just to make absolutely clear which potential customers you are willing to welcome and which ones you will shun. After all, a well-functioning market requires perfect information.

In seeking to usurp the protections of the First Amendment and bastardise them in service of their cynical anti-gay agenda, supporters of this pro-discrimination legislation are starting down a dangerous road. Having only recently put the Jim Crow era behind them, some people seem only too eager to dust off the old “No Colored Allowed” signs and repurpose them for the war against their next target.

Of course, even if the pro-discrimination bills do successfully make it through the state legislatures and get signed into law by the Governors (many of whom have national political aspirations of their own), and even if they survive their inevitable challenge all the way up to the Supreme Court, the legislation would almost certainly be destroyed in the fiery crucible of broader public opinion, most of all among young people with whom the Republican Party has enough of an image problem already.

One of the main problems is the fact that there are no real logical or enforceable limits to “religious freedoms” being proposed. One can easily picture Newt and Callista Gingrich forlornly walking the streets of Washington D.C. in the rain, being turned away from one fancy restaurant after another because the proprietor’s sincerely held religious beliefs prohibit adultery and call it a sin. Of course, under no circumstances could the proprietor ever entertain the idea of serving a customer whose life story did not perfectly comply with the teachings of Jesus Pat Robertson, and if the new legislation is passed he would now have the weight of the law to back him up.

A prohibition on stealing was important enough to be included among the Ten Commandments, so perhaps we can also expect huge lines building outside places like Starbucks as the already overworked employees complete the mandatory criminal records background check before serving you your tall non-fat vanilla spice latte with extra nutmeg.

We are able to laugh at these ludicrous examples of the laws being applied to their bizarre extremes because although the attempt to push new legislation is troubling, it is really nothing more than the death throes of an old way of life where persecution and ostracisation of people because of their sexuality is excused and permitted. The legislation represents a collective shriek of indignance and self-pity from people who are finally starting to realise that they have irretrievably lost the argument, and will soon have to change their own behaviour rather than bully others into suppressing their real selves for fear of causing offense or inviting persecution.

As Andrew Sullivan said of the Kansas bill:

It is premised on the notion that the most pressing injustice in Kansas right now is the persecution some religious people are allegedly experiencing at the hands of homosexuals.

Such a notion is plainly absurd. Certain bigoted Christianists may have convinced themselves that they are being persecuted because they are no longer allowed to inflict their worldview and moral code on others, but there are now too few Americans willing to show up to their pity party to be of any help. Playing the victim card will not work outside the confines of their own shrinking closed network of intolerant people. Sullivan continues:

It’s a misstep because it so clearly casts the anti-gay movement as the heirs to Jim Crow. If you want to taint the Republican right as nasty bigots who would do to gays today what Southerners did to segregated African-Americans in the past, you’ve now got a text-book case. The incidents of discrimination will surely follow, and, under the law, be seen to have impunity. Someone will be denied a seat at a lunch counter. The next day, dozens of customers will replace him. The state will have to enforce the owner’s right to refuse service. You can imagine the scenes. Or someone will be fired for marrying the person they love. The next day, his neighbors and friends will rally around.

If you were devising a strategy to make the Republicans look like the Bull Connors of our time, you just stumbled across a winner. If you wanted a strategy to define gay couples as victims and fundamentalist Christians as oppressors, you’ve hit the jackpot. In a period when public opinion has shifted decisively in favor of gay equality and dignity, Kansas and the GOP have decided to go in precisely the opposite direction.

Instead of full-throated encouragement from the Republican national leadership in support of what the state parties are doing in their name, there is nothing but a conspicuous silence from the likes of John Boehner and Eric Cantor. Nothing from the congressional leadership and precious little from the conservative blogosphere either – tumbleweeds abound. There is a reason for this.

There exists a group of people whose behaviour is so odious and disgusting that it should not be spoken of in polite society; those involved in promoting it are amoral subversives perpetrating foul deeds which constitute an affront to God and to civilisation itself. Such people can barely be described as Americans, and certainly don’t deserve acknowledgement from Washington or protection by the law.

