Behold, theocracy in action


Ann Marie Waters on last night at Queen Mary College.

This week I was due to give a talk to students at Queen Mary College, London on sharia law and human rights. Rather fittingly – and as if to prove my point – my human rights were quashed by a person demonstrating one of the effects of sharia law; the threat of violence for criticising religion.

Or to put it another way, both are instantiations of theocracy. Both are what you get when you have theocracy. You get god-centered everything, with humans expected to obey the imagined god slavishly and harsh punishments if someone thinks god is being defied.

Just before I was due to start, a young man entered the lecture theatre, stood at the front of the room with a camera and proceeded to film everyone in the audience. That done, he informed us that he knew who we were, where we lived and if he heard a single negative word about the Prophet, he would track us down. (I am told he made further threats as he left the building).

The young man is a theocrat, who thinks god is everything and people are nothing.

I am left wondering what exactly we could have done. I would love to say that we stood up to him and carried on bravely in a valiant defence of free speech, but it was a frightening experience and I know that people felt genuinely threatened and upset. In any case, is it the role of speakers and students to face off against potentially violent Islamists in defence of our free speech, risking our safety in the process? Just whose job is it to defend freedom of speech and can we be expected to fight for it when the state and other powers refuse to back us up?

Hell no. The choice may be forced on us, but it’s not our job. We shouldn’t have to ask theocrats for permission to speak.

Freedom of speech needs to be defended from above. We need prosecution and punishment of those intent on frightening people into staying silent. Until the state speaks out and makes it clear to the likes of this guy that this behaviour is not acceptable – no excuses, no apologies – these things will continue to happen and more and more people will be frightened in to shutting up. We can then say goodbye to freedom for good.

So we have to keep speaking out to make that point, whenever possible without any threatening young men interrupting.

Comments

  1. Deepak Shetty says

    That done, he informed us that he knew who we were, where we lived and if he heard a single negative word about the Prophet, he would track us down. (I am told he made further threats as he left the building).
    How are such people not tossed into prison?

  2. says

    More to the point, after the word has been thrown around to the point of disgust to justify abhorrent measures against personal privacy, human rights and wars over the last decade, do we not correctly call this what it is, an instance of clear-cut terrorism.

  3. Josh Slocum says

    I have to dissent. A little. It is the state’s job. We’re in this horrific mess because secular society refuses to speak out and defend the citizenry vigorously enough against religious supremacism. Yes, yes, yes.

    But it is also our job. What could they have done, she asks? How about everyone standing up and condemning this man with the utmost outrage? How about braying, loud indignation from the entire crowd?

    No, I wasn’t there. I don’t know how many people were in the crowd, and I don’t know if they had reason to fear he might have a gun, for example. All of that would alter what anyone could be expected to do.

    But then I think of those Egyptian women who swacked the “morality police” over the head with their canes when they had the audacity to raid the hair salon. Drove ‘em onto the streets in humiliation.

    We need concerted social shaming and shunning, and we have to take some responsibility for it.

  4. says

    True, true. Then again as I’m sure you realize, Ann Marie and Maryam can’t be faulted for not sticking their necks out enough!

    :- )

    But true. I would imagine surprise may have gotten in the way at first, and maybe he got away before people collected their wits enough to resist as a body. Just guessing.

  5. Josh Slocum says

    Yeah. It occurred to me after posting that one can’t really count on one’s audience members to back one. Because they too are under the sway of intimidation. Gah. It’s a fractal conspiracy of silence.

  6. Aquaria says

    Why didn’t someone take a picture of that little shit stain and tell him now they had his information, and they’d be reporting him to the police for terrorism? Why didn’t someone tackle him to the ground, and take his phone from him as evidence of a terror cell? He was making terrorist threats, you know. Don’t you think the police would want to know who he might have been working with?

    Fucking DUH!

    Were you Brits nice when you were facing Hitler? Did you invite him in for tea and biscuits? Or did you fight with everything you had rather than letting that scumbag break you?

    If you don’t stop being too fucking sniffy nice and stand up to assholes like these as if your civilization depended on it–and it does, your’e going to be in a place just as bad as if you had surrendered to Hitler. Because they’re like Hitler in that they won’t be satisfied with the Sudetenland, no matter what they sign or how many smiles they make when they promise yes, oh yes, that’s all we need, really.

    Not when there’s an entire world to be had. There will be another demand. And another. And another. And another. And then you’re in a place you don’t want to be.