Unfortunately for the Kansas GOP, through their actions they are now that group, not the gay people they so love to persecute.

 

* Should be, but sadly is not currently the case in modern Britain, where the rights of the ultra-sensitive and the politically correct not to be offended supersede the right of the people to free speech.

 

The Christian Persecution Complex Stands In The Way Of Revival

Public fretting about the supposed War on Christmas may be behind us for another year, but that does not mean that the sound of wailing and gnashing of teeth emanating from certain grumpy Christian quarters has ceased entirely.

There is always some new perceived slight or attack to form the next rallying point for indignant protest at the assault on religious freedom (which can be translated as the end of state-sponsored primacy for one religion over all others, or none). And if nothing is currently happening to cause new outrage – no matter, they can quite happily argue their case to anyone who will read or listen without a clear jumping-off point.

Step forward Cristina Odone. The redoutable Odone has taken to her Telegraph column to bewail the “disappearance of the Bible from our children’s lives”:

Almost a third of children do not know their Adam from their Noah or that David slew Goliah. The Good Samaritan is a stranger and the Nativity just a Christmas play.

The latest Bible Society findings prove that the West has erased its Christian heritage from public life. I’m not surprised – only saddened that No God Zone, my e-book on the subject, has been vindicated. After decades of concerted efforts by secularist zealots, the Bible is a truly alien subject. Future generations will look on “the greatest story ever told” and think it is a 1965 movie starring Charlton Heston and Max von Sydow.

At fault, of course, is the ever-present, ever-menacing atheist brigade, who want nothing more than to tear down her church, prohibit her from celebrating her religious holidays and re-educate her to worship at the altar of multiculturalism:

A few faith schools still teach “the Good Book”; but they are under fire from the atheist brigade, and many feel that they will only survive if they promote a multicultural syllabus that stars Gandhi and Mandela rather than Abraham and Jesus.

The extraordinary, subversive book, with its lessons on charity, compassion and respect for others inspired generations to rebel against tyrannies of all kinds – dictators, addictions, vices. Men and women dedicated their lives to its teachings – and were ready to die for it. But today it seems that a host of martyrs lost their lives in vain: the Bible is just another book that sold more than the Hunger Games trilogy at some point.

How very melodramatic.

No longer the exclusive preserve of Bill O'Reilly and the Fox News Channel.
No longer the exclusive preserve of Bill O’Reilly and the Fox News Channel.

 

Odone worries about the children, but really it is the adults and parents who should be the focus of her concern – two thirds of British adults have no connection with the Christian church at present, half of whom having left at some point and the other half never having had any involvement at all.

As a practicing Catholic this saddens me, but unlike Cristina Odone it is not my first instinct to go lurching off to the government for redress, to make them make people behave the way that I want them to. Indeed, it speaks very poorly indeed of Odone’s supposed conservative credentials that she thinks that such a thing would be at all appropriate. A religion that requires government promotion makes itself immediately vulnerable to government influence, interference and control – something that no supporter of religious liberty should wish upon themselves.

If there is to be a Christian, or any type of religious revival in this country, it will not come about by going back to what Cristina Odone clearly sees as the “good old days” of having the Church of England shoehorned into every conceivable tradition or aspect of British life. Singing Christian hymns at public school assemblies, cramming public squares with nativity scenes or erecting stone carvings of the Ten Commandments outside courthouses are not going to make a blind bit of difference to church attendance or the practicing of Christian teachings.

Maybe Odone would rather tie the awarding of jobseeker’s allowance to church attendance rather than the claimant’s willingness to take remedial literacy and numeracy training where required – I would love to watch her make that argument, just for the fireworks that it would create. But short of extremely heavy-handed government coercion such as this, I am at a loss as to exactly what external actions she thinks should be taken.

Rather than looking outside for help that will never arrive, people of faith would be far better off engaging with their local churches, parishes or faith groups and helping them in their work to serve their communities and make themselves more relevant to the people whom they serve. For it is only through this bottom-up approach that any meaningful progress will be made.