  7. Steersman says

    Or to put it another way, both are instantiations of theocracy. Both are what you get when you have theocracy.

    Exactly – fundamental, and fundamentalist, threats to democracy and civilization itself. Which reminds me of another salient quote from Ibn Warraq’s Why I Am Not a Muslim, another of his quotes of Muir:

    Muir went on to say that so long as the Koran remained the standard of belief, certain evils would continue to flow: “Polygamy, Divorce and Slavery strike at the root of public morals, poison domestic life, and disorganize society; while the Veil removes the female sex from its just position and influence in the world … Freedom of thought and private judgment are crushed and annihilated. Toleration is unknown, and the possibility of free and liberal institutions foreclosed.” [pg 88]

    But before the problems get very much worse, now is the time to put our foot down, to draw the line in the sand. When the wickets get really sticky there is a tendency to be obliged to choose between the lesser of two evils and sometimes even the lesser can yield not much more than a pyrrhic victory; best to forestall that eventuality – “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

    Although there is a somewhat broader issue in play and that is the phenomenon and dynamic of group-think: such is not unique, regrettably or not, to religion and unfortunately shows up even in movements such as atheism [examples here and here], feminism, skepticism and secular humanism, ones that, presumably, should be immune to such flaws. Probably a very human tendency to “my –ism, right or wrong”, but very bad karma in any case.

    So we have to keep speaking out to make that point …

    Absolutely. On every forum and every venue open to us; the pen truly can be mightier than the sword – probably the reason why so few books are published in the Muslim world and why the Turks 500 years ago banned the printing press.

  8. says

    Anne Marie Waters said:

    “Freedom of speech needs to be defended from above. We need prosecution and punishment of those intent on frightening people into staying silent. Until the state speaks out and makes it clear to the likes of this guy that this behaviour is not acceptable – no excuses, no apologies – these things will continue to happen and more and more people will be frightened in to shutting up. We can then say goodbye to freedom for good.”

    The state, by which I mean that part of the human population within a nation’s borders that exercises power and control, will speak out when it suits its members to speak out. But an unfortunate fact of parliamentary democracy is that those who routinely present themselves to the electors for political office are usually not democrats. Rather, they tend to be like their counterparts in non-democratic countries: ego-tripping control freaks who wish to see their own, rather than the popular will prevail. Despite whatever their party’s propaganda may say, liberalism is never their long suit.

    What we call ‘democracy’ is actually elected oligarchy. Its great strength however is that it has a mechanism for popular removal of unpopular oligarchs without a need to resort to civil war. Unlike say, the current Syrian situation.

    The western oligarchs, like Cameron’s mob in the UK, proclaim themselves to be ‘leaders’, but are more often actually followers, guided particularly by opinion polls. So I would disagree with Anne Marie. Freedom of speech must first of all be defended from ‘below’. Then those ‘above’ might be persuaded to stir themselves and do something.

    The Islamists are far more assertive. Imagine if there was some Muslim meeting calling for Sharia Law and the banning or limitation of free speech and a secularist liberal got up in front at the start, took a mobile photo of them all, and told them that they were all marked now and had better shut up or else. What would happen?

    Any guesses?

  9. crowepps says

    If this man’s actions were unexpected, I would imagine stunned surprise would hold the audience immobile long enough for him to make his threat and leave. People are not expecting these things to happen, and have no defense prepared and ready. By the time they had fumbled their phones open and on and hit the appropriate buttons, he would have been out the door.

    It would be wise in future for any talk which touches upon controversial matters to make arrangements for a security presence. It would also behoove us all to decide what our personal actions should be in that situation, and practice them until they are easy and automatic, because there seem to be more bullies and fanatics out there every day.

  10. dirigible says

    I wonder if the perpetrator of this attack has the same victimhood complex as the people complaining about cartoons at UCL?

    Or whether he’s more honest about his exercise of power…

  11. says

    Well, for the next time:
    Organize some security:
    I don’t know how the laws are in the UK, but in Germany, the owner of a location or the person renting it, even for public events, have domestic authority within certain limits, but it usually means that you can forbid filming by third parties.

    Secondly, have your own security guards to enforce those rules

    Thirdly, get some sensible police (I know, not an easy thing nowadays) to back you up.

    But the biggest onus falls on the state to put its foot down. The threats were obviously serious enough to have the event cancelled, so they should be prosecuted accordingly.