My own track record in this area is far from impressive – very occasional bouts of deep involvement in parish life followed by months or years of either lazily sitting back in the pews or not attending church at all. But this is exactly the point – if I can only halfheartedly and sporadically muster the will to do something, why should I expect the government to enforce it on people who may have different beliefs and have no desire to follow along at all?

A parallel argument – perhaps better suited to the boardroom than the church hall, but perhaps not – would be that is it not far better to have a smaller, leaner church that is filled with more committed members and does more to show God’s love and do His work in the community than a bloated, lazy, state-supported church, topped up with unwilling attendees and with no clear direction other than to keep pleasing the government on which it depends for survival?

I believe that a strong argument can be made for just such an adaptation, one that is in any case well underway – for just as businesses must retrench and refocus during economic recessions, so too, perhaps, must religious organisations during times of spiritual recession.

Yes, the church and the values that it professes (love, understanding, charity – I’m less worried about society’s rejection of archaic cultural rules about gay people, wearing garments made from multiple types of cloth or the eating of shellfish) have experienced an unbidden and unwelcome decline, and this is a legitimate cause for concern. But if it also provides space for a sober reassessment and recalibration of our understanding as to the role of faith in our society, is there not also a great opportunity to be exploited as well? Sometimes, after all, it is necessary to go backwards first in order to move forward.

There are parts of the world where Christians really are being persecuted, quite terribly. Cristina Odone’s leafy corner of west London is not one of them, and she would do well to acknowledge this and to give thanks that she lives in a place where she is free to openly practice and profess her faith.

Then we can talk about Christian revival.

UKIP’s Choice

I like the commitment to giving the British people a say on our future membership of the European Union. I like the commitment to stripping away burdensome regulation from business. And I really like the libertarian streak which says (with the shameful and notable exception of opposing gay marriage) that you can do what you damn well like in your eating, drinking or recreational life without fearing either chastisement or prosecution by the government. But the recent scandals and dramas within UKIP are making me realise all over again that having a few really great core principles is simply not enough. Not for a political party with serious national electoral ambitions, at any rate.

In moment of great frustration with British politics and the day-to-day compromise of coalition government I have flirted with the idea of giving UKIP my vote. There are parts of the UKIP agenda – you’ll only find them on the UKIP website, the British media generally fails to report the serious stuff – that make perfect sense and which should appeal to anyone of a conservative-libertarian leaning. And in the past it has frustrated me that the focus on UKIP’s more sensible ideas has been continually taken away by the actions of some of UKIP’s more unhinged, out-of-the-mainstream supporters.

I continued to make this argument in good conscience throughout the Godfrey Bloom saga and then the David Silvester affair, because the first was a nonsense and the second was a nonentity. But not so this time.

Gerard Batten is a serving MEP and a serious voice within his party – not a swivel eyed lunatic from the fringe. And so when he publicly advocates making Muslims effectively sign an oath of loyalty and nonviolence to prove their harmlessness to the state, this represents a very real problem for UKIP, damages their pro-liberty credentials and alienates many people (myself included) who were otherwise inclined to give them a fair hearing.

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The Guardian gives some of the detail:

Gerard Batten, who represents London and is member of the party’s executive, told the Guardian on Tuesday that he stood by a “charter of Muslim understanding”, which he commissioned in 2006.

The document asks Muslims to sign a declaration rejecting violence and says parts of the Qur’an that promote “violent physical Jihad” should be regarded as “inapplicable, invalid and non-Islamic”.

Critics said his comments represent the “ugliest side of Ukip” and “overlap with the far-right”, in spite of the efforts of party leader Nigel Farage to create a disciplined election machine ahead of the European elections.

Asked on Tuesday about the charter, Batten told the Guardian he had written it with a friend, who is an Islamic scholar, and could not see why “any reasonable, normal person” would object to signing it.