  12. Dunc says

    This is quite clearly illegal, and I’d be very surprised if there isn’t sufficient evidence available to identify and charge this individual. (Ironically, it seems to me that the most appropriate legislation would be that against inciting religious hatred.) However, such things do take a little time. Have patience. I expect the police will be knocking on his door within the next few days, if they haven’t already.

    But I have to say, equating some arsehole with a cameraphone and a bad attitude to Hitler is a little strong… In addition to a viciously totalitarian ideology, Hitler also had control of the most effective military machine the world had ever seen. Contrary to what some people seem to believe, there are not actually Islamist panzer divisions poised to blitzkrieg their way across the whole of Europe. They are a tiny minority of noisy arseholes who happen to get a lot of press. They will be dealt with accordingly.

  13. WalterWalcarpit says

    Let the meeting be held again.
    Let it be publicised far and wide and attended by so many that it bursts and there is simply no room for fascists …
    Let it be attended by police to protect, journalists to report, politicians to ponder and countless citizens

    Let it be held with real awareness of the hornets’ nest that hides behind liberties won by others to demand oppression in the name of a sociopath, by threatening, with plausibility, extreme violence in the name of peace.

    And let the place be security-checked beforehand and everyone searched on the way in.
    If there is one target more appealing than a military one it would be a congress of free thinkers.

  14. Riptide says

    The problem, Dunc, is that Hitler was once one of those mouth-breathing fanatics without any real support. He didn’t come out of a vacuum with his Panzerdivisionen; he took over a little backwater party that no one was paying attention to, radically changed its message, and managed to convince a plurality of Germans that his street-fighting thugs could save them from the Bolshevik hordes. The process took years, and at any point could have failed had enough people–average, working people, not just fanatics of a different stripe–confronted his slavering lunacy before he got that far.

    To be sure, the domestic Weimar German situation was quite a bit different than in modern Britain (though not so much different from modern America…), but dismissing criticisms of Islamic fascism as “a little strong” because it hasn’t yet taken grasp of the levers of power in your country is simply naive. If the comparison of Islamic fascism and Hitlerite fascism is too apt, you’ve already lost; your charge is to make sure it doesn’t make it that far, and dismissing “one arsehole with a camera phone” (who had the support of at least two audience members, and a small crowd outside the hall…and who knows who else who put him up to it) is more than a little akin to a dereliction of that duty.

  15. WalterWalcarpit says

    Riptide, you are absolutely correct.
    Hitler could have been stopped if enough people had said No!
    That is how the British Union of Fascists was stopped and that was no easy battle.

    The analogies with the current situation are terrifyingly similar and there is no room for complacency whatsoever.

    Refuse to tolerate religious tolerance especially of intolerant religions.
    Islamists have no rules of engagement either in debate or destruction – if ever there was an empiric example of a philosophy of the ends justifying the means then this is it.
    Sound familiar?

    No Pasaran!

  16. Dunc says

    The problem, Dunc, is that Hitler was once one of those mouth-breathing fanatics without any real support. He didn’t come out of a vacuum with his Panzerdivisionen; he took over a little backwater party that no one was paying attention to, radically changed its message, and managed to convince a plurality of Germans that his street-fighting thugs could save them from the Bolshevik hordes.

    Indeed. However, given that Muslims constitute approximately 3-4% of the UK population (most of whom aren’t actually radical Islamists), and the rest of us are rather attached to our own culture (which includes a great many things which these Islamists are vehemently opposed to – beer, for example) I really don’t fancy their chances of convincing a plurality of Britons of anything.

    Homegrown fascism is what worries me – and they’re currently growing their support quite successfully, by convincing Britons that their street-fighting thugs can save them from the Muslim hordes. This is why I think it’s very important to keep the actual threat posed by said Muslim “hordes” (in reality, a minority of a minority) in perspective. Yes, they are a problem. Yes, they need to be dealt with appropriately. No, they are not an existential threat on the scale of the Third Reich. I’m very sorry if that crimps your fantasies of being on the right side of an existential struggle for the soul of civilisation.

  17. says

    The comparisons to Hitler and Nazis are- pardon my frankness- really effing stupid and inappropriate. I think dunc has got the right of it, up to and including the attraction of pretending to be in an existential war with an almost overwhelming enemy. It just isn’t remotely true, and the sort of alarmism that seems to go with those fantasies are what fuels counterproductive Islamophobia. That’s not to say that an Islamist Hitler couldn’t rise to power… but if you think he could rise to power in Europe you’re being willfully blind to reality. After all, Hitler’s rise to power came from telling the Germans that they were chosen people, and scapegoated Jews in particular but also the rest of Europe for Germany’s problems. How can anyone reasonably compare Hitler’s rallying “Germans are AWESOME, and everyone else SUCKS!” message with extremist Muslims in Europe saying “You guys SUCK! Change EVERYTHING about yourselves!” with a straight face?

    That’s not to minimize the individual threats that individual extremists may pose. On the other hand, some random jackhole with a camera probably isn’t actually going to track down and assassinate hundreds of people individually. Plus, last time I checked the Koran didn’t come with facial recognition software tied into a national ID database. Did I miss that special report on Fox “News”? Someone should have followed this guy home and started picketing his apartment.

  18. Draken says

    I expect the police will be knocking on his door within the next few days, if they haven’t already

    …to apologise for the inconvenience, return his camera should he have lost it, and kindly ask if the sir wants to register a complaint against those heinous blasphemous secular people.

  19. Rrr says

    Someone should have followed this guy home and started picketing his apartment.

    That’s what my grandad did during WWII, when some guy bought an under-the-counter Nazi paper from his tobacconist: followed him home. Grampa being a life-long pacifist, however, never could have actually hurt anyone physically, but maybe he did send a bit of a scare up that particular pig’s hypothetical spine.

  20. says

    @Rrr:

    Your Grampa sounds like a cool old guy! And I suppose pacifism is… OK? As long as there’s somebody willing to do the hitting when hitting is called for, other folks can handle other bits of the process. :)

  21. Rrr says

    Thanks, IJoe. Yes, but he is now even cooler as ash. He got to be almost 90 even though he smoked like a chimney all his life.

    But he did if reluctantly do his military service, and one of his comrades-in-arms (with a typical soldier name) got called in to their commander (with a similar typical soldier name) who suggested the man really ought to study, since he might go really far. Some 20 years later, during the Supreme Commander of Armed Forces introduced himself to the new Secretary of Defence, saying: “Well, I never meant you should go THIS far!”

    Both of them were, in a way, much more strident than my beloved and revered ancestor — but who knows which made the greater imprint on history? I think I know who had the better sense of humor, though.

    And somebody has to keep a firm leash on those warriors. On all sides. Granted, one of those tasks needs a bit of aggressive capability.

  22. KG says

    Why didn’t someone take a picture of that little shit stain and tell him now they had his information, and they’d be reporting him to the police for terrorism? – Aquaria

    How do you know they didn’t? And as others have said, the comparison with Hitler and Nazis is just fucking stupid. Grow a brain. Sure, this guy should be arrested and charged if there’s enough evidence to identify him, and indeed I’m confident he will be if that’s the case. Islamist extremists have already been convicted and IIRC imprisoned for carrying banners calling for Jews, gays and Hindus to be murdered, and there’s a similar case underway right now.

  23. Jurjen S. says

    Josh Slocum wrote:

    It is the state’s job. […]
    But it is also our job.

    I don’t disagree, but it becomes a very iffy proposition for private citizens to perform that job when they can’t count on the state to back them up against religiously motivated thugs like this guy. All the more so in a country like the UK, where the central government has, for all practical purposes, stripped private citizens of the right to effective self-defense (I’m not just talking weapons laws, but also about the risk of being charged and prosecuted if you wield an amount of force in self-defense that conveys even the slightest risk you might–horrors!–injure your assailant).

  24. KG says

    (I’m not just talking weapons laws, but also about the risk of being charged and prosecuted if you wield an amount of force in self-defense that conveys even the slightest risk you might–horrors!–injure your assailant). – Jurjen S.

    More stupid nonsense about the supposed state of affairs in the UK. In fact, a number of recent cases have made clear that (for example) householders have the right to use any level of force necessary, up to and including lethal force, to protect their own or others’ lives. What they can’t do is, for example, pursue and kill an intruder who has fled. In the current case, they certainly could not legally beat this vile man up, as a number of people have suggested they should – and a good thing too. Whether they could legally have tried to detain him, I’m not sure, since he had not actually committed any violent acts, but in any case, doing so would have risked injury to both parties. The correct response, if anyone was quick enough to do it, would have been to photograph him. We don’t know that they didn’t.

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