One hardly needs to restate their horror and revulsion at all forms of violence and terrorism in the name of religion before condemning this politician’s attempt to take a redacting pen to the holy book of a faith not his own – but I shall do so anyway. We can abhor the violence, but that does not make it right to propose amendments to the religious texts of a faith that you do not yourself practice. Indeed, if Gerard Batten is to apply his editing skills to every major religious text touting a menu of violent and uncivilised punishments to be meted out to those who accidentally violate the etiquette of their ancient day, he will not only raise Muslim ire but also the outrage of other religions perhaps much closer to his own heart.

Seeing the “I have Muslim friends” card played as a defence by Godfrey Bloom is also quite depressing, and hardly mitigates the fact that he is basically advocating state interference in the workings of a religion, state interpretation of religious texts and state monitoring of compliance with religious teaching.

And in a final flourish, Batten also failed to repudiate his 2010 call for a ban on new mosques in Europe, apparently confirming the suspicions of many that UKIP is concerned about freedom of religion and freedom from religious persecution only when it can be used as an argument to allow certain Christians to continue discriminating against gay people.

The latest UKIP scandal has, naturally and rightly, drawn condemnation from across the political spectrum, with Conservative MP Robert Halfon (of the Jewish faith) describing Batten’s “Islamic code of conduct” as the first step toward making a persecuted people wear a visible gold star on their clothing:

Halfon, who is Jewish and has spoken out repeatedly against Islamic extremism, told the Guardian he considered Batten’s views “unbelievably sinister” and “frightening”.

He tweeted: “Big difference btwn lawful Muslims & extreme Islamists. UKIP MEP Batten’s statement a 1st step to wearing a Yellow Star.”

Sarah Ludford, a Liberal Democrat MEP for London, also criticised the comments, saying they “rip apart Ukip’s pretence” that it treats everybody equally.

“His offensive blanket stereotyping of Muslims speaks volumes about Ukip’s extremism and should warn voters that voting Ukip means associating with hatred and Islamophobia,” she said.

These shenanigans within UKIP must come to an immediate halt if the party is to staunch the bleeding and begin to repair its tarnished reputation. The existing media portrayal of the party as a club for closet racists, little-Englanders and swivel eyed loons is harmful enough without having senior MEPs throwing more fuel on the fire. The fact that some of the provocative statements in question were given in the year 2006 is no defence or mitigating factor here – all that means is that eight years have passed without a public apology and withdrawal of the remarks.

True to recent form, Nigel Farage has been slow to respond to this latest volley of bad publicity – and so, for the moment, Gerard Batten is left to twist in the wind. This, in itself, is unacceptable. This is a time for the leader to lead. Perhaps UKIP wants to be a party of unapologetic Islamophobia and a cheerleader for freedom of religion, but only when Christian freedoms are perceived as being threatened. And if so, that is their choice to make – free speech is still just about protected in this country, and UKIP are entitled to campaign on that platform. In turn, I would also then be freed from the desire to give them any further serious consideration and airtime on this blog, because I would exercise my right to avoid associating myself with such a party.

But if the UK Independence Party actually stands for personal liberty and does not wish to associate itself with religion-specific loyalty tests and bans on practicing Islam (because that is what withholding permission to build new mosques would ultimately mean), with fearmongering or with discriminatory policies, then Nigel Farage needs to speak up and show any recalcitrant members the door.

Newer, less established and experienced political parties eventually have to choose between their fiery, populist rhetoric and the need for sober policymaking; between courting any stray vote that can easily be won and accepting that the votes of some other people are fundamentally undesirable. The Liberal Democrats faced their reality-check on the topic of undergraduate tuition fees, and for better or worse they chose responsible government over delivering on their tuition fee cap bribe to their starry-eyed voters. It increasingly looks as though UKIP will have a dual reckoning – with their attitude to gay marriage on one hand and the decision to condone or condemn Islamophobia on the other.

If Mr. Farage could please make up his mind on these issues and convey the message to his troops, the rest of us will know whether to keep giving UKIP the time of day, or letting them jog on by